Human Rights

A “never-ending trial” of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s assasination


Anyone who served for this country never escaped punishment!

These words were uttered by Erhan Tuncel, an asset of the police intelligence bureau and one of the orchestrators of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s assassination as he was taken to jail after being sentenced to more than 90 years in prison in the Dink trial.

The late Editor-in-Chief of the Armenian daily Agos Newspaper, Hrant Dink, was shot dead outside his office on January 19, 2007. Hundreds of thousands of people marched to his funeral silently.

Dink’s assassination was not a surprise as he was widely criticized, targeted, and prosecuted for his views on the Armenian Genocide. Dink could have easily been the protagonist of Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold

And the trial in which his murderers and those responsible were supposedly tried took a decade, still not concluded.

Let’s rewind to 2004, the year it all began. 

In 2004, Hrant Dink published an article on Sabiha Gökçen’s Armenian origin. Gökçen was the adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic. After the publication of the article, Dink was targeted by nationalist and ultra-nationalist/racist circles. Even The Office of Commander in Chief could not abstain from this debate and issued a statement saying that “the abuse of national feelings and values is not journalism.” 

The public debate continued to target Dink, and protests continued outside of the courtrooms where Dink was tried for his article; however, a minor but critical plot was brewing in a small district of a Black Sea coastal city known for its nationalism: Pelitli, Trabzon.

Erhan Tuncel, a university student at the time was also an asset of the Intelligence Bureau of the Trabzon Police, reported that a local guy named Yasin Hayal – who previously served jail time for bombing the local McDonalds- “will kill Hrant Dink.” This intelligence was logged into the police system on February 15, 2006, nearly one year before the assassination. It was also reported to the Police Intelligence Bureau Secretary and Istanbul Police Office. But no measures were taken to protect let alone inform Dink. And a year later, Hrant Dink was killed by Ogün Samast, a 17-year-old boy recruited by Hayal. 

Samast was arrested shortly after the assassination. His father reported him, and while he was on his way to Trabzon, he was arrested in Samsun, a neighboring city of Trabzon. The photos and video of Samast’s arrest were leaked to the press subsequently. In the photos, police and gendarmerie officials were posing with Samast, smiling, holding a Turkish flag in front of a calendar with the phrase of “Homeland is our honor and cannot be abandoned to its fate.”

The prosecution of Dink’s assassination started on July 2, 2007. In the first trial, the defendants were the assassination’s organizers, including Tuncel and Hayal. Due to his age, Samast was tried in a juvenile court. The Dink family’s lawyers’ repeated demand to also prosecute the official who failed to protect Dink went unanswered. The trial continued until January 17, 2012. For five years, Hrant’s Friends repeated the slogan, “Prosecute the ones who said ‘Shoot’!”

In the final hearing on January 17, 2012,  Hayal was handed down an aggravated life sentence but the court handed down moderate sentences to the other defendants, which was protested in the courtroom and sparked public rage. Perhaps too sinister to be a coincidence, the verdict was announced two days before the annual commemoration of Dink. 

Meanwhile, following the Dink family’s attorneys’ application, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey violated Dink’s right to live, right to have an effective remedy and freedom of speech. In the verdict, the court highlighted that the officials entitled to protect his life have failed. 

Another critical report was the State Supervisory Council’s (DDK), which was tasked with Dink’s assassination investigation in 2011 by then-President Abdullah Gül. The council published its report in February 2012. As not far from the ECHR’s decision, the report said that “there was a gross neglect of duty with regards to Dink’s protection.”

The 2007-2012 period was the first page of the Dink’s assassination trial. The second page started in 2013 when the Court of Cassation overturned the decision. At the court of the first instance, the defendants Hayal, Zeynel Abidin Yavuz, and Tuncay Uzundal were acquitted of “managing a terrorist organization.” The higher court overturned the acquittal and stated that they should have been convicted for “establishing or managing an organization to commit offenses.” The court also overturned the acquittal of Erhan Tuncel and said that he should have been sentenced for “participating in the commission of the offense of killing someone intentionally.”

The retrial started in September 2013, but the officials mentioned by both the ECHR and the DDK were still not in the defendant’s seat. For that, we had to wait for the ruling party AKP and Islamist movement Gulenists’ coalition to break up. Only after that bitter break-up, we could see some -not all- officials sitting in the defendant’s seat.

In December 2014, when the prosecutions against Gulenists intensified, prosecutor Gökalp Kökçü issued an indictment against officials such as Celalettin Cerrah, who was the Istanbul Police Chief when Dink was assassinated, then Head of the Intelligence Department of the General Directorate of Security Sabri Uzun, then-Police Chief of Trabzon Reşat Altay, then Trabzon Police Intelligence Branch Manager Engin Dinç, then Trabzon Police Intelligence Branch Officer Ercan Demir, Uzun’s successor Ramazan Akyürek and then Intelligence Department C Branch Manager Ali Fuat Yılmazer. Demir, Akyürek, and Yılmazer were arrested and held in pre-trial detention.

The retrial was merged with the two indictments, one was for the officials mentioned above, and another was about the gendarmerie officials.

Details of the prosecution were highly complicated for someone who is not accustomed to the jargon and procedures of the court. However, it could be summarized as a “blaming contest” as the officials on trial blamed one another for neglecting duty.

At the end of the day, it was clear that nobody had done anything to protect Hrant Dink. The court must have had the same conclusion because at the end of the trial, the officials -who were still on duty and not claimed to be Gulenists- were not acquitted but still, the charges of “neglecting duty” were dropped due to lapse of time. 

The second trial was an apparatus for the AKP government to take down the Gulenists. The ones who ordered the assassination, the ones who have “dodged the bullet,” the ones who have not even been held accountable were the ones who are still “royal” to AKP, who still have their official seats. And the ones who have been convicted were the ones who used to have close ties with AKP officials -including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan- but fell apart and were accused of being a Gulenist.

The verdict was as if the last 131 hearings had never been heard. The file still stands before the Court of Cassation. And it still feels like that there will be a third page of the Dink’s assassination trial.