Orhan Pamuk

Thirty thousand Kurds, and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody dares to talk about it. -- Orhan Pamuk

What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation; it was a taboo. But we have to be able to talk about the past. -- Orhan Pamuk

I repeat, I said loud and clear that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey. -- Orhan Pamuk

In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Orhan Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures. -- Swedish Academy

Nobel Award winning Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (1952- ) is author of The Silent House, The White Castle, The Black Book, The New Life, My Name is Red, Snow and Istanbul.

Family pressure forced Orhan Pamuk to study architecture at University. He never practised architecture and went on to become a writer. A theme throughout his work is that of a clash of cultures, clash of civilisations, the clash between East and West.

My Name is Red is about Ottoman and Persian artists and their ways of seeing and portraying the non-western world, told through a love story and a family story. The novel is a mix of mystery, romance, and philosophical puzzles, set in 16th century Istanbul, during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murat III in nine snowy winter days of 1591 It explores the tension between East and West.

My Name is Red won the French Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Italian Grinzane Cavour (2002) and the International IMPAC Dublin literary award (2003).

Orhan Pamuk describes Snow as 'my first and last political novel'. It is set in the remote city of Kars in Turkish occupied Kurdistan, northeast Turkey, close to the Kurdish border. A troubled region at the best of times. A journalist arrives in Kars just as the snow is starting to fall, he then finds himself cut off and isolated. He is there is to investigate a suicide epidemic among young women, the Islamists are poised to win the local elections. Snow tells the story of violence and tension between political Islamists, soldiers, secularists, and Kurdish and Turkish nationalists and in doing so explores the conflict between Islam and Western influences in modern Turkey. A surreal novel with black farce.

Orhan Pamuk caused controversy in Turkey with his outspoken comments on the Armenian genocide and Turkey's treatment of the Kurds. He was prosecuted and charged with "insulting Turkishness" and insulting Turkey's armed forces.

In Turkey, human rights are all but non-existent. Until recently it was a terrorist offence to use the Kurdish language, to sing Kurdish songs or to display the Kurdish flag. One of the worst acts of genocide in the twentieth century was the Turkish genocide against the Armenians. More recently Turkey has been waging a war of genocide against the Kurds in Turkish occupied Kurdistan. [see Justice in Turkey?]

There was international outcry against the prosecution of Orhan Pamuk, and eventually the authorities were forced to retreat and drop the case.

The proposed entry of Turkey into the European Union was questioned. The European Parliament announced that it would send a delegation of five MEPs to observe the trial. The Pamuk case was seen to be a "litmus test" of Turkey's commitment to the EU's membership criteria.

Amnesty International released a statement calling for Article 301 (under which Pamuk was prosecuted) to be repealed and for Pamuk and six other people awaiting trial under the act to be freed. PEN American Center also denounced the charges against Pamuk, stating: "PEN finds it extraordinary that a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, should have a Penal Code that includes a clause that is so clearly contrary to these very same principles."

June 2005, Turkey introduced a new penal code including the infamous Article 301 which states:

A person who, being a Turk, explicitly insults the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months to three years.

Eight world-renowned authors — José Saramago, Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, John Updike and Mario Vargas Llosa — issued a joint statement supporting Orhan Pamuk and decrying the charges against him as a violation of human rights. [see Literary world backs Pamuk]

Turkish state prosecutors dropped the charge that Orhan Pamuk insulted Turkey's armed forces, the charge of "insulting Turkishness" remained. The announcement coincided with a decision by the the EU to begin a review of the Turkish justice system. [see Turkey drops charges against author and Turkish court drops charges against novelist]

Apart from three years in New York, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University, Orhan Pamuk has spent most of his life in the same streets and district of Istanbul. In 2006, hate campaigns by Islamist extremists and Turkish nationalists forced him to flee the family home and return to the US where he took up a post at Columbia University.

Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.

For Alissa who loves Orhan Pamuk and said I would like Snow and suggested I read My Name is Red.
(c) Keith Parkins 2007-2008 -- March 2008 rev 4