06 February 2007

1403) An analytical look at A Controversial City Trabzon [After the killing of Dink]


As soon as the murderer was identified, the media searched for images of the perpetrator.

When a satellite television channel ran a video showing a wedding party attended by the murderer, Ogün Samast, and described those filmed along with Samast as being "crazy," the people living in the Faroz district of Trabzon were also heard to voice their objection. They were displeased to hear that their folk dancing, named after their district, was thought to be an act of madness. The public heard their objection at a press conference the day after Hrant Dink was laid to rest. Certainly this tragedy struck all of us, but each had a different way of relating to this assassination that shocked Turkey. The Agos newspaper "family" obviously felt the most sorrow. What was then happening in Trabzon?

As the Soviets died, the atmosphere changed in the city
Trabzon had to take a "vision-quest" for to take, like every other city, when the advent of nation-states reduced both the physical geography in scale and cultural climate in quality. Although the city once hosted tens of diplomatic missions and financial centers, the cultural side of the city would gradually become weaker, and it would later be replaced with a sports team's fantastic imprint on the whole country. With this team being a constant topic of lively discussion across the city under any circumstances, the city itself would unfortunately soon be left in the background, and football would then become the sole narrative. The bells would soon ring loudly... Who could possibly know that statements from former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that ended the era of Cold War would become a nightmare for Trabzon?

The story of Trabzon begins to take a different course in 1989, when the Soviet bloc disintegrated and the Sarp Gate was opened. In the first place, the city begins to import cheap goods and the economy thus becomes more successful. As commercial relations with the countries that now form the Commonwealth of Independent States, which replaced the Soviets, became stronger, the conduct of commercial life began to dominate social interactions. The eastern Black Sea cities become predominantly a victim of prostitution, namely the "Natashas," the Russian prostitutes who later became a subject of academic debate. A combination of over 10,000 cafes, bars and hotels became available as places to make money. "The mafia-like formation of gangs was very common in such places as cafes, bars and hotels. As there were fewer people coming from northern countries, things began to fall apart. The people working in those places began to challenge one another, and the last five or six years saw tens of killings. When the flow of money ended, all the people working in those places were left desperate. What could they possibly do?" This was the worry raised by Hasan Kurt, an author and owner of the Kuzey Express, a local newspaper.

The district of Çömlekçi is a part of the city that only needs to be seen to have a perfect picture of what really happened over the last two decades over here. The stores lined up on the street that sell knick-knacks, with hotel rooms on top of them, tourists who frequent cafes here and residents living in side streets. We are speaking in a building converted from a church with Refik Günaydın, the head district official. "Tourists bring money into the country, as we know; these people are in reverse taking monthly amounts of up to $400,000 abroad. I asked government officials to look into such figures," he said. There were only five hotels in 1989 in this oldest district of Trabzon; however, it now hosts 39 hotels and a similar number of guest houses, too. "Today's population in Çömlekçi contains more people from the Commonwealth of Independent States," said Günaydın, who thinks that Trabzon was one of the most peaceful cities of the country up until 1989. Günaydın had to issue a warning at a meeting over recent events: "I don't care about psychology; I don't care about sociology; do you really have the slightest idea of what the hell is going on in this small district? Do you ever wonder who knocks on my door in the dead of night? The situation here is impossible to render understandable in analyses done from nice houses."

Let's walk around Trabzon because there is no question that the recent events are a by-product of the "environment." The subject matter of this paper is largely about a group of people whose account for the financial side to the killing is as simple as they say cold-bloodedly: "It cost me YTL 500 to conduct this murder." Some of the similar points between the two killings are as follows: Both murderers are 17-year-olds, both frequented Internet cafes, the victims were both non-Muslim, both victims were shot from behind, both murderers revealed their intention to the public prior to the killings, both murderers chanted victorious slogans after they shot the victims down, and both young murderers have divorced parents.

Overwhelming and numbing unemployment, 250 Internet cafes that cannot be brought under control, split families, aimless youth and local gangs that try to pass themselves off as members of the mafia are all part of what prepared the groundwork for such killings; however, they are not sufficient in themselves to explain the "coincidences" mentioned above. It is signaling a plain fact to us that such killings receive the implicit support of a group of young local people since earlier revelations from the murderer about his plans to kill a particular person were not taken seriously enough to stop the murdering from happening. The university also plays a crucial role.

