Sunday, July 29, 2007

One funeral, one hundred thousand Hrants


Almost out of spite to the darkness enveloping us within, it is a bright and sunny morning. The ferry setting out from Kadıköy follows its usual route saluting the Maiden Tower. We are trying to keep our minds weary from the huge blow received busy by people watching.

This time we find ourselves trying to guesses which of these passengers are headed in the same direction with us, to send Hrant Dink off. Definitely not this youngster reading the mag- azine extra of the newspaper in his hand; probably that couple reading the lines under Hrant’s picture in the Radikal newspaper snuggled together; also maybe this man with the sorrowful look in his dark eyes; and others sipping their teas and coffees and having a smoke? Who knows...

We take the Beşiktaş-Harbiye fill-up taxicab to Valikonağı. The usual rush, din and turmoil are gone with the banning of the vehicle traffic. We walk in unhurried steps; we are in no rush anyway. We are amazed at the playfulness of the sun since we expect the weather to be, in the words of one poet, to be “as heavy as a bullet.” Hrant must have loved the perfect weather, but our hearts cannot help “but wail away loud and clear.” And if it weren’t, to top it all, for this woman from the textile factory who from afar accompanied the “duduk” playing the tune of “Sari Gyalin” with her singing...

We turn the corner of the street where the assassin was captured by the camera, and reach AGOS. The entrance of the Sebat apartment building has transformed into a small square thanks to the selfless efforts of a group of Armenian youth from different neighbourhoods of Istanbul. As Ertan Tekin blows his ‘duduk’ and as the crowds silently shed their tears, the condolence visits to the headquarters of the newspaper continue.

The funeral hearse decorated with flowers appears at the entrance of the newspaper at exactly 10 a.m. During the wait of approximately an hour the grief of the crowd slowly reaches its peak. As the Armenian tunes heard in the background mix up with the darkest depths of sorrow taking the crowds to far away lands and rise up to the sky, a growing hum announces to those waiting that a huge crowd is gathering on the Osmanbey side. The organizing committee implores the crowd once again, in accordance with Hrant’s will, to not shout out slogans and to maintain the silence. The sombre atmosphere in the square confirms that this will indeed shall be observed throughout the day.

Rakel Dink’s address, her call out to her “beloved” in the deepest of sorrows, especially her words “no matter how old the assassin may be, 17 or 27, whoever he may be, I know that he was once a baby. Nothing can be accomplished before questioning the darkness that creates an assassin from a baby my brothers and sisters!” fires the already torn hearts with the tenderness of a mother on the one hand and make thou-sands weep altogether on the other. Rakel Dink, while experiencing the deepest of sorrows, thus sets the emotional color of the atmosphere with her address: pain, mourn-ing, fortitude, dignity, yet most of all love...

A flood of human bodies starts to flow behind the hearse carring Hrant’s lifeless body. Unhurried steps, teary eyes, bowed heads, and mournful music coming from deep behind. Tens of thou-sands of people, young and old, men and women, carrying cards with signs in their hands reading “Amenk›s Hay enk!”, “Em hemû Hrantın!” or “Hepimiz Hrant’ız!” (We are all Hrants!). The head of the cortege, that is the funeral hearse and Dink’s family, departs from the procession in front of the Divan Hotel; their destination is the Kumkap› Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchate Church. Memory is playing tricks here, as we just happen to remember that the Surp Agop cemetery and the Surp Krikor Lusavoriç church happen to be located in place of today’s Divan Hotel. This land was “taken over by the State” in 1931 following a “court decision” in which the Istanbul Municipality was one of the parties; it was legally expropriated in 1945 and the Divan Hotel was later constructed in 1958 in place of the church. If the church had managed to survive, we would have been hearing the sound of bells today honouring Hrant Dink’s body as it passed before it. We can hear no such bells and silently proceed on our walk.

“We were so deeply ashamed”

Seeing friends, acquaintances in the crowd gives one a bitter happiness. Shameful nods of acknowledgement, feelings communicated through a single glance… We all know that those which could not be said are far more those which could be; that words are insufficient to express our anger, horror, shock, bewilderment and despair. We notice our friend Zafer from within the crowd and salute him: “I cannot look you in the face!” he says and keeps on walking in grief. After a while, another of our friends, Duygu will tell us with teary eyes: “We are so deeply ashamed, Rober.” As the people with conscience feel the deepest of grief, those cowards with hearts of stone discuss, on websites, who the next victims is going to be. Some things never change.

As we pass through the Tarlabaşı, Tepebaşı, Unkapan› roads that have been closed to vehicle traffic for the funeral procession, the crowds that have accumulated on the sides standing applaud the procession and wave at us. One cannot help but think “did we have to wait for Hrant to be assassinated to reach this point?” Who were those people who did not hear, see or know anything and who stood there saluting the constantly elevated rows of flags as Armenians were presented as targets on television, and newspapers columns each and every day, as the AGOS news-paper and Hrant received threats and was rough handled by being prosecuted from Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code? Or is it that even though Hrant’s assassination is regarded by many as a step in the fight for democracy in Turkey, does it represent for others, especially for the Armenians, “the beginning of the end”?.. After all, this is still a country where a lot of people, a grocer for instance, can still say, “Come on, why all this grief in the wake of this one man? There are so many patriots who love their land. Of course one of them was going to commit this deed....”

Sorrow at the Church

When we reach Kumkap›, we see that most of the crowd is kept at a distance from the church. The police set barricades to prevent people from entering it. The explanation given is that the church is already full and that those who have been waiting cannot be able to gain entrance. Yet, we can see that entry is still allowed from another direction. Unfortu- nately, many people including the staff of AGOS, Hrant Dink’s closest friends, even the members of his extended family are forced to turn back from the church without even getting close to it. As we stumble inside during the turmoil, thanks to the AGOS staff tags we carry on our collars, we notice that the church is even a little quieter than, let us say, on a regular Easter day. The places reserved by the Patriarchate for the protocol and probably the desire to display a more modern, more civilized, more organized Outlook have apparently removed the Armenian community of İstanbul along with the family of Dink who are the real owners the body to outside the church.

This unpleasant situation does not prevent those who were able to get inside the church to abandon themselves to the sound of the hymns sung by the excellent choir and the accompanying organ. In his sermon, Patriarch Mesrob II highlights Hrant Dink’s humanitarian characteristics, his love of his country and the need to eliminate the anti-Armenian wave that has been generated. After the funeral ceremony, Hrant rises upon the shoulders of the community to be buried in the family plot at the Balıklı Armenian Cemetery.

Leaving behind questions, worries, nightmares, good deeds, a void that can never be filled and hundreds of thousands of people teary eyed...

January 26, 2007

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