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Duke researcher arrested on suspicion of smuggling books

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  • #11

    Aug 1 2005

    ISTANBUL, AUGUST 1, ARMENPRESS: A group of Turkish intellectuals
    addressed an open letter to the Armenian President Robert Kocharian in
    which the authors express concern about the fate of Turkish scientist
    Ektan Turkilmaz who was arrested in Yerevan while trying to smuggle
    out of Armenia tens of books "of historical and cultural value" dating
    back to 17 and 20 centuries. In the letter, published in the Turkish
    Daily News, the authors say they are sure that Turkilmaz violated
    the law unknowingly.

    "No one warned him against it," wrote Turkish intellectuals, calling
    on the Armenian authorities not to sharpen the tensed and fragile
    relations between Armenia and Turkey. According to the Armenian
    national security service, Ektan Turkilmaz, 33, a Turkish citizen
    from Istanbul and a student of a US-based Duke University, in North
    Carolina, was arrested aboard a plane bound from Yerevan to Istanbul.
    [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


    • #12

      PanArmenian News network
      Aug 1 2005

      01.08.2005 03:17

      /PanARMENIAN.Net/ A group to Turkish historians have sent an open
      letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian. The authors of
      the letter are concerned over the fate of Turkish scholar Yektan
      Turkyilmaz, taken into custody in Yerevan. "No one notified him in
      advance," the message authors write, urging Armenian leaders not to
      exacerbate the already fragile Armenian-Turkish relations, reported
      Turkish Daily News. It should be reminded that Yerevan-Istanbul
      flight passenger - Turkish citizens Yektan Turkyilmaz - was taken
      into custody at Zvartnots Airport. A large lot of books of 17-20th
      centuries was found in his luggage and seized.
      [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


      • #13
        Scholars Petition President of Armenia on Behalf of Jailed Ph.D. Candidate
        By AISHA LABI

        Chronicle of Higher Education
        Monday, August 1, 2005

        More than 200 academics from the United States, Armenia, Turkey,
        and elsewhere have signed an open letter to the president of Armenia
        expressing their "grave concern" at the arrest and detention of a
        Ph.D. candidate from Duke University. The student, Yektan Turkyilmaz,
        a Turkish citizen, was arrested on June 17 as he was leaving Armenia
        for Turkey with about 100 secondhand books he had legally purchased.

        Mr. Turkyilmaz, who has been in jail in the Armenian capital of
        Yerevan since then, was charged last week with customs violations for
        attempting to remove books that are more than 50 years old from the
        country without permission. The prohibition against doing so falls
        under an article of the Armenian criminal code that mentions items
        such as narcotics; radioactive materials; firearms; nuclear, chemical,
        and biological weapons; and "technologies which can also be used for
        the creation or use of mass-destruction weapons or missile-delivery

        Mr. Turkyilmaz has been charged under a provision relating to the
        removal of "cultural values for the transportation of which special
        rules are established."

        Ayse Gul Altinay, an assistant professor at Sabanci University in
        Istanbul who is coordinating efforts on Mr. Turkyilmaz's behalf,
        said that many of the scholars she has contacted, including Armenians
        and Armenian-Americans, were "shocked" to find out that Armenian law
        treats customs violations relating to books in the same way it does
        violations to do with nuclear weapons. If convicted, Mr. Turkyilmaz
        faces a jail sentence of four to eight years.

        Mr. Turkyilmaz is a candidate for a degree in cultural anthropology,
        and his dissertation is to be called "Imagining 'Turkey,' Creating
        a Nation: The Politics of Geography and State Formation in Eastern
        Anatolia, 1908-1938."

        Relations between Turkey and Armenia have long been strained, and
        the period that Mr. Turkyilmaz is studying is at the heart of the
        tension. In 1915 Ottoman Turkish forces killed 1.5 million Armenians
        in Eastern Anatolia. Armenians characterize the killings as genocide,
        but Turkey attributes the deaths to civil war and other factors,
        and emphasizes that many Turks also perished.

