More than 30,000 protesters came together to mark the fifth anniversary of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder Thursday as reactions continued to grow over the court ruling regarding the case.
Friends and supporters, as well as human rights activists, met in Istanbul's Taksim Square and walked toward the weekly Agos newspaper building located in Istanbul's Osmanbey district. The silent protest then gave way to slogans as protesters chanted, "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian." The protest was, in part, a reaction to the recent court decision, which saw suspect Yasin Hayal sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment; another suspect, Erhan Tuncel, was released.
"The state intentionally turned a blind eye and released [the suspects] despite [the existence] of an organization [behind the crime]. We are going to strive for this murder to be brought to light even after 95 years. The prime minister and the [Cabinet] ought to solve the murders," researcher Feza Kürkçüoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News during the march.
"Both Hrant and Sevag were killed because they were Armenian. One was in the prime of his life, and I buried him. I cannot bear it. Hrant was killed because of his thoughts and Sevag due to his identity," said Ani Balıkçı, the mother of Sevag Balıkçı, who was killed April 24, 2011, allegedly by a stray bullet while performing his military service in the southeastern province of Batman.
The Balıkçı family stood together with the Dink family and gave messages of solidarity. Many writers, journalists and politicians from the opposition were also in attendance in front of the weekly Agos to support the protest.
The protesters placed a cobblestone with date and time of Dink's murder, written in both Turkish and Armenian, in front of the Agos building.
Speaking to the crowd from the weekly Agos building's window, writer Karin Karakaşlı said: "They killed Hrant in the court once again. They didn't kill him just once; they killed him by announcing him first as an enemy of the Turkish people. They killed him when they put him in the center of hatred. They couldn't make the connections between those who attempted the murder and those behind it. What is being done to us is a sin. Let's promise to one another. This case is not over yet."
Meanwhile, youth branches of the main opposition People's Republican Party, or CHP, in Ankara also staged a demonstration in protest of the recent court verdict over Dink's murder. Members of youth branches affiliated with the Çankaya District Presidency gathered in Sakarya Square wearing white clothes reminiscent of shrouds and bore slogans such as "equality, fraternity, justice."
Prosecutor Disputes Dink Ruling, Insists on Terror Tie
The chief justice in the Hrant Dink trial has expressed dissatisfaction with his court's contentious ruling as the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office has lodged to appeal the Thursday court verdict in Dink's murder.
Chief justice Rüstem Eryılmaz told reporters that the institution issued the heaviest possible sentence based on the evidence in the judiciary's possession and added that he is personally dissatisfied with the ruling.
"We ruled to acquit [the suspects] from the charge of [establishing and managing an illegal] organization. This decision does not mean that an [illegal] organization does not exist. This means there was not sufficient evidence with respect to organizational activities," Eryılmaz said, adding that organizational connections, in a legal sense, could not be identified.
Prosecutor Hikmet Usta disagreed, saying evidence for organization behind the murder was already in the case file he petitioned Thursday.
Although suspect Erhan Tuncel did not reject claims of being in an organization in his defense, the evidence that proved the suspect's cooperation to commit the murder was overlooked, the prosecutor said.
In his petition, Usta said police informant Tuncel abused his duty as a police informant and politically directed Yasin Hayal to commit the murder.
"Unfortunately, the court decided to release him," Usta said.
The high expectations for the trial led to frustration with the court's decision, he said, adding that he was personally dissatisfied with the decision because there had to be an instigator.
Hayal was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 17 for his role in the 2007 killing, but alleged co-conspirator Tuncel was acquitted in the case, angering Dink's family members and lawyers, who wanted to see more people charged with the crime.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç castigated Eryılmaz for indicating that his conscience was dissatisfied with the ruling, adding that such remarks did not befit a judge.
"It is necessary to cast aside any personal emotions or thoughts and wait for the final verdict after the appeals process," Arınç said.
The comments were echoed by Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli, who criticized the judge's comments and said such remarks cast a shadow over the process.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, said it would be inappropriate to pass judgment on the verdict because the case is now set to enter the appeals process.
Turkish Parliament Approves Presidential Election Bill
The Turkish Parliamentary General Assembly approved a draft law on presidential elections, designating the term of the eleventh Turkish president as seven years.
According to the provisional article in the draft law, President Abdullah Gul's term in office will be seven years. The draft law said the president would be elected by the people, with elections being held every five years.
