Essays

A Perspective on Orhan Pamuk

By posted at 2:17 pm on September 4, 2005 0

Funny how things work. I got 3 emails from friends asking what I think about Orhan Pamuk’s prosecution. As you might have heard, Turkey is bringing charges against the prominent writer for denigrating the country. Clearly, this is a rather backward move in a country with aspirations of joining the EU. The issues at hand are the oh-so-touchy matters of the so-called Armenian genocide and the deaths caused by the Kurdish insurgency in southeastern Turkey. With regards to the first matter I will chose to remain silent as I do not consider myself well informed on the issue. Any good Turk, by my country’s laws that is, would vehemently deny any such allegations and attempt to convince you that atrocities were committed by both sides (Ottomans and Armenians alike) and that it was during the Great War, and, well, shit like that happened in wars and thousands could perish for no good reason. I have a proclivity to side with this argument and, though the Turks might have inflicted greater damage on the Armenians, I believe the issue became more of a political tool as opposed to a matter of stating the obvious, as in the Holocaust. Having grown up in Turkey with an Armenian as a best friend and having had no exposure to the particular events concerning the Armenians in my Turkish History classes (perhaps because of the government’s discretion) I defer to the little facts that there are and people’s common sense, which usually lacks, on this issue.

The second and more present issue of the Kurdish insurgency, however, is not as opaque as the Armenian issue. The PKK (that is the Kurdish People’s Party, a terrorist organization banned by most countries, including the US and most of the EU) began it’s uprising in 1984 and mounted it to great heights immediately after the First Gulf War. 1991-1996 was an especially bleak period where it was common to read of 8-25 deaths a day in each newspaper. During this period a good portion of Turkey’s eastern provinces were under Martial Law, certain towns and cities believed to harbor terrorists were completely emptied, living conditions declined all around, and there was constant fighting in the mountains and along the border with Syria and Iraq. At one point Turkey was carrying out bombings in the Iraqi no fly zone and threatened war with Syria if it did not stop supporting, training, and housing PKK members. During the ’90s over 30,000 people, civilians, soldiers, and terrorist, lost their lives in battles, bombings, and straight out massacres.

Now back to Orhan Pamuk’s assertions and prosecution. According to The Independent and the BBC, Pamuk stated that “[t]hirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands (Turkey)” in an interview with Tages Anzeiger, a Swiss newspaper, in February. I agree that there are certain historical inconsistencies that need to be fixed on the Armenian issue and certain necessary reforms for Turkey to overcome it’s problems with Kurdish citizens. Pamuk’s assertions, however, are more speculative and provocative, especially from a Turkish point of view. As I pointed out above, I will refrain from touching on the issues of the so-called Armenian genocide. As for the massacre of over 30,000 Kurds, however, I feel the obligation to point out that Pamuk has his facts wrong. The deaths were in both camps. There is a dire need to grant greater freedoms to the Kurdish population in Turkey, as well as a serious governmental obligation to improve life in the eastern parts of the country. To state that all the deaths were a result of aggressive government policies and that they were, without discrimination, strictly Kurdish, however, is a wrong and foul. It is also inconsiderate towards those who lost their lives in the fight against Kurdish terrorism. The flaw in Pamuk’s statements is that they embody and support western, that is mostly European, perspectives on how Turkey did and should handle these two issues. Therefore, Pamuk falls afoul with the laws, which I admit are a bit backward, but further arouses discontent and pain among many Turkish citizens.

All in all it is still disgraceful to prosecute Pamuk on the current charges. The government clearly has certain shortcomings. Otherwise they would be able to invite Pamuk to an open discussion and back arguments to the contrary with evidence. It is curious that the archives on both issues are either non-existent or jealously guarded. Pamuk is most likely to walk away from his trial without any damage, and the issue is bound to close. The greater problems at hand however, mainly dealing with the Armenian allegations of genocide and the separatist Kurds, are likely to be outstanding for the foreseeable future. I only wish that influential and smart people like Pamuk would use their stature for more productive activities as opposed to populist outburst. I am curious as to how Pamuk’s trial will unfold, what backlash Turkey will receive in her ambitions for joining the EU, and most importantly how our government will one day address both issues.

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