Congratulations to Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk on his Nobel Prize for Literature. This year's selection of Pamuk, whose recent trial for "insulting Turkishness" had raised concerns about free speech in Turkey, continues a trend among Nobel judges of picking writers in conflict with their own governments.
Pamuk, whose novels include "Snow" and "My Name is Red," was charged last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in recent Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.
"Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he said in the interview.
I find it interesting that even in the United States, it is common that high profile authors who write or talk against certain known facts of American history are nearly always branded as revisionists, liars, and traitors. Of course, in contemporary America, the culture warrior, is rarely prosecuted for such literary or artistic acts of defiance against the status quo. Not since the case brought against Henry Miller and the US publishers of Tropic of Cancer in 1961, has an American artist faced criminal charges for theliterary word.
Ballsy Orhan Pamuk found himself in trouble with the authorities at a particularly sensitive time for the Turkish nation. Turkey, overwhelmingly Muslim. had recently begun membership talks with the European Union, which has harshly criticized the trial. The charges against Pamuk were dropped in January, ending the high-profile trial that outraged Western observers.
Pressures were brought to bear given Turkey has long declared itself a secular state, and desperately wishes entrance into the EU. French lawmakers in the National Assembly in Paris recently approved a bill making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I amounted to genocide, a move that has infuriated Turkey. Europe seems to be having a field day in recent years outlawing certain thoughts and modes of thought. Several EU countries have outlawed speech denying the Holocaust, or praising naziism or promoting its symbols.
Pamuk has spoken up for other writers in peril. He was the first Muslim writer to defend Salman Rushdie when Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death because of "The Satanic Verses," a satire of the Prophet Muhammad published in 1989. Pamuk has also been supportive of Kurdish rights.
Pamuk himself had little religious upbringing. Growing up in Istanbul, his extended family was wealthy and privilegedhis grandfather was an industrialist and built trains for the new nation. Religion, Pamuk has said, was considered to be something for the poor and the provincial. The novelist has noted that growing up, he experienced a shift from a traditional Ottoman family environment to a more Western-oriented lifestyle. He wrote about this in his first published novel, a family chroniclewhich in the spirit of Thomas Mann follows the development of a family over three generations."
Pamuk's international breakout work was his third novel, "The White Castle." Structured as an historical novel set in 17th-century Istanbul, it reads as a metaphorical tale about how the ego is generated using stories and fictions of varying pedigree. Personality is shown to be a variable construction," the academy said.