Prime Minister Denies Having Cancer
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has categorically denied allegations that he has cancer.
During an interview with veteran journalist Mehmet Ali Birand, who interviewed Erdoğan for a documentary on the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, on Thursday broadcast parts of the interview during which the two discussed issues currently dominating Turkey's agenda. Erdoğan said "no" in response to a question from Birand asking if he had cancer.
Erdoğan, 57, underwent abdominal surgery on Nov. 26 and had rested out of the public eye for more than a month after the operation. Speculation emerged after the operation that the prime minister had cancer but was keeping it secret.
Professor Mehmet Füzün, who was among the doctors who performed laparoscopic surgery on Erdoğan, also dismissed claims of cancer last month, saying polyps had been found in Erdoğan's intestinal tract and that they were not malignant.
"I was also present during the surgery as an expert on colon and rectal surgery. The intestinal polyps we removed during the operation were big, but not malignant," he said.
Birand, who has recently been treated for cancer, said he knows well whether a person is receiving chemotherapy or not as someone who has gone through such an experience.
"I looked and understood. He is receiving chemotherapy," Birand said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Visits NATO Headquarters
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited NATO headquarters and met Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen within the scope of the 60th anniversary of Turkey's NATO membership on Wednesday.
Holding a joint press conference with Rasmussen, Davutoğlu said Turkey has been one of the most contributing member states in NATO's regional and global peace efforts in the past 60 years.
In that time, he said, many things have changed in NATO and Turkey, but the only thing that stayed the same is Turkey's strategic planning and NATO'S remaining as a main pillar in Turkey's vision.
Davutoğlu said that Rasmussen would visit Turkey next month.
Turkey Following Incidents in Syria with Uneasiness, Davutoglu Says
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey was following the incidents in Syria with a great uneasiness, adding that the developments in Syria have reached a very critical level.
"We want bloodshed and attacks on civilians to end rapidly in Syria," said Davutoğlu, who held a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Ankara on Thursday.
Davutoğlu added that as regional countries, Turkey and Iran would pursue consultations about Syria.
Los Angeles Times Op-ed Says French Senate Should Reject Genocide Bill
An article published on by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday has said the French Senate should reject a bill criminalizing the denial of Armenian allegations pertaining to the incidents of 1915.
"Speech Crimes and France," written by Timothy Garton Ash, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and professor of European studies at Oxford University, reads:
"On Monday, the French Senate is scheduled to debate and possibly vote on a bill that would criminalize denial of the Armenian allegations pertaining to the incidents of 1915. The bill has passed the lower house of Parliament.
"The question is not whether the atrocities committed against the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire were terrible, or whether they should be acknowledged in Turkish and European memory. They were, and they should be. The question is: Should it be a crime under the law of France, or other countries, to dispute whether those terrible events constituted a genocide, a term used in international law? And is the French Parliament equipped and entitled to set itself up as a tribunal on world history, handing down verdicts on the past conduct of other nations? The answer: No and no.
"Taking a benign view of human nature and French politics, you might say that this is a clumsy attempt to realize a noble intention. That would be naive. There is a remarkable correlation between such proposals in the French Parliament and national elections, in which half a million voters of Armenian origin play a significant part. What happened to the Armenians was recognized as genocide under French law in December 2001, just before presidential and parliamentary elections.
"The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious rights."
Turkey Welcomes Eutalsat's Roj TV Decision
The decision by France-based satellite provider, Eutelsat, to suspend Roj TV on its satellites is a natural result of a Danish court's recent decision, which found links between the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and the television station, Turkey has said.
A Danish court fined the owners of the PKK-linked television station on Jan. 10, but did not shut it down, despite finding it guilty of promoting terrorism.
Prosecutors said Roj TV, an international satellite station based in Denmark, was financed and controlled by the PKK, a group labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Ankara has long sought to have Roj TV banned. The Copenhagen court, however, did not revoke its broadcasting license, instead choosing to fine the two companies behind it 5.2 million Danish crowns ($894,800).
In a related development, Eutelsat on Thursday said it decided to suspend the presence of Roj TV on its satellites in order to avoid incurring criminal liability as an accomplice to terrorist activities.
In a newly released statement , Eutelsat also said it has asked distributors uplinking Roj TV to its satellites to suspend broadcasts of the channel.