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Old 08-15-2005, 11:36 PM   #1
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scholar arrested for... transporting second hand books!

Turkish scholar's detention contested

ISTANBUL -- In a rare display of cooperation, more than 200 international academics and intellectuals have sent a letter to the Armenian president urging the release of a Duke University scholar who went on trial this month in the former Soviet republic.

Yektan Turkyilmaz, a Turkish citizen of Kurdish background, has been charged with violating the Armenian criminal code, a catchall that forbids transporting contraband ranging from narcotics and poisons to nuclear weapons and cultural objects.

Turkyilmaz, a doctoral candidate, was arrested June 17 as he tried to leave the country with two suitcases of used books. He has been held in a former KGB maximum-security prison in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.

"The political implications of this arrest cause grave concern," read the letter, sent recently by a group that included intellectuals and academics on both sides of the Armenian mass killings divide. Professors from the Universities of Chicago, Michigan and Minnesota were among those who signed the letter.

The treatment of Turkyilmaz, the letter said, "would send a deterrent signal to other independent scholars."

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a staunch advocate for Armenian issues, also weighed in with a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

"Your detention of Yektan for seven weeks on any grounds would draw attention to failings in Armenia's democratic evolution," Dole wrote. "To detain him on grounds as dubious as these calls into question Armenia's commitment to democracy."

The trial started Tuesday and is expected to last up to a month.

Turkyilmaz's research into how Turks, Armenians and Kurds interacted for centuries in the Anatolia melting pot touched on the sensitive issue of the mass killings of Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.

Armenia and Armenian-Americans have been lobbying governments worldwide to label the deaths genocide. The Turkish government insists the deaths were the results of a civil insurrection that also claimed the lives of innocent Turks.

Turkyilmaz's supporters contend that the emotional topic got the scholar into trouble, not the books he bought in second-hand stalls and markets.

In nearly two weeks of interrogation, the academic said through friends, he was never questioned about his books but instead about his research and a compact disc of archival information that was to be the basis for his writing. The disc has been confiscated.

"This should not be a political issue; this should be for the historians to look into and decide," said an official at the Turkish Foreign Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity. "From what we had heard, this young scholar seemed to support the Armenian side of the so-called genocide debate. It is such a strange turn of events, to arrest him."

For the last two years, Turkyilmaz has conducted research in Turkish and Armenian libraries and the Turkish national archives. This year, he was the first Turkish citizen allowed access to the Armenian national archives, according to an Armenian government press release.

A bibliophile, Turkyilmaz scoured bookstores and open-air markets for old books. Supporters say no one told him he needed special permission to take the books from Armenia.

Several American and Armenian scholars have said that they also were unaware of the restriction. Although the law has been used in stopping the export of cultural goods such as religious icons and carpets, it is thought to be the first time it has been applied to books.

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Old 08-16-2005, 10:23 AM   #2
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Can you please link me to more info about this case, or is this the first time it's been written about?!?!?

Armenia has problems, I know, but hey, when you remember that until recently, ethnic Turkish scholars in Turkey were arrested and detained for even attempting to include the word "Armenian" in the Turkish edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, to inplicate that they are sinking to a Turksh level of human rights violations is laughable.

There is a common tendency to not include enough facts when talking about Armenian issues in American media, since we are unwilling to offend our NATO ally, Turkey, and even go out of our way to appease her. And it goes further than that. Anyone who has seen Atom Egoyan's "Ararat" should know that that is not strictly fiction..the present-day part of the story, that is, inaddition to the 1915 part.

Not much footage of Armenian archelogical sites exists, and it really does have to be smuggled out that way. This case is getting a lot of attention, but I wonder what sholars would say about Turkish restrictions on ethnic Armenians traveling in their country? How they have to have a Turkish soldier accompany them, and how no photos are allowed? Even New York Times reporters are restricted from photos, expcet for a couple closeups of walls. That bit about the only way the kid could get the footage of Ani out was to take the canister from the Turkish soldier with him, told it was camera film, but in fact it was heroin, and the soldier knew it...thus making Canadian customs conficate the film..that's a common occurrence. 90 yrs later, they're still outcasts.

So yes, please, if there are complications, we need to sort them out. If there is corruption, yes, root it out. But let's not go overboard please. Nobody inquires into Turkish restrictions, etc that Armenians have silently had to endure for decades, thatre prefectlt noraml and unquestioned under Turkish law, but by today;s standards are far more controversial than bunch of books. They've petitioned, etc, but have been refused. When it's still tantmount to a criminal act to go back to the site of your native village (which no longer exists)....

The fact that 90 yrs later this is still controversial, sickens me.
Still, I'd like to know more. Non-American stories, if possible.

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Old 08-16-2005, 11:04 AM   #3
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The story is from Chicago Tribune.

By Catherine Collins
Special to the Tribune
Published August 15, 2005

Here is the thing: the guy faces 8 years iin prison if he is convicted. That is why this is important.

