05/18/2009, 00.00
TURKEY
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Ohran Pamuk, the Armenian genocide and Turkish nationalism

by Geries Othman
The trail against the Turkish writer, guilty of having spoken about the Armenian genocide and the massacre of Kurds, could be reopened. Turkey is sliding towards Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism. Tell-tale signs; its friendship with Syria and Iran.
Ankara (AsiaNews) – The infamous article 301 of Turkey’s Penal Code which severely punishes anyone who dares to “sully Turkey’s national identity” is once again in the news.  Over the past few years it has silenced many intellectuals who dared to contest “Turkey’s democratic government”.  Once again the writer Orhan Pamuk is being targeted, in a case that has been on the shelf for over three years.

Just as the writer, the first Turk to receive the Noble Prize for Literature (2006), was in Florence to receive a degree honoris causa, rumours began to circulate that he will probably have to appear before Turkey’s courts once more for having “offended the Turkish identity”.

In reality the charge is an old one, even if ever present in public memory.

Born in Istanbul in 1952, in 2005 Pamuk was charged with having declared to the Swiss weekly Das Magazin  that “we Turks are responsible for the death of 30 thousand Kurds and a million Armenians and no-one in Turkey dares speak about it, except me”. However he was absolved by an Istanbul court, above all tank to the intervention of the International Community which also urged the partial modification of art. 301.  Approved in 2008, the change led to the cancellation of the generic “offense against Turkish identity” and its’ substitution with a more detailed “offense against the State or organs of the Turkish State”.

However on May 4th last, Ankara’s Supreme Court rejected the primary courts ruling and decided to proceed against Pamuk because he holds his country responsible for the Armenian “genocide” – a taboo word for the Turkish nation – during the Ottoman Empire, thus committing a grave crime according to the Turkish Penal Code.

World famous Pamuk is held as one of the most translated contemporary writers, not only into European languages.  Since his debut in 1982, he has published nine novels and other writings, which have received awards in Europe and the United States.  He elaborated an original form of narrative, at times complex and not always easy to read, through which he explores, from a historic point of view, the problematic issues of art, expression, identity and the relationship between the East and the West.   In his homeland and abroad Pamuk has had great literary success. But despite this, he is still opposed by a large part of public opinion in Turkey.  An official in Isparta even went to the point of ordering the destruction of his books in libraries and bookshops throughout the province.

Pamuk, invited to the International Book Fair in Turin, decided not to mention any of this.  In the past he ad even refused to participate in debates and discussion on the murder of the Armenian journalist and long-time friend Hrant Dink. In Turin, when asked about the case currently going to the courts, he commented: “I don’t think it is a serious matter, even if I don’t really know the details of the latest developments, nothing is official yet, but from what I have understood I could be on trial again.  Unfortunately, in my country the justice system is politicised – said Pamuk - and you know that if there is no freedom in a nation then there is no justice.  This is why I feel obliged to speak freely”.

For now Turkey’s press prefers to hold its tongue on the issue and only Hurriyet has dared to nod its head at the probable opening of a new trial.  No-one is sure of anything and they prefer to keep quiet, given the scandal generated by the first case involving Pamuk and article 301. Many hope that this is not the latest sign of the current government’s increasingly authoritarian and nationalist stance. Many see confirmation of this suspicion in recently improved relations between Syria, Iran, and the Turkish government which has forgotten the principals of secular kemalism and is moving towards an Islamic extremism, in which nationalism and fundamentalism are dangerously united.

 

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