How To Talk To Turkey

by Pelin Turgut, Leo Cendrowicz

Time International
September 26, 2005

Orhan Pamuk is Turkey’s most widely read living author. His fame and
his liberal views have made him a symbol of Turkish aspirations to join
the European Union. But the decision of a Turkish state prosecutor
to try him for “publicly denigrating” the nation reinforced European
ambivalence–in some cases, outright hostility–toward admitting the
mainly Muslim country.

Pamuk is due to face trial in December for comments made to the Swiss
newspaper Tages-Anzeiger in February in which he criticized Turkey’s
refusal to discuss the mass killings of Armenians at the start of the
last century, as well as the country’s more recent Kurdish conflict.

“Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in
these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it,” he said. If
convicted, he faces up to three years in jail, though few expect such
an outcome. Instead, the penalty may be paid by all Turks who support
the move to join the E.U. The European Commission is due to begin
accession talks with Turkey on Oct. 3, but Dutch Christian Democrat
M.E.P. Camiel Eurlings wants negotiations suspended if the trial goes
ahead. Pamuk hopes his case will not count against Turkey’s bid.

“This is without doubt an example of utmost intolerance,” he told
TIME. “But I don’t want that intolerance to be an obstacle in Turkey’s
road toward the E.U.”

Since coming to power in 2002, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
has introduced reforms–such as Kurdish cultural rights and curbs on
the military’s political clout–in a bid to meet E.U. standards. But
the country’s old guard still sets its face against change. “There
has been a huge amount of legal reform, but it takes time for the
mental transformation to sink in,” says one senior Turkish official.

Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Galatasaray University, says Pamuk’s case
“is a sign of how this accession process is going to go. It’s going
to be a roller coaster of a ride.”

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