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September 2020
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Armenian slain private not granted ‘martyrdom’ status


The family of an Armenian man who was killed by a fellow private during his army service in 2011 on April 24 — the anniversary of the day marked as the start of what Armenians say was a genocide of their people in 1915 — claim their son is being denied “martyrdom,” a legal status that provides benefits to families of soldiers killed while serving in the military.

However, to the family, there is more to this than benefits. The family, which has vowed to take the case of Pvt. Sevag Şahin Balıkçı, whose death was found to be the result of an accident by a Turkish court on Wednesday, is certain that the young man fell victim to a hate crime.

The concept of martyrdom in religious understanding corresponds to falling when fighting for spreading a just cause, but in the Turkish experience it has gained a more secular meaning, usually attributed to individuals who are killed while protecting their country, or during military service. It also has legal consequences in terms of family assistance.

The young man’s father, Garabet Balıkçı, said: “They do not consider him a martyr because he was Christian. Why, then, did they draft him in the first place?” Military service is compulsory in Turkey for males and the country does not allow conscientious objectors the right not to serve in the military.

Balıkçı’s shooter, Kıvanç Ağaoğlu, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Ani Balıkçı, Sevag’s mother, said the family was not satisfied with the ruling during a press conference the family held at the Cezayir Restaurant in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood on Wednesday.

In addition to Sevag’s family, the family’s lawyer İsmail Halavurt as well as Melis Tantan and Gencay Gürsoy, two members of the Nor Zartonk Initiative — a civil society group representing Turkey’s Armenian community set up to fight hate crimes and discrimination — also attended the event.

Ani Balıkçı, speaking about her son’s murder, said, “His name is Sevag and he is an Armenian, there is nothing else to think,” saying she was certain it was a hate crime. “First they look at our ethnicity and we are treated as foreigners, as others. Then we are dehumanized. And if they find the opportunity, we are killed,” the heart-broken mother said about being a member of a non-Muslim minority in Turkey.

Garabet Balıkçı said his son was killed “knowingly” and by a “racist bullet.”

The Diyarbakır Military Court heard the trial concerning the Balıkçı shooting. There were 12 hearings in the trial and the verdict was delivered on Wednesday. The defendant was given four-and-a-half years and if the Military Court of Appeals affirms the ruling, he will serve for one year and nine months and then will be released on parole, according to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK).

Critics believe that the panel of judges — whose members were changed frequently during the course of the trial with the exception of the presiding judge — covered up what happened on the day of Balıkçı’s murder. Several witnesses have changed their testimony in favor of the defendant and lawyers representing the plaintiffs have claimed that military commanders have forced them to change their initial statements through intimidation. The judges also rejected a demand from plaintiff lawyers to “expand the investigation.”

The Nor Zartonk community released a statement and suggested that the defendant’s sentence was only given to create the impression that some sort of punishment was given. It also said that the trial set a bad precedent for other “barracks murders.” It noted that most of the privates killed in the military service are either Kurds, Alevis or Armenians and often officially found to be killed “by accident” or as a result of “suicide.” It called for introducing a hate crime law in Turkey.