The faculty of economics and administrative sciences of Karadeniz Technical University hosts the most popular canteen in town. Erhan Tuncel, who was arrested as the perpetrator, is still a student in the faculty. It is obvious from the kind of students who look like party animals that the canteen now hosts that for the most part students here are rich enough to pay for their education. We afterward learnt that this canteen holds a wide appeal for students from across the city. A professor here at Karadeniz was complaining when he said that students from the faculty have no access to panel discussions or seminars that can be used to increase their awareness. He further said that it is only the canteen where students are building their immediate worlds, rendering themselves vulnerable to a variety of different political tendencies.

Best-selling books at the university
We throw a glance at a pile of books put on display in a showcase just outside the dean's office. At first, we thought the books were written by professors here. A textbook titled "Militant Democracy and International Terror" stands out. We are not startled at all by what we see when we look at the best-sellers, placed right outside the faculty: Soner Yalçın's "Mr. Pipe and His Excellencies," the whole series of books by Osman Pamukoğlu -- who was a senior military commander in the army during the period of Feb. 28 chaos -- lsuch as "Deep States" and "To Cross the Border in Şemdinli."

Eyüp Aşık, a former leading figure of the Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) who is currently spending his political life with the True Path Party (DYP), is the man who gave a job to the father of Ogün Samast, the prime suspect in the murder of Hrant Dink, when he was the mayor of Pelitli. Aşık doesn't think that Dink's killing was only for political reasons. "The bombing of McDonald's is actually a matter of having not the means to go there. It should not be viewed only as anti-Americanism. One even has to pay to play for Pelitlispor; one has to buy shoes, one has to buy soft drink to celebrate a game after it is won. ... But the structure of society cannot meet needs like this," he said. Aşık also argued that legal regulations are a hindrance to police officers. He cannot help mentioning that two police stations in Trabzon were closed for financial reasons. Aşık thinks it possible that there might be some forces behind those two young murderers; however, he does not think it likely that they were foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA or MOSSAD. Aşık hopes that the sorting out of the Dink assassination will help the whole country.

Fethi Yılmaz, who has run the Trabzon magazine Kıyı since 1961, was a neighbor to the murdered priest Andrea Santaro. "We would have tea together. He was fluent in Turkish, even though he came from Italy. He was a friend of ours. Perhaps our sorrow for his killing was even greater than that of his Italian friends," said Yılmaz. Yılmaz considers the likely reason behind the killing of Santaro to be his having helped Russian women return to their home countries.

How many non-Muslims live in Trabzon? We asked this question in an attempt to approach the situation from the point of view of non-Muslims living in the city. We asked everyone, from all ideological or sociological backgrounds in Trabzon, to be introduced to someone who is not a Muslim. The group of people who received this request from us included civil society members, journalists, leftist intellectuals, businessmen and those with views both in favor and against dialogue: In the end, nobody knew someone who was not a Muslim. The top civilian authority here said Trabzon hosts 10 Catholics, or a total number of 50 non-Muslims at the most. A former head of the local district administrators' association said he did not know any non-Muslims himself. As a result, any answer to a question like "Were non-Muslims in Trabzon provoked?" would remain nonsensical.

In the view of Hasan Kurt, it is more like an increased version of hatred among groups that stemmed from the creation of a false enemy: "I don't think it likely that things are happening by coincidence. Over the last decade, Trabzon has been provoked into believing that the city was under the threat of Armenians, that the city was plagued by missionaries, that there are efforts to create a newer version of Pontus. My house is just next to the church building. I saw a couple of women coming to the church every once in a while. There was only a small group of people of 20 to 30 that used to come to the church. The media is creating such a fuss over missionaries that it becomes impossible to stop the formation of groupings. There is church propaganda at unbelievable levels, but it remains unsuccessful in attracting people to the church." Kurt then accused local papers of creating false fears. "There are far more non-Muslims living in İzmir and Bursa than there are here in Trabzon. This means that the situation here is deliberately being created."

