By Fatma Gocek, University of Michigan professor 

“Hrant Dink was a man of vision who pointed toward a better world, but, as with the prophets of old, was fated not to enter it.” Roger Smith The sentence above in Roger Smith’s essay for the “Institute for the Study of Genocide” which I quote captured extremely well what had made Hrant Dink’s assassination so tragic for me. Within that group of ours of which Hrant was such an integral part that tried and still try so hard to bring democracy to Turkey, I sincerely believe that it would have felt and meant much more to Hrant than all of us in the group to have seen that vision come true. For I think he among us all had already suffered and paid a much higher price for the lack of it than all of us put together. And we, at least I, knew that. I think it is that knowledge combined with the reality that he among us is the one who will never get to see that vision actualized makes his death so unbearable to us all.

In that group, we the ‘Turks’ (and we were and are almost all Turks, urban mostly middle and some upper class ‘white’ Turks even, as we should have been and are, since we were and are structurally a part of the majority, the power structure and therefore more capable of standing up to and taking on the blows of the ‘other’ powerful establishment Turks) had to fight this fight, but we did not and should not have expected any of the minorities of Turkey to join us, to put them in the front lines given how much they had already suffered, were suffering, had been and still were disadvantaged by the existing structure who did not and still do not give them the chances we inherently all had and still have because of who we were and are rather than what we believed and still believe in. It would not have been fair to expect that of them: that was at least what I knew to be the case sociologically from my own academic work. I personally thought what united us as a group was our vision, a vision where the playing field in our country would be made equal for everyone, where no one would receive blows from the system, especially not the minorities who at present had to receive them, unlike most of us in the group, with their hands tied behind their back. Then, there emerged Hrant from among the minorities who had the strength, the heart and the courage not only to join us, but he did so like a member of our group, as if we had already accomplished that future vision of ours and there he was to show how it was to actually start living it within our group. We/I so appreciated and cherished that.

And I think that is why we all were so devastated when he was murdered: we as a group had failed to protect him. We had all thought we could and would succeed as a group in accomplishing our vision to bring democracy to our society, to guarantee that rights applied to all citizens equally. We also assumed that in that struggle, we would be safe together as a group. I am afraid that we somehow convinced Hrant that he too was safe with us. After all, given what he and his community had already been and was going through, it was only natural that he among us would the one who needed the least amount of convincing… Yet then, he also turned out to be the only one in our group who got murdered. The rest of us were not. We all survived and had to account for his death and our survival; we also had to reconcile with the fact that he was the only one among us who was specifically chosen to be killed: there lied the immensity of the cruelty and evil that went back from the gun held by his assassin back to diffuse into Turkish society and the state.

I will always remember that shock and shame I felt when I received the news of Hrant’s murder from Turkey, when I realized, for the first time in my life, what it means to have something — probably my innocence, naivete, optimism, belief in the inherent goodness of all humans, and faith in my country — get ripped within, with the impact of the shame that I too had thought we as a group could somehow accomplish our vision, that I too had gotten caught up with all the positive changes I had observed around me and had perhaps become too impervious to the degree cruelty within the society, state and the country at large and had therefore underestimated it, and, in so doing, that I too had somehow contributed and encouraged Hrant to feel and become impervious as well, which might have in turn somehow facilitated the road leading to his murder. I think this is the doubt that lies at the root of my shame. Granted, I did talk to him on different occasions at various stages of his unfortunate illegal trial to convince him and/or his family to come to the United States, but ultimately, I think, I failed him as a friend and certainly as a scholar. I think that I, as a sociologist, should have been much more aware of the precariousness of both our and especially his situation in Turkey and should have alerted him much more to the danger surrounding him, for I should have been able to observe much bettr the danger signs in the society, state and country at large as I had been trained to do. I could not.

I think that if Hrant had had the chance to read what I have written above, he would have first addressed and demonstrated his appreciation of both my thoughts and sentiments in that unique way of his which gave direct voice to his heart, thay way which none of us will ever be able to reproduce — and that is exactly what makes him so special and why his loss leaves me so heartbroken — and he would have then made a joke to get me to move on to safer, less dangerous, more practical grounds — as he often did whenever I brought up topics of gloom and doom — and he would have asked me what I was working on, how we scholars were crucial in this process, etcetera etcetera…

Ever since January 2007 when Hrant was murdered, I have been trying to reconcile myself to the reality of Hrant’s assassination. The only way I can reconcile it all at the moment is by by my decision to continue to address, not only now but also in my future activities and academic work, the question of democracy in Turkey and especially the significance of the location of minorities in relation to it. Doing so would enable me to help actualize the vision that has now also become Hrant Dink’s legacy to us as a group, that group which survived his death and now has to forever live, keep living and reconcile, keep reconciling with that tragic reality. I think the decision I have reached is the only way I personally can at this time make my peace not only with Hrant Dink’s murder, but also with the country that so violently murdered him .