Accused: Orhan Pamuk

Freedom of Expression Is Not Welcome

The pubic prosecutor for the Istanbul district of Sisli has brought a suit against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, winner of the German Book Industry's Peace Prize. The reason: "public defamation of the Turkish people." A report by Gabriela Schaaf.

photo: dpa
Under the watch of conservative opinion-makers and nationalist circles - best-selling Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.

​​The basis for the suit against him stems from an incident that occurred months ago: In February 2005 in an interview with a Swiss newspaper Orhan Pamuk spoke about Turkey's past.

Pamuk said that we must live with past atrocities, but we should also talk about them. In this context he mentioned that thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians had been killed in Turkey.

Defamed as a traitor

At the time his statements inspired insults and threats against him from nationalist circles and the media. He canceled a reading tour in Germany and hung low in the United States for a few months.

Then in June he heard the news that the German Book Industry had awarded him their peace prize, the country’s most important cultural honor.

So why has he only now been hit with a law suit, months later? Poet and translator Joachim Sartorius says this has to do with the rather slow moving bureaucracy in Turkey. Sartorius, who has worked for Germany's Foreign Service in Turkey as well as in other countries, will give the oration for Pamuk in October at the Frankfurt Book Faire.

"Narrow-minded and nationalist circles"

When asked to what extent the internationally recognized author is currently in danger, Sartorius replied: "If you asking if his life is in danger, I think it is really hard to say. There are fanatics everywhere in the world."

He continued: "Don't forget that Pamuk is incredibly popular among the learned society in Istanbul. When he walks through the streets there he is greeted with the highest respect. One should not take a skewed view of this and imagine that there is a large Front against him. It is only a few nationalist and narrow-minded circles."

Pamuk himself is from a well-to-do middle class family in Istanbul that is familiar with both Western European modernity and Oriental traditions.

He is a cosmopolitan who always brings these two different cultures together in his literature - exposing all the conflicts that arise between them, but also showing great respect for both.

This has brought him international fame, as mentioned in the German Book Industry's reasoning for granting him the peace prize.

New controversy in Turkey's bid for the EU

Joachim Sartorius believes that Pamuk's case will once again expose the problems involved with Turkey's attempt to join the EU:

"I think that Orhan Pamuk has taken a very differentiated stance on entering the EU, saying on the one hand that this country, which is still only half-democratic, really has to do a lot of homework before it comes knocking on the EU's door. And on the other hand, he has always wanted to join the EU because he thinks that would force the government to follow through on all the rule of law reforms."

The Istanbul public prosecutor's suit against Pamuk for "public defamation of the Turkish people" has sent a different message. The case against him will begin on December 16.

In its statement the German writer's association PEN has said that this constitutes a "brutal attack on freedom of expression and unworthy of a country that wants to join the EU."

Gabriela Schaaf

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005

Translation from German: Christina White

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