        Orin Starn, Mr. Turkyilmaz's dissertation supervisor at Duke, described
        him as a "humane and lovely person, as well as the model of a top-notch
        researcher and scholar" who has won many awards and grants, including
        a Social Science Research Council fellowship that is supporting his
        work in Armenia. "His work is very interdisciplinary. He is very
        interested in culture and the politics of culture, and his research
        is much more historically focused," said Mr. Starn. "It connects very
        much to political science and international relations and geography."

        Ms. Altinay, who also completed her Ph.D. under Mr. Starn's supervision
        at Duke, said that the research Mr. Turkyilmaz is doing is highly
        original. "This was a very violent moment in the history of this
        region, and it's also a very complicated moment, when different
        nationalisms clashed with one another, ideologically and physically.
        This is the formation period of Turkish nationalism, of Kurdish
        nationalism, and of Armenian nationalism," she said.

        "Scholars so far have focused on one of these issues," she said, "and
        have not looked at how these different nationalisms have influenced,
        formed, and affected one another."

        Mr. Turkyilmaz is fluent in modern and Ottoman Turkish and different
        dialects of Armenian, as well as French and English.

        "Yektan loves Armenia. He learned the language and is fascinated
        by all things Armenian," said Mr. Starn. "He made a lot of friends
        there, and part of the reason he's there and has been collecting books
        is that he's fascinated and engaged by Armenian culture." This was
        Mr. Turkyilmaz's fourth trip to Armenia and he had become the first
        Turkish scholar to be allowed to conduct research in the Armenian
        National Archive.

        "His work involves a lot of copying documents in the archives and
        getting ahold of old books, early 20th-century books related to his
        work," said Mr. Starn. "All these books were purchased from secondhand
        booksellers who sold them openly. There was no secret sale or purchase
        of these books." It is common for scholars and especially historians to
        acquire or collect books from the period they study, Mr. Starn pointed
        out. "This was clearly an unknowing violation of the law," he said.

        Last week Ms. Altinay visited Mr. Turkyilmaz in prison. She was the
        first person to be allowed to do so other than his lawyers. They spoke
        in what she described as an interrogation room, in the presence of
        a National Security Service agent, and neither was allowed to take
        notes. "I tried to explain that there are a number of people doing
        all they can to address his situation," she said. "He explained to
        me what he thought was happening. He had no idea that he had to have
        permission to take these books out of the country."

        Mr. Turkyilmaz told Ms. Altinay that he had been very excited by
        the "wonderful material" the archives had yielded, but that all his
        research, including CD's with his work from the national archives, had
        been confiscated. A backup set of CD's he had left with a friend was
        also confiscated. "This was one of the signs that this is not a customs
        investigation," Ms. Altinay said. "He didn't even have these with him."

        The open letter to Armenia's president, Robert Kocharian, says of Mr.
        Turkyilmaz: "We understand that he has been questioned about his
        research and theoretical orientations, and the digital copies
        of his archival research have been confiscated. There can be no
        justification for this treatment." The letter goes on to note that
        "the current law places no obligation on the sellers of old books
        to inform the purchasers that special permissions will be needed to
        take the books out of the country and makes no distinction between
        violations involving nuclear weapons and books."

        Mr. Starn plans to travel to Armenia on August 12, unless Mr.
        Turkyilmaz is released before then. No trial date has been set, but
        the judge who will hear the case has said that it would take place
        around August 15.

        Duke University officials have contacted members of Congress about
        Mr. Turkyilmaz's situation and have also sought the help of prominent
        Armenian-Americans. Mr. Starn said Mr. Turkyilmaz would pay whatever
        fine and turn over whatever historical volumes the Armenian authorities
        demanded. "The really big issue is that a four-to-eight-year jail
        term and being detained now for six weeks is a very severe penalty
        for such an unknowing mistake."

        As of this morning, President Kocharian had not responded to the
        letter, which was sent to him on Friday with about 100 signatures. An
        updated version with an additional 100 signatures was sent today.

