By Narine Daneghyan
YEREVAN, Armenia – A little more than five years ago, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in Istanbul.
I will never forget the day he died.
My family was gathered in the living room, watching television, when a breaking news report began.
Dink, who had the courage to raise the taboo subject of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, had been gunned down.
Well known in both Armenia and Turkey, Dink was an outspoken advocate for peace between the two bitterly estranged nations.
But rabid Turkish nationalists hated him because he spoke openly about the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the genocide that began during World War I.
Dink once said that Armenians “all have an intuition about something broken in the past. It’s in our genetic code” and reached back a century to the time when survivors scattered across the globe.
Despite warnings, Dink refused to leave Turkey, instead campaigning to improve relations by convincing the government in Ankara to admit what the world has long known: that Armenians were massacred by Turks.
Refusing to call himself a Turk, Hrant was charged a number of times under the strict Turkish penal code for “denigrating Turkey” and “insulting Turkish identity,” penalties that sometimes sent him to jail but left him with an international reputation for courage and truth.
In January 2007, a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist, Ogun Samast, shot him three times in the head, killing Dink.
Samast, sentenced to more than 21 years in prison last summer, posed with police and army officers before his apprehension in a Black Sea coastal city where patriotism and machismo run high.
Last month, two others involved the killing were sentence to life behind bars by the Turkish court. But most of those suspected of playing a role remain free.
For me, Dink is a hero – a person whose most heroic act was in knowing that it was too dangerous to do what he was trying to do, yet staying in Turkey and pursuing it anyway.
Dink chose to ignore the threats and remain there to defend his ideals: free speech, unity, humanity, ethnic pride, and historical accuracy.
He wound up dying for his dream.
Dink is my idol in journalism, a man from whom every journalist can learn what it means to tell the truth, even in places where doing so is dangerous and, sometimes, deadly.