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Hrant Dink: Silenced in the Shadow of Turkey's Penal Code 301

Friday, Feb. 2, 2007

Since shortly before the inception of the Turkish Republic, in 1923, a journalist has been murdered on average every 1.5 years in Turkey, columnist Oktay Eksi recently lamented in the Hurriyet newspaper. In the last 15 years alone, according to a recent report of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, "18 Turkish journalists have been killed for their work, making it the deadliest country in the world for journalists." Like a blow from an axe, the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink two weeks ago has cut yet another deep gash into Turkey's already embattled democratization and intellectual freedom.

The assassination of Dink, editor-in-chief of the Istanbul-based Armenian newspaper Agos, reflects a hard fact masked by Turkey's recent democratic reforms during its EU bid: Turkey is in the throes of a profound identity conflict. On the one hand, its archaic, oppressive political machinery lies decadent and gasping under the weight of recent European-inspired reforms that have resulted in democratic changes. Yet, conversely, the reforms have been met with a fresh burst of nationalist backlash. The draconian Turkish Penal Code Article 301, making it a crime to insult "Turkishness," has further nourished Turkish extreme nationalism. Since the article was introduced in 2005 -- replacing an even more strident law -- more than 96 writers and intellectuals have been persecuted, including high-profile cases such as novelist Elif Shafak, slain leftist journalist Ahmet Taner, and the late Dink, who was prosecuted three times under 301 for addressing Turkish-Armenian issues squarely. ...

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