Nine Years on, Turkey Blames Gulenists for Murder of Ethnic Armenian Journalist

Hrant Dink. Image captured and cropped from a YouTube video uploaded by Vartkes Hergel.

Hrant Dink. Image captured and cropped from a YouTube video uploaded by Vartkes Hergel.

Almost immediately after a section of Turkey's military botched their coup attempt last month, arrests and detentions began en masse.

Alongside members of the military, thousands of government employees including teachers, health sector workers and civil servants were detained or dismissed from their positions.

Several journalists have also faced detention under the four-week-old state of emergency.

In an atmosphere of heightened repression that has seen Turkey suspend the European Convention on Human Rights, loose ends are being tied up.

One of these is a long-running, on-off investigation into the murder of iconic ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, whose assassination Turkish investigators now say was organised by policemen-loyalists of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's former ally turned bitter rival, Fethullah Gulen.

In Trabzon everyone is said to know that the leading group connected with the Dink assassination had not been investigated. The group is connected with the gendarmerie.

The Gulen question

Most of those detained in the post-coup attempt recriminations are not necessarily suspected of being directly involved in plotting the coup attempt, facing instead vague accusations of membership of FETÖ.

FETO, or Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation, is how the AKP leadership has branded followers of the secretive US-based Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen, who runs a global network of schools and business operations.

Some, in fact, now face detention for crimes committed years before the coup attempt.

While Gulen and Turkey's strongman Erdogan were once allies, competition over power stirred strong enmity between the pair, with a split rumoured as far back as 2012.

In Istanbul a banner with Fethullah Gulen and PM Erdogan's pictures reads "one is no better than the other". Protesters rally to protest against corruption and planned construction projects. Demotix photo taken by Fulya Atalay. ID 3553279.

In Istanbul a banner with rival Fethullah Gulen and President Erdogan's pictures reads “one is no better than the other”. Protesters rally to protest against corruption and planned construction projects. Demotix photo taken by Fulya Atalay. ID 3553279.

The Gulen movement, known as Hizmet, was declared a terror organisation by the government after alleged Gulen loyalists in the police and prosecutor's office unleashed a corruption investigation that targeted Erdogan and his family as well as top members of the AKP leadership in late 2013.

The investigation fizzled, and the government began reprisals.

Similarly, hundreds of military officers dismissed and sentenced as part of the so-called Sledgehammer Case were released in 2015, after a court found the investigation had been guided by false evidence planted by Gulenists.

The government has said that Gulenist military personnel moved into the positions vacated by the initial convictions.

Some of the other incidents Gulen has been blamed for retroactively stretch credulity, something which Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkeş hinted at in his off-message comment that “even if the shock absorber of a car breaks down, they say someone with [the Gulenists] has done this.”

An associate of Erdogan's and the owner of the Soma mine, which witnessed a fatal accident in 2014, claimed last week Gulen was behind the disaster that caused 301 deaths and had previously blamed on neglect, for instance.

And in the aftermath of a rapprochement between Turkey and the Kremlin, Erdogan publicly linked Gulen to Ankara's costly decision to shoot down a Russian warplane used in Moscow's Syria operations.

Sex tapes of Baykal and other MHP members; Uludere massacre and downing of the Russian jet and also H. Dink's murder was all FETO. Search it.

The Dink murder labyrinth

Hrant Dink was assassinated by Ogun Samast, a young Turkish ultranationalist from Trabzon, on January 19, 2007, but few ever believed Samast was carrying out his own hit.

On July 26, just over a week after the botched coup attempt, five people were detained in connection with the murder of Dink, a prominent journalist who founded the bilingual Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper Agos in 1996.

Dink had long been a target of nationalist hate mail and death threats due to his calls for recognition of the Armenian genocide, improved relations between Turkey and Armenia, and fairer government policy towards minorities including Armenians, Kurds and Greeks.

The fresh arrests in the Dink case were of four gendarmerie officers and one civilian, the owner of a publishing house.

One of the officers arrested, Yusuf Bozca, commented in a confession that “the Dink assassination was organised by members of FETO/parallel state structure and his murder then formed the basis of the [July 15] coup attempt.”

The probe's prosecutor Gokalp Kokcu, who replaced a string of prosecutors dismissed from the case, one of whom is under investigation for ties to Gulen, said Dink's murder was the “first bullet fired” in the process leading to the July 15 coup attempt.

Although Gulenist affiliations to the murder had been alleged in previous years, it is only now that these allegations are taking a central role in the case, which has led to scepticism from both Turkish and international audiences.

Samast, then 17, had said his motivation to kill Dink was the journalist's “denigrating Turkishness,” a reference to Article 301 of the Turkish penal code.

In mass protests that followed the killing, marchers held up signs that proclaimed “We are all Hrant Dink” and “We are all Armenian” in Turkish and Armenian, as well as “Article 301 is the killer.”

A scandal would later blow up when it was later alleged that Trabzon police officers were informed about the plot to kill Dink before the event and took no action, allegations strengthened by the fact that officers from the city posed in a photo with the killer.

Later investigations, including the Ergenekon case, linked army, gendarmerie and intelligence forces members to the murder.

Dink's family also combed security footage and phone call data, identifying four suspects near the crime scene, and in 2012 Yasin Hayal, another ultranationalist from Trabzon was convicted of giving Samast the idea to kill Dink and providing him money and a weapon.

Hayal himself claimed he had received those instructions from an MIT (state intelligence) agent, but his claims were dismissed.

An ever-widening case

The Gulenist movement, also known as Hizmet (‘Service’) or Cemaat (‘Community’), is now accused of carrying out the assassination of Hrant Dink.

Currently, 15 people have been formally arrested in connection with the Dink case, with tens more under investigation, including a judge.

On August 5, the Trabzon gendarmerie provincial commander was arrested alongside several other previous members of the Trabzon gendarmerie, under charges of failing to act on Dink's murder and “being a member of a terrorist organisation.”

On 17 August, crucial details about the Dink case came to light.

Nine gendarmerie members were arrested and accused of links to the “parallel state” structure that Turkey's government says is operated by Gulen.

Using telephone records, the prosecution has revealed how these nine gendarmerie members were involved in carrying out Dink's assassination, with some even being present at the murder scene.

On August 13, an ex-lieutenant in the Istanbul gendarmerie's intelligence department, Ali Baris Sevindik, was arrested alongside two other suspects.

Sevindik was taken to prison, with the other two suspects released but banned from leaving Turkey.

On July 25, Ercan Gun, a news editor at FOX TV, was arrested in connection to the failed coup plot.

Later released, he was again detained on August 3 in connection with Dink's case. No explanation has been given on the journalist's connection with the case.

Agos’ reporter on the Hrant Dink case, Uygar Gultekin, said in a statement to Global Voices that “even though ten years has passed [since Dink's assassination], the investigation is on the right track.”

However, both Gultekin and the Friends of Hrant Dink association that has fought for justice over his shooting are cynical as to the government's renewed interest in the trial as it looks to blitz what remains of Gulenist influence in its own ranks.

An August 8 statement from the friends read as follows:

From what we can see, they are trying to collapse the organisation known as the “parallel state” or “FETO.” This means that the facts that do not fit into this mould will not be allowed to be released. However… some of those who are being called FETO members were accomplices to the assassination; this is clear. But it is also clear that the powerful that are now in a coalition will separate their own guilt by saying “the FETO members did it.”
—Statement by ‘Friends of Hrant Dink,’ 8 August 2016


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