01/26/2007 01:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thoughts from Istanbul

We flew into Istanbul last Friday evening from Madrid. My girlfriend is a food critic and I thought the big news from our trip would be our lunch at a restaurant where the Real Madrid football team turned out to be lunching too. My girlfriend got four kisses on the cheek from Brazilian great Roberto Carlos; I got some words with David Beckham, in the bathroom, wishing him all best in L.A. as he buckled his pants. He was taller than I expected, and like so many soccer players, a slim fella. Out on the sidewalk the paparazzi thronged.

Then we landed in rainy, globally warm Istanbul that evening and heard the terrible news of the murder of Hrant Dink. We've bought an apartment into this infatuating and sublime city. We have made good friends here, including people who were also friends and colleagues of Dink. We saw many of them at a memorial gathering for Dink at an arts center Tuesday evening, after the funeral. They drifted about devastated, eating the sweets served on these occasions, murmuring and embracing. A lone doleful stringed instrument played over the sound system. On the walls were arrayed all the issues of Agos, the Turkish-Armenian paper Dink edited. Heartbreakingly, there was also a large image of a pigeon. In his last editorial, Dink, a champion of Turkish and Armenian dialogue, had compared his agitated fearful recent existence to that of a pigeon.

But they don't shoot pigeons, he'd consoled himself.

Well they do.

Earlier Tuesday I walked with thousands and thousands on the funeral procession. A sea of people, all types, converged outside the Agos offices in upscale Sisli neighborhood, where Dink had been gunned down in broad daylight, just a few hundred yards from the museum for Ataturk, founder of modern secular Turkey. Ataturk was a famous and iconic dandy, and the museum lovingly offers samples of his pants and coats and undergarments. When he launched his military campaign to create the Turkish state, he landed in the Black Sea town of Samsun--where Dink's killer was apprehended over the weekend. A grim chiming of ironies or resonances.

The deadly bullseye was drawn on Dink by the paranoically Orwellian Article 301 of Turkey's Penal Code, which forbids insults to Turkishness, the Turkish state, etc, etc. Orhan Pamuk was charged under this totalitarian stricture, as have been numerous others--some of the most honorable and humanistic voices in Turkey. With elections coming up this year, no political party wants to risk losing nationalist votes, so Article 301 will like stay live, a veritable cocked gun. There are lots of guns in this country.

"We are all Armenians" read the placards of Tuesday's marchers. "Shoulder to shoulder against fascism" groups would burst out chanting--alas it's an old chant. Maybe Turkey is undergoing real change, and the dying ultranationalist elements are having their catastrophic death throes.

But it's a fearful and devastating time now here, when such a voice and spirit as Dink's lies shot down on the sidewalk. When the confessed young killer's mentor shouts out a warning addressed to Orhan Pamuk as he's escorted away...