Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Orhan Pamuk's trial: when will the Turks accept they genocided the Armenians, and beg forgiveness?

How come only the Germans have really made amends -- financially and morally -- for their terrible behavior towards the Jews and Europe during the 2nd World War? Was it because it was easy to blame one man above all: Hitler? Or because German misdeeds were so obvious that the Allies could put their leaders on trial at Nuremberg?

The Japanese, on the other hand, have never made amends for how terribly they treated the Koreans ("comfort" women) or the Chinese (Nanking). And the Turks get all upset when they have to think about how they genocided the Armenians. And the snot-nosed French have never come to terms with the fact that their entire nation bent over backwards to the Germans in WW2 and allowed those panzers to drive right up their Vichy assholes. In fact, just about every Frenchman who was alive then, thinks he was in the Resistance, which never amounted to more than a few thousand diehard Communists. Rest assured that the Frenchmen who shaved the heads of French women who slept with Germans were never in the Resistance themselves, but probably turned in Jews so they could get their property.

What is it about some nations, that they can't be real grownup men and own up to their bad behavior? Do "nationalists" always have to act like naughty children who can't say sorry? Come to think of it, the US has never owned up to how terribly we treated the South Americans (about as badly as the Russians treated Eastern Europe), and only half-assedly -- if at all -- apologized for how we backed horrible regimes after WW2 as long as those regimes said they were "anti-communist".

Anyway, here are three pieces on Orhan Pamuk's trial, the first -- and very subtle one -- by the accused man himself. He makes an interesting observation about V.S. Naipaul, the only man who has never been afraid of accusing the once-colonized of being a bunch of bastards themselves.

ON TRIAL -- by Orhan Pamuk

In Istanbul this Friday—in [_i_li], the district where I have spent my whole life, in the courthouse directly opposite the three-story house where my grandmother lived alone for forty years—I will stand before a judge. My crime is to have “publicly denigrated Turkish identity.” The prosecutor will ask that I be imprisoned for three years. I should perhaps find it worrying that the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was tried in the same court for the same offense, under Article 301 of the same statute, and was found guilty, but I remain optimistic. For, like my lawyer, I believe that the case against me is thin; I do not think I will end up in jail.

This makes it somewhat embarrassing to see my trial overdramatized. I am only too aware that most of the Istanbul friends from whom I have sought advice have at some point undergone much harsher interrogation and lost many years to court cases and prison sentences just because of a book, just because of something they had written. Living as I do in a country that honors its pashas, saints, and policemen at every opportunity but refuses to honor its writers until they have spent years in courts and in prisons, I cannot say I was surprised to be put on trial. I understand why friends smile and say that I am at last “a real Turkish writer.” But when I uttered the words that landed me in trouble I was not seeking that kind of honor.

Last February, in an interview published in a Swiss newspaper, I said that “a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey”; I went on to complain that it was taboo to discuss these matters in my country. Among the world’s serious historians, it is common knowledge that a large number of Ottoman Armenians were deported, allegedly for siding against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and many of them were slaughtered along the way. Turkey’s spokesmen, most of whom are diplomats, continue to maintain that the death toll was much lower, that the slaughter does not count as a genocide because it was not systematic, and that in the course of the war Armenians killed many Muslims, too. This past September, however, despite opposition from the state, three highly respected Istanbul universities joined forces to hold an academic conference of scholars open to views not tolerated by the official Turkish line. Since then, for the first time in ninety years, there has been public discussion of the subject—this despite the spectre of Article 301.

If the state is prepared to go to such lengths to keep the Turkish people from knowing what happened to the Ottoman Armenians, that qualifies as a taboo. And my words caused a furor worthy of a taboo: various newspapers launched hate campaigns against me, with some right-wing (but not necessarily Islamist) columnists going as far as to say that I should be “silenced” for good; groups of nationalist extremists organized meetings and demonstrations to protest my treachery; there were public burnings of my books. Like Ka, the hero of my novel “Snow,” I discovered how it felt to have to leave one’s beloved city for a time on account of one’s political views. Because I did not want to add to the controversy, and did not want even to hear about it, I at first kept quiet, drenched in a strange sort of shame, hiding from the public, and even from my own words. Then a provincial governor ordered a burning of my books, and, following my return to Istanbul, the _i_li public prosecutor opened the case against me, and I found myself the object of international concern.

