Like one of his own characters, trapped between liberal yearnings
and the reality of an unforgiving state, Turkey's most celebrated
novelist, Orhan Pamuk, is slated to appear in court Friday to face
charges of "insulting Turkish identity."
The high-profile free speech trial pits the aims of European-
driven reform in Turkey - which began EU membership talks last
October - against a fiercely nationalistic tradition that permits
little challenge. Mr. Pamuk's trial is one of more than 65 other
free speech cases now under way in Turkey, which are being closely
watched by European observers, as a test of the recent reforms.
"This is a tug of war in Turkey now, between those who favor
democratic and EU values, [against] those who are afraid of such
change - the hard-core nationalists who are willing to do anything
to stop that trend," says Haluk Sahin, a journalism professor at
Bilgi University and columnist for Radikal newspaper, who is also
facing trial in February under the same statute.
"[Nationalists] have decided that the legal system is the soft
underbelly," says Mr. Sahin. "And by using legal instruments and
their ties [to the judiciary], they can harm Turkey's prospects in
that big march toward the European goal."
Pamuk is charged over remarks made to a Swiss newspaper last
February, that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in
these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it."
Pamuk did not use the word "genocide," which is officially
rejected here in favor of an "internecine fighting" formulation to
explain the Armenian deaths 90 years ago. Western historians,
however, often consider the events in Anatolia during the last years
of the Ottoman Empire to be the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey has also long had difficulty accepting that Kurds have a
separate ethnic identity, with their own language and customs,
beyond a designation as "Mountain Turks." Battle against separatist
Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s left an estimated 30,000 Kurds dead.
Even discussing such issues has been taboo in Turkey, though
freedom of speech protection is required to join the EU club.
Extremists rallied against Pamuk; a provincial governor ordered his
"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," Pamuk writes in the
current issue of The New Yorker magazine. "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?" he asks.
Pamuk is the author of prize-winning bestsellers, including
"Snow," "My Name is Red," and "The White Castle." He has gained
notoriety for exploring controversial views of his culture in a
memoir-style of fiction, making him something of a Turkish Salman