"Founded by Hrant Dink and his friends in 1996, Armenian daily newspaper Agos defined its mission as to reclaim linguistic, cultural and historical values that make up the Armenian identity, pass them on to next generations, learn about Armenians living in Turkey and integrate them into society, get their issues on the public agenda in Turkey and find solutions to their problems. Agos is an important milestone, because it is the first newspaper that has been published both in Turkish and Armenian in the Republican period. In 1999, Agos moved its offices to the Sebat Apartment Building located in Osmanbey, Istanbul. Over time, the office has become an important gathering place for Armenians from Turkey and abroad, other minority members, researchers, students and journalists. Agos represented a hope for a more democratic Turkey. Moreover, as Agos published on issues about Armenians and other minorities in Turkey that have been rendered invisible, and about the suffering after 1915 and its contemporary effects, it encouraged all groups that demand the development and implementation of policies against human rights violations faced by all minority groups.
Hrant Dink, who was the editor-in-chief of Agos since its establishment, had been the target of hate speech in the national press because of his articles and several court cases had been filed against him since 2004.A news report on Ataturk’s adopted daughter and Turkey’s first female combat pilot Sabiha Gökçen published in Agos’s February 6, 2004 issue with Dink’s signature was the starting point for the intense period of court cases even though this article never became a court case. Titled ‘Sabiha Hatun’s secret’, the news report stated that Gökçen was of Armenian origin and had relatives in Armenia. Armenian citizen Hripsime Sebilcian Gazalian from Antep claimed that Gökçen was an Armenian orphan adopted from an orphanage and that she was her niece.
Following the publication of this news report, the Secretary General of Turkish General Staff issued a strongly-worded statement. Right after this, Hrant Dink was called to the Istanbul Governorate and given a warning in the presence of members of the National Intelligence Organization. Furthermore, Hrant Dink became a target of a right-wing media campaign with the accusation that “Hrant Dink denigrated the Turkish identity” along with some excerpts which were carefully selected from an eight-part article series. In the court case launched against Dink for ‘publicly insulting and degrading Turkishness,’ even though the experts’ report stated that there was nothing that would constitute a crime, Hrant Dink was given a six-month prison sentence. In the first hearing of the court case, nationalist groups chanted slogans of hate and threat and threw coins and pens to Hrant Dink and his lawyers. Besides, a couple of newspapers continued to target Dink and Agos. Lastly, Dink was charged with ‘denigrating Turkishness’ as per Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code because of the article titled ‘1 Vote against 301’ published in the July 21, 2006 issue of Agos. Following a period during which he had been the target of nationalists’ threats, the protests of nationalist groups using threats and hate speech, as well as court cases, Hrant Dink was shot to death in front of the Sebat Apartment Building on January 19, 2007.
Following the murder, which has sparked major protests, ten thousands of people marched with the slogan “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink.” Every year on January 19, large crowds continue to come together in front of the Sebat Apartment Building, which has become “a site of conscience” since that day, and call for the murder case to be solved and those involved to be punished, and demand justice for Hrant and all of us. Hrant Dink’s murder case is still ongoing.
Hrant Dink Foundation was founded in 2007 with the aim of continuing Hrant Dink’s struggle, contributing to the protection and development of human rights, minority rights and cultural rights to support non-nationalistic and non-racist historical research, and maintaining and introducing Armenian culture and history in Turkey. Since then, the offices of the Foundation and Agos located at the Sebat Apartment Building has become a popular stop on the route of diaspora Armenians who come to Anatolia to discover the lands of their forbearers.
"In 2015, it was decided to turn the offices of the Agos and Hrant Dink Association located at the Sebat Apartment Building into a site of memory. Hrant Dink Site of Memory is designed as a site of memory which “would help remember the past while shaping the future, establish a platform for dialogue while contributing to mutual understanding, and give hope to its visitors for living together and social peace”. Moreover, one of the motivations of the project was to turn this site into an inspiration for other commemoration projects. During the preparatory stage, the project team made a special effort to search the experiences and sites of memory in different places, share these experiences with the public, and create awareness on the role of museums and monuments in dealing with the past and creating social dialogue. In their report, they provided a detailed account of how the process worked and thus kept a record of the commemoration practice .
