Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Justice for Hrant?

The sixth hearing of those accused of assassinating Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink took place in İstanbul yesterday. The investigation into Dink's murder and the trial of the arrested suspects has put on display systemic problems in Turkey's judiciary. As I posted in January, the investigation has been long criticized as weak-willed and has hit a number of brick walls, including the destruction of evidence (see Jan. 24 post). The trial has been little better.

Acting as the trigger-man in what is likely a very wide-reaching conspiracy, Ogün Samast gunned down Dink outside of his office in January 2007. Samast was accompanied in the assassination by Yasin Hayal, a 26-year-old ultra-nationalist with links to shady paramilitary groups (possibly Ergenekon) and the youth branch of the ultra-nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP), the Alperens. At the beginning of his testimony, Hayal declared: "Dear Muslims and dear Alperens [BBP ultranationalist youth organization], be relaxed. We will have this situation continue until the BBP comes to power." Apart from Hayal and Samast, six others continue to be detained. Most significant of these is Erhan Tuncel, who is suspected to have played a key role in the premeditated conspiracy. A total of nineteen people are being tried in Dink's murder, but only Hayal and Tuncel are facing life sentences.

Yesterday's hearing was the first open to the press since the assassin has been under the age of 18 at each of the previous hearings and it proved a circus. Reports of past closed hearings characterized the proceedings as chaotic, confusing, and even light-hearted. Some of the defendants have grinned at each other and testimony has bordered on the ridiculous. Public observation of the sixth hearing indicates that these reports have been true and highlights a serious problem in terms of the state's ability to carry out highly complex and politically sensitive trials. Among such criticisms is the fact that trials concerning the same case
have not been combined and that a great deal of finger-pointing and bizarre evidence has been enabled and has served only to further obfuscate what actually happened. Further, several of those involved have been handled with impunity. The feebleness reflected in the Dink trial evidences how hard it will be to carry out the trial of the Ergenekon suspects.

The most troubling note to come out of today's testimony is that members of the gendarmerie, a branch of the Turkish Armed Forces, were informed about the plans to kill Dink and did nothing. Testimony from the assassin's uncle, Coşkun Iğcı, revealed that gendarmerie forces in Trabzon were repeatedly warned of the conspiracy. It has been suggested that the plot was also known by members of the İstanbul police. Sadly, the truth may never be known. However, in a positive development, the court
did decide to broaden the investigation into Hayal and is seeking critical records that might reveal important information about Hayal's connections, a move that deepens the investigation.

In his
column in Today's Zaman, Yavuz Baydar discusses the growing despair surrounding the case.

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