It was an instant and brutal death. Col. Atilla Altikat had stopped for a red light along a lush Ottawa
parkway one morning last week when a small grey car pulled alongside his 1981 Oldsmobile. A man darted out of the grey car, coolly aimed a 9-mm Browning pistol at the passenger window of the colonel’s vehicle and pumped bullet after bullet into the Turkish military attaché’s head. Then, as shocked witnesses gaped in horror at the carnage, the assassin fled on foot while his driver sped away.
Within hours Armenian terrorists declared that Ottawa’s first diplomatic assassination was part of a worldwide campaign to avenge the 1915 Turkish massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians. That stark revenge, however, has devastated Altikat’s colleagues and family, turned the Canadian government into an embarrassed and appalled host, and damaged the city’s reputation as a peaceful diplomatic oasis.
The 45-year-old colonel was the 23rd victim in an escalating nine-year campaign to dramatize Armenians’ demands for a separate state. Last April the Turkish Embassy’s commercial counsellor was seriously wounded out-
side his suburban Ottawa apartment by Armenian gunmen. On Aug. 7 two Armenian Security Army for the Liberation of Armenia ( ASALA) guerrillas ravaged Ankara airport with bullets and bombs, killing eight people and wounding more than 70. At the same time ASALA issued a grim communiqué in Beirut, threatening violence if Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Switzerland and Sweden did not release 85 Armenians from prison. Only four alleged Armenian terrorists are being held in Canada—they were arrested in mid-May in Toronto on charges of extortion.
The mounting threats meant that Altikat and his eight fellow diplomats lived in constant peril. After the April shooting the RCMP toughened security at the embassy and installed a security guard in front of each diplomat’s residence. But the embassy did not request “in transit” security—so the terrorists merely had to strike when a diplomat was away from his home or his job. In the wake of Altikat’s murder personal security has been increased “to the maximum.” “One doesn’t even have the strength to speak—we are so absolutely upset and sad,” mourned a Turkish embassy spokesman. “We were all aware
of the danger—but what can you do unless you lock yourself in a room?”
The crime left police scrambling for scant clues in the murky world of international terrorism—while worldwide pressure to catch the attackers steadily mounted. Within minutes of the shooting, the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and all regional police forces staked out the city and all exit points in an unsuccessful attempt to find the getaway car. Police picked up—and then released without charges—a lone suspect. The pistol had been tossed into Altikat’s car through the shattered window. And within seven hours a dozen witnesses had managed to compile a composite sketch of the assassin.
Meanwhile, unidentified callers told news organizations that the Justice Commandos Against Armenian Genocide—an apparent ASALA affiliate—had “executed” Altikat. And they vowed to strike again. “We are very concerned,” said a grim Ottawa police superintendent, Lester Thompson. “Unfortunately, we only have so many police who can only do so many things. It seems that if someone really wants to get somebody, they can do it.”
A former Turkish air force pilot, Altikat was posted to Ottawa four years ago with his wife, son and daughter. The family lived in a comfortable west-end high rise that was under constant guard, since the colonel was the thirdranking embassy official. But his stunned 17-year-old daughter, Zeymen, told reporters that police did not accompany her father to work unless they anticipated danger. She said he realized that he might be a terrorist target but that he simply assumed danger was part of his job. “I always knew,” she added. “He always told us not to go out.”
For his part, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said that he was “shocked and saddened beyond measure” by the murder and, in a rare gesture, he ordered the Canadian flag to be lowered to halfstaff at the External Affairs building. “It is a despicable and cowardly crime,” Trudeau said. “The deed demands that we strengthen our resolve to end the terrorist blight from which, it seems, no country is immune.”
In Ankara military ruler Gen. Kenan Evren condemned the “deplorable act” as a “war against the Turkish nation” and he warned that his government will “take all necessary measures” to stop the attacks. State television said that the Canadian chargé d’affaires in Ankara had been promptly summoned to the foreign ministry and told that Turkey expected speedy arrests. Achieving that elusive goal would bring some measure of security to nervous diplomats in every nation that ASALA has threatened.
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