Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Against the police stations of minds: Ismail Besikci Foundation![1]

Author: Banu Guven; translated by GIT - North America

[Before the elections of 2011, Banu Güven had wanted to conduct an interview with BDP's Leyla Zana; and before she could, she had to part her way controversially from the TV channel NTV. To see her interviews and read her pieces, please visit: www.banuguven.com

To visit some of GIT - North America's references to and earlier coverage of Ismail Besikci, please see:

The name Ismail Besikci means a lot to this country. His life best describes what academic freedom actually means and what happens if we insist on an absolute existence of such freedom. Being a ‘Turk’ and born in Çorum, Ismail Besikci came across the Kurds when he was a sociology student. He conducted his sociological inquiry on the Alikan Tribe (Aşiret) when he was student. For him a scientist’s duty is to observe and report the truth, therefore he never denied the truth despite all the pressures throughout his life. The result of this attitude: he was dispelled from the university and spent 17 years and 2 months in prison. All his books, some never published, were confiscated. His work was denied to a whole generation. During the days of advanced democracy in our country, he was sentenced again because a journal, which printed his speech, spelled the word “Kandil” with ‘Q.’[2] He was sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison. Currently, this charge is under review in higher court. I asked Besikci, during our interview in autumn, ‘what will happen if the charge is ratified?’ Despite what he suffered throughout his life, he smiled and said “in that case I might be imprisoned again”. During our talk Ismail Besikci also told me about the work concerning the establishment of the Ismail Besikci Foundation and its library.

Besikci Hoca[3] was notified just two days before his birthday on January 7th that the foundation bearing his name was officially established. This place will be an oasis for the generations who were kept away from scientific endeavor due to fear of truth. Hoca’s archive, all the books, journals, newspaper, letters, photos, his trial documents, and his own notes as he accumulated throughout his 60 years of carrier will be accessible for students, academicians and everyone else. We will be able to access Besikci’s forbidden and confiscated books in this library.

We will also be able to read about the Dersim issue, which has recently become leverage in the hands of government against the opposition, as well as CHP’s[4] policies. These topics are treated in several of his books: Bilim Yöntemi Serisi (Scientific Method Series), a book which was brought up in court many trials;
Kürtlerin Mecburi İskanı (The Forced Settlement of Kurds), Tunceli Kanunu (Tunceli Law), Muğlalı Olayı (Muğlalı Case). Very likely Besikci watched with a bitter smile the insincere “apologies upon necessity” and the “when the right time comes” speeches which accompany the usual documents of those who paid no attention to this issue so far.

In our last year’s correspondence, I asked him “why don’t we see new editions of your books?” Hoca replied:
‘During the 1970s and 1980s they used to put the books and essays on trial according to the 141-142 articles of the old criminal law. In the 1990s, they began trying and confiscating books according to 8th article of Anti-Terror Law. This article was repealed in 2003 due to the legal work on the harmonization of Turkish and European Union law. Upon this development, our lawyer applied to State Security Court (DGM) to rescind the confiscations on the books. Ankara DGM disapproved our application. The court said “independently from the repeal of the 8th article, it is very likely that these books violate other laws or articles of our criminal code.” No doubt, this decision was not legal, it was arbitrary. At least the confiscation decrees should have been repealed. After this decision, if the publisher publishes and disseminates these books again, then a new process of trials will have to take effect in accordance with those mentioned other laws and articles. İstanbul State Security Court’s attitude towards this issue was much more positive. Basically, it was State Security Court in Ankara that put the books to trial. The decision of Ankara State Security Court was irreversible. Upon this decision, Unsal Ozturk, the owner of Yurt Kitap-Yayin Publishing House applied to the European Court of Human Rights. This trial had its own interesting peripety. But in the end Turkey was found guilty. Upon my lawyer’s applications, courts gave various decisions in various times. There were cases when court decisions contradicted among themselves. It went so far as in some cases the same court contradicted itself. It is very difficult to discern which books are forbidden which have no charge. However, after European Court of Human Rights’ decision we may say that they are all free of charge. Or at least it is reasonable to hope so.’

Actually this story shows very clearly that the word reform and the like are only pretexts for the continuation of the same old punitive mentality in this country. Hoca’s interpretation of his 1 year 3 months imprisonment decree is as follows:
“… on the 4th of March 2011, the 11th High Penal Court of Istanbul decided on this sentence based on the 7/2 article of the Anti-Terror Law. This means the 8th article of the Anti-Terror Law is still de facto effective.

Today, many sentences are direct reflections of this mentality. Under these circumstances, the opening of Besikci Foundation is very important. It creates optimism.

The foundation invites everyone willing to volunteer and support the greater projects which will carry the work of Ismail Besikci further. I guess the best birthday gift for a man of science, who devoted all his life to truth and paid for it by being ousted from the system, would be our support for the freedom of expression. This newly established foundation constitutes a fresh venue for our freedom of expression.

Some of you might ask about the address. It is below:
E-mail adres: ismailbesikcilibrary@gmail.com
İsmail Beşikci Vakfı
Kuloğlu Mah. Ayhan Işık Sok. No: 21/1
Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkiye
Telephone: +90 212 245 81 43
Happy free years Ismail Besikci!

[1] This article was originally published in Turkish on Banu Guven’s website and can be accessed through here.
[2] Kandil literally means ‘candle’ but it is also the name of a mountain range near the Turkey-Iraq-Iran tripoint, where the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is known to be based. It is spelled with ‘K’ in Turkish and ‘Q’ in Kurdish. Turkish alphabet does not contain Q. (Translator’s note).
[3] Respected academicians are often called “Hoca” in Turkish (Translator’s note).
[4] Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican’s People Party), The governing party during one party regime and also considered responsible for the Dersim massacre (translator’s note).