A change from the times of Evliya Çelebi...
"It looks like the society is being fragmented," said Ahmet Şefik Mollamehmetoğlu, who heads the Trabzon branch of the Journalists' Association. Mollamehmetoğlu holds that there are efforts to fit Trabzon in with a particular identity, just was the case with Diyarbakir. "Trabzon is being pushed to a central position between two opposites. Trabzon has the Caucasus and Chechnya in its background. I think that all this might be related to a background of this kind."

Evliya Çelebi wrote in his travel notes, titled "Seyahatname," that the people of Trabzon take pleasure in traveling, wandering around, cooking, and eating; are lighthearted and carefree, gentle and lovely; and that their women are really beautiful. Although Trabzon people retain such characteristics, it is not true today that they are lighthearted and carefree. Trabzon can react promptly to an event if it is about national characteristics. The main reason the PKK as a separatist Kurdish terrorist organization cannot find a place across the Black Sea region of Turkey is that although the demographic structure is changing, the eastern Black Sea people retain a homogenous population there. This is a city that hosts the kind of people who are quite proud of their national affiliations, who are proud enough to react violently to when there is an attack of any kind on their national values, and whose connection to each other has eroded over time due to poor urbanization policies. A teacher told us that in none of his talks to prisoners here has he heard even a word of regret about their criminal acts. All this aside, if it is a sign of high security that a woman can remain out on the street late at night, Trabzon must be counted as highly secure compared to other cities.
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Jobless teenagers going to and from on Uzun Street
The center of Trabzon has two main streets. One of these streets is called Uzun (Long) Street. This is a place where last year two people had their throats cut over a battle for illegal drugs.

This is also a place where the shop centers of famous brands like Lacoste are located, where in the evenings there is a huge crowd of people walking, where jobless but proud young people wander around, and where the best cafes are available. The bombing of McDonalds happened just a few blocks away, the TAYAD incidents also took place right here. Few in number, but strong in their effect, all of these events occurred in an area of 200 meters wide and 500 meters long. Interestingly enough, this is also a place where a young lady can stay out late at night and spend time with her friends.

A group of undergraduate students wanted to to stage a protest march; however, they were stopped from doing this when they met with verbal opposition from local merchants. It looks like this natural tendency to do this on the part of local store owners has gained the dimension of nationalism over the recent years. Trabzon people were the top choice some 30 years ago when the government of the time sought reliable people to put in Turkish Cyprus or in Imbros, said Eyüp Aşık. After Mehmet Ali Talat, the president of Turkish Cyprus, was invited to the city, the local news media ran news items with headlines reading "The man who betrayed Cyprus." This became a hindrance to his trip to Trabzon. As may be known, Patriarch Bartolomeos was not allowed to take a trip to the city. The local news media certainly plays a crucial role in all this. A university professor here described the local news media as acting like a judge in a court of law.

What if Trabzon were a metropolis...
Contrary to popular belief, TAYAD and other groups believed to be extremely leftist are not influential in Trabzon at all. Those groups consist of young people who came not from eastern Turkey but from other cities. It was interesting to note that when a group of people chanted "Fascists out!" on the campus of Karadeniz Technical University in protest of recent incidents, the number of protesters was almost equal to that of reporters. One day before Hrant Dink was laid to rest, a group of people from Trabzon community centers gathered on a platform set out in the square to protest the killing of Dink. There was very little public reaction to this group of people. A joint statement from those who put their views about violence on paper, however, read as follows: "We are against racism and violence, and we are not supporters of such tendencies. Nonetheless, we are displeased with verbal expressions of protest at Hrant Dink's assassination such as 'We're all Armenian' since we are not at all Armenian'."

