Thursday, January 19, 2017

How Democracies Behave: Ten Years Without Hrant Dink

Ten years ago today, an Armenian-Turkish journalist named Hrant Dink, who had devoted his career to reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia and to championing human rights within Turkey, was assassinated in broad daylight in front of his office by a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist.

This assassination did not come out of nowhere: Dink had faced death threats for years from Turkish nationalists and twice had been prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for "insulting Turkishness." He was acquitted the first time, given a six-months suspended sentence the second time, and prosecutors were preparing a third round of charges at the time of his murder.

All because he openly acknowledged the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide and called on Turkey to end its own denial of it.

Today, ten years later, Turkey is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and while Article 301 was modestly reformed in the wake of Dink's assassination, it is still a crime in Turkey to insult the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan--a crime punishable by four years in prison.

This is not how democracies behave.

And now, law professors who spoke out against Donald Trump's nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General are being retaliated against. The Senate is being asked by the majority party to confirm an extremely ethically-challenged slate of cabinet nominations in a slapdash, paper-over effort. And all our PEOTUS seems to have the time to do is tweet about Saturday Night Live, Meryl Streep, and Representative John Lewis.

This is not how democracies behave.

While our American exceptionalism tends to dictate that other countries ought to look to us for inspiration, in truth, it is time we in the States took a lesson from Turkey. Democracy does not come at the point of a lance. Freedom and liberty is not enforced by taking it away from the journalists who strive to protect it. And the ultranationalism that has plagued Turkey is now plaguing us, if the spate of hate crimes, slurs, and hate speech after Trump's victory is any indication.

Tomorrow, the keys of power will be turned over to a new administration, and here, the useful comparison between America and Turkey ends. Unlike Turkey, we had an election last year, not a military coup. That election, while faithful to the precepts of the Constitution and its creation of the Electoral College, still was not democratic insofar as it ignored the majority vote to the tune of roughly 2.8 million voters.

That, too, is not how democracies behave.

But the earth spins on, and the peaceful transition of power continues.

I will not be watching that peaceful transition tomorrow. I have no desire to be a witness for this Caesar who now takes the throne.

Instead, I will continue to desire to serve God and God's will, to continue to speak truth into the emptiness, to continue to write words of prophecy and justice, and to advocate for the very same marginalized and oppressed people this Caesar decided to campaign against.

It will not always be work with immediate returns. But it will be work that bears eventual fruit.

The best epilogue there has been for a journalist like Hrant Dink is that after his assassination, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to both protest his murder and to express solidarity with Turkish Armenians. Chanting, "We are all Hrant Dink," their voices created an eternally-documented witness to the innate human desire to live in peace, to live in kindness, and most of all to live in love.

And that is how democracies behave.

Vancouver, Washington
January 19, 2017

Image courtesy of OpenDemocracy. My apologies for not updating here more frequently--my writing time and energy has been devoted lately almost entirely towards my D.Min. thesis. I will continue to write here as I am able, though.

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