An open letter. (Updated and bumped to the top. Links to come.)
Swedish Ambassador to the United States
Dear Mr. Hafstrom:
I am writing to express my great concern over the heinous murder of Professor Fuat Deniz of the University of Örebro on his campus Dec. 11, and the way Swedish authorities have handled the investigation into this crime.
It is extremely unlikely that this was merely a random act of violence. Professor Deniz was a prominent academic authority on the genocidal campaign carried out early in the last century by the Ottoman Empire against its Assyrian minority, which occurred contemporaneously with the better-known massacre of the Armenians. He presented a paper at an international conference in the United States last summer and was to have done likewise at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands mere days after he died of neck wounds inflicted with an edged weapon.
Several factors strongly suggest that Fuat Deniz’s murder was in fact a politically motivated assassination – an act of terrorism intended both to suppress his academic work and to intimidate other researchers in the field. Consider that:
* The goal of Deniz’s scholarship – to bring to light a genocidal atrocity by Ottoman Muslims against rayas (non-Muslim Ottoman subjects) – is strongly resented and fiercely resisted by the current Turkish government, which continues in the face of a mountain of documentary evidence and decades of assiduous scholarship to deny that the campaign to annihilate rayas was either genocidally oriented or centrally directed by Ottoman authorities. That government has repeatedly prosecuted its citizens for pointing out the plain truth under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which prohibits “insulting Turkishness.”
* Candor about the dark history of the Ottoman genocides prompted the Jan. 19 assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, in front of his office on an Istanbul street. Dink had been prosecuted under Article 301 once and faced yet another such charge at the time of his murder. In his last article, printed the day of his death, he described “Hundreds of threats ... by phone, email and post – increasing all the time ... The memory of my computer is filled with angry, threatening lines ...”
* Dink on several occasions expressed concern that he had been targeted for persecution by Turkey’s “deep state” – according to the Greek English-language newspaper Kathimerini, “a clandestine group within the security and intelligence services” whose existence even Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acknowledged. Dink’s fears appeared to have been borne out when his confessed killer, a young man with ties to Islamist militants who was heard to shout “I shot the infidel” as he left the scene, was shown on Turkish television after his arrest, posing with the crescent-and-star national flag as his police captors beamed in approval.
* Efforts to bring to light the truth about the Ottoman genocides are not merely a threat to Turkey’s nationalist and religious sensitivities but to its economic aspirations – specifically, its desire to gain admittance to the European Union. At a European Parliament conference held March 26 in Brussels, panelists declared that before Turkey can be admitted, it must acknowledge the genocides and open its archives from the period before being allowed to do so. Speakers included members of the European Parliament from Sweden and Germany – and Fuat Deniz’s colleague, Professor David Gaunt of Södertörn University College.
* Fuat Deniz’s academic associates are now in fear for their own lives – for , according to Gaunt, this was only the latest incident in a campaign of intimidation carried out against academics in his field. In a story in the Dec. 15 edition of Svenska Dagbladet, Gaunt told of being tailed by security police during travels in Turkey and subjected to a smear campaign in the Turkish press. Moreover, Gaunt told the paper, “On several occasions at our seminars people would attend claiming to be journalists, only to then walk around photographing delegates.”
“All those interested in Christian minorities in Turkey are considered a threat,” Gaunt added.
* An Assyrian activist was threatened last summer by Turkish officials, Länstidningen i Södertälje reported Dec. 18. Simon Barmano, the former head of the Assyrian Federation in Sweden, told the paper that on Aug. 31, four Turkish district governors, objecting during their visit to Sweden to a proposed memorial to the Assyrian genocide victims to be erected in Södertälje, warned him to “stop highlighting the genocide or your people will get hurt.”
