Yektan Turkyilmaz

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Bob Dole has written a letter to Robert Kocharian urging him to free Yektan Turkyilmaz. Below are the full contents of the letter:


Senator Bob Dole
601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
North Building, 10th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20004

August 2, 2005

H.E. Robert Kocharian
President
Republic of Armenia
Yerevan

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to urge you to release Mr. Yektan Turkyilmaz, a Duke University graduate student who has been detained in Armenia since June 17. As I understand it, Yektan broke an obscure law that prohibits exportation of any book--regardless of its rarity, historical significance, or value--more than fifty years old. I also understand, however, that he has been jailed without being charged, and that your authorities intend to hold him indefinitely pending the filing of charges and an eventual trial.

Duke University officials asked me to intervene because I am a longstanding friend of Armenia and because my wife, Senator Elizabeth Dole, is an alumna and former trustee of the university. Elizabeth and I remain prominent supporters of your country, but the issues raised by Yektan's detention go beyond our ties to Armenia and past support by raising questions about Armenia's democratic progress and commitment to the rule of law.

Yektan's detention would seem to highlight problems cited in numerous human rights reports about Armenia, including those of Freedom House and the U.S. State Department. Freedom House, upon which Members of Congress rely to evaluate requests for U.S. aid, does not rank Armenia as a democracy, and further lowered its already unflattering "partly free" rating last year due to your government's mistreatment of opposition leaders and supporters. Your detention of Yektan for seven weeks on any grounds would draw attention to failings in Armenia's democratic evolution. To detain him on grounds as dubious as these calls into question Armenia's commitment to democracy in the first place.

Yesterday, I was pleased to learn that Dr. Vartan Gregorian has offered to post bail for Yektan, but allowing bail only addresses the symptoms resulting from the larger issues at stake in this case. I urge you to investigate the actions of your government, prosecutors and police and release Yektan at once. I also urge you to ask your legislature to examine this strange law, which, if not unique in the world, is certainly unique in the community of free nations.

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. Thank you for your consideration, and good luck in your continuing service to the people and nation of Armenia.

Sincerely,

BOB DOLE

cc: Ambassador John Evans
U.S. Embassy
18 Marshal Bagramyan
Yerevan, Armenia
Facsimile: 011-3741-52-0800

Armenian National Committee of America
Mr. Aram Hamparian, Executive Director
888 17th St., N.W., Suite 904
Washington, D.C. 20006
Facsimile: 202-775-5648

Armenian Assembly of America
Mr. Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director
1140 19th St., N.W., Suite 600
Washington, D.C. 20036
Facsimile: 202-638-4904


The following letter has been signed by more than 200 academics from the United States, Turkey, Armenia and elsewhere in support of Duke student Yektan Turkyilmaz who is being detained in Armenia on charges of taking books out of the country without permission.


Robert Kocharian
His Excellency
President of the Republic of Armenia

Your Excellency,

We write to you today to express our grave concern about Yektan Turkyilmaz and his pending trial in Armenia. Mr. Turkyilmaz is a Ph.D. student at Duke University in the United States. He is a Turkish citizen who was arrested on June 17, 2005, as he was leaving Armenia. He has been held under high security conditions at the National Security Service building in Yerevan ever since his arrest. Last week, the request to release him on bail, accompanied by personal guarantees of a member of the Armenian Parliament and a prominent Armenian- American historian, was turned down. It now appears that Mr. Turkyilmaz will stand trial on customs violation charges under Article 215 Paragraph 2 of the Armenian Criminal Code, which includes a prison sentence of 4 to 8 years.

Mr. President, we the undersigned care deeply about improvements in Armenian-Turkish relations and consider the unimpeded work of independent scholars to be a sine qua non of vital steps in the right direction. The way that Mr. Turkyilmaz has been treated is setting a negative precedent.

Yektan Turkyilmaz is fluent in six languages, including Armenian, and has been the first Turkish scholar to work in the Armenian National Archives. His dissertation research at a leading American university is being supported by several prestigious awards. 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.

Furthermore, we understand that he is now being charged with attempting to take old books out of Armenia without permission. We understand that none of the books he had with him were absolutely prohibited from being taken out of the country, but only required permissions. We are convinced that Mr. Turkyilmaz did not know about this requirement at the time and would have undoubtedly complied with this requirement as he has demonstrated to be a serious scholar and a friend of Armenian culture on many occasions. We recognize that laws have to be applied consistently under rule of law. However, as the investigator in charge of this case states, 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. While it may be appropriate to impose a fine for the unknowing violation of customs regulations, prison terms of 4 to 8 years are grossly disproportionate and would send a deterrent signal to other independent scholars.

The political implications of this arrest cause grave concern. Yektan Turkyilmaz is one of a very few Turkish scholars who have critically tackled the events of 1915 and other instances of political violence in the first part of this century. Being the only researcher who can understand Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian at the same time (besides English and French), his research promises to add new dimensions to the study of a very troubled historical period in Anatolia and the South Caucasus. The fact that he was arrested soon after he gained access as the first Turkish scholar to the Armenian National Archives adds to these concerns. The fragile space of dialogue that has recently been opened up between Turkish and Armenian scholars is put to the risk of being greatly damaged by Turkyilmaz~Rs prolonged detention. This arrest would also raise serious doubts as to whether Armenia encourages independent scholarly research on its history.

Mr. President, we respectfully urge you to intervene to ensure that this unfortunate state of affairs comes to a swift and amicable end. We request the immediate release of Yektan Turkyilmaz and a return of his digital research material so that he can continue his scholarly activities.

Committee for Solidarity with Yektan Turkyilmaz


For more information, contact:
John F. Burness, Senior Vice President for Public
Affairs and Government Relations |
919-681-3788 | john.burness@duke.edu