        "This letter in and of itself has become a peace project," said Ms.
        Altinay. "The kind of people who have come together on this have never
        come together before on any other issues. There are prominent genocide
        researchers who have signed this document who have dedicated their
        whole lives to criticizing Turkey and Turks. That they are coming
        and signing this document, written by Turks, in support of Yektan,
        criticizing the actions of the Armenian government, is very crucial."
        [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


        • #14
          Yektan Case on BBC/NPR's The World: 4.5 minutes

          On Thursday evening there was a segment on The World (NPR) on Turkyilmaz.?
          You can listen to it online (scroll down to Duke student... and click on
          the loudspeaker icon).? It's 4.5 minutes long.

          Duke student detained in Armenia (4:30)
          Reporter Jessica Jones follows the story of a young graduate student from
          Duke University who's been arrested and put on trial in Armenia. The
          student says he bought books at an open air market that he planned to use
          in research for his thesis. Armenian authorities have charged him with
          smuggling cultural artifacts out of the country.
          [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


          • #15
            Interesting the above audio clip fails to state that the books were 300 years old in some cases... very unbalanced report if you ask me...
            [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


            • #16
              Yektan Freed!

              UPDATE, AUGUST 16, 2005: YEKTAN FREED!
              Yektan Turkyilmaz was given a suspended sentence of one year in prison
              today and released from custody. Apparently he must remain in Armenia for
              approximately two weeks, but will then be free to continue his graduate

              [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]


              • #17
                Jailed Duke Graduate Student Glad to be Back at Work

                International effort helped free student from Armenian detention

                Thursday, September 8, 2005

                Durham, N.C. -- Yektan Turkyilmaz wasted no time celebrating his return to Durham on Friday following a two-month detention in Armenia that attracted worldwide attention.

                He arrived at his apartment at 11:30 p.m. By midnight, several Duke friends were assembling to welcome him.

                “So many scholars supported me while I was under detention,” said the Turkish graduate student, who was arrested on June 17 on charges of taking books out of Armenia illegally. “I feel safe back here at Duke.”

                Turkyilmaz received a two-year suspended sentence from an Armenian court on Aug. 16 but had to remain in the country for two weeks until the sentence became official. He then flew to Durham, where he is finishing his dissertation under Orin Starn of the cultural anthropology department.

                Acknowledging that he had failed to comply with the law prohibiting the export of books older than 50 years without permission, Turkyilmaz said he assumed from the outset that his arrest was politically motivated.

                “I didn’t know about the law,” he said. “No one does. Even the booksellers don’t know about it. This whole thing about the books was just a pretext.”

                Turkyilmaz said he was caught in “an internal struggle” in a country still emerging from a Soviet-style government to a more open society. His situation was complicated by the historically strained relations between Armenia and Turkey.

                Turkyilmaz, who is Kurdish, was the first Turkish scholar allowed to carry out research in Armenia’s national archives. His studies focus on the 1915 genocide of Armenians, and the emergence of modern forms of Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian nationalism.

                “I’d gone to Armenia five times and never had a problem,” he said. “But the people who arrested me seemed to have other motives and kept asking me about my political views. They didn’t seem to understand the idea of what a scholar is or why I’d be doing this research. They certainly didn’t know much about cultural anthropology, so I just told them I was a historian. Initially they thought I was a spy but, of course, there was no evidence to support this.”

                Turkyilmaz said that while he was in prison he heard occasional news reports about the growing numbers of scholars and political leaders protesting his detention. Among these was Duke President Richard H. Brodhead, who described Turkyilmaz as a “scholar of extraordinary promise” in an Aug. 1 letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

                The detention “helped me improve my Armenian,” joked Turkyilmaz, who also speaks four other languages. But he said it also was “an attack against academic freedom.”

                “I got caught between groups with their own agendas,” he said. “What’s funny is that now you have some Armenians officials who don’t want me doing research in Armenia, and some Turks who don’t want me to talk about the genocide. I just hope the incident will lead to closer cooperation between Turkish and Armenian scholars in discussing some of these painful historical questions.”

