April 4 was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The impact that Dr. King made spanned not just the South nor just the U.S. but influenced and continues to influence people around the world to raise their voices, pick up their pens, and speak of justice for all. Dr. King built on the momentum of Gandhi and made nonviolent protest an essential pillar of any civil rights movement. We see this influence even 50 years later in the life and assassination of Hrant Dink.
There is a pressing need in this country for educators to talk about civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement. It is within that teaching that we can empower students to use their voices to demand fair treatment for all. It is also important for us to understand nonviolent protest in context of the global community we are all a part of today. Exploring the profound effect that nonviolent protest can make in a society, can only benefit the next generation around the world.
Across the World
Each year Dr. King’s Birthday is commemorated within the same week as Hrant Dink’s assassination (January 19, 2007) and this nexus provides educators the opportunity to expand classroom discussions to incorporate a global perspective on the ongoing struggle of equality for all. Studied together, their narratives present an opportunity to learn about international and domestic rights denied to minority groups in different time periods and in different countries.
Hrant Dink (1954-2007) was the editor-in-chief and a columnist of the Armenian-language weekly newspaper Agos in Istanbul. He started the paper in 1996 to provide a voice for the Armenian community in Turkey. His goal was to provide a vehicle for furthering a democratic dialogue in Turkey that would promote a truthful remembrance of the genocide against the Armenians that began in 1915 and foster better understanding between all the citizens of Turkey. For this, Dink was arrested, harassed and threatened. On January 19, 2007, Hrant Dink was assassinated outside Agos' offices in Istanbul.
The comparisons between the two individuals run deep. Dr. King fought for civil rights for African Americans in the U.S. He advocated against laws based in discrimination (voting laws, segregation, etc.). These rights should have been naturally afforded to African Americans under the Bill of Rights. Hrant Dink protested the denial of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey and should have had the right to do so as a member of a democratic republic—a right he was not afforded due to legislation that made affirming the Armenian Case as genocide a criminal act in Turkey (Article 301) in 2005. Earlier laws were also in place that limited free speech in Turkey, but Article 301 allowed by the Turkish government to imprison and demonize anyone who spoke about the Armenian Genocide. In each example, equal rights should have been protected under the articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and by laws that ideally define democratic republics.
Dink and Dr. King also practiced nonviolent forms of protest in their efforts to demand civil rights in their countries. Both men were imprisoned because they exercised their right to freedom of expression as articulated, first and foremost, by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Both men were assassinated as a result of their drive to seek justice. They did not die in vain. Those who practice hate and were violent targeted both Dr. King and Dink. In both cases, however, the assassination of these brave men drew even more attention to their causes and showed the potential loss when hate is left unchecked.
On April 3, 1968 Dr. King addressed an audience at the Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) in Memphis, Tennessee. In his last speech, known as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Dr. King spoke of the importance of nonviolent protest, the importance of unity and the need for economic actions to further the cause of equality for African Americans. He also addresses his concern that he might be assassinated.
Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 3, 1968
Similarly, Hrant Dink addressed issues of injustice, the ongoing struggle for equality in Turkey for Armenian descendants and the threats on his life in a column he wrote days before his assassination. Unlike Dr. King, Dink was still hopeful that he would not be the target of an assassination.
From my own vantage-point, 2007 will probably be even a more difficult year…Who knows what kinds of additional injustices I will have to confront? While all these occur, I will consider this one truth my only security. Yes, I may perceive myself in the spiritual unease of a pigeon, but I do know that in this country people do not harm pigeons. Pigeons live their lives all the way deep into the city, even amidst human throngs. Yes, somewhat apprehensive, but just as free.
-Hrant Dink January 10, 2007
Using the speech by Dr. King and the column by Hrant Dink along with one of the provided worksheets, ask students to analyze and compare the final public words of Hrant Dink and Dr. King.
- Ask students to consider what they gave to the world and what they sacrificed. Have their contributions effected positive change?
- What can be learned from studying nonviolent protest movements?
- How can these lessons be applied to students’ lives?
- Are students today benefitting from form of nonviolent protest?
- Can nonviolent protest be utilized to better improve society? How?
The Road Ahead
In the case of civil rights, it is too limiting to assess the impact of leaders such as Dr. King or Dink by the current situation in a single city or nation. Under the current leader in Turkey, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, thousands have been imprisoned in the past two years for unspecified and unclear crimes against Turkey. Yet, the fact that Agos is exists means there is still hope for a better future for all citizens of Turkey. The same can be said for African American rights in the United States. Police brutality, unjust sentencing laws, unequal access to economic prosperity and political access still plague African Americans, but the will to overcome these injustices still exists, the visibility of the injustices is growing, and therefore hope remains here as well. Internationally, we have all seem to taken a step back from the promotion on democratic values over the past few years, but this step back will be temporary if we are steadfast in teaching truthful and just histories. Teaching about nonviolent protest and the sacrifices made by great leaders like Dr. King and Dink will pave the road for a better future.
This post was written by Sara Cohan, Educational Consultant, The Genocide Education Project
The Genocide Education Project is a nonprofit organization that assists educators in teaching about human rights and genocide, particularly the Armenian Genocide, by developing and distributing instructional materials, providing access to teaching resources and organizing educational workshops.
For those in the Los Angeles area, we invite you to join us on Tuesday, April 10th at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles to hear author Dana Walrath (Like Water on Stone) as she shares the relevancy of the Armenian genocide narrative in building compassion for refugees today.