Yektan Turkyilmaz, a Duke researcher from Turkey, was detained at Armenia's Yerevan airport on June 17 on suspicion of smuggling antique books out of the country. Turkyilmaz, a Turkish citizen of Kurdish heritage, and a doctoral student in Duke's cultural anthropology department, was arrested in possession of books dating from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. He was suspected of seeking to take them on a flight to Turkey. Armenian law makes it a crime to take any book more than fifty years old out of the country without first obtaining official permission
In mid-August, Turkyilmaz was given a two-year suspended sentence. He had told the court, "I never sought to violate the laws of the Republic of Armenia or to cause any damage to the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people." On learning of the verdict, he said, "I am happy to be free." He added, "I now want to concentrate on my doctoral dissertation. I was, I am, and I will remain a friend of the Armenians." He also said he wanted to continue archival work there.
Turkyilmaz's dissertation is on the effects of geography and nationhood on Turkey's society. He was in Armenia to carry out research in the Armenian national archives, the first Turk to be allowed to do so. The two neighboring countries have a long history of uneasy relations, in part because of the large-scale deportations and killings of Armenians in Turkey during the early twentieth century that Armenians have termed genocide.
Turkyilmaz's dissertation adviser at Duke, Orin Starn, said his advisee was well respected in Armenia and had worked in numerous archives previously without any problems. Starn, an associate professor in the cultural anthropology department, said that Turkyilmaz had purchased the books second-hand from street vendors and had likely not been aware of the law.
In August, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead wrote a letter to Robert Kocharian, president of the Republic of Armenia, asking for him to intervene. "It is my understanding that this is the first time this particular article in the Armenian Criminal Code, which focuses principally on issues associated with terrorism, has been applied to a person carrying books," Brodhead wrote. More than 200 U.S., Turkish, and Armenian scholars made a similar appeal.