The murder on 19 January 2007 of prominent editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul, Turkey "is a devastating development," said Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, diocesan legate and ecumenical officer, Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America.
"The Armenian people around the world are mourning his death," said Archbishop Aykazian, who is also president-elect of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC).
Dink, aged 53, was owner/editor of Agos, the largest weekly Turkish-Armenian newspaper in Istanbul. Dink and Archbishop Aykazian, a Turkish-born Armenian, were lifelong friends having attended the same seminary school together.
"He's the latest victim of the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people that began in 1915," said Archbishop Aykazian. "He died because he had the courage to say there was a genocide" by the Ottoman Turks against Armenians, he said.
Dink had been convicted of insulting Turkish identity for publicly writing about the Armenian genocide and was given a suspended sentence. New laws in Turkey forbid negative public statements criticizing the country.
"The NCC calls on the US State Department to use whatever influence possible to make sure this political assassination is fully investigated with courage and clarity," said the Rev Dr Bob Edgar, the NCC's general secretary. "The Turkish government must show it will defend the rights and the lives of religious and ethnic minorities," Edgar said. The archbishop said Pope Benedict called for protection of religious minorities during his November 2006 visit to Turkey.
Archbishop Aykazian recalled a recent trip to Los Angeles with Dink where they spoke to members of the Armenian community.
"Hrant said he was not afraid for himself," said the archbishop, "but he was afraid for his children."
News reports said Dink had spoken of the possibility of leaving Turkey because he felt he was no longer welcome in his own country.
"I am praying for my friend and colleague, Archbishop Vicken," said the Rev. Michael Livingston, president of the NCC and executive director of the International Council of Community Churches. "This is a time for us to hold in prayer all of the Armenian people."
Last September Archbishop Aykazian and Dr Edgar led a mission trip to Armenia with Habitat for Humanity.
"We learned a lot about the Armenian people during our ten days there," said Edgar. "They are proud to be recognized as the first Christian country and they are determined to stand firm against genocide because they know firsthand its effects," he said.
The Turkish prime minister went on national television condemning the murder and announced two suspects were in custody, according to news reports.
Archbishop Aykazian will automatically become president of the NCC in January 2008. The National Council of Churches USA is America's ecumenical voice for 35 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace denominations. Together those churches number 45 million members in 100,000 congregations.