My detractors were not motivated just by personal animosity, nor were they expressing hostility to me alone; I already knew that my case was a matter worthy of discussion in both Turkey and the outside world. This was partly because I believed that what stained a country’s “honor” was not the discussion of the black spots in its history but the impossibility of any discussion at all. But it was also because I believed that in today’s Turkey the prohibition against discussing the Ottoman Armenians was a prohibition against freedom of expression, and that the two matters were inextricably linked. Comforted as I was by the interest in my predicament and by the generous gestures of support, there were also times when I felt uneasy about finding myself caught between my country and the rest of the world.

The hardest thing was to explain why a country officially committed to entry in the European Union would wish to imprison an author whose books were well known in Europe, and why it felt compelled to play out this drama (as Conrad might have said) “under Western eyes.” This paradox cannot be explained away as simple ignorance, jealousy, or intolerance, and it is not the only paradox. What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats? What is the logic behind a state that complains that its enemies spread false reports about the Ottoman legacy all over the globe while it prosecutes and imprisons one writer after another, thus propagating the image of the Terrible Turk worldwide? When I think of the professor whom the state asked to give his ideas on Turkey’s minorities, and who, having produced a report that failed to please, was prosecuted, or the news that between the time I began this essay and embarked on the sentence you are now reading five more writers and journalists were charged under Article 301, I imagine that Flaubert and Nerval, the two godfathers of Orientalism, would call these incidents bizarreries , and rightly so.

That said, the drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions.

V. S. Naipaul was one of the first writers to describe the private lives of the ruthless, murderous non-Western ruling élites of the post-colonial era. Last May, in Korea, when I met the great Japanese writer Kenzaburo Oe, I heard that he, too, had been attacked by nationalist extremists after stating that the ugly crimes committed by his country’s armies during the invasions of Korea and China should be openly discussed in Tokyo. The intolerance shown by the Russian state toward the Chechens and other minorities and civil-rights groups, the attacks on freedom of expression by Hindu nationalists in India, and China’s discreet ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs—all are nourished by the same contradictions.

As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression. But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.

(Translated, from the Turkish, by Maureen Freely. )

2. Talking Turkey: A novelist awaits trial for his words -- by MATTHEW KAMINSKI

ISTANBUL, Turkey--A tidy mind may not appreciate Turkey's contradictions. It is a place where the ruling Islamists blindly push the country into Europe while the old Westernized establishment threatens personal freedoms. Its booming capitalist economy coexists with a militant dislike for all things American. It's an experiment in secular Muslim democracy that could, in a decade or more, almost as easily end up in the European Union's postmodern paradise as in an Iranian-style theocracy. Unless, of course, yet another coup restores Kemal Ataturk's military-dominated republic.

At another time, Orhan Pamuk might delight in these paradoxes. Yet Turkey's most famous novelist finds himself ensnared by them. He must appear tomorrow before an Istanbul court to answer charges of "public denigration of Turkish identity." For a single sentence uttered in a Swiss magazine interview last February--"30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and almost nobody but me dares to talk about it"--Mr. Pamuk faces three years in jail.

His lawyer tells him to keep quiet, advice that the author ignores. "Of course, it's a disgrace for any state today to try to convict an author, especially a novelist," he says. Indictments on this charge, including his own, are the "habit and nature of nationalism and authoritarianism," a legacy, along with rigid secularism, of Ataturk. This thin-skinned Turkey is one side of the medal; on the other, popular democracy is thriving as never before. "We're all freer now," Mr. Pamuk continues. "It's an irony that I'm saying it, but it's definitely true. Only compared to a Western democracy there are so many taboos here."