* Various scholars, including Vahakn Dadrian of the Zoryan Institute, Andrew Bostom of Brown University, Roderic H. Davison of George Washington University, and Hannibal Travis of Florida International University, have documented the Islamic zealotry that fueled the Ottoman genocides. It is accordingly pertinent that Fuat Deniz’s attacker struck at his neck, a manner of killing specifically mandated by Islam’s prophet Muhammad in at least two verses of the Qur’an:
Sura 8, Verse 12 – Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks ...”
Sura 47, Verse 4 – Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), Smite at their necks ...
* Örebro, where Fuat Deniz was murdered, is home to one of the most militant and internationally connected Muslim communities in Sweden. During last summer’s furor over the “Muhammad as a rondellhund” caricatures drawn by the artist Lars Vilks, all of the complaints to Sweden from the Muslim world – Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference – centered around their publication in the Örebro newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, even though they also appeared in several other Swedish papers, including Aftonbladet, Dagans Nyheter, Sydsvendskan and Barometern. Moreover, in addition to the two Muslim demonstrations held in Örebro against Nerikes Allehanda’s publication of Vilks’s drawings, several hundred copies of the newspaper were burnt on the night of Sept. 4 while awaiting delivery.
Well might Mor Polycarpus Augin, Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the Netherlands, warn at a Dec. 23 service commemorating Fuat Deniz that “there are still dark powers that want to hurt our people and make an end to its enlightenment,” who “expected to silence Fuat through putting a knife on his throat.” Mor Polycarpus spoke at the Mor Kuryakos Church in Enschede, the Netherlands.
One would think that solving a case of this sort would be a high priority for Swedish law-enforcement agencies. But when the prize-winning Swedish journalist and documentary filmmaker Nuri Kino looked into the matter, he found that it seemed to have been placed on the back burner. After a trip to Örebro, he reported in the Dec. 21 edition of Aftonbladet that:
* No security or “any other form of support” had been offered by Swedish authorities to Deniz’s bereaved family; a “nervous” widow and a three-year-old daughter.
* Deniz’s campus office had not been sealed off to preserve possible evidence.
* Deniz’s academic colleagues, including those who have received threats, expressed “shock” at the “lack of knowledge regarding ethnic, political and religious clashes” on the part of the police.
* Despite declaring on radio news that a security-camera picture of a blood-spattered man taken in a store the day of Deniz's killing is uesless,” Örebro police have ignored an offer of assistance from a technical specialist in cleaning up such pictures.
* When Kino called Örebro police, he was told that their public information officer was on vacation and the lead prosecutor in the investigation was out sick – without anyone acting in his stead. Moreover, “police in Örebro will be reducing the number of police on duty over the coming holiday period.”
* A spokesperson at the National Criminal Police Corps murder commission, from which assistance in the investigation was sought by Örebro police, told Kino that “Those that work at The National Criminal Police Corps murder commission have taken their Christmas holiday and won't return until the second of January. They have their holidays and they definitely deserve it as they are never home.”
After Kino’s report appeared, Örebro police belatedly offered protection to Fuat Deniz’s frightened family, and lead investigator Per Jan Eriksson acknowledged to SVT television that his department had been remiss in failing to seal off the slain professor’s office. But many Örebro police remained on holiday, as did agents of the Swedish national police – and as they took their leisure, the trail of Fuat Deniz’s murderers grew ever colder.
In all candor, Mr. Hafstrom, this does not speak well of either the competence or the motivation of Swedish law enforcement. At best, it bespeaks a police corps so suffused with bureaucratic torpor that its personnel couldn’t be bothered to interrupt their holiday revelries and relaxation with anything so trifling as the assassination of an internationally known genocide researcher. At worst, it suggests that the investigation into the murder of Professor Fuat Deniz has been neglected due to some squalid raison d’état.
I realize that as a diplomat, this police matter is outside your area of responsibility. All the same, I urge you to convey to the relevant organs of your government my outrage over Fuat Deniz’s assassination – and my concern that said organs have not been doing all they should to see justice done. Kindly advise them also that, as an independent journalist, I intend to do what I can to publicize this case in the United States.