By Emil Danielyan
Bob Dole, a former U.S. senator known for his pro-Armenian views, has welcomed the release of a Turkish scholar who was controversially detained in Armenia two months ago, it emerged on Wednesday.
“I want to express my sincere gratitude to you and the people of Armenia in the wake of the recent release of Yektan Turkyilmaz, the Duke University graduate student detained since June 17,” Dole said in a letter to President Robert Kocharian, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL.
Turkyilmaz, 33, was set free in the court on August 16 after being given a two-year suspended prison sentence for attempting to illegally take about 90 Armenian books published more than 50 years ago out of the country. Under Armenian law, they can not be taken abroad without government permission. Turkyilmaz insisted throughout his trial that he was unaware of the requirement.
The scholar faced unusually harsh smuggling charges that carry between four and eight years’ imprisonment. This fact drew strong protests from over 250 U.S., Turkish and Diaspora Armenian intellectuals who condemned the punishment initially sought by Armenian prosecutors. The latter asked a court in Yerevan to hand down a suspended jail sentence at the last minute.
“Yektan's release symbolizes a crucial step in Armenia's commitment to democracy,” Dole said. “Thank you for your encouraging leadership in this important matter.”
The positive tone of the letter dated August 17 contrasts sharply with another message which the former U.S. legislator and presidential candidate sent to Kocharian on August 2. “I urge you to investigate the actions of your government, prosecutors and police and release Yektan at once,” he said.
“Your detention of Yektan for seven weeks on any grounds would draw attention to failings in Armenia's democratic evolution. To detain him on grounds as dubious as these calls into question Armenia's commitment to democracy in the first place,” Dole warned.
It is not clear if Kocharian responded to Dole’s first letter. The Armenian leader’s press secretary could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
In a related development, sources told RFE/RL that the Armenian Foreign Ministry also expressed concern earlier this month about Turkyilmaz’s controversial prosecution in a written message to the National Security Service (NSS) that handled the case. They said the ministry warned that the Turkish government could exploit the case to claim that Armenia’s state archives are effectively closed to Turkish historians who want to research the 1915-1918 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Turkyilmaz, who strongly disagrees with official Ankara’s version of those events, became last May the first Turkish national to be granted access to the archives. Individuals familiar with the investigation had told RFE/RL earlier that the NSS detained him at Yerevan airport on suspicion of espionage but found no evidence to bring relevant charges against him.