ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – A leading Turkish-Armenian editor, convicted of insulting Turkey’s identity, was shot dead outside his newspaper office in Istanbul on Friday.
Hrant Dink, a controversial writer and journalist and a frequent target of nationalist anger, was shot by an unknown assailant as he left his newspaper Agos around 1300 GMT in central Istanbul, a colleague said.
Turkish broadcaster NTV said he had been shot three times in the neck and police were looking for a 18 or 19-year-old man.
The attack is bound to raise political tensions in Turkey, where politicians of all parties have been courting the nationalist vote ahead of presidential elections in May and parliamentary polls due by November.
Protesters at the scene chanted “the murderer government will pay” and “shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism”.
Television footage showed Dink’s body lying in the street covered by a white sheet, with hundreds of bystanders gathering behind a police cordon. “This bullet was fired against Turkey … an image has been created about Turkey that its Armenian citizens have no safety,” said CNN Turk television editor Taha Akyol.
Last year Turkey’s appeals court upheld a six-month suspended jail sentence against Dink, a Turkish-born Armenian, for referring in an article to an Armenian nationalist idea of ethnic purity without Turkish blood.
The court said the comments went against an article of Turkey’s revised penal code which lets prosecutors pursue cases against writers and scholars for “insulting Turkish identity”.
The ruling was sharply criticised by the European Union, which Turkey wants to join.
Dink was one of dozens of writers who have been charged under laws against insulting Turkishness, particularly over the alleged genocide of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One.
Turkey denies allegations that 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic genocide. It says both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed in a partisan conflict that raged on Ottoman territory during World War One. But the government has promised to revise the much criticised article of the penal code. The European Union has repeatedly called on Ankara to change the law.
Dink was editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish and Armenian weekly Agos. “I will not leave this country. If I go I would feel I was leaving alone the people struggling for democracy in this country. It would be a betrayal of them. I could never do this,” Dink said in an interview with Reuters last July.
Tensions have been growing ahead of presidential elections amid a rise in nationalism.
Turkey’s powerful secularist establishment fears that the ruling AK Party, which controls parliament and has roots in political Islam, will elect Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as president.
Secularists, including powerful army generals and judges, fear Erdogan — a former Islamist — would try to erode Turkey’s strict division between state and religion if elected president. Erdogan denies he or his party have an Islamist agenda.