November 3, 2011

Turkish publisher arrested — here’s why


As many of you might now know, Ragip Zarakolu, the owner of Belge Publishing House, was arrested last Friday along with 40 other pro-Kurdish on charges of terrorism, though this isn’t his first brush with the police. The Turkish publisher has consistently violated Article 312 of Turkey’s Penal Code, outlawing the production of “divisive propaganda via publication.”

In 1977, Zarakolu started Belge (“The Document”) with his wife, Ayse Nur, a human rights advocate and mother of two who was passionate about Kurdish rights and helped publish key books acknowledging the horrors of the Armenian genocide. In 1995, Belge was firebombed by right-wing extremists who were incensed with Nur and Zarakolu’s revolutionary, pro-Kurdish output. Nur passed away in 2002, and Zarakolu kept at it, publishing more books that angered a domestic audience but won him praise internationally.

In 2008, Zarakolu won the International Publishers Association’s Freedom to Publish Prize, and is a member of of the Turkish PEN Center. Last March, he received a lot of heat from Turkish authorities for publishing Mehmet Güler’s infamous book, The KCK File/The Global State and Kurds Without a State. Prior to that, Güler served a 15-month prison sentence for daring to write More Difficult Decisions Than Death, which was immediately seized, then banned after publication.

Some other controversial books put out by Belge:

Peter Balakian‘s memoir Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past was published in Turkish as “Kaderin Kara Kpegi”

Pontos Kültürü by Ömer Asan

The Song of Liberty by Hüseyin Turhallı

Les Arméniens: histoire d’un génocide (The Armenians: history of a genocide) by Yves Ternon

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel

Garabed Hacheryan’s Izmir Journal: An Armenian Doctor’s Experiences by Dora Sakayan

The Truth will Set Us Free/Armenians and Turks Reconciled by George Jerjian

Kwame Anthony Appiah, the President of PEN American Center, said yesterday that the arrest was “a disturbing sign of a decline in the climate for free expression in Turkey after several years of hopeful developments.”

Barbara Goldsmith said, “If Zarakolu is not free, then none of us are free.”

Last year, PEN launched Because Writers Speak their Minds: a celebration and a campaign, which included 50 authors and troublemakers that rebelled against authoritarianism wherever it reared its ugly head. The campaign begins with Musine Kokalari, a founding member of the Social Democratic Party in Albania and the country’s first published female author, although her writing was destroyed by the Communist authorities when she was deemed “an enemy of the people.” At the time of her arrest, she said, “You boast that you have won the war, and now you are the winner you want to extinguish those who you call political opponents. I think differently from you but I love my country. You are punishing me for my ideals!” She was barred from writing the rest of her life.

Who are the writers who set you free, dear readers?