                With another year or two remaining to complete his Ph.D., he wants nothing more than to put the incident behind him. “I’m grateful to everyone who helped me, especially to the Duke community and to the many Armenian intellectuals, journalists and officials who supported me. They range from President Brodhead to the Turkish scholar Ayse Gul Altinay and Amatuni Virabian, the head of Armenia’s national archives. I never wanted to be the focus of something like this or to have my name in the news media. At this point, I just want to go back to work.”
                "All truth passes through three stages:
                First, it is ridiculed;
                Second, it is violently opposed; and
                Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

                Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


                • #18
                  Freed Scholar Speaks Out

                  Inside Higher Ed
                  Friday, Sept. 30, 2005

                  Four months ago, Yektan Turkyilmaz was a doctoral student in cultural
                  anthropology at Duke University, well-regarded but little known outside his
                  field. Then, on June 17, authorities at the airport in Yerevan, Armenia
                  ordered him off a plane and placed him under arrest, confiscating nearly 100
                  books and CDs of research he had done as the first Turkish scholar ever
                  granted access to the National Archives of Armenia.

                  Over the summer, Turkyilmaz became a cause célèbre
                  <> among scholarly groups
                  that believed the smuggling charges against him (supporters say he was the
                  first person Armenia has ever charged with illegally exporting books) to be
                  a pretext for what they considered a crackdown on a researcher studying a
                  politically sensitive period in the country's tangled history with Turkey.
                  Major scholarly associations and human rights groups, as well as academic
                  and political leaders in the United States and throughout the world, urged
                  Armenia to drop the charges against him.

                  After a short trial last month, a court found Turkyilmaz guilty
                  <> of trying to take books
                  out of the country illegally, but suspended his two-year sentence and
                  released him. He returned to Duke early this month to get back to his
                  studies and his research. In an e-mail interview with Inside Higher Ed, he
                  discusses his detainment, why he thinks he was arrested, and the
                  implications of his situation for his career, his profession and beyond.

                  Q: In court, you apparently acknowledged breaking the Armenian law
                  unknowingly. Does that mean you believe your arrest was legitimate,or did
                  the government have another motive?

                  A. Yes I did acknowledge that I unknowingly broke a `law,' an obscure law
                  which applies to the:

                  `Contraband of narcotic drugs, neurological, strong, poisonous, poisoning,
                  radioactive or explosive materials, weapons, explosive devices, ammunition,
                  fire-arms, except smoothbore long barrel hunting guns, nuclear, chemical,
                  biological or other mass destruction weapons, or dual-use materials,
                  devices, or technologies which can also be used for the creation or use of
                  mass destruction weapons or missile delivery systems thereof, strategic raw
                  materials orcultural values.'

                  But I am convinced the book charges were just a pretext for my arrest. KGB
                  officials (Armenia's police are now formally known as the National Security
                  Service, but everyone, including they themselves, still call them the KGB)
                  were certain that I was a spy. The first day one of the KGB agents told me
                  that their endeavor was to clarify - given that Armenia's ceasefire with
                  Azerbaijan had ended very recently - that I had not been involved in
                  espionage on behalf of the Turks (they do not differentiate between Azeris
                  and Turks!). That is why they arrested me.

                  The interrogators' questioning in the initial few days of my arrest was
                  entirely devoted to my research, my political views and connections with
                  Turkish intelligence and state officials. The concept of `scholar' is
                  meaningless to them. According to them, as the investigator put it, `all
                  scholars are spies.' All my friends and contacts in Yerevan (most of whom
                  have nothing to do with the books found in my suitcases) have not only been
                  interrogated by the KGB but were also harassed and threatened. They were all
                  told that I was a Turkish spy. My friends who were at the airport with me
                  were threatened not to let anyone, especially my family, know about my
                  arrest. (When my sister contacted them via phone they denied that they were
                  with me at the airport! For that reason my family did not know about my
                  situation for 15 hours.)

                  My case was a violation of academic freedom and the right to research.
                  Investigators went through every bit of my research material. They looked
                  one by one at almost 20 thousand images saved on the CDs and on my laptop. I
                  was asked to prove that I had permission to reproduce every single image and
                  also that they contained no `state secrets' even though I had official
                  permission to do research in the archives. They posed questions about my
                  political ideas, dissertation topic, why I had learned Armenian, if I
                  personally would have had enough time to read the material I had reproduced
                  at the libraries and the Archives, my relations with Turkish military and
                  intelligence, etc.

