ANCA Letter of Solidarity for the Release of Sevan Nisanyan
You have been aptly described as Turkey’s conscience – a writer, intellectual and iconoclastic dismantler of officially imposed history. A respected etymologist and famed polymath. A proud Armenian, a citizen of Turkey educated by two of America’s most prestigious universities, Yale and Columbia, you have never been afraid to challenge orthodoxy or fight for human freedom.
And for this, you have been unjustly imprisoned for nearly three years, far too often in solitary confinement.
The Turkish government has – against all evidence and reason – attempted to defend your unjust imprisonment due to a building code violation. We understand, in fact, that you are the only person in prison in Turkey for a building code violation. And this for building on your very own property.
As deeply outraged as we are by your unjust imprisonment, we have not been surprised by your harsh treatment at the hands of a government run by a man who – on top of all his other crimes – committed one of the most monumental building code violations of Turkey’s history – building a $615 million, 1,150-room presidential palace on protected land, in defiance of a court order.
Neither Turkey’s selective application of its own laws nor its undemocratic persecution of its own citizens is lost on its international partners, even if these governments lack the courage to challenge these flagrant injustices.
As Turkey’s only inmate serving time for a zoning violation, it is clear to all the world that you have been persecuted not for the location of your construction but rather for expression of your conscience – and, also, sadly, it must be noted, because of your Armenian heritage.
Before you were imprisoned, you presciently warned of rising intolerance for speech in Turkey. You were tragically right. All that you foresaw has come to pass, and more.
In these trying times – amid such a violent crackdown on all forms of dissent – Turkey needs more free speech, not less. More debate, not less democracy. More hope and less fear.
In a country, where Armenians are one the most targeted groups for hate speech and the President himself considers being called an “Armenian” an insult, who can deny the role your Armenian identity has played in your persecution?
In a country where the masterminds of Hrant Dink’s cold-blooded murder still walk free, who can deny the role your Armenian identity has played in your persecution?
In a country whose government promotes Armenian Genocide-denial within and even outside its borders and where demonstrators at government backed rallies openly chant, “A good Armenian is a dead Armenian,” who can deny the role your Armenian identity has played in your persecution?
On this occasion, as you receive the William Saroyan Award from Armenia’s Diaspora Minister, we recall this great author’s defiant words, “Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again.” In your example, we see the steel will behind Saroyan’s words.
We congratulate you on this prestigious award and hope to meet you soon as a free man. We again call on our United States government, including Ambassador John Bass, to advocate for your immediate release. We will continue to fight for your freedom in defense of free speech and in the interest of a more pluralist, democratic, and progressive future for all the citizens of Turkey.
ANCA | Armenian National Committee of America