THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Section WORLD A13
Banning things will not change anything¹
Charged with insulting Turkish identity and army, controversial author faces
By LEVON SEVUNTS, Montreal
When Dora Sakayan first published her grandfather¹s diary in Montreal, she
had no inkling that 10 years later it could land someone a half a world away
in court, facing as much as two years in jail.
But then, she never dreamed that her grandfather¹s diary, an eyewitness
account of the events in which several members of his family perished, along
with 30,000 Greeks and Armenians at the hands of Turkish nationalist forces
in Izmir in 1922, would ever be published in Turkey.
Ragip Zarakolu, a prominent activist and human-rights activist. dared to
translate and publish Mrs. Sakayan¹s book, An Armenian Doctor in Turkey.
Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922. Now, he is charged with
insulting the armed forces, Turkish identity and the memory of Kemal
Ataturk, the iconic founder of the Turkish republic.
³I was worried and upset that he is suffering because of me, because of
my book,² Mrs. Sakayan said during an interview over a cup of Turkish coffee
and homemade sweets in her downtown apartment. ³But he calmed me down,
saying that he sees this as his calling, to use the courthouse as a platform
to speak out on human rights, the rights of Turkey¹s ethnic minorities and
as an opportunity to fight historical revisionism.²
Mr. Zarakolu has a track record of defying Turkish authorities. He was
imprisoned for three years for his activism in 1971 by the military junta.
In 1977, Mr. Zarakolu and his now-deceased wife Ayse Nur founded the Belge
(The Document) Publishing House, which has been a target for Turkish
censorship laws ever since. The couple was imprisoned, their books were
impounded and they were forced to pay heavy fines. In 1995, their offices
were firebombed by a right-wing group.
Mr. Zarakolu¹s legal troubles began because Turkey officially denies
that the massacres and deportations of the Armenian population of Ottoman
Turkey during the First World War constituted genocide. That puts Turkey at
odds with the majority of genocide scholars, as well as more than 20
parliaments, including Canada¹s. The Armenian question has been a taboo
protected by draconian censorship laws in Turkey.
What irked Turkish authorities most about her book is that it deals with
massacres perpetrated by some of the founders of the modern Turkish
republic, not by young Turks, which was the case between 1915 and 1918, Mrs.
In his defence statement during the first court hearing in the case on
Sept. 21, Mr. Zarakolu said Turkey owed an apology to Mrs. Sakayan¹s
grandfather, a Turkish citizen and a decorated military doctor, who served
his country despite the Armenian massacres.
³Publishing this book can be counted as part of that apology.² Mr.
Zarakolu told the court. ³The accusations that the book insults the Turkish
national character or the Turkish army are totally unfair. All these events
really happened. Banning things will not change anything.²
Mr. Zarakolu is also facing two different criminal proceedings related
to another book on the Armenian genocide that he published and a critical
magazine article he wrote about Turkish policy toward Iraqi Kurds.
The trial for the magazine article is set for Oct. 11, and he is due to
return to court on Nov. 22 for the hearings on Mrs. Sakayan¹s book.
The case of Mr. Zarakolu comes at an embarrassing moment for Turkish
authorities as they prepare to start negotiations for eventual membership in
the European Union. Abolishing their censorship laws is one of the
preconditons for Turkey joining the EU.
Yet despite some changes to the penal code, about 60 Turkish writers and
publishers are facing trials in Turkey, said Kjell Olaf Jensen, president of
the Norwegian PEN Centre, which has been closely monitorng the trials.
Among them is the world-famous Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Mr. Pamuk
will be brought before an Istanbul court on Dec. 16, 2005. He faces as many
as three years of prison for a comment he published in a Swiss newspaper
earlier this year, in which he criticised the Turkish positon on the
Armenian genocide and the Kurdish issue.
³I find the whole thing completely absurd,² Mr. jensen said. ³Are these
the same authorities who want Turkey to become member of the EU?²
Special to the Globe and Mail
Photo: Dora Sakayan photoghraphed in her Montreal apartment