                  The staff at the libraries and archives where I was conducting research were
                  not merely questioned about their personal connection with me, but also
                  forced to testify against me. They asked one librarian `how dare you take a
                  non-Armenian guy to `our' national Archives?' I am also informed that, they
                  had been forced to confirm that I got permissions to conduct research at
                  their institutions not through legal procedure (implying that I bribed them
                  to get permission to do research!).

                  It was only later, when the Armenian secret service could find no basis for
                  their claims, that the issue of legally purchased, second-hand books in my
                  possession came into the picture.

                  Q: Do you think you were detained for political reasons? If so, why?

                  A: I am convinced that not only my arrest but also my release were political
                  decisions taken by (few but) very high ranking Armenian officials. I believe
                  this Cold War-era conspiracy was organized, or at least encouraged, by those
                  who have no wish to see cooperation and improved relations between Turkey
                  and Armenia. KGB officials' mentality - a mixture of the Soviet way of
                  thinking and nationalism with xenophobic overtones - played a crucial role
                  in making the decision to detain me. Unfortunately, in today's Armenia (like
                  many other ex-Soviet republics), there isn't adequate political control over
                  KGB. I should also underline that there is an ongoing fight between
                  pro-democracy advocates and pro-Russia Soviet-style rule. For me, it is
                  relieving to know that I have received a good deal of support from the
                  pro-democracy politicians and large segments of the Armenian society, which
                  is very important.

                  I think the basic reason why they targeted me is that they could not put me
                  in any of their nationalist, primordialist categories. I was like a UFO to
                  them: a citizen of Turkey of Kurdish origin, student in the US, critical of
                  the Turkish official stance on controversial historical issues, an admirer
                  of the Armenian culture, collector of old Armenian books and records,
                  speaker of the language, a researcher who has visited Armenia several times
                  without any worries and concerns, a foreigner who is vocal about his ideas,
                  etc. A story too good to believe, because for them, the world can never be
                  that colorful. For the people who were interrogating me, you are either
                  Armenian-Armenian with the `full' meaning of the word, or Turkish or
                  anything else. If I were a conventional `Turk,' as they would have rather
                  preferred to see me as, I believe, I may not have had any troubles. I think,
                  my endeavor to cross boundaries was deemed as a threat by the people who
                  decided on my arrest and by those who interrogated me.

                  Q: Is there reason, legitimate or otherwise, why the Armenian government
                  would view your scholarly work with alarm? Can it be perceived as

                  A: My work is not only about the history of the region but also about

                  Therefore, I don't think that it favors any nationalist historiography
                  including the Armenian version. In that sense my work is critical not only
                  of the Turkish nationalist historiography but also of the Kurdish and
                  Armenian counterparts. Hence my work can neither be called pro- or anti
                  Armenian. That question itself is based on nationalist anxieties, which I
                  try to analyze and move beyond in my scholarship.

                  There are some Armenian circles that do not sympathize with the usage of
                  Armenian resources by the Turkish scholars. This, too, is a nationalist (if
                  not racist) stance that we as academics need to challenge for a more nuanced
                  and sophisticated understanding of the past as well of today.

                  Q: Most scholars characterize the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians
                  during World War I as a genocide, but relatively few Turkish scholars do so.
                  What is your take on what happened?

                  A: It is very clear that almost the entire Armenian population of eastern
                  Anatolia was subjected to forced migrations and massacres beginning in the
                  early months of 1915.

                  Q: Do you think your treatment by Armenian authorities will undercut Turkish
                  willingness to explore the treatment of Armenians under Ottoman rule?

                  A: That may be the message people will likely take away. But I think we
                  should be stubborn and should not give up.

                  Q: Were you aware, while you were being held, of the breadth of the effort
                  on your behalf, both from other academics and from leaders in the political
                  world like Bob Dole?