Surprisingly tall, dressed in a fashionable blue shirt and black pants, Mr. Pamuk speaks English in a fluent staccato. Born into Istanbul's upper class 53 years ago, Mr. Pamuk is at turns prickly and personable. His office balcony offers a breathtaking view of the Bosporus and the entrance of the Golden Horn. Atop a pile of books and papers, lies a thick Borges collection in English. By his own admission, Mr. Pamuk resembles a happier Ka, the exiled poet and protagonist of his last novel, "Snow," about the rise of Islamism in the 1990s, who "is also consistently accused of 'not belonging here enough.' " He adds: "That may be a compliment for a novelist but not a good thing for a citizen who wants to be happy in his town."

The source of Mr. Pamuk's current discomfort is a nationalist prosecutor who brought the charge against him weeks before Turkey opened talks to join the EU. The message: Not so fast. None of this happened in a vacuum. Three years ago, Justice and Development, a party with Islamist roots, won a majority in Parliament, pushing out the old republicans. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan aggressively opened up Turkish politics to qualify for the EU. It's in his self-interest to consolidate a democracy with EU help: As before, the military might lose patience with the religious men in power.

Yet the Erdogan era raises big, unsettling questions. As greater political freedom brings more Islam, will more Islam end up destroying hard-won secular freedoms? Can representative government and religion coexist in an Islamic country? Turkey is a regional laboratory.

In "Snow," the rising Islamism clashed violently with the official secular order. A decade ago, the specter of another Iran haunted the Westernized elite here. In person today, Mr. Pamuk sounds more optimistic that Turkey can strike a novel balance. At EU prodding, Turkey adopted far-reaching reforms--including better treatment for the Kurds and a reduced political role for the military--in the past three years.

"The collaboration with Europe eases the tension over freedom of religion here," he says. "Another irony is that once . . . Turkey manages to have fully integrated into the European Union, the suppression of daily secular life through religion--and the legitimization of that suppression--will be harder." By this scenario, Turkey can be like Ireland or the U.S., Western countries with a sizable religious and conservative population.

So Islam can be reformed quietly to surrender its claims over political life? Mr. Pamuk bristles at the question. " 'Reform of Islam' has connotations of a Western patronizing outlook implying, We have done our reforms in our religion and if you want to be modern, you must do that too," he says. He adds: "I don't think Islam and democracy are incompatible. But it's a very delicate matter. That kind of harmony should come from the nations, from the people, from the politicians, rather than be imposed as criteria from the outside. It's happening but not with that agenda. What's much more interesting here is that the Islamists are embracing Europe."

While Mr. Pamuk and other pro-European Turks heartily welcome the criteria imposed by the EU, the novelist is scornful of America's democratization efforts in other Muslim countries. In his view, the Iraq war aggravated a deeper conflict not between East and West, free and oppressed, but between rich and poor. On this topic, the Westernized Mr. Pamuk sounds more like an "authentic" Turk. (Istanbul critics often fault him, and other novelists, for insufficient Turkishness.)

"All these nations that are producing less are damningly aware of what is happening because of TV, communications and Hollywood," he says. "They're learning more and more about the private life of Western people, while their life is . . . only looked down as 'headscarf girl,' religious, premodern, as something that should be reformed and civilized by some superiors." To him, Islamic nations "can also be considered to be victims of 9/11, because their religion, culture, history was represented as something annoying and threatening, and most of the time they're only possible killers and fanatics."

Without excusing or explaining terrorism, Mr. Pamuk does try to shift the blame toward the West--and toward the U.S. as the epicenter of this empire. But then, at once, he turns soothing. "Anti-Americanism is a very common and a very shallow thing," he says, "a light ideology that America can manipulate." Like Turkey, Mr. Pamuk is not a man without contradictions.

At one point, he claims to dislike all this talk of politics. "I'm a novelist." True, yet his recent books are all read with a close eye to the hidden political meanings. That even includes the 16th-century Ottoman murder mystery, "My Name Is Red," which made his name in the West. His current project, a love story set among Istanbul's upper classes who use their "Westernization" to dominate the country, will probably be no different.

