Turk who defied official history wins Nobel Prize

The Times, UK
Oct 13 2006

Turk who defied official history wins Nobel Prize

From Suna Erdem in Istanbul

ORHAN PAMUK, Turkey’s foremost novelist, who faced trial earlier this
year for comments about the massacres of Armenians in the First World
War, won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday.
Charges of `insulting Turkishness’ brought against Pamuk, 54, were
dropped on a technicality after attracting worldwide attention and
stirring protests that Turkish laws restricted freedom of expression.
The case damaged his country’s aspiration to join the European Union.

He had been favourite to win the prize for a rich body of work that
explores the complexities of identity and clashing cultures in
Turkey, a secular, overwhelmingly Muslim state, that bridges Europe
and Asia.

Intense applause greeted his name when it was announced by Horace
Engdahl, the head of the Swedish Academy.

In a twist that considerably dampened celebrations in Turkey, the
prize was announced on the day that the French Parliament approved a
Bill to make it illegal to deny that the Armenian killings amounted
to genocide. Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, said that his
country would consider retaliatory measures against France. In
Ankara, protesters pelted the French Embassy with eggs.

Mr Engdahl dismissed criticism that politics might have been a factor
in the selection. `I believe that this will be met with delight by
all readers,’ he said. `But it can naturally give rise to a certain
amount of political turbulence. That is not what we are interested
in.’

The Academy said that Pamuk – whose works include My Name is Red, an
historical whodunnit starring Ottoman miniaturists, Black Book,
chronicling a man’s search for his wife through Istanbul, and
Istanbul, an autobiographical portrait of the city – 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.’

On winning the Kr10 million (£728,000) prize, Pamuk declined to
answer political questions, but predicted that it would raise the
international profile of Turkish literature. `This will lead the
world to review Turkish culture as a culture of peace,’ he said in
New York.

Pamuk’s win was welcomed in Turkey, with Foreign Ministry officials
and the eminent writer Yasar Kemal offering their congratulations.
But his critics, who concede that Pamuk’s multiple international
awards more than prove the quality of his writing, have said that his
forays outside literature would not have gone unnoticed. `I think you
can say there is more than literature at stake here. Perhaps it’s
always been a mixture between what’s on the printed page and what the
writer stands for politically,’ Ian Jack, the editor of Granta, said.

Ozdemir Ince, the prominent Turkish poet, also said that he believed
Pamuk was honoured because of his politics. `If you ask serious
literature people, they would place Pamuk at the end of the list,’ Mr
Ince said. `Turkish literature did not win the Nobel Prize, Pamuk
did.’

Until last year Pamuk, the Istanbul-born son of a bourgeois family,
had been considered a rather aloof, literary figure. His fanciful,
stylish prose won him acclaim but his acute observations about his
fellow Turks also made enemies.

His trial, for `insulting Turkishness’ followed his assertion that
one million Armenians had been killed in Turkey in 1915, and 30,000
Kurds during an insurgency decades later. Although the case was
dismissed, it caused great embarrassment to Ankara as it tried to
demonstrate to the EU that Turkey is reforming its restrictive laws.

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