The name of the site was inspired by Hrant Dink’s article “23,5 Nisan” (23.5 April) published in Agos’s 23 April 1996 issue. The article called on the Turkish society to embrace the sorrow and enthusiasm of the past with an emphasis on living together. Here, the expression “23.5 April” underlined the need to reframe the different social/political events that have foundational role in country’s history. April 23 is the day when the National Sovereignty and Children's Day was declared in 1920 to commemorate the establishment of the 1st Grand National Assembly of Turkey. April 24, 2015, on the other hand, is globally recognized as the day when genocide began as Armenian intellectuals, writers, artists, medical doctors, teachers and MPs were taken from their homes to never return. The fact that 23 April is celebrated with enthusiasm while 24 April is denied and sufferings that followed are rendered invisible suggest a political and social climate which causes never-ending grief in Armenians that lasted for one hundred years. The title “23.5 April” called on the people of Turkey to embrace the sorrow and joy of the past together in the context of these consecutive days, 23 April (National Sovereignty and Children's Day) and 24 April (Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day).
23.5 Hrant Dink Site of Memory has thematic rooms that present Hrant Dink’s life and struggle and important milestones of Agos’s social memory, in addition to artistic memory works that are located in different sections of the venue. In the Agos Room, the story of the newspaper’s establishment is presented through its subject-matter, excerpts from the newspaper, drawings, photographs and videos. In the Corridor, parts of Turkey’s history between 1996 and 2007 are presented with Agos headlines and news reports. The Multi-Purpose Activity Area is reserved for workshops and events to make it function as a collective production, thinking and research venue. Moreover, visitors and researchers can digitally access Agos’s 10-year archive. The Toilet Choir installation displays the psychological and physical torture experienced by Hrant Dink in a prison cell after he was arrested following the 1980 military coup. The venue also features the Atlantis Civilization Room which informs about Hrant Dink’s childhood in ""Kamp Armen"" in Tuzla and the story of how Hrant and Rakel Dink met; the Pursuit of Justice room which gives detailed account of what happened on January 19, the proceedings on Hrant Dink’s murder case since 2007 and the January 19 commemorations; and the Room of Disquiet of a Pigeon which tells about how Hrant Dink was targeted and what lawsuits were filed against him with Hrant Dink’s words and with the help of videos, news reports and visuals. Based on the metaphor of ""creating a diamond from sorrows"", the installation of Salt and Light located in the back balcony of the apartment is designed by artist Sarkis to allow visitors to feel, contemplate and remember. The Project of Founding an Embassy by Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz from Germany emphasizes the normalization of Turkey-Armenia relations.
"Visitors express that they leave the Site of Memory with new information on the history of Turkey, with new questions and having learned more about Hrant Dink and the values he embraced. Visitors also say that with heightened emotions, they leave the place filled with courage to do something about today and the future. In regular workshops held at the venue, participants share their visions for the future. Providing spaces that can actively accommodate its visitors’ emotions and experiences, the Site of Memory enables them to frequently share their views on notions such as hope, justice, memory and truth. Stating that reminding and remembering are healing, visitors say that they leave the place with hope and often express that they are inspired by Hrant Dink’s struggle.
Institutions and individuals planning to build sites of memory or conduct commemoration activities consult the organization’s views and suggestions as they visit 23.5. They also express that the site is an inspiration for them. Academicians coming from universities also visit the site with their students. The project team state that they hope to work with school groups and their teachers and have ongoing efforts to do so. Besides, many NGOs especially bring their visitors coming from abroad to the site.
Stating that they started with a lot of questions in mind on technique, content and design because no similar project exists in Turkey, the project team talk about how they have dealt with the challenges they faced during the creation process of the venue: “The comprehensive preparatory stage and our learning process overcame the challenges. We visited nearly one hundred museums and sites of memory that deal with difficult pasts in 15 countries, benefited from the experiences of international experts and invited more than thirty specialists to Turkey to have their concrete suggestions and all of these helped shape the venue.”