                  A: To some extent I was. I knew that my friends would realize why I could be
                  detained and also that they would support me to the end. I was getting some
                  kind of information from the outside, but it was not always very accurate.

                  Here, I would like to take the opportunity to thank especially my
                  colleagues, Turkish, Armenian and American, who have demonstrated an
                  exemplary and meaningful solidarity. One upshot of my case, I believe, is
                  that unprecedented number of scholars, intellectuals and activists from both
                  groups came together, united around a common cause. It was really great. I
                  am grateful to all of them who have signed the open letter to [Armenia's]
                  President Kocharian and hope that my case has opened up further space of
                  dialogue and cooperation between the critical intellectuals studying the
                  controversial and painful pages of the history of the region.

                  I would also like to present my gratitude to the entire Duke community,
                  especially to President Brodhead, to Provost Lange and, of course, to my
                  heroic adviser Orin Starn, and to the department of cultural anthropology. I
                  want to mention three other names who were crucial in the process, Prof.
                  Ayse Gul Altinay (who orchestrated the `global' campaign for my release) of
                  Sabanci University, Istanbul/Turkey; Prof. Charles Kurzman of UNC, and Prof.
                  Richard Hovannissian of UCLA. Their support was invaluable.

                  I am also extremely grateful to the American politicians who got involved.
                  Bob Dole's intervention was really crucial. I thank him very much.

                  Q: Did you ever consider yourself to be in true danger?

                  A: Yes I think I did, especially after the first week.

                  Q: Do you envision returning to Armenia to continue your research? Can you
                  complete your dissertation without going back?

                  A: This is really a very tough question. I should first underline the fact
                  that for me there is no difference between Istanbul and Yerevan. I feel at
                  home when I am in Yerevan. I love walking on the streets (especially
                  Mashtots) of the city, or sitting at the lovely cafes around the opera
                  building. I have very close friends over there. However, there is also this
                  bitter experience I have gone through. It is very sad for me to know that
                  there are people in Armenia who do not want me to do research in the
                  country. I know that those people are a minority, yet they are powerful.
                  They still keep their old isolationist way of thinking which they have
                  recently blended with a xenophobic brand of `Armenian patriotism.' Whoever
                  it is behind the provocation against me, there is no doubt that they have
                  damaged the image of Armenia in the international arena. As a scholar, I
                  have been deeply disheartened by this incident.

                  But there are also people like the director of the National Archives of
                  Armenia, Mr. Amatuni Virabian, who from the first day of my arrest,
                  understood what was happening behind the scene and diligently supported me.
                  I received considerable support from pro-democratization Armenian
                  intellectuals. I also know that majority of the people in Armenia eventually
                  understood that the officials made a big mistake and also that I was not an
                  enemy of the Armenian people.

                  I don't want those who have tried to intimidate independent researchers
                  through my own case to win over those who have been seeking and struggling
                  for improved relations and scholarly cooperation between the two countries
                  and communities. Therefore I will definitely go back.

                  I think I have compiled enough material to finish my dissertation. That is,
                  it is not a must for me to go back to Armenia for my dissertation fieldwork

                  Q: Should your case make scholars wary of studying contentious subjects? Do
                  you have advice for other researchers contemplating exploring such a topic?

                  A: Caution, they have to be really very cautious. They should be very
                  careful about the laws and procedures especially about permissions necessary
                  for research. No signal of danger should be overlooked. It might be a good
                  idea not to be publicly very visible. I also recommend them to always
                  back-up their work and if possible to download it to the internet.

                  Q: What are your career plans for after you have your doctorate? Do you
                  envision entering the academy, and if so, any idea in what country?

                  A: I am willing to pursue an academic career in the U.S. where I can attain
                  a free environment necessary for my studies.

                  Finally, I want to emphasize that I am not angry or bitter. I want to put
                  everything aside and concentrate on my work. I am an academic not a
                  politician, notwithstanding the fact that I was caught in the middle of a
                  fight among hostile political actors.

