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How Orhan Pamuk Got into Trouble

Insult Your Country

by MICHAEL DICKINSON

Imagine it.

You live in a democratic country that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which value freedom of expression as central. Surely you think– and dare to speak your thought freely if you are the member a state that upholds those principles.

But imagine if that same country should have a Penal Code that includes a clause that contradicts the very same principles it claims to uphold. Imagine just for the sake of it that the country in question were America. This then would be the offending clause:

"A person who explicitly insults being an American, the Republic or American Government, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years."

In addition: "where insulting being an American is committed by an American citizen in a foreign country, the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one third."

If you were an American, of course you wouldn’t dream of such a curtailment of your right to free speech, and couldn’t imagine such a situation to exist. But it does.

Just change the name of the country and nationality to Turkey, and Turkish, and we’re talking Article 30/1 of the Turkish Legal Code, and we’re talking a possible three year jail sentence facing Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, for his explicit insults, made during an interview with the Tages Anzeiger newspaper in Switzerland earlier this year. The trial is due to take place in Istanbul in December.

Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most well known authors. His works have been published world wide in over 20 languages. He was nominated for this year’s Nobel Literary Prize. His most recent book, Istanbul, is a fond personal history of his native city. He loves his country. What could he have said which so explicitly insulted being a Turk?

Basically it boils down to a nasty word–genocide. Did he say it or didn’t he? What he is quoted as saying was: "a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it"– a reference to the killings by Ottoman Empire forces of thousands of Armenians in 1915-1917.

Turkey does not contest the deaths, but denies that it could be called "genocide", saying that the death toll is inflated and that Armenians were killed in civil unrest as the Ottoman empire collapsed. The word genocide, is defined in most dictionaries as "the systematic, planned annihilation of an ethnic, racial or political group." That seems a fairly accurate description of the accounts of systematic forced expropriation, deportation, and disappearance of up to a million Armenians during that time.

Pamuk also got into trouble for referring to the "30,000" Kurds killed since 1984 in the conflict between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists.

Recently the author (understandably not wanting to spend three years inside) has been trying to explain his remarks. Of the Armenian Massacre he said: "I did not say, we Turks killed this many Armenians. I did not use the word ‘genocide’."

And on Turkey’s 20-year conflict with Kurdish guerrillas seeking autonomy, branded a terrorist group by the US and EU. He said: "There are martyred Turkish soldiers among those 30,000 to 35,000 killed people. Let’s express our respect to them."

Pamuk complains that he had become a victim of a "defamation campaign" resulting in vilification by some Turkish papers, death threats and book burnings, but he has also received massive international support for his right to say what he believes.

As for the Armenian genocide– was it or wasn’t it? There are records, there are eye-witness reports, there is fog and there is eye and whitewash. Somewhere in there is the truth which always remains. And truth will out.

Foul crimes and atrocities have been committed by one group of people against another since written history. We shouldn’t cover up the fact that some of our grandparents were ignorant sadistic racists, but face the facts, apologize and forgive as best we can, and move on, improving as we go to a better world for those who come after us.

And as to the truth or not of the Armenian genocide, Hitler certainly believed he had learned a lesson from that idea when talking of the need for massive resettlements.

He said:

"We intend to introduce a resettlement policy. Think of the biblical deportations and the massacres of the Middle Ages…and remember the extermination of the Armenians. One eventually reaches the conclusion that the masses of man are mere biological plasticine Have placed my death-head formations in readiness – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion , men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space (lebensraum) which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

MICHAEL DICKINSON is an English teacher working in Istanbul Turkey. He can be contacted at http://yabanji.tripod.com/ or mdickinson@kablonet.com.tr