Alison Stendahl – Turkey On Friday January 19th in broad daylight on a busy Istanbul street, a prominent Turkish journalist for the Agos Newspaper and a man of Armenian descent was brutally murdered. He had dedicated his life to the pursuit of genuine freedom, human rights and in building a nation that could proudly declare itself as a true democracy.
On Friday January 19th in broad daylight on a busy Istanbul street, a prominent Turkish journalist for the Agos Newspaper and a man of Armenian descent was brutally murdered. He had dedicated his life to the pursuit of genuine freedom, human rights and in building a nation that could proudly declare itself as a true democracy.
Hrant Dink wanted nothing more than for his fellow Turkish citizens to understand the Armenians among them. He was a man who also had an understanding that a nation could not move forward until it had come to terms with its past. He spoke openly of the mass killings of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century. His words, like the words of so many martyred Turkish journalists before him, caused anger and resulted in violence. 18 journalists in Turkey have been murdered in the past 15 years. The resulting outpouring of grief and anger within Turkey reveals a conflict within the fibers of this society, where people turn on one another, making casualties of people who did nothing more than to speak the truth with love, wishing for a better day for one’s children. There are two conflicting elements residing within Turkey today. One element of Turkish society is full of rage and anger. This element has become fanatic nationalists who rage against anything that that “insults Turkishness” or anything smacking of foreign influence. Our work here in Turkey has often fallen under the shadow of the sinister intentions of “The Missionaries” to dismember the Turkish state. This element is deeply suspicious of any citizens of minority communities, in particular the Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and Alevis. It takes a stance of defensiveness and is aggressive in dealing with those who are outspoken about human rights and freedom of speech.
The other element in Turkey longs for a nation that is progressive, economically sound, truly democratic, is at peace within itself, with its neighbors and with its history. This is the group that poured on to the streets Friday night protesting the slaying of a prominent Turkish citizen who was an Armenian, who displayed courage and vision in trying to reconcile two communities that he loved. In their thousands people marched in protest from Taksim square to the offices of the Agos Newspaper shouting “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenians.” An Armenian commentator on the BBC said that she never thought she would see the day where a large group of Turks would be saying such a thing. But there they were, gathered at the spot where Hrant Dink was slain, in the rain. The newspapers the next day were full of praise for the man who only months ago was once again on trial due to Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code making it a criminal offense to insult “Turkishness”.
Hrant deeply felt the pain all Armenians feel over the injustice of their past and the continual denial on the part of the Turkish state that nothing other than was really happened. Yet he desired reconciliation and dialogue. In an interview Hrant Dink gave to Evan Golder last year for the UCC News, he said in relation to history:
“We understand the trauma of those who work for an apology, but we have the wish to overcome this trauma. If an apology ever comes, it will come through dialogue with the Turks, not from political pressure. … One day, when we succeed in living together, then we will have peace. I do not expect anyone else to apologize. I am the owner of this great suffering and I can carry this burden of suffering by myself, even as Christ was willing to carry his own cross. Armenian churches have a spiritual role to play in this, in helping people to follow the teachings of Christ and not to be concerned about taking revenge.”
Each of us has a role to play within the Christian family and within the family of humanity. When one is joyful, we are all joyful. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one is loses their humanity, we all lose a bit of our humanity. In the words of the Agos Newspaper in its press release on Friday: “Condolences to all of those who still feel themselves to be human beings.”
The Lenten Season reminds us of another who was outspoken, who was empowered by the Spirit to preach the Good News and who was a victim of hatred, misunderstanding and violence. The last defense of those fearful ones who fight the unifying truth of God’s love is violence. The innocent ones are those who suffer the consequences. The world is full of the innocent ones who have been slain. May we not be deterred in our faith and in the belief that humankind can ultimately be united through love and respect for one another. Christ has Risen. He has risen indeed.
Selam and Shalom
Alison Stendahl serves as a missionary with the Near East Mission, Istanbul, Turkey. She is Academic Dean of and a math teacher at Uskudar American Academy in Istanbul Turkey.