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Friday October 13, 2006
Twenty-four hours after Orhan Pamuk became the first ever Turkish writer to win the Nobel prize, reactions in Turkey are strangely mixed.
His fellow artists have been overwhelmingly positive. Yasar Kemal, doyen of Turkish novelists and often tipped for the Nobel himself, emailed Pamuk to congratulate him for an award that he "thoroughly deserved", while the winner of the 2003 Grand Jury prize at Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan declared he was as happy as if he'd won it himself.Others picked up on Pamuk's suggestion that his award was above all a victory for all Turkish writers. "It's a great opportunity for Turkey and Turkish literature to be better known by the world," said the bestselling crime writer Ahmet Umit.
Generosity has been in much shorter supply in Turkey's mainstream media. "Should we be pleased or sad?" asked Fatih Altayli, editor of the mass circulation daily Sabah, in his Friday column.
Unlike the fork-tongued contributions of other equally prominent journalists, what he wrote next at least had the merit of being straightforward.
The best reaction to Pamuk's victory was pride, he opined. And yet "we can't quite see Pamuk as 'one of us'... We see him as someone who 'sells us out' and ... can't even stand behind what he says."
Turkey's most influential paper, Hurriyet, also felt the same impulse to question Pamuk's Turkishness.
Editor Ertugrul Ozkok wrote at length in his column about the difficulty of choosing the seemingly banal headline "Nobel to a Turk," declaring "we all know this headline will probably satisfy nobody's 'Turkish side'."
While some have seen Pamuk as something of an outsider since the publication in 2002 of Snow - his most overtly political novel - such ill-disguised bile has surrounded him ever since he told a Swiss newspaper last year that nobody but him dared to say that Turkey had killed 30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians. Within hours, he became Turkey's enemy number one.
Lawyers hauled him into court on charges of "insulting Turkishness" - charges dropped amid ugly scenes earlier this year after international pressure - and one provincial official issued orders for copies of his books to be collected and burnt. Not one was found.
Pamuk's sin wasn't just to break a taboo. By talking about such delicate topics with foreigners, he opened himself to accusations of treason and political opportunism. Many Turks remain convinced his remarks were a calculated attempt to win the status of political dissident.
The cartoon on the front of today's Sabah shows the novelist in front of shelves emblazoned "works that won Orhan Pamuk the Nobel".
On the upper shelf, his seven novels. On the lower, a grey tome with "Turkish Penal Code Article 301" - the article used to bring him to trial last December - inscribed on its spine.
Some see the criticisms as simple jealousy on the part of a parochial-minded intelligentsia. Others present them as just the latest evidence of how much damage the authoritarian coup of 1980 did to Turkish society.
But the debate is also typical of the country's elite: determined to be taken seriously on the international stage, but only on its own terms.
"It's tragic really", said Elif Shafak, another novelist brought to book under Article 301 last month. "This is a huge honour both for Pamuk and the country, and yet so many people are so politicised they forget about literature entirely."