The “deep state” seemed to have surfaced again in January 2007. That network of nationalists, paramilitaries, secret services and corrupt officials who have carried on their machinations past the state structures in Turkey – up to expulsions, torture and murders of minority representatives, human rights activists, opposition members. The Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink could have been a victim. Could; because the background to his murder has not been fully clarified.
The case continues to occupy the courts, even after several backers were sentenced to long prison terms on Friday. Dink was shot on January 19, 2007 in front of the editorial building of the weekly newspaper “Agos” in Istanbul. The then 16-year-old murderer Ogün Samast was sentenced a short time later to almost 23 years in prison, one of the instigators received a life sentence. But it was clear that more people were behind the attack: The fact that Dink described the massacre of the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century as genocide brought him into the sights of Turkish nationalists.
Political opening for a short time
In the current trial, 76 people were charged, six of whom were in custody. A former police chief and an ex-head of the police secret service were convicted of murder. Long-term prison sentences are also available for other former officials, among other things for negligent homicide or forgery of documents. For the lawyers and supporters of Dinks it was clear early on that the police, gendarmerie and secret service knew about the murder plans but had done nothing to protect the journalist.
Dink’s murder sparked a wave of indignation in Turkey. Tens of thousands of citizens, whether Turks, Armenians or Kurds, took to the streets to take a stand against fanatical nationalism and an atmosphere of hatred for minorities.
Only a little later there was a cautious rapprochement between Ankara and Yerevan. The government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, had set itself the goal of a “zero problem policy” with neighboring countries. In 1993 Turkey broke off diplomatic relations with Armenia and closed its borders with the country. It was a show of solidarity for Azerbaijan, which was in conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The opening to the neighbor, which was suggested more than ten years ago, should accompany one inside. Erdogan wanted to take a step towards the minorities in the country, especially the largest group: the Kurds, whose culture and language had been suppressed for decades.
But the policy of opening up did not last long. Turkey has not been able to establish itself as an integrative leader in the region. In the country itself, the opposition, journalists critical of the government and activists were cracked down on – something that got worse after the attempted coup in 2016. The Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the United States and is being tried against in Turkey, was held responsible for this. The allegation of supporters brought hundreds of people to jail.
EU leaves it to reminders
The EU, which has started accession negotiations with Turkey – which are currently on hold – has repeatedly urged Ankara to uphold human rights and democratic standards. This was also stated by the heads of state and government after their summit on Thursday. In their final declaration, they mentioned crackdown on political parties and “other recent decisions” that run counter to democratic commitments. What is meant is a ban proceedings against the Kurdish-dominated opposition party HDP and the country’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, which is intended, among other things, to help protect women from violence. According to the summit document, there are “serious setbacks for human rights”.
There is nothing to be read in it of the consequences that Europeans could draw because of such setbacks. They continue to shy away from harsh sanctions. After all, they are also interested in Ankara complying with its obligations under the migration pact, which is intended to help the Union secure its external borders. And in the dispute over natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean, Turkey has recently shown itself ready to talk.
Therefore, the EU is accommodating the candidate country: An expansion of the customs union and travel facilities for Turkish citizens are in prospect. On the subject of democracy and human rights, it simply says: The “dialogue” about them remains an “integral part” of the relationship.