The growing popularity of novels is a little noted symptom of globalization. And Mr. Pamuk expects non-Westerners to embrace and change the form. It sounds a bit like fusion food. Thinking of China and others with emerging middle classes and novelists, he adds: "I'm sure they will invent new things. . . . Subject matter, habits, culture, psychological depth are so, so different that once you want to address your people you change that art, you change the given form."

The "Istanbul" of the last Pamuk book, a memoir of his childhood in the 1950s and '60s, portrays a gray, beguiling but scarred city, struggling with the loss of the great Ottoman empire. Four decades on, after waves of rural migration saw the population rise tenfold, Istanbul is colorful, modern and shabby, at once more conservative and more free-wheeling. The changes are dizzying, and the optimist wants to believe all for the better. Maybe the Anatolian peasant girl in a headscarf can live happily next door to the upper-class Westernized one dressed in a miniskirt. For all his attempts to sound upbeat, Mr. Pamuk betrays doubts. "Honestly I may be too naive in my liberal outlook," he says.

No one seriously expects him to end up in prison, though Turkish courts are fickle. But already the case illustrates that this "model" Muslim society remains at conflict with itself. In "Snow," radical Islamists end up assassinating Ka. The Kemalists have his nonfiction doppelganger in their sights. In a novel, Mr. Pamuk would probably appreciate the symmetry.

(Mr. Kaminski is editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe.)

3.Turkish Novelist Pamuk Goes to Trial -- by LOUIS MEIXLER

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - Turkey's prime minister accused the European Union on Saturday of trying to pressure Turkish courts in the trial of the country's best-known novelist.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Cabinet will discuss Monday whether a court should press ahead with the trial of Orhan Pamuk, a case that has raised questions about Turkey's commitment to free speech.

On Friday, the first day of the trial, a judge halted the proceeding and insisted the Justice Ministry first approve going ahead with the trial of the acclaimed writer, who is accused of insulting the country's honor.

The move is forcing Turkey's politicians to grapple with whether they are willing to press forward with a high-profile trial despite criticism from the European Union, which Turkey is trying to join.

Turkey began membership talks with the EU on Oct. 3, and Dutch conservative Camiel Eurlings, head of a European Parliament delegation monitoring the trial, cautioned Friday that the impact of the case "could be huge, and it could be negative.''

Erdogan told reporters Saturday: "The EU at the moment is trying to put our judiciary under pressure ... Rightly or wrongly, the issue is in the courts.

"My views concerning freedom of expression are well known,'' he said. "I am a person who was a victim of a freedom of expression case.''

Erdogan served four months in jail in 1999 for reciting what the courts deemed to be an inflammatory poem interpreted as being anti-secular. Turkey is a staunchly secular state.

Pamuk, author of "Snow'' and "My Name is Red'' and an often-mentioned candidate for the Nobel prize in literature, said in a brief statement to the press that "it is not good for Turkey, for our democracy, for such freedom of expression cases to be prolonged.''

Denis MacShane, Britain's former minister for Europe and a member of the British Parliament, told The Associated Press on Friday that "the accusation of insulting the state is something you associate with dictatorial regimes, not with a modern European state.''

"You can't put one of the world's best living novelists on trial and say this is just growing pains,'' added MacShane, who attended the hearings as an informal observer.

Pamuk is being tried for telling a Swiss newspaper in February that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it.''

The massacre of Armenians during World War I and the fight against Kurdish guerrillas in the country's southeast remain highly sensitive topics. Prosecutors have charged Pamuk with insulting the Turkish Republic and "Turkishness,'' a charge that cannot be applied without Justice Ministry approval.

Turkey has for years come under severe EU criticism for laws that stifle freedom of speech. The nation has carried out a sweeping series of reforms to expand freedom of expression as part of its EU membership drive, but nationalist prosecutors and judges often still interpret laws in a restrictive manner.


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