This week Sigtuna welcomed their first guest writer; Turkish writer and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, 2012 Nobel Prize nominee and iconic advocate for the freedom to publish and write in Turkey and beyond. In spite of 40 years of censorship, harassment, death threats and imprisonments by the Turkish authorities and far right groups, Zarakolu has never given up his fight for freedom of thought and the necessity of minorities right to be heard.
Born in 1948 in Istanbul, Ragip grew up as a member of the Greek and Armenian minority in Turkey. He started writing for the magazines Ant and Yeni Ufuklar in 1968, and is the co-founder of the daily newspaper Demokrat, first published in 1979.
The first time Ragip was arrested was after the military coup in 1971, for an article in the magazine Ant. In 1977, Zarakolu and his wife Ayşe Nur established the publishing house "Belge Publishing" (Documents) that publishes books on politics, economics, philosophy and the cosmopolitan diversity of the region. They publish predominantly academic books and literature on and by minority populations in Turkey, in particular Kurdish writers. Most of the books are on the list of banned literature in the country.
Ragıp is a founding member of the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD). He is also the chairperson of the Freedom to Publish Committee of the Turkish Publishers Association (TPA/TYB). For some time Ragıp Zarakolu also chaired the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN in Turkey, ICORN’s closest partner.
On 28 October 2011, Ragıp Zarakolu was arrested on his way home, as part of a larger crackdown initiated in 2009 and still on-going against Kurdish political parties. He was held on pre-trial detention between 1 November 2011 and 10 April 2012 under Turkish Anti-Terror Legislation (ATL) for belonging to an illegal organisation. Released from prison, pending trial, he is risking being sentenced to and spending another 15 years in prison if the prosecutors’ demands are met.
Zarakolu has published several books on the Armenian Genocide, such as George Jerjian’ s The Truth Will Set Us Free: Armenians and Turks Reconciled and Professor Dora Sakayan's An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922. In November 2007 Zarakolu published David Gaunt's book "Massacres, resistance, protectors" about the Assyrian Genocide in Turkish. All of them brought him new criminal charges.
Sigtuna city of refuge
The Swedish city of Sigtuna joined ICORN in 2012 and Ragip Zarakolu is the city’s first ICORN guest writer.
"We had a strong wish to do something concrete (...) to support the fight for freedom of expression. That is why we decided to make Sigtuna a city of refuge for persecuted writers" local politician in Sigtuna Pernilla Bergqvist said in an interview with Swedish Radio about the decision to join ICORN in 2012. She is among many politicians and citizens of Sigtuna who are happy welcome the new guest writers Ragip Zarakolu and provide him with a safe haven and creative environment where he can continue to work.
Sigtuna Municipality is the official host of the ICORN programme, partnered up with Sigtuna Foundation, who hosts the guest writers and manages the every day running of the programme. The Sigtuna Foundation is a private cultural foundation whose principle aim is to inspire human thought and reflection as well as to stimulate and facilitate dialogues, encounters and bridge building relations.
See press release from Sigtuna Municipality (in Swedish)
Sources on Ragip
Blog: Freedom for Ragip
Quaranta: The Turkish Publisher Ragıp Zarakolu: The Power of the Word
Open Democracy: Ragip Zarakolu, human rights symbol in modern Turkey
The Guardian: Outcry over Turkish publisher's arrest and detention