Zarakolu's conference in Washington DC
on the Repression and Armenian Genocide
  • On April 29, 2004 a rare event took place at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church here. Ragip Zarakolu, a remarkable Turkish intellectual, spoke to a capacity crowd on a range of subjects, including the Armenian Genocide, censorship in Turkey and problems surrounding the publishing of books, as well as the current human rights situation.

    Zarakolu runs the Istanbul-based Belge International Publishing House, which he founded in 1977 along with his late wife, Ayse Nur Zarakolu. He has been a consistent and principled critic of successive Turkish governments, especially with regard to the dismal human rights situation in Turkey. The Zarakolus' dedication to freedom of expression led them to found the Turkish Human Rights Association. It has also landed them in jail several times, and the hardships of prison directly contributed to the untimely passing of Ayse Nur.

    Zarakolu, a prominent figure in Turkish intellectual circles, began his lecture by providing some autobiographical information, detailing his human rights work and resulting imprisonment in the early 1970s. It was at this time that he realized that if the Turkish government were capable of such brutality in the 1970s, the Ottoman Empire was certainly capable of much worse during World War I.

    He noted that the current system in Turkey, just as in the past, could not survive without an enemy, whether minority, leftist or Muslim, and that for the sake of democracy in his homeland, this state mentality must change.

    His anguish over the situation in Turkey led him and his wife to start an international publishing house in 1977, which published in 1991 the first book on the Kurdish Question, entitled International Colony Kurdistan by Ismail Besikci. The government responded by imprisoning the author and preventing the distribution of the book by the publishers. But this response was mild in relation to the reign of terror that was then sweeping Turkish Kurdistan. Zarakolu estimated that nearly four thousand Kurdish villages were burned own and approximately three million Kurds "relocated," accompanied by the assassination and kidnapping of many Kurdish intellectuals.

    This war of attrition and extermination reminded Zarakolu of the Armenian Genocide. The comparison between the Armenian Genocide and the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds prompted the Zarakolu to translate and publish Yves Ternon's book on the Armenian Genocide, under the appropriate title Ermeni Tabusu (The Armenian Taboo). This book, too, was confiscated and banned. Ayse Nur Zarakolu, in an absurd turn of events, was put on trial as the author of the book and sentenced to two years in jail. Ragip Zarakolu noted the irony that, at the same time as Ayse Nur was being prosecuted in Turkey for discussing the Armenian Genocide, the distinguished scholar of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, was being sued in a Paris court for denying what Lewis himself had previously termed the Armenian Holocaust and subsequently was found guilty.

    The Zarakolus were determined to challenge the authorities in the name of freedom of expression by translating and publishing in book form Vahakn Dadrian's lengthy article on the Genocide, which appeared in the prestigious Yale Journal of International Law. This book, too, was confiscated and the publishers arrested. This time, however, they were acquitted by a Turkish court, which was fearful that drawing attention to a work published in such a prominent journal would undermine the government's denialist position.

    Emboldened by this success, the Zarakolu translated and published Franz Werfel's famous novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. The Turkish government allowed its publication, partly because it was a novel and partly because it did not want to draw more attention to the issue of the Armenian Genocide. Such successes came with a heavy price, but as Zarakolu emphasized: No doors will open without a struggle. And struggles there were.

    In 1994, the publishing house was burned down and the inventory largely destroyed, forcing him andhis wife, along with their supporters, to go underground in order to continue the struggle.

    Currently, the Turkish government tries to prevent distribution of his books through the use of economic pressure, such as taxation and frequent auditing. But Zarakolu remains optimistic and cited as an example the fact that he has just published a collection of Professor Dadrian's most important articles on the Armenian Genocide.

    He strongly believes that he has a responsibility to Turkish society, which has been grossly misinformed, especially the younger generation.

    Zarakolu also feels a responsibility to the Armenian community of Turkey, which also does not have a good grasp of its own history. Due to a pervasive fear that it is not safe to pass on information from one generation to the next, the Armenian community of Turkey has been denied its past. It is through books such as those published by Belge that Turkish Armenians have begun to rediscover their identity.

    He stated that he is in constant touch with leading members of the community in Istanbul and is alarmed by the threats that they have received from Turkish fascist organizations.

    According to Zarakolu, there are possibly up to one million people in Turkey who either are of Armenian descent or are Armenian converts to Islam. He argued that they have a right to learn their history and should have the honor and privilege of knowing their heritage.

    Zarakolu also feels that he is no longer alone in this struggle. He noted that a decade ago, he was essentially alone, but that now the ranks of those Turkish intellectuals who want to reconcile with the past are growing. Turkish intellectuals are offended by the propaganda of their own government and are no longer satisfied with the state dictating what they are to believe.

    He ended his formal presentation with a moving poem in Turkish, entitled Gul Kirimi, or the Rose Massacre. During a lengthy and enthusiastic question-and-answer period, Zarakolu elaborated on some of the points in his presentation and also fielded inquiries on a wide range of subjects.

    The first question was related to the motivations of people like Ragip and Ayse Nur Zarakolu, to which he provided an answer by stating that there are two essential factors in his own development. The first is the fact that he was born in Buyukada (Medz Gughzee) and other multicultural neighborhoods of Istanbul, in which Armenians were neighbors and not viewed as enemies.

    The second factor is related to the experiences of Zarakolu's generation, which came of age in an era of state terror, which made it easier for them to sympathize with the plight of the Armenians and the minorities in general.

    It is difficult to overestimate the courage and moral fortitude of Ragip Zarakolu and his late wife and steadfast partner, Ayse Nur Zarakolu. Ayse gave her life to the cause of freedom and Ragip has suffered tremendously for his beliefs. Armenians, Turks and all those dedicated to the defense of truth and human rights owe a debt of gratitud to Ragip, Ayse Nur and their colleagues.

    We can only hope that the day will come when people like Ragip will not be persecuted for daring to question. Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, during the course of his introduction of the guest speaker, asked for a moment of silence in honor of the late Ayse Nur Zarakolu for her courage and dedication to the cause of human rights.

  • Le procès de Ragip Zarakolu sur Yevrobatsi
à compléter

-I.Présentation - II.Arménologie - III.Fonds documentaire du CRDA - IV.La vie arménienne en diaspora -V.La culture arménienne et l'art - VI.Histoire - VII.Arménie(s) - VIII.Les différents environnements & l'Arménie - IX.Génocide de 1915 et enchaînements politico-médiatiques - X.Inconscient(s) collectif(s), Mémoire(s) et 1915 - XI.Religion(s) et Théologie(s)