Duke Student Released by Armenia

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reports that cultural anthropologist Yektan Turkyilmaz was released from prison on 16 August 2005.


On 17 June 2005, Yektan Turkyilmaz (?1972-), a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin, a Ph.D. student of cultural anthropology and a fellow at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, United States, was arrested at Yerevan airport and imprisoned for attempting to "smuggle" culturally valuable antique books as he was leaving Armenia. On his fourth research trip to Armenia, Turkyilmaz had conducted research on the history of Turkish Eastern Anatolia during the interwar period. He had acquired around 88 books ranging from the 17th to 20th centuries from Armenian second-hand bookstores, an open-air market, and as gifts, in order to build up a research collection and a library of Armenian books that would otherwise be lost. However, he was apparently unaware that he was required to declare seven of the 88 books, which were over fifty years old, at customs. Turkyilmaz was questioned on his archival work and political beliefs, and digital copies of his archival research were confiscated. His official request to be released on bail until his trial date (9 August 2005) was rejected. He faced up to eight years' imprisonment. On 16 August 2005, Turkyilmaz, was released and given a suspended sentence of two years' imprisonment. Reportedly, he had to remain in Armenia until 31 August 2005, when the verdict officially comes into force. The judge upheld the confiscation of all 88 books, though ordered the return of his electronic research materials. The court had convicted Turkyilmaz of two counts of smuggling, but commuted the sentence, as he was cooperative with investigators and partially admitted his guilt.
Turkyilmaz was the first Turkish scholar to ask for and to receive access to the Armenian National Archives, where he did research in May and June 2005. He was one of the few Turkish scholars who has critically examined the events of 1915 and Armenian claims of genocide, and other instances of political violence in Anatolia and the South Caucasus. He received several foreign scholarships. His dissertation "Imagining 'Turkey', Creating a Nation: the Politics of Geography and State Formation in Eastern Anatolia, 1908-1938" won him several awards. Turkyilmaz also studied in the Masters Program at the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History at Bogaziçi University, Istanbul.

[Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Human Rights Action Network Case, ar0510_tur (5 & 18 August 2005); International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Rapid Action Network
31/05 (London), 4 & 5 August 2005; Social Science Research Council, "Yektan Turkyilmaz" (WWW-text; [2005]).]

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