ANKARA: Turkish Nobel Laureate ‘Returns Home’ To Accept Doctoral Awa

Andrew Finkel Ýstanbul

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
May 15 2007

Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s lone Nobel laureate and a man more feted abroad
than in his own country, returned to his native Ýstanbul to be awarded
an honorary doctorate yesterday in that city’s Bosphorus University.

"To be honored in your own home is a source of enormous pride. I
am so very happy," Pamuk told an audience, who rose to give him a
standing ovation.

In accepting the award Pamuk emphasized the importance of intellectual
freedom, or what he called the "space to be curious," and the
freedom to sometimes be irresponsible. He praised the Bosphorus
University’s defense of academic liberties in the intellectual life
of the nation. "No honorary doctorate from any other institution,
anywhere else in the world, could mean this much," he said.

Pamuk smiled bashfully as he was helped into his doctoral gown and made
his address at an excited clip. "I didn’t sleep at all last night in
anticipation," he confessed. Just over 40 years previously he had sat
in the same hall as a high school student taking an English placement
exam for Robert Academy (today’s Robert College), which then shared
the university campus. He described the delights of roaming the open
stacks of the school library and being allowed the freedom to slip into
"a secret life."

In her presentation of the award Rector Ayþe Soysal was at pains
to describe the democratic process through which the doctorate was
proposed by the Turkish Literature Department, passed by the Faculty
of Humanities and then approved by the university senate. "In other
universities such awards are very much the prerogative of the rector’s
office alone," one faculty member later explained.

"There has always been a special relationship between Orhan Pamuk
and this university," explained Jale Parla, professor of literature
and former Bosphorus faculty member. Pamuk’s first Dostoyevsky-style
dynastic saga, "Cevdet Bey and his Sons," won immediate critical
acclaim, but his subsequent post-modern experiments "The White
Castle" and "The Black Book" were greeted not so much with hostility,
but uncomprehending silence. It was Nuket Esen, now head of the
university’s Turkish literature department, along with figures like
Professor Parla who signposted to the world that Pamuk was leading
the Turkish novel and language in new directions.

More recently Pamuk found himself less in uncharted than murky waters
after unguarded remarks to a Swiss journalist calling attention to
what he described as the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic’s
cruel treatment of its Armenian and Kurdish populations. A court case
in December 2005 for "insulting Turkishness" was attended by crowds of
ultra-nationalists, who branded him a traitor. Major newspapers (some
of whose columnists were present at yesterday’s ceremony) suggested
he had criticized Turkey’s past simply to ingratiate himself with
the Nobel Committee.

Security at the award ceremony was tight, but unobtrusive. "The adverse
reaction from the sort of groups who dislike Orhan Pamuk was far less
than we were expecting," one senior administrator said.

University authorities, yesterday, were eager to emphasize the
non-political nature of their award, although several faculty members
privately expressed their pleasure in rewarding a creative talent who
spoke his mind. Pamuk did not disappoint them in his brief acceptance
speech. "A society which is not free has no future," he said.


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