                  - Doug Lederman <mailto:[email protected]>

                  © Copyright 2005 Inside Higher Ed
                  "All truth passes through three stages:
                  First, it is ridiculed;
                  Second, it is violently opposed; and
                  Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

                  Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


                  • #19
                    Freedom isn't just academic to him

                    Originally posted by Gavur
                    Notice how TC goverment not politicising not even talking about the issue! I think his a spy.

                    Turns out he was a spy allright... for Duke U.!

                    Freedom isn't just academic to him
                    Out of Armenian jail, Duke scholar resumes his work
                    Turkyilmaz wants an academic career in the U.S.

                    By JANE STANCILL, Staff Writer

                    DURHAM -- Stuck in a jail cell that steamed to more than 100 degrees in the daytime, the prisoner couldn't eat the rice, cabbage soup and boiled potatoes provided by the guards. The lights stayed on all night, making sleep difficult. The screams of other inmates punctuated long days of fear and worry.
                    The accused criminal was Yektan Turkyilmaz, 33, a soft-spoken Duke University scholar who spent 60 days in an Armenian prison over the summer.

                    The crime, apparently, was his love of books.

                    Turkyilmaz, a Turkish citizen of Kurdish descent, wasn't a spy or a drug smuggler. He was a scholar, and he learned firsthand that scholarship can be hazardous. He will never again take academic freedom for granted.

                    When the captors released Turkyilmaz in August, he walked on wobbly legs into the sunshine, eyes squinting at the natural light he hadn't seen in two months. Now he is back at Duke, quietly working on his doctoral dissertation and ready to talk about his ordeal.

                    Accused of smuggling books in the small country in southwestern Asia, Turkyilmaz underwent what he described as KGB-style interrogations and a trial that drew worldwide attention. Academics from the United States and beyond rushed to his defense, signed petitions, created a Web site and mounted a global campaign for his release from Armenia, formerly part of the Soviet Union. U.S. politicians and the U.S. embassy jumped in, exerting pressure on the Armenian government.

                    The subject of his dissertation is so sensitive that his work is viewed with suspicion by historic enemies, Armenia and Turkey. And he believes it may have landed him behind bars.

                    Turkyilmaz's research is about how modern Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish nationalism developed after a traumatic conflict in which more than a million Armenians were killed starting in 1915. The facts of the genocide have long been disputed from the Turkish side. It's a painful but important chapter in 20th-century history, and one that Turkyilmaz is said to be uniquely qualified to dig into.

                    He speaks four languages -- Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish and English -- and can read French. He was the first Turkish scholar allowed in the Armenian national archives to conduct research.

                    "His trip was unprecedented for a Turkish citizen and also a huge feather in his cap for his academic career," said Charles Kurzman, an associate professor of sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill and one of Turkyilmaz's advisers. "That's high-risk, high-gain research."

                    Books spark trouble

                    Turkyilmaz, who first traveled to Armenia in 2002, has been there five times. He went back in April and worked for two months, while also engaging in one of his hobbies -- book collecting. He had picked up more than 100 used books and pamphlets at a flea market in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Turkyilmaz already had a collection of 10,000 books, so it was not unusual for him to leave the country with two heavy suitcases full of books.

                    The day he was to leave Armenia, Turkyilmaz began to notice something odd at the airport. A strange man behind him at the security checkpoint spoke to him in broken English, even though Turkyilmaz had been speaking Armenian.

                    "I realized that something was up," he recalled.

                    Just after his passport was stamped, he was surrounded by more than half a dozen agents from the National Security Service, which Turkyilmaz says "loves to be called KGB." The agents told him to empty his pockets. They confiscated his luggage.

                    He tried to explain that scholars carry books. "I kept telling them I was a historian, because if I said I am a cultural anthropologist it doesn't make any sense to them," he said.

                    It became clear, he said, that they already knew a lot about him.

                    They took the books out of his suitcase one by one and spent seven hours doing paperwork in the airport, meticulously copying the titles. At times, Turkyilmaz helped the Russian-educated agents translate titles that were written in old Armenian.

                    One of the agents started making accusations, poking a pen at his stomach.

                    "He started shouting and cursing at me and said, 'OK, you are taking these books to Turks to be destroyed.' I said, 'What?'"