And also I must say that I, too, am sick of this 90 year old debate. But you know, the Armenian diaspora is keeping it alive, not us. I think this is an issue of history, not politics. Ironically, scholars like that guy, who are looking for the truth, are arrested and imprisoned BECAUSE they are doing so. Turkey opened its archives, and scholars are free to view them without being prosecuted & imprisoned for it. Apparently Armenia did the same thing, but they are against scholars taking out books from, wait, NOT the archives, but THE COUNTRY?

If the access to necessary information to shed light on this issue is denied to the historians, how does the Armenian community expect the truth to come out?

But then, maybe it is not the truth that matters, but all they are trying to do is to stir up controversy? Why not just let the historians find out what really happened, and stop whining and pointing fingers without any real evidence?
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Old 08-16-2005, 11:34 AM   #5
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Have they unconditionally opened their archives from that period? No. They say they've "opend their archives", well, prove it. So far, they continue to behave in ways that suggest they have something to hide. Why do they continue to make such fuss, for example, about movies, that are based on eyewitness accounts....

I have read apbut this guy, too, I have a lot of respect for him.

Regarding this guy. I've just gotten off the phone with someone, a friend of mine, who's been to Armenia numerous times, and it's true, there is a ban on books going out of the country. There's no restrcition on other items tourists take out, but books are a no-no. Now, the fact that this guy said they didn;t look in the books to see what was in them, etc, suggests that it was not what may have been in the books that mattered, so much as the fact that they were books. If disapora Armenian tourists are forbidden from taking books out of the coutry, how should the law be any different for this guy? It has been hard for ethnic Armenians to get used to the law, but they have no choice. Every country has a list of things things forbids them from taking out. In the US, there are things you can't bring in or out. There are some really stupid things. Now, the fact that this issue has not popped up before suggests that others have been willing to abide by the law. If it had been an ordinary woman who tried to take a Armenian edition of Mother Goose out of the coutry, would there have been such controversy? No.

Why didn't this guy just go to the library, photocopy the info, and then return or sell the book? There's no retrcition on taking out photcopied material! If he is triyng to protest such a stupid law of having restrctions on books tken from the couhtry, there are other ways to protest. Maybe, for him (seeing as he is such a respected figure) the best thing to do is get the info out that way, to abide by the law, and start asking why a country like Armenian would have such a law. I think THIS is the issue that nees to be a timely fashion, not in such a way that it puts a country on the defensive.

Why would Armenian have alaw forbidding books from leaving the country? I think there are many practical, as well as "political" reasons why. If you really are fair-minded about this, try to see what the political implications would be.

All I Want, are you Turkish? Weren't you posting in the War forum some time ago. I just want to say that everything I say about Turkey is aobut the gov't ONLY. I can't speak for people, since A) they are not to blame (my grandpa told me numerous eyewitness accounts about ordinary Turks helping Armenians at great risks to their own lives back then), and B) I'm perfectly happy to live on stoeln Indian land, and hav enot been active in Native American politics. Nevertheless, there are issues and things the Turksih gov't must naswer for, and I have to puruse the issue, as there is a destroyed village and murdered people in my past who have gotten no redress in any way.

It isn't sinply an issie of opening archives. It's them trying to keep a lid on the issue in the first place. They don't want ti to be discussed in popular media. Why the hysteria over movies, books, etc? Do threy really think we want to go back and claim our land, 90 yrs later, like the Palestinians? (we have amuch surer claim than they do!) No. We'd just be happy to be ablet to go back as simnple tourists without soldeirs keeping ttrack of our wheraobuts....
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Old 08-16-2005, 12:05 PM   #6
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Yeah, I'm Turkish. And I know all countries have stupid laws about the things you can or cant do. But if you go through the secondary sources you will see that A) this is the first time this law was ever used in case of books B) the guy passed passport control & the customs, only to be arrested in the last minute by the Armenian intelligence agency C) Neither he, nor the people who sold him the books (or his Armenian friends, for that matter) knew that it was a criminal offense to take books out of the country.

Also, about not putting countries on defensive, isnt Turkey put on the defensive every single time an Armenian raises a point about an issue.

As for the transparency of the Ottoman Archives, they are apparently open enough for anyone to do a search through them on the net:

I know its in Turkish, but the archives themselves are so too (actually, a century old Turkish). Here is an easier website, although the information from the archives is still in Ottoman Turkish:

Here are some facts from the Turkish Embassy's website:

Here is the current situation between Turkey-Armenia :
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Old 08-16-2005, 12:17 PM   #7
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I'm not going to jump into the Turkish/Armenian fight here. I know that there's a lot of distrust and downright hatred between the two nations for many historical reasons.

But from a fully objective standpoint, it is not right for Armenia or any nation to detain someone merely studying a controversial subject. Period.


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