Orhan Pamuk
November 30, 2005 2:09 AM   Subscribe

On December 16th the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk goes on trial charged with insulting the Turkish nation, after stating that the killing of 30,000 Armenians and Kurds by the Ottoman Empire was genocide (as discussed before). The trial is being seen by some as a key test for Turkey as it starts on the road to EU accession. Listen to him talk about his work and read extracts.
posted by johnny novak (17 comments total)
The text of the second link states that Pamuk was quoted as saying "thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it," further explaining that 'His reference to "30,000" Kurdish deaths refers to those killed since 1984 in the conflict between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists.' Pamuk was quoted recently as saying:
(A) Turkish novelist who fails to imagine the Kurds and other minorities, and who neglects to illuminate the black-spots in his country's unspoken history, will, in my view, produce work that has a hole at its centre.
Apparently, Pamuk may also face further charges based on remarks he made in another newspaper interview.
posted by misteraitch at 3:39 AM on November 30, 2005

absolutely right misteraitch, it should read "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians"
posted by johnny novak at 3:53 AM on November 30, 2005

I don't know that the Turks will ever relent from harassing, haranguing, and generally trying to drown out anyone who makes even a passing reference to the Armenian Genocide, be it in any forum (we might get a chance to see this in action right here). Pamuk seems to be SOL in this case, paying a heavy price for daring to admit to one of his country's darker chapters.
posted by clevershark at 4:47 AM on November 30, 2005

my name is red was a pretty good book - rather like name of the rose - although it drifted away from the steroptypical whodunnit more than i would have liked. has anyone read snow? i almost bought it last time i was in the uk, but decided my to-read pile was already large enough (stupidly, since it's now empty again).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:45 AM on November 30, 2005

There's a lot of senior people in the Turkish government who've put a lot of effort into EU membership. They'll try hard to kill this.
posted by atrazine at 5:48 AM on November 30, 2005

atrazine, you would think, wouldn't you? My first thought when reading this FPP was, "Turkey is going to have to put an end to this kind of thing if they ever expect to join the EU."

The trial is being seen by some as a key test for Turkey as it starts on the road to EU accession.

The mere existence of the trial implies to me that Turkey seems to have failed this "key test." The country is just shooting itself in the foot on this one.
posted by deanc at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2005

A Turkish publisher is already on trial for publishing "negative" comments critical of the Turkish military during the Kurdish insurgency.
posted by MasonDixon at 6:41 AM on November 30, 2005

it drifted away from the steroptypical whodunnit more than i would have liked

That's because it's not a stereotypical whodunit, duh. If that's what you want, there are a zillion other writers who will provide it. Pamuk is one of the few "postmodern" novelists who actually write good, readable novels. The Black Book plays with the mystery-book format while never solving any mysteries—it's obsessed with dreams, personality, families, longing, and the city of Istanbul. I was lucky enough to meet Pamuk in NYC; he's a very nice guy, very intelligent and cosmopolitan, and I hate to think what he might go through as a result of this nationalist hysteria. Most Turks are great people who left to their own devices wouldn't go around murdering minorities and persecuting authors; unfortunately, like people everywhere, they're easily stirred up by cynical, amoral politicians.

Incidentally, it's one of the nastier ironies of history that the Kurds allowed themselves to be used as auxiliaries in the massacre of the Armenians, only to turn around and find themselves the next victims.
posted by languagehat at 6:48 AM on November 30, 2005

What I find annoying as fuck is that because of the geopolitical/strategic considerations involved in basing our planes, refueling/reprovisioning, etc., we--specifically the craven scum who devise our politico-military policies--refuse to slam the Turks the way we would any other genocide (read "Shoah") deniers. Not to say that this is a new stance. We sold the Armenians down the river back in the nineteen-teens. But the passage of ninety years, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, the growth of a domestic pro-Armenian constituency...you'd think, no?
posted by the sobsister at 7:00 AM on November 30, 2005

I don’t want to come off as an apologist for the Armenian massacres, but this issue is far more complex than most outside observers realize. It is damn stupid to make a martyr out of Pamuk, but I bet he fully knows what he is doing and why. He’s lancing an infected boil in Turkish intellectual history. He’s a great writer, and he was raised in a section of Istanbul where a lot of Armenians live, Armenians who were instrumental in defining who is an “Istanbulli” (with all of the nostalgic Ottoman era status that accrues to that as opposed to a “Turk” as defined by the post 1921 secular Turkish state constitution.)

The early Armenian massacres occurred during the Ottoman era, and again during the transitional period at the fall of the caliphate. During that time people in the Ottoman Empire were defined legally by religion, not ethnicity. A kurd was Muslim and a Gajal Turk was Muslim, so both were classed as Muslim. An Armenian or a Greek was a Giaour, a member of the non-Muslim dhimmi group. Albanians and Bosnians who were Muslim had their own special categories.

“Turkey” is something that exists after 1921 – although the concept of “The Turk” is older when referring to the Ottomans. The concept of a “Turk” identity was new, and promoted by the Young Turks, but had still not become the official policy of any proposed “Turkish State.” The Sultan, Abdul Hamid, was being edged out of power. The fear in the Ottoman Porte was that an Armenian national state would rise and be be allied with Russia was particularly dangerous at a time when Ottoman Army regulars were occupied with Gallipoli and the defense of Istanbul. The response was to call for irregulars from eastern Anatolia – ethnically Kurds and Turkmen nomads – to suppress the “rebellion” by serving as Bashi-Bozouks, armed irregular bands of Muslim faith who would be unpaid but allowed to pillage for three days after. Similar actions in Maceedonia and Bulgaria in the 1870s produced similar, if not as devastating massacres. Some modern day Turkish writers sometimes assume that these massacres were simply the work of Kurds under Ottoman orders, instead of ethnic “Turks” as defined after 1921.

