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MIT writer defends Turkish publisher

The Turkish translation of an MIT political scientist's book on the human rights cost of U.S. weapons transfers to Turkey has produced unintended peril for the young owner of an independent publishing house in Istanbul.

The book, "Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America's Arms Trade" (Free Press), by John Tirman, executive director of MIT's Center for International Studies, was first published in the United States in 1997 to widely favorable reviews.

The Turkish government is attempting to suppress the translated book, and state prosecutors have charged Fatih Tas, 26, owner of Aram Publishing, with insulting Turkey and its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), for publishing the Turkish edition earlier this year.

Tas, who is also a journalism student at Istanbul University, currently faces up to nine years in prison. His trial began Nov. 17.

Tirman protested the indictments in a statement, noting, "Freedom of speech is the bedrock of open societies. Turkey is acting out of despotism rather than embracing the role of a modern European power."

"Spoils of War" was "exhaustively researched," drawing on more than 100 interviews, many of them in Turkey, as well as U.S. government documents and academic literature, Tirman said.

He condemned the Turkish government's efforts to "suppress and punish critical accounts of a nation's well-documented policies which resulted in thousands of deaths. The weapons, especially Black Hawk helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, were used on Kurdish civilians as well as a rebel group, the PKK," he said.

Tirman's earlier writing on Turkey earned him a U.N. Association Human Rights Award. He noted that Turkey had been "repeatedly cited for gross human rights violations with respect to the suppression of the Kurdish rebels" and urged the international community to persuade Turkey to drop the charges against Tas and Aram.

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International has taken up Tas' cause, which dovetails with prosecutions of other publishers and writers, notably Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk, 53, author of the international best seller, "My Name Is Red," faces charges of humiliating Turkey and is slated to appear in an Istanbul court Dec. 16.

Tas and Aram Publishing have been indicted before for translating and printing an MIT author's work. In 2002 Turkish authorities tried to suppress "American Interventionism," a book by Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics. The case was dropped.

Tirman is the author or co-author of nine books on international affairs and U.S. foreign policy, including "The Maze of Fear: Security & Migration After 9/11" (2004). He has two books forthcoming, one on breaking cycles of protracted violence and the other on challenges to multilateralism.

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