YEREVAN—President Serzh Sarkisian awarded the Presidential Medal to prominent Turkish human rights activities and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, during a ceremony Tuesday where others were also recognized for their contributions in arts, sciences and culture.
Zarakolu received the award for what Sarkisian called his “significant contribution” the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
“His struggle for bringing historical truth to Turkish society is a brilliant example of the decent civic stance and courage,” said Sarkisian.
“Your presence here and the acceptance of this award is also a courageous act,” expressed Sarkisian who said Zarakolu’s posturing on the Genocide issue signals a “deeper comprehension of the past… and aims at elevating mutual understanding of neighboring people.”
In his speech acceptance speech, Zarakolu reiterated his position that the events of 1915 were genocide and said that “Turkey must accept the historical truth. Only through this can Turkey regain its self respect.”
Zarakolu expressed hope for a future when Armenian and Turks can have neighborly relations, saying, however, that “even after Turkey apologizes and compensates [Armenians,] Armenians and Turks can’t be as before,” he said. “But we can look to the future together.”
Last month, Zarakolu was released from prison pending trial along with 14 other suspects. He was taken into custody on Oct. 28, 2011, during a large-scale manhunt in Istanbul.
The prosecutor is seeking up to 15 years for Zarakolu on charges of aiding a terrorist group.
Zarakolu heads the Belge publishing house, which has published numerous books on the oppression of the national minorities in Turkey and the Armenian Genocide. Zarakolu had said after his arrest that during the raid on his house the police confiscated only few books as “evidence of crime” and found nothing about his so-called relations with any organization.
On Nov. 2, 2011, Human Rights Watch issued a statement noting that the decision to imprison Zarakolu and others pending their trial on terrorism charges exposes the huge deficiencies of Turkey’s criminal justice system. “The arrests of Ragip Zarakolu and Busra Ersanli represent a new low in the misuse of terrorism laws to crush freedom of expression and association in Turkey,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, a Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.