The Turkish government’s response to the issue of the Armenian Genocide, however, reflects a compulsion to link modern turkey to the Ottoman past, attempting to maintain the glories of the Ottoman era without acknowledging the horrors. Pamuk may be one of the only high profile Turkish intellectuals to publicly air this issue, but believe me, you will always hear a lot of discussion of this history hanging around in the intellectual coffeehouses of Beyoglu. People in modern Turkey know what happened, believe me. I’ve heard sympathetic discussions of the Armenian massacre from rural Muslim clerics in Eastern Turkey and from café owners in Trabazon. Pamuk is forcing a debate which is actually secretly widespread in Turkey.
posted by zaelic at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2005

Re: EU and Turkey. There is some real and substantial progress happenning in Turkey (see for example the legalization of the public use of the Kurdish language, more openess on certain aspects of military wrongdoing etc). It isn't spectacular, but it's there, and it probably wouldn't have happenned if the "carrot" of EU accession wasn't dangled in front of a very conservative and authoritarian military-economic establishment - which for historical and ideological reasons cannot be seen as rejecting the EU (even though it is quite obvious that they aren't happy with all it entails). It's an irony of history (or an indication that things in the real world do not fall nicely into hastily preconceived categories) that this progress has been achieved through Erdogan's moderate islamist government, which is playing an important, if hardly consistent, role as a democratizing force - even though historicaly the islamist forces in Turkey were anti-EU. Things change.

Things are far from perfect of course - quite far. But one should proceed carefully. The dilemma is that, should the accession door close permanently, all sorts of good and brave people in Turkey could wake up the next day with the military police knocking on their doors, saying something like "Guess what? We're not going to join the EU after all... So could you please follow me..."

And of course, a rejection by Europe will make Turkey, again, even more of the rather belligerent neighbour it traditionally is (which is something that concerns me a bit given the fact that I live in Greece). Plus we'll lose the opportunity of watching all the cheesy new soap operas of Turkish-Greek friendship, courtship and marriage.
Which would be unacceptable.
posted by talos at 9:39 AM on November 30, 2005

talos: The dilemma is that, should the accession door close permanently, all sorts of good and brave people in Turkey could wake up the next day with the military police knocking on their doors, saying something like "Guess what? We're not going to join the EU after all... So could you please follow me..."

Well, it appears to me that a country where this could happen doesn't share even the most basic values of the EU and therefore shouldn't be a part of it.
posted by sour cream at 10:52 AM on November 30, 2005

Snow was great. Pamuk made the Islamic fundamentalist characters in it very human and thoughtful, which I thought was impressive. He had one of them say something about how they, in this material world, were the only ones asking what role spiritual investigation had in designing society.

We need Mert. I think he's Turkish.
posted by atchafalaya at 11:26 AM on November 30, 2005

can anyone make an educated guess how this will play out?

p.s. thanks to all for the great background
posted by johnny novak at 11:44 AM on November 30, 2005

thanks, atchafalaya.

languagehat - you know what i meant. and if you don't, you should have.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:27 PM on November 30, 2005

can anyone make an educated guess how this will play out?

One possibility is that Pamuk will be this generation's Yilmaz Guney, the Kurdish film maker who chose to spend much of his life directing great films from a Turkish jail. A quote:
Q: Why did you choose the jail?

A: There are two reasons. First, it is the subject most appropriate to the present situation of Turkey.

Second.Turkey is bending over backwards to please the EU. This has frustrated educated Turks as well - the EU's snubs have led people to ask why they really need the EU if Turkey has been able to make as many positive reforms as it has in preparation for the EU.

Turkey may well end up eligible for membership but rejected simply because the EU wants to be a Christian club (ignoring Turkey's significant urban elite, many of whom are Christian) or because the EU is afraid of Turkey's economic clout.

Turkey is half developed and half third world, as are many of the new east European States, but Turkey's economic potential far exceeds any of the new EU members' potential. It scares the western European powers (France, Germany, Spain) to include a state whose loyalties cannot be guaranteed by the comic-book simplicity of Chritian vs. Muslim / East vs. West interpretations.

A lot of enlightened modern Turks I know say screw the EU. They don't need it and its' promises of free money. Outside of Kurdistan, it is pretty darned developed. At the rate they have been reforming, they believe they can have the best of both worlds - a healthy economy and a Western-style Human rights system and a sense of history that honestly accept the failings of the past. This trend seems to have been developing over the last decade, partly in response to the EU question.

This seems to be the point that Pamuk is trying to force into the open . An amazing effort by an amazing man.
posted by zaelic at 2:14 PM on November 30, 2005

See, that's why I don't think of Turkey as a progressive Muslim nation. Putting a guy on trial for "insulting the Turkish nation" because he basically said "genocide bad"?

I won't even start with their treatment of the Kurds.
posted by Devils Slide at 2:34 PM on November 30, 2005

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