                    But Turkyilmaz and others believe the books were not important to the Armenian authorities, who dragged them around in plastic bags or piled them on the floor.

                    The agents started asking questions that had nothing to do with the books: What are your political views? What is your family's ethnic background? What is your research about? Why did you come to Armenia? Whom do you know in Armenia?

                    The arrest came as such a shock that Turkyilmaz said he didn't really have time to get scared. "I never thought that they would, like, you know, detain me. I thought it was something silly."

                    They wouldn't let him call his parents in Turkey. His friends in Armenia were too frightened to contact his family. For almost 24 hours, his parents didn't know what had happened to him.

                    Spy accusations fly

                    Turkyilmaz was put in a small cell in Yerevan. For the first month, he said, agents interrogated him almost daily. They went through his computer files and CDs, and soon Turkyilmaz realized where they were headed: They would accuse him of being a spy.

                    An espionage charge could carry a 15-year prison term, he said. One of his interrogators, Turkyilmaz recalled, told him, "All scholars are spies. Just tell us whom you are working for."

                    On the third day after his arrest, he was charged with an obscure violation of taking books more than 50 years old out of the country without permission -- a regulation that was unfamiliar to even the booksellers. The charge fell under a law that also covered drug smuggling and the transport of guns, explosives and weapons of mass destruction. It carried a possible prison term of four to eight years.

                    In his cell, Turkyilmaz ate fruit and the hazelnut spread Nutella -- items his friends could bring him. He refused food from the jailers. He was allowed one shower a week.

                    He had a couple of cellmates who were accused of petty crimes and had little contact with the outside world, though he did hear occasional reports of his case on Radio Free Europe.

                    As word of Turkyilmaz's detention spread, scholars in North Carolina and the larger higher education community began to organize. Turkyilmaz's professors had initially been told he would be released any day, but days turned into weeks.

                    "The nightmare scenario was that the hard-liners in the Armenian government would try to make an example of Yektan and sentence him to eight years," said Kurzman, who started a Web site,, to raise awareness of his ordeal.

                    Human-rights groups, scholarly organizations and the Duke community sent letters and petitions signed by hundreds of students and faculty around the globe. Duke President Richard Brodhead wrote the Armenian president, calling Turkyilmaz "a scholar of extraordinary promise." Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who had experience with Armenian affairs, wrote to President Robert Kocharian and said, "Your treatment of Yektan makes Armenia look bad -- with good reason. Armenia has many friends in the United States, but we cannot and will not defend the indefensible."

                    Officials at the Armenian embassy in Washington did not return phone calls about the Turkyilmaz case.

                    As the summer wore on, Orin Starn, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke and primary adviser to Turkyilmaz, monitored the case and became more concerned that a prison term was likely for his student.

                    "The whole idea that you could be sentenced to years in prison for taking used books out of the country was preposterous," Starn said.

                    Refocusing on research

                    Starn, who attended the trial, watched as Turkyilmaz was led into the courtroom in handcuffs. In attendance, at some risk to themselves, were Armenian friends, including booksellers, an accountant, a janitor and a medical student.

                    "People love Yektan," Starn said. "He has friends everywhere. ... People were very willing to do whatever they could to try to get him out."

                    On Aug. 16, a judge convicted Turkyilmaz but gave him a two-year suspended sentence. After 60 days in prison, he was free but not allowed to leave the country for two weeks.

                    E-mail messages and news reports announced his release, and Turkyilmaz is now a celebrity in his field. But he also worries about the implications. He may have difficulty traveling in that part of the world, which could hamper his research. He now has a criminal conviction on his record, something that could cause him trouble with U.S. authorities when his visa expires in a few months.

                    Yet, he said he's not bitter about the experience, which has cemented his desire to pursue an academic career in the United States.

                    "I'm so glad to be back," he said. "I feel so safe here, so secure. I just want to go back to my work. That's the only thing I want to do with my life."
                    Attached Files
                    "All truth passes through three stages:
                    First, it is ridiculed;
                    Second, it is violently opposed; and
                    Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

                    Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)