Widow of Turkish-Armenian journalist remains steadfast since murder

Pastor Gilbert Leonian of the Armenian Protestant Bible Church in Marseille tells the Daily News how Rakel Dink, widow of slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, has coped since her husband’s murder. The pastor adds that he himself has changed since the killing, saying, ‘The seeds of peace sewn by Hrant Dink are now sprouting inside me’

A strong faith has helped the widow of slain journalist Hrant Dink endure the four years since she lost her husband, according to a French pastor close to the bereaved. He also said the murder has paradoxically worked to change his views on Turkey.

Rakel Dink, who was the wife of the murdered Turkish-Armenian journalist, delivered a powerful speech at her husband’s funeral, lamenting how “murderers are raised from babies.” “If you pay attention to the text, you see that she seeks shelter in God despite pain and sorrow. You will hear the voice of a true believer. Rakel, our dear daughter, is such a strong and faithful woman,” Pastor Gilbert Leonian of the Armenian Protestant Bible Church in Marseille recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Leonian knows Rakel Dink well, and since Hrant Dink’s murder on Jan. 19, 2007, the widow has had relations with the church in Marseille even though she remains a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

“Rakel is a member of our congregation, but I do not want to stress her name and talk much about it,” Leonian said, relating Rakel Dink’s story to the Daily News.

Racing to the crime scene

As soon as he received news of the murder four years ago, Leonian said he called Rakel Dink in Istanbul and that she was too overcome with grief to speak. As such, Leonian said he immediately called Pastor Krikor Ağabaloğlu, the religious leader of the Armenian Protestant Church at Gedikpaşa, in Istanbul.

“I was helpless. I wanted to be there and help Rakel,” said Leonian. “I talked to Ağabaloğlu. He was on his way to the murder scene. I warned him to be careful because [a year before] Priest Andreas Santaro was murdered in Trabzon. Missionaries were facing danger. Krikor insisted on a trip to the crime scene. He said: ‘I, as a religious leader, am not in a place to think of myself. I have to be with Rakel.’ I understood him very well. If I were him, I would’ve done the same thing.”

‘Hrant showing the way’

“Rakel’s pain is naturally deeper than ours,” said Leonian. “But our son Hrant left a tremendous gap inside us which is impossible to fill. I don’t think anyone from now on will continue as courageously as he did. His heart was pounding for friendship and peace. Hrant was removing prejudices.”

Having lost a big part of his family during the 1915 events in eastern Anatolia, Leonian said he had had many prejudices against Turkey, much like many others in France’s large Armenian diaspora.

Leonian said he was forced to push his prejudices aside on his first visit to Turkey in 1999 as he rushed to help victims of the Aug. 17 Marmara earthquake that coincidentally occurred on the night of his arrival.

"It was my first time in Turkey and with Turkish people. Then, the Dink murder took place. Pain surfaced again. In the name of friendship, however, Hrant has left something beautiful and I, as a man of religion, decided to claim this heritage and now walk on his path,” Leonian said.

The pastor also said he attended a conference with a high-ranking figure from Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate – whose name he chose to withhold for privacy reasons – and added that they prayed together at a Paris church for the Turkish and Armenian peoples.

“The seeds of peace sewn by Hrant are sprouting now. I hope they will sprout in all of us,” he said.

Rakel meets Hrant

Rakel Dink is a member of one of Turkey’s largest Armenian clans, the Varto, also known as Vartan, of Southeast Anatolia. Born in the present-day province of Şırnak, Rakel Dink and several other children from the clan were located by then-Armenian Patriarch Shinorhk Kalustyan and brought to Istanbul for an education because there was no Armenian church or school in the region.

Pastor Hrant Küçükgüzelyan, the religious leader of the Armenian Protestant Church in Gedikpaşa, Istanbul, was also instrumental in the children’s education, transforming the basement of his church into an orphanage before opening a summer camp in the Tuzla district on the Asian side of the city for his charges.

Rakel Dink was also taken under Küçükgüzelyan’s wing, resulting in her Protestant upbringing. While at the Tuzla camp, she met and fell in love with Hrant Dink.

MARSEILLE - Hürriyet Daily News