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100,000 mourn Hirant Dink

Source : Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — More than 100,000 mourners marched Tuesday in a funeral for a slain ethnic Armenian journalist who had angered Turkish nationalists — an extraordinary outpouring of support for freedom of expression and reconciliation.Hrant Dink was gunned down outside his newspaper, Agos, on Friday. He had been outspoken in labeling the mass killings of Armenians in the last days of the Ottoman Empire as genocide.

Amid the grieving, there were signs his funeral might become a catalyst for easing the antagonism between Turks and the dwindling ethnic Armenian minority.

The crowds marched along a 5-mile route from the Agos building to an Armenian Orthodox church in one of the biggest funerals ever held in the city. They carried placards that read, "We are all Armenians" in Turkish and Armenian.

Onlookers filled bridges and streets, and the center of Istanbul was shut down.

Despite a request from his family not to turn the funeral into a protest, mourners raised their fists and shouted: "Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!" and "Murderer 301!" — a reference to the freedom-curbing Turkish law that was used to prosecute Dink and others on charges of insulting "Turkishness."

Among those brought to court over Article 301 was Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize in literature last year. Such prosecutions have alarmed the European Union, which is considering Turkey's bid to join the bloc, but until Tuesday there were few mass rallies in favor of freedom of speech in Turkey itself.

The liberal outpouring, if it gains momentum, could have significant implications for democratic movements in the Islamic world, where demonstrations against terrorism and other violence have been muted.

Dink, 52, sought to encourage reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. But he chose a dangerous path by making public statements about the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century, which remains one of the nation's most divisive issues.

On several occasions, Dink expressed his view that the killings amounted to genocide. Such statements enrage nationalists who vehemently insist there was bloodshed on both sides during the tumultuous collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The remarks also landed him in court and prompted death threats.

Police are questioning seven suspects, including a teenager, Ogun Samast, who authorities say has confessed to shooting Dink, and Yasin Hayal, a nationalist militant convicted in a 2004 bomb attack at a McDonald's restaurant. Hayal has confessed to inciting the slaying and providing a gun and money to the teenager, police said.

"I had no intention of insulting Turkishness," Dink told The Associated Press in a telephone interview months before his death. "My only concern is to improve Armenian and Turkish relations."

He seemed to have achieved that to a certain extent in his death: Turkey has no diplomatic ties with Armenia but invited Armenian officials and religious leaders to the funeral as well as moderate members of the diaspora.

Armenia sent Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian. The Armenian Orthodox Church sent U.S.-based Bishop Khazkah Parsamian. Church leaders from Romania and Bulgaria also attended.

"Hrant Dink was a great advocate in the country for freedom of speech and for reconciliation, in particular between Armenians and Turks," said Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, on the sidelines of the funeral procession. "Judging by what you see on the streets, he did bring the people together."

Dink's wife, Rakel, called for a deeper search for answers to the killing.

"Seventeen or 27, whoever he was, the murderer was once a baby," she told mourners. "Unless we can question the darkness that turned this baby into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything."

In a service attended by Armenians and Turks, Armenian Patriarch Mesrob II called for expanded freedom of speech.

"It is unacceptable to judge and imprison someone because of his thoughts, let alone to kill him," Mesrob said, weeping during his eulogy.

"It is mystical that his funeral turned into an occasion where Armenian and Turkish officials gathered together," Mesrob said.

Dink was buried in Istanbul's Armenian graveyard, where priests chanted and people applauded as his portrait was displayed and white doves were released.

"It was an attack against all of us," said Oya Basaran, 52, a school principal. "We want to give the message to the world that the killing does not represent us."