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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 10:21 GMT
Turkey's nationalist hotbed
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Trabzon, eastern Turkey

Bridge in Trabzon
Trabzon was once a cosmopolitan metropolis
On match days Trabzon turns claret and blue as thousands of football fans stream towards their stadium.

The Black Sea port city was always famous for its football. The only team outside Istanbul ever to win the league title, Trabzonspor, is the pride of this place - its identity.

But the city is now notorious as home to the teenage boy and eight accomplices charged with plotting to kill ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was shot dead in Istanbul last month.

Some here seem proud of that connection.

'We're all Turks'

When Dink was murdered, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul and declared themselves Armenian in solidarity.

Political activist Zeynep Erdugul
In public people will say it is bad that [Hrant Dink] was killed, but to most Trabzon people he was not an intellectual - he was just an Armenian
Political activist Zeynep Erdugul
In Trabzon, football fans held up banners in response that read: "We're all Turks."

"People here are proud to be Turks, without thinking about what it really means. There is a blind nationalism here. Racism has flourished," says local political activist Zeynep Erdugul.

Two years ago she and her friends were beaten in the streets of Trabzon by a furious mob that mistook them for supporters of the Kurdish separatists, the PKK.

Ms Erdugul fears nationalist feeling is now climbing to dangerous new heights.

In public people will say it is bad that Hrant Dink was killed, but to most Trabzon people he was not an intellectual - he was just an Armenian," she says.

'Insecure place'

The alleged teenage gunman, Ogun Samast, is said to have told police the journalist had "insulted Turkishness" by contesting the state position that the mass killing of Armenians by Turks in 1915 was not genocide.

Cut-out portrait of Hrant Dink with words "We are all Hrant Dink" in Turkish
Thousands demonstrated in support of Hrant Dink in Istanbul last month
Tucked away on Turkey's northern coast between snow-capped mountains and the Black Sea, Trabzon was once a cosmopolitan metropolis. It was a Greek colony, then capital of the Trebizond Empire - a bustling trading town on the Silk Road.

As the Turkish Republic was forged a century ago, the Greeks were expelled and the Armenians deported or killed.

When Trabzon people talk about outsiders today, they mean migrants from the next village.

"The nationalist instinct is higher in Trabzon than in other regions of Turkey and it's rising," says newspaper editor Ali Ozturk.

He describes Trabzon as an insecure, even paranoid, place.

"From time to time Trabzon appears on new maps of a Greater Armenia or the Pontus Greek Empire and some groups here see that as a real threat. They think the Armenians and Greeks want to take over their land and that makes them very sensitive," Mr Ozturk says.

'Lost hopes'

But most locals believe it was poverty that drove Dink's alleged killers to murder.

They point to crowds of youths and men wandering the city's cobbled streets or lounging on its benches, unemployed and disenchanted.

Mayor Volkan Canalioglu rejects any suggestion that there is a problem here with ultra-nationalism.

"Murders, rapes and other crimes are on the increase all over the world," he says. "Hrant Dink's killing should be seen in that context.

"The people of this region have characters like the waves of the Black Sea. They explode suddenly then calm down.

"When you add unemployment, broken homes and lost hopes to that character - then it's very easy to influence people here, and provoke them to action."

Unemployment levels here are about average for Turkey, but there is just one factory and it produces young players for Trabzonspor.

Football-mad city

Football is the height of boys' hopes here. It represents their ticket to wealth and status, and a way to prove themselves.

Football pitch at Pelitli
Football is seen as a ticket out of a place that offers little hope
"The young people of Trabzon are so neglected that there are no other opportunities to fulfil their ambitions," says youth team co-ordinator Ozkan Sumer, as boys in pale blue dash about a nearby training pitch.

A former Trabzonspor player himself, Mr Sumer makes mighty claims for the game this city is obsessed with.

"Young people here are left dangling and there's always a danger they could break away from society. Football is the only thing that keeps them from falling," he says.

In depressed city suburbs like Pelitli, there does seem little else to dream of.

The accused gunman and his alleged chief accomplice both come from this neglected neighbourhood, where small children play in puddles and older boys chase a ball down the street.

But even Pelitli has a football team and both the main accused played for it.

The team, Pelitlispor, initially carried messages of support for its ex-teammates on its website.

Friends of those in custody now insist they do not agree with the murder of Dink. But they do share the alleged killer's controversial views on Turkish history.

"As the people of this soil, we don't believe there was any Armenian genocide," says one friend, Serkan.

It is that view - still the official position of Turkey and hotly disputed by Armenians - that Dink challenged in his work.

"This land is ours - and when there are things to defend, we definitely do that," adds another friend of one of the accused.

"But we talk about football or finding a job round here, not about Hrant Dink or any genocide."

Trabzon is a city where nationalism is nurtured and admired. It certainly does not feel ashamed by its association with the murder of Dink. It feels defensive.

The only question people here are asking themselves is what all the fuss is about.

Turkey's Armenian dilemma
27 Feb 07 |  Europe
Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
12 Oct 06 |  Europe
Obituary: Hrant Dink
19 Jan 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Turkey
18 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Officer suspended in Dink probe
06 Feb 07 |  Europe

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