To the Editors:
This is to protest the continued detention of Dr. Ismail Besikci, a Turkish sociologist and authority on the Kurdish population in Turkey, and, until recently assistant professor at the University of Erzerum, in the heart of Turkish Kurdistan.
Dr. Besikci’s field work in a number of publications, confirmed the view held by other observers of Turkish affairs that the eight to ten million Kurds in Turkey, comprising one quarter of the country’s total population, have, since 1923, been the victims of official repression at the hands of successive Ankara governments. Dr. Besikci’s work documented the following conditions: that Kurdish provinces in Turkey are subjected to systematic and deliberate underdevelopment; that use of the Kurdish language, either spoken or written, is banned by Turkish law; that the propagation of Kurdish culture is forbidden in the Turkish school system. In fact, to speak of the Kurds in Turkey in terms other than as “mountain Turks who have forgotten their mother tongue,” is an offense punishable by imprisonment.
When Dr. Besikci refused to recant his findings, he was dismissed from his teaching post, arrested and tried for “undermining national feelings and making communist and separatist propaganda.” In December of 1972, he was convicted and sentenced to thirteen years imprisonment.
Following the Turkish General Amnesty of July 1974, Dr. Besikci was released. Refused reappointment to his teaching position, Ismail Besikci nonetheless completed three other scholarly works describing the massive deportation of Kurds by the Turks from 1920 to 1930. With the completion of these works in 1977, Dr. Besikci was again arrested and indicted. The charge lodged against him was “insulting the memory of Ataturk and undermining national feelings.” He was convicted as charged and sentenced in December of 1978 to three years in prison.
It was at the time of his second imprisonment that Amnesty International adopted Dr. Besikci as a prisoner of conscience and initiated efforts to secure his release. Reports reaching Amnesty’s headquarters claimed that Dr. Besikci had been tortured while in prison.
Released from prison on April 13, 1981, Ismail Besikci enjoyed less than three months of freedom before being arrested on July 19 of that year. Held for forty-two days, Dr. Besikci was charged with having “sullied the good reputation of the Turkish State.” According to current reports, Dr. Besikci has already been convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
The sacrifice of this man of courage to the antihumanitarian policies of the Ankara military junta cannot be countenanced. We urge the government of Turkey to act speedily to rectify the wrongs committed by previous Turkish administrations against its Kurdish citizens, to accord them full civil liberties and communal rights and to release this Turkish prisoner of consicence.
Robert L. Heilbroner
Edward J. Nell
New School for Social Research
New York, New York