Author: Gonca Sönmez-Poole
January 19, 2022
There’s an expression in Turkish — “dile kolay” — that is used when something — usually in quantifiable numbers — has lasted a long time. And so here I am using the expression on the 15th anniversary of the murder of Hrant Dink. It has been 15 years since I found out about this exceptional individual who inspired millions of people in Turkey and spoke the truth about that country’s tainted past in a way that appealed to the common man, without insulting or hurting those who may not have been ready to hear him out. And yet the forces of evil were at work and Dink was murdered 15 years ago today in front of his newspaper office building…the very spot where every year, his life and legacy is commemorated by those who refuse to forget about him and the shameful justice system that has never completely solved his assassination case.
It has been 15 years since I started reading any and all things he had written and/or said. I have also used my own background in visual storytelling and have put together video stories that may give perspective to the various ways the subject of the Armenian Genocide has affected Armenians and Turkish people alike…albeit in hugely different ways.
In these past 15 years, I have had the privilege of listening to a multitude of people, both professionals as well as laymen/women, always fascinated by how the incontrovertible truth of the Armenian Genocide is understood and reflected upon in so many different ways, depending on the background and the life experience of the person in question.
I had the privilege of knowing and learning from historians, sociologists, and political scientists (Professors Taner Akçam, Fatma Müge Göcek, Gerard Libaridian, Ron Suny, Lerna Ekmekcioğlu, Ohannes Kılıçdağı and Ümit Kurt to name but a few), from conflict resolution specialists such as Prof. Eileen Babbitt, Dr. Pam Steiner, and Paula Parnagian) and a myriad of other professionals whose names would add up to a list too long to recite here. And most important, I had various conversations with Armenian and Turkish people with various backgrounds bringing me to the conclusion that there is one truth (the Armenian Genocide) but more than one personal recollection and reflection on it. Over the years following Dink’s assassination, I would write about these conversations and send them out to a long list of contacts, some in Turkey but mostly in the United States where I live. I never forget how one such contact (an academician) dismissed the stories I had written as “just anecdotes.” And that brings me to the exceptional character of Hrant Dink and the title of this blog post.
Dink may not have been a world-class historian, an academician or in the eyes of some, not even an accomplished intellectual of the first order. He may not have been proficient at the language of academia, replete with its specific vernacular practiced around conference tables that is. BUT and this is a BIG but: What he spoke was a language that was accessible to his readers and his audience, the kind that spoke to people’s hearts and minds precisely because he spoke the language of the common man. He was able to appeal to those thousands and thousands of people around Anatolia because he would hear them out and give them a voice by collecting and publishing their stories. Call them anecdotes, stories, or “badmıvadzk” (lucky for me I learned a new word in Armenian just yesterday) those are the tools with which Dink was able to connect thousands of readers of Agos (the bilingual newspaper he founded and wrote for) to Armenians and Turks in Anatolia and beyond. His readers were those who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to know about those stories if he hadn’t started to collect and publish them. Anecdotes that he unearthed that were hidden away and unexplored for decades. Stories like the one about Beatrice Hanım (Ms. Beatrice) told to Dink by a Muslim man from Sivas. The man told Dink that 70-year-old Beatrice hanım would travel from France to this little village of Sivas (a province of Turkey) several times a year, and that she had died there during her last visit. While discussing where to bury her, her daughter had started crying hearing what this Sivas man had said: “I know she is yours, it’s your mother and you can do as you wish but if you ask me let her be buried right here. You see, the water has found its crack.” Dink told and retold that story (among many others) many times before his life was taken from him 15 years ago. And yet that anecdote still resonates and is heard loud and clear by those who care to listen.
Hrant Dink (from his presentation at a Bilgi University Conference in Istanbul on September 25, 2005):
“Indeed yes, we Armenians do covet these lands, because our roots are here, but don’t worry: not so we can take the land away, but so we can go lie deep down under it.”