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Unraveling the Layers of Historical Trauma: The Release of Ogün Samast and Its Implications

If you notice, the issues we discuss and criticize the most are related to justice. We can talk about a process that should be characterized as the institutionalization of injustice. The regime change paralyzed this area the most. When asked, an average citizen, regardless of their political views, will not tell you anything positive about the justice system in Turkey. Everyone sees what is happening, but they do not complain about the situation until it affects them personally. Especially when people outside their own community are victims of the flawed justice system, they tend to be content.

Yesterday (November 16, 2023), Ogün Samast was released, and of course, quite understandably, this reignited debates about the justice system in Turkey. The Hrant Dink murder has undoubtedly been one of the most debated topics since 2007. A lot has been written about the murder, but the dark influence behind it and its determining impact have never been revealed. Notice, I do not say they couldn’t be revealed, I say they were not revealed. Because the Dink murder was an assassination, even an execution. Hrant Dink, as an Armenian, addressed the Armenian Genocide and Armenians, a subject covered up and central to the official history of Turkey. He questioned the fabricated Turkish identity, scraped its surface, and delved into its archaeology. He was lynched, targeted in the colored press, and ultimately murdered because he questioned the discourse and stirred the waters.

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Can we say we are surprised by the profile of the murderers? The murderers were low-educated, rural-originated, extreme right-wing nationalists – in other words, “Ülkücü” and MHP members – and people who couldn’t find their way. Just like the Ülkücü/MHP terrorist of the 1970s and 1980s, such as Mehmet Ali Ağca, Oral Çelik, or Abdullah Çatlı. This structure, identifying themselves as “Grey Wolves” or the Ülkücü Movement, has been used operationally and in relation to the state since the 1960s. The state had them do the dirty work its official forces didn’t want to do. When the Turkish state’s pathological reflexes were activated, these “our boys” were promptly deployed.

Without addressing the part of the iceberg under the water, understanding this complex symbiosis is impossible. For this, we need to take a journey back to the early 1900s with a time machine.

When the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was understood, three strategies were put forward to save the Empire. The collapse could be prevented either through an Ottoman super-identity, Islamic ummah identity, or ethnic/racial Turkish identity. It was seen that the Ottoman super-identity and Islamic identity could not prevent ethnic disintegration. Only national identity remained. But the problem was big. The remaining lands, including Anatolia, were not ethnically homogeneous (or close to homogeneous). This would drive the ruling Ittihadists to extremely dangerous and radical waters.

They plunged into World War I with dreams of Turan and a great ethnic empire. However, they couldn’t neglect the home front. Despite the decline over the last 900 years, Anatolia, where non-Muslims still lived densely, was subjected to demographic engineering.

The targets were Armenians, Greeks, and Syriacs. Armenians were the largest Christian group. Armenians had already been massacred for various reasons since the early 1900s. But the 1915 project was a planned and systematic ethnic cleansing. The Ittihadists systematically forced 1 to 1.5 million Ottoman Armenian citizens to deport from all Ottoman territories. This forced migration was planned, organized, and executed by the state itself. Most of the deported Armenians were murdered in their region or on the way. Some managed to reach the designated area in Syria. Thus, Armenians, the native people of Anatolia, were eliminated.

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The Republic was governed by the “B team” of these Ittihadists. The first act of the new state was to deny the Armenian Genocide and continue the ethnic nationalism policy based on a homogeneous population initiated by the Ittihadists.

This policy became the most fundamental issue of official history and has never changed. There is still a cross-party consensus on this issue in Turkey. The massacres of Greeks and Syriacs and the extensive “cleansing” of Anatolia from these native peoples were also deliberately ignored and vehemently denied by the official history of the republic.

Hrant Dink questioned this pathological discourse and policy. He addressed the tragedy that befell Armenians, particularly in the case of Sabiha Gökçen, the rigid identity policy, mass assimilation, the lies of official history, and the skeletons in its basement. And he immediately attracted lightning, was mercilessly lynched, and targeted.

We all know the result.

This is a very sad, very sorrowful story.

The pose of Ogün Samast in front of the Turkish flag after the murder reveals this pathological background and these dirty and complex relationships. But beyond that, it is the societal genetic coding of the “pardon me for being Armenian” approach, the greatest accomplice of the murderer.

Of course, in such an environment, the minaret had to fit its cover. And so it did!

Ogün Samast, born in 1990, was tried in juvenile court because he was 17 years old when he committed the murder, and he served only 16 years and 10 months in prison. In many countries around the world, if someone over the age of 16 commits a serious crime, they are tried in regular court. For instance, in cases of premeditated murder or political assassination, many legal states’ justice systems do not consider the suspect being under 18 as a reason for trial in juvenile or youth courts. In other words, in many legal states, a child involved in murder, if they have turned 16, are tried in an adult court and subjected to the same charges and penalties as an adult defendant. It seems that Turkey has a different practice in this regard. Did this play a role in the selection of Ogün Samast?

Maybe they say it’s a coincidence, I don’t know. But is it also a coincidence that the same profile of people is consistently used in such assassinations and murders?

From Ağcas to Samasts, the state’s connection with nationalist “hearth” is clear. Can this empirical reality be ignored? The current representative of this ideology in Turkey is the MHP, with an approximate vote share of 10%. The IYIP, which branched from MHP and shares the same ideology, has a vote share of about 9%. One in five voters in Turkey believes in and supports pathological Turkish nationalism. Unfortunately, this is the state of our society. This is the right-wing nationalism part. There is also left-wing nationalism, and its main address is CHP. Their self-identification as Atatürk nationalists does not cover up the fact that this ideology is also nationalist and Turkish supremacist. Approximately half of the society feeds on these ideologies. The other half defines itself through a nationalism-flavored Islamism. Those outside these groups are part of the Kurdish political movement, which is also classified as reactionary nationalism. The main backbone of Turkish politics consists of a) nationalism and its supporter (or accomplice) b) Islamism.

Have we approached the answer to the question of what is the state’s attitude? Whose state is this? In such a sociological and political culture, can there be any guarantee for the others? What does Hrant Dink represent? The antithesis of the Ittihadists, the other of racist/ethnic Turkish identity and Turkish supremacists. By uncovering the taboo of ethnic cleansing, he has confronted the state. Considering the role of the taboo subject in official history, the state connection of the Dink murder also becomes blatantly clear.

Hrant Dink was executed in such an environment. Ogün Samast was released in such a political environment. Now I ask: Can the question, “How and why was Samast released?” be asked in this environment? Or can such an environment, where Dink was murdered and Samast was released, be called an anomaly?”

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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