A televised discussion on a local satellite television station saw a request from one of the speakers to have Trabzon accorded the status of a "metropolis." Some among the speakers only smiled to show their surprise at the idea. "On such a day..." they were heard as saying. Famous though it may be, Trabzon is not a metropolis. Trabzon looks like a place where 250,000 people are confined to live, confined between the sea and mountainous areas. M. Volkan Canalioğlu, the mayor from the main opposition Republican People's Party, pointed to an increase in this confinement in recent years. "In recent years, Trabzon has been experiencing a trend of reverse immigration -- people coming into the city rather than going out. And this is increasing the problem of unemployment," he said. Canalioğlu has the names of 3,000 unemployed people recorded in his own notebooks. Failure to get a job is leading jobless people to illegal acts, said the mayor, adding that when officials try to stop jobless people involved in criminal acts, they hear the objections like "Shall we live in hunger? Shall we resort to robbery?"

The city people have another subject to discuss. Though this is a subject of discussion at international levels, the local people here are curious to hear news about it. This is a topic first brought out by the United States prior to the rejection in the Turkish Parliament of a resolution on March 1, 2003. Future plans to build a military base in Trabzon are closely related to the post-Cold War transformation that the Black Sea region underwent. The Black Sea was no longer a sea closed to its external neighbors after the Soviet Union died; it is no longer dominated by the Soviets alone. The fact that the Black Sea region holds world-wide appeal stems from its strategic position where new energy routes meet. The position of the Black Sea region as a point of transition, both east-west and north-south, is gaining significance. Hence Trabzon...

When Turgut Özal was in power in the early 1990s, the Turkish government laid the initial groundwork for the formation of a Trabzon-based Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation. It was aimed at "filling in the blanks" in and around the Black Sea region. As the United States is raising its request via NATO again to have a military base built in Trabzon, the locals cannot help but ask why the Black Sea region has become so important. Does the United States seek a way to use Trabzon as a base from where it can launch a war against Iran?

Doubtlessly, these questions will have to remain unanswered for the moment, just as the question remains as to who was behind the two young Trabzon people who murdered two important figures over the last year...

The pulse of Pelitli
Pelitli was a small village until 1995, when its population of 30,000 helped convert it to a small town. The initial residential areas in Pelitli are houses that were built after Pelitli was hit by floods. It is a place where gray in its different tones can be seen dominating the foreground of walls and where disjointed buildings are located here and there. "A large proportion of the local budget is being allocated to the houses that were built after the floods," said Ömer Kayıkçı, the local mayor. It is even obvious from a look out at the streets, at the apartment stairs and at the jobless young people that poverty is a big social concern here. A police car acts as regional security. None of the government officials has ever asked him for information about the murderer(s) of Hrant Dink, said Kayıkçı. Kayıkçı thinks of Internet cafes as being far more dangerous than casinos because Internet cafes can host anybody, from any age group.

The Pelitli people are asking for a solution to unemployment. The chances for employment have not increased in the least, though over the past decade the population reached 30,000 or so, said Abdulkadir Bıyık. The local population comes largely from surrounding villages, said Bıyık. "High school graduates will not work out in the field because they left their villages in the hope of finding better conditions, but their plans turned out to be unsuccessful." Bıyık is not establishing a direct link between unemployment and the fact that the murderer of Hrant Dink is someone from Pelitli; however, he thinks it far more likely for a jobless person to be enticed into crime. "I have six kids. I only allow them to travel to and from school in order to prevent them from getting involved in a criminal act."

Pelitli is not rich in terms of its facilities for social activities. The absence of such facilities has led to the creation of Internet cafes, considered just as bad as narcotics. Bıyık thinks it probable that further problems might arise if prompt action is not taken. Local friends of Ogün Samast said they would not have expected him to commit murder; however, their attitude towards the murder was not serious. They put the reason behind the murder as a need of money. After much talk, Bahattin, Tuncay, Ali İhsan and Cengiz all said words that one is most likely to hear in similar situations: "Trabzon is being projected as an evil place. The people of Trabzon are sending their sons to southeastern Turkey, where they may be killed, but they are shown no respect at all." These people know neither Hrant Dink nor his writings. All voiced their objection to slogans that read "We are all Hrant Dink." They portrayed a picture of Ogün Samast as someone who would be in the forefront, who is easily provoked, and who would try to prove himself capable, especially when he heard a statement to the contrary. For Yasin Hayal, their picture is brighter: He is a man who would die for his nation. Yasin Hayal has already become a legend.

