Turkey is an incredible country. The agenda changes every week if not earlier. Hence there is never a dull moment for a diplomat, journalist and a social scientist in Turkey. But is this a change for the better? That is debatable…

My article published last week seemed quite out of context with the events that surfaced. With the ‘eruption of two phenomena, namely Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel prize and adoption of a bill by the French Parliament’s lower house that criminalized naming or even the discussion of the events that transpired in the last years of the crumbling Ottoman Empire during 1915-1917 other than “genocide”, all other issues became irrelevant. However a week late, I will try to catch up. 

Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, won the Noble prize, perhaps the most prestigious award of all times as a man of literature. He brought pride to his nation and recognition to the culture he was inspired by. Yet some circles responded in such a way that if they had the chance they would put him before the firing squad. Mr. Pamuk could have been the first Nobel laureate executed for winning the award. The only reason why those people and circles denied the award in his name was because he said, “One million Armenians and 30 thousand Kurds have been killed in these lands” in an interview given to a foreign journal. How dare he! A Turk does not criticize his country and nation! What in fact he was pointing out was that we have not and still do not even analyze the most wanting questions that complicate our lives. It was not the numbers but the magnitude of the questions that haunt our day and past. He meant to say to us that silence is either a sign of helplessness or complacence. He wanted u to confront us with our ignorance and callousness: cleanse our collective mind and soul. What did we do in return? 

We accused Orhan Pamuk of two things: ‘selling out his country by way of distorting its history, and luring the Nobel literary committee by controversial political statements to cover up for his mediocre literature.” It is hard to believe but these and harsher statements filled newspaper columns and TV commentaries. Isn’t there something perverse? After this entire nation craved for international recognition and often times complained, “those Westerners will never give the Nobel prize to a Turk”. Was this statement based on a rational evaluation? 

This is a country that has not yet rationally explained why while once a major world empire it had become an underdeveloped country in our day which is not counted among the first league of nations. Yet it chose to put the blame on the “(western) imperialists” and their internal cronies. On the other hand this is a country that yearns to catch up with the “West” that has been set as a national target by its much revered hero (M.K. Ataturk) and chants “hear our voice [our footsteps] Europe” after each soccer match won against an European football team. And now a Turk has received the most acknowledged prize of all times which no other Turk has won since the initiation of the award in 1901. He has been chosen among many western and non-western literati alike for his work, not for his words. The name of his prize is the Nobel Literature Award, not the Nobel Political Criticism Award.  

Then what is the problem? The problem is in the absence of a culture of criticism or lack of critical thinking in these lands. Why is there a rebellion? Why do people rebel and get killed are questions seldom asked.  The act of rebellion, which is always interpreted as treason, is severely punished without understanding its causes and the tranquility until the next rebellion is deemed to be living in peace and harmony. We Turks have often deluded ourselves with false peace or transitory periods of peace. Our reaction to Orhan Pamuk’s success has been either a shameful silence or an insolent criticism in the name of patriotism or derogatory jealousy that reveals the mediocrity of those who advice Mr. Pamuk to give back the award which he does not deserve as a Turk. 

Let us decide whether we want novelists (or better chroniclers) in uniform or not. For only those “official” artists (even this term is contradictory) write, paint and compose what their masters tell them to do. A universal intellect or a natural talent owes nothing to an authority for being what she or he is and the quality of her and his work. Orhan Pamuk is no different. He owes nothing to any authority that criticizes him for what he stands for and the potent work he has produced. Then why do they want to be a part or party to the honor he won by suggesting not so honorable ways of dispensing the fame and prestige he has won? Didn’t he win this honor in spite of them all? “Them” meaning those who insulted him, wanted to put him behind bars and made life miserable. 

What has Orhan Pamuk offered to us human beings (not only as Turks) that were rewarded internationally?

He offered us things to read with pleasure. We felt to be doing something refined and worthwhile. His novels reward the reader by not only enjoying a feeling of literary aesthetics but also by challenging them intellectually. He offers us mental puzzles, which we have to solve and feel satisfied when we do. He offers us not problems to solve but problematic themes to ponder on but does not force us to take sides or make final or definitive decisions. 

We are a people who shoot when we are in battle, but we also shoot when we are happy. If not every, many wedding ceremonies, circumcision feasts for boys and every football game that ends victoriously offers scenes of men with guns in their hands shooting at will including members of parliament and cabinet ministers. Those people who cannot differentiate instruments of war and leisure can easily mistaken a universal novelist from a nationalist propagandist.

Is it true that the President of the republic and some of the leading party leaders have refrained congratulating Mr. Pamuk that has brought pride and prominence to their country? If so they have to decide whether they want to lead a nation among nations or a closed society that suffers from of political incest and has no vision to see the wider world.


* Yazarımız Dogu Ergil, daha önce İngilizce kaleme aldığı yazılarını Açık Gazete okurlarıyla paylaşıyor. Ergil, Açık Gazete’ye özgü yazılarını Türkçe sürdürecektir.



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