| Pamuk in New York. (Reuters)
London, Oct. 12: Turkey’s most famous author, Orhan Pamuk, 54, who defended Salman Rushdie against Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, was today named the winner of this year’s Nobel prize for Literature.
Pamuk has been at odds with his own government after refusing to toe the official line that Armenians and Kurds had not been victims of genocide in Turkey. The writer, who believes the opposite, faced trial earlier this year under a law which makes “insulting Turkishness” an offence.
“What I said is not an insult, it is the truth,” declared Pamuk. “But what if it is wrong' Right or wrong, do people not have the right to express their ideas peacefully'” Pamuk asked during the trial.
Although other lesser known writers still face prosecution, the government decided not to pursue the case against Pamuk for fear of undermining talks aimed at securing Turkish entry into the EU. Critics of Turkey argue that it would not conform to European notions of freedom of expression. Giving him the prize worth $1.36 million, the Swedish Academy said: “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, (Pamuk) has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.”
It added: “Pamuk has said 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 chronicle.... which in the spirit of Thomas Mann follows the development of a family over three generations.”
The Academy declared Pamuk the winner on a day when, to Turkey’s fury, the French lower house of parliament approved a bill making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide.
Pamuk, who had faced prosecution after saying last year that one million Armenians had died in Turkey during World War I and 30,000 Kurds had perished in recent decades, told a Swedish paper on being announced the winner: “I will try to recover from this shock.” When the government decided not to proceed with Pamuk’s trial on a technicality, there was cheering from Rushdie.
As president of American Pen, the US branch of the international organisation that represents writers, Rushdie said: “We are relieved that Orhan Pamuk’s ordeal is over and he can turn his full attention once again to writing. But that, unfortunately, is not the end of the story. Other writers and publishers are currently in Turkish courts on similar charges….” Islamists accuse Pamuk of blasphemy, while some Leftists have accused their former comrade of selling out to the West.
Pamuk’s books have been translated into over 40 languages. He has published six books in English, the first of these being The White Castle, primarily a historical novel set in 17th-century Istanbul. My Name is Red, Snow and The White Castle have dealt with East/West culture clashes.
His most recent work, Istanbul: Memories of a City, intersperses personal reminiscences of childhood and youth with reflections on the city’s Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past. “Istanbul’s fate is my fate. I am attached to this city because it has made me who I am,” he said.
Some senior Turkish writers have reacted to the Nobel prize by saying that he had been rewarded for his political stance. “With all due respect to Orhan Pamuk, whose books I read and like, I believe his comments on the Armenian genocide have been influential in his winning this prize,” said Suat Kiniklioglu, an Ankara-based political analyst.
“I think many Turks will see it in this way too and will not be cheering.... There is a political dimension to all this.”
“It is also known, both in Turkey and abroad, that this prize is much more related to politics than to literature,” said leading Turkish novelist Pinar Kur. Academy head Horace Engdahl said: “I believe that this will be met with delight by all readers and all lovers of novels. But it can naturally give rise to a certain amount of political turbulence.”