The worn-out shoes of Hrant Dink were engraved in people's minds as they appeared after he was gunned down. Havva Samast, Ogün Samast's mother, could not help but cry when she saw Hrant Dink lying dead on the street, covered with a sheet of newspaper. Havva Hamast even fainted on Tuesday when Rakel Dink gave an emotional address to the crowd waiting outside the Agos office for the funeral of Hrant Dink. When we knocked on the door of Ogün Samast's family, a neighbor opened the door, saying, "Please stay away from us."

Ersin Yolcu, 26, who was arrested in connection with the Hrant Dink murder, is also living in the same district. "He was so kind to creatures that we could not even have him kill a chicken," said Nebahat Yolcu of his son. Mrs. Yolcu said further of his son that he would not stay out late and would come home before 8 p.m. "If I had known about this before, I would not have even allowed him to say hello to Ogün Samast," said Mrs. Yolcu. After Ersin Yolcu finished his military service, he could not find a decent job. He only found menial jobs for very short periods of time, and he could barely make any money. Tahsin Yücel, the father, said he had no idea why his son got arrested. "I don't have enough money to go to Istanbul and see him," he said. When Hrant Dink was gunned down, Ersin was home and showed no reaction to it, said Mrs. Yolcu. "It's a pity that Hrant Dink was killed. Neither my son nor me know him. He was arrested on Saturday. Since then, we are really in great sorrow. None of us except him has ever been to a police station." While Ogün and Ersin are living in upper Pelitli, Yasin Hayal is living in lower Pelitli.

‘A romantic bomber’
This is a headline that appeared on a local newspaper's front page to describe Yasin Hayal. Hayal bombed a McDonald's building; he bombed the building of a political party; he told the police that a bomb was planted on an airplane carrying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; and he is now seen as the mastermind of Hrant Dink's assassination. And he learned how to make a bomb from his search on the Internet, and tried them along with weapons used after Trabzonspor won a football game.
While Hayal was being tried for his connections to the bombing of McDonald's, Erhan Tuncel, a man believed to be a superior of Hayal's, would loiter near the courtroom, said Hayal's older brother Osman Hayal. "While Yasin was being tried in court, Erhan would approach the courtroom. When my mother asked him why he didn't enter, he would immediately go away."

Yasin Hayal's parents confirmed rumors that he frequently met with Erhan Yolcu. Now we have the following questions: Is Erhan Yolcu a supporter of a particular group? Does Yasin Hayal know that Erhan Yolcu has connections to an illegal group? Why did they commit this murder? Which group is Erhan Yolcu supporting?

‘There’s not only one Ogün Samast’
Who could have known that one of our last talks with him would also be his last talk with us? When we were writing this article, we heard that both the chief of police in Trabzon and Trabzon Governor Hüseyin Yavuzdemir were had been removed from their positions. Statements from a senior official who spent the last two-and-a-half years as the governor of Trabzon, a city that has been in the spotlight, are quite important.

Yavuzdemir declined to accept claims that there had been a failure on the part of the police to keep track of information about the murderers. "It is only after a court issues a decision that people can be tracked by the police. When a person is put under police observation but that person makes a complaint about being kept under surveillance, the police are at fault. A judge would ask for sound reasons to issue a decision to put a man under surveillance. Nobody can be put under police observation if a judge cannot be given sound reasons to do so." Yavuzdemir linked failure to control Internet cafes to this.

It is obvious from the recent incidents that missionaries are being used as a matter of propaganda. Yavuzdemir said that during the period of time he was in Trabzon, he sometimes heard complaints from the local people about missionaries; however, he did not know of any one Muslim who had converted to Christianity. Yavuzdemir put the problem as resulting from a lack of attention to the proper education of young people and from a weakening in family ties. "There is not only one Ogün Samast. There are several Ogün Samasts whose families are all split up." Yavuzdemir also reacted to calls from the media for a military intervention to take control of Trabzon and said that anything of this kind would be absolutely pointless and would definitely insult the people of Trabzon. Yavuzdemir further said that efforts to create a bad image of Trabzon could be part of a project to allow the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to gain influence in the region.

06-07.02.2007
MUHSİN ÖZTÜRK TRABZON / Zaman

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