So happy, so proud that Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Isn't it ironic that it was Pamuk, who was tried for insulting "Turkishness" last year, brought this great honor to Turkey with his good work, his work telling about the beauty and peculiarity of his country and his era?
Of course they will continue to insult him, and insult the Europeans who awarded him. But their insults won't change their misery or his success.
Since the Beaver didn't publish this, lemme put it down here. What is Internet for, anyway? To publish things that wouldn't have been published otherwise! (I'm on my disappointed, cynical, hopeless day, sorry!)
Clash of Populists
Author of many of my favorite books, Orhan Pamuk, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, the first Turk to ever win the prize. Not surprisingly, the news was met with as much hostility and suspicion in his native Turkey as happiness and pride. Turkish web-site Ekşi Sözlük, a very informal version of Wikipedia, soared with critical entries shortly after the announcement, while journalists were quick to overshadow Pamuk’s success by reminding his controversial remarks.
Pamuk is famous for his novels like the Black Book, My Name is Red and Snow. His work centers on the struggle of Turks, who are deeply rooted in traditional and religious values, while aspiring to adopt a Western mind-set and habits. The context is modern-day Istanbul in the Black Book and the eastern city of Kars in Snow, while My Name is Red tells about the struggle of 16th-century Ottoman artists against Western portrait-makers.
Pamuk’s characters try to keep their lives together as they are being pulled in different directions, but they do not reach clear-cut conclusions over what is right and what is wrong. In a lecture in 2002 in Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., Pamuk himself said that he does not try to offer any golden solutions. “My light touch or my art that revolves, turns around, makes these elliptic curves around the problem may give the good reader the idea that we are always some part of the problem. Problems are not different from us. I intend [for] my books to be beautiful things between the problems and our minds — so they will distance us [from the problems,]” he said then. Apart from his overarching theme, what strike me most in his novels are his disturbingly realistic observations of human melancholy, weakness, or litost, as Milan Kundera would call it.
His subject matter was interesting enough to keep both Westerners and Turks occupied, but in February 2005, Pamuk said to Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that “30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians were killed here. And almost nobody dares to say it, but me.” A group of nationalist lawyers sued him on the basis of the now infamous Article 301, which makes “insulting Turkishness, the Turkish Republic, parliament, government, judiciary, military and police” a crime. (There is also a clause that increases the punishment if the alleged insults are made abroad.)
Upon pressures from the European Union, the charges were dropped because of a technicality. The law is likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future, as the government does not have the guts to get rid of it in the run-up to the general elections next year.
As the controversy unfolded, some journalists and commentators labeled Pamuk’s words as an effort to win the Nobel Prize by marginalizing himself politically in his country. Now they claim that Europeans were pursuing a political agenda by giving the prize to Pamuk, at a time when freedom of speech, Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s EU prospects are on the headlines. Incidentally, the lower house of the French Parliament approved a bill, which makes the denial of Armenian Genocide of 1915 a crime, on the same day as the award announcement.
I sincerely believe that Pamuk deserved the Nobel Prize, because he is a very good writer, and his subject matter is relevant in today’s world. If boosting his chances for the prize crossed his mind when he made his remarks, and if the Swedish Academy’s decision was indeed influenced by politics, then the Turkish nationalists should blame their own stupidity for reacting in such a way that handed Pamuk the prize in a golden bowl. It is ironic that an author who was tried for “insulting Turkishness” last year becomes the first Turk to ever receive this honour.
Turkish government’s reluctance to change Article 301 just before the elections is understandable. Politicians are expected to be populists, accommodating the –sometimes- irrational sensibilities of their constituents. Some journalists and intellectuals, too, aim to cater to the growing nationalist sentiment with their hostile criticism of Pamuk.
While Turkey has its fair share of populists that do not want to hear anything they do not like, apparently France has plenty, too. Although Turkish populists and their French counterparts defend opposite views on issues like the Armenian Genocide, they employ similar methods: They try to limit the freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, French and Turkish populists’ clashing views lead to the same conclusion in one important area. In the end, both sides argue that Turkey and the EU are incompatible, and Turkey should not join the EU. I hope that they will not succeed, because I believe the so-called “clash of civilizations” is nothing but the clash of populists.