The mother of a Turkish researcher facing up to eight years in prison for attempting to take old books out of Armenia pleaded with the authorities in Yerevan on Monday to set him free and end his controversial prosecution.
Gulsin Turkyilmaz spoke to RFE/RL after visiting her 33-year-old son Yektan in a maximum security prison in Yerevan where he has been kept since his arrest on June 17. “I hope that they won’t imprison him,” she said. “If he knew that [he is violating Armenian laws] he wouldn’t do that.”
Turkyilmaz was allowed to see his mother the day before the start of his trial which is expected to be attended by representatives of Duke University in North Carolina where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Ottoman history. The unusually harsh charges leveled against him have drawn protests from U.S. academic circles, prominent Turkish intellectuals and a retired pro-Armenian U.S. senator.
Turkyilmaz, who is fluent in Armenian and several other foreign languages, carried 88 Armenian books which he bought or was presented with in Yerevan. Seven of those books, including a 17th century Bible, were particularly old and required government permission for being taken abroad. The doctoral candidate told investigators and his mother that he was unaware of that requirement.
Individuals detained while trying to smuggle cultural treasures have rarely been imprisoned in Armenia. Such cases usually end in heavy fines and the confiscation of those artifacts.
Turkey’s government has still not officially commented on the prosecution of the Turkish national. Turkyilmaz is among few Turks who have publicly challenged Ankara’s vehement denial of the 1915-1923 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Adding his voice to the outcry on August 2 was Bob Dole, a former U.S. Senate majority leader and Republican presidential candidate known for his staunch advocacy of Armenian issues. In a strongly-worded letter to Kocharian posted on Groong.com, he demanded that Turkyilmaz be released “at once,” saying that the Criminal Code article used against him is “unique in the community of free nations.”
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