WHO IS ORHAN PAMUK
Family, Friends, Failures
by Alin Ozinian
A lawsuit against Orhan Pamuk, a prominent Turkish writer, has been initiated by the Turkish state, because of the statements he made in the interview to a magazine issued in Switzerland. During his interview, Orhan Pamuk emphasized that the Turks had exterminated over one million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds at the beginning of the twentieth century, a statement considered an act of national treachery.
The Armenian reader is familiar with all this.
In recent days, the lawsuit against Orhan Pamuk has been in the focus of attention not only of the Turkish media, society and intellectuals, but also of European higher officials. Before touching upon the lawsuit, its consequences and its impact on the EU-Turkey relations, let’s first of all observe and get to know Pamuk a bit closer, who came into prominence for the Armenians thanks to this very lawsuit rather than thanks to his writings.
Pamuk’s grandparents on father’s side resettle during the 1850-1860’s Caucasian emigration in the Gordes community of the Turkish town of Manisa. During these years, they are considered one of the major families of the Gordes community, as many of the family members get key positions in the political life of the community. Describing his father’s side, Pamuk uses the definition “turkized Circassians”. In the 1890’s, the family moves first to Izmir, and later on to Istanbul.
Pamuk’s roots on maternal side start from the island of Crete. Pamuk’s mother was one of the great-grandchildren of “Captan Deryae” (“Captain of Seas”) Ibrahim Pasha, the Governor of Crete in the 1870’s. In the early twentieth century, their family moves to Istanbul as well…
In 1949, Gunduz Bey, Pamuk’s father, and Sekure Hanum, Pamuk’s mother, get acquainted and decide to get married. Narrating the story of his life, Pamuk always mentions that Movie Theater is of big importance in his life because his parents fell in love with each other in an Istanbul movie theater. Sevket, their first child, was born in 1950, and Orhan in 1952.
A big crisis happens to Pamuk’s family when Orhan’s grandfather dies. Orhan tells: “My grandfather’s death had a big impact on my family, especially on my childhood … My father and uncle began to make investments, to take part in auctions unconsciously, as a result of which they suffered heavy material losses. Most of my souvenirs of childhood are connected with my grandmother. Tears always appeared in her eyes when another piece of our real property was sold. She was too afraid of our being reduced to poverty and bankruptcy. We were not bankrupt but we were ruined materially. As a matter of fact, with my grandfather’s death the existence of our financial mechanism ceased as well.
During these years, my father escaped to Paris, leaving us. After returning to Istanbul, he worked at many major companies like IBM, AYGAZ, and KOC HOLDING, occupying leading positions. Later on, he established contacts with the HALK PARTISI (People’s Party). Close relations started between our family and that party, and the reason of it was very plain, as our family was getting rich again …”.
During the years of his education, Pamuk makes the impression of a lazy, joky, playful pupil on everybody. As early as from the age of 6-7, Orhan begins drawing, and continues it until he becomes 22.
After graduating from Robert College, the first American college in Istanbul, he enters Istanbul Technical University with the intention to become an engineer like his father and grandfather. Completing the third year in 1970, he leaves the university voluntarily, realizing that he should be engaged in other things.
Not willing to serve in the army, he applies for the Department of Journalism of Istanbul University. Graduating from the university in 1977, he applies for Master’s Degree, for the same purpose.
At the age of 22, Pamuk decides to become a novelist and stops drawing. During the last years of his education at the college big changes take place in his life. He begins to keep away from his friends many of them are from families belonging to the upper stratum of the Turkish society. The Turkish writer describes the years of his youth as follows:
“I began forming my individual world, and now I think that it was conditioned by my family problems, too. Idle talks, quarrels took place at home endlessly, and I was affected by the ongoing events. Although the situation is about the same in 70-80 per cent of the Turkish families, my parents did not endure and from 1972 they began living separately, for getting divorced formally in 1978. In 1989 my father married again. In these years I lived with my mother because my father was in the USA. Those were the first years when I started out to write my first novel.
During that period my mother did no attempt to understand me. Imagine that you are writing a novel, and it is the sense of your life, the only aim in your existence. During that hard work they assure you that it is simply an absurd thing and no reasonable man would gain any profit of it. In other words, those were hard years, one can say my father was more tolerant, and his approach was more positive as compared with my mother’s.
There were many things that might have induced me to write. For example, I have never had the girlfriend I would like. I was not able to attract the attention of girls, nobody took notice of me in my family as well. Because all of this I wanted to write and show who I was…”
WHO IS ORHAN PAMUK
by Aline Ozinian
On “First and Last Political Book”, Awards and Dreams
Pamuk was already 23 when he decided to become a novelist. From that moment, retiring from everyday life for about eight years, he started to lead an isolated life. Pamuk’s only dream was to become a prominent writer, and he worked very much in that direction. He says about those years: “… One can say I did nothing but write novels. The opinion that my mind was distracted was prevailing among my acquaintances, even my family members. It did not care of what people thought. I knew one thing only, that if I was not able to attain my aim I would be a lonely, sad and angry man.”
Recalling those years, Pamuk describes himself as a young man keeping to leftist views, who however never joint a political party as neither in the political life nor in general he considered himself active.
Instead of participating in political demonstrations, he reads all the time in those years. His most favorite writers during his youth were Marcel Proust, Sartre, Borjes, and Edward Sade whom he considered the Master of the Orientalism Concept.
The year 1982 was an all-important year in Pamuk’s life. He marries Aylin, the only one in those days who tries to understand him. Aylin Teregun’s mother was a Russian whose family had moved to Turkey during the Russian revolution. During the first years of their marriage Aylin was studying at the university, therefore their first child was born only in 1991. At Pamuk’s desire, their daughter was named Ruya (“dream”).
Besides the marriage, another great event takes place in that year: Pamuk’s first book was published. Maybe that brings an even greater happiness to the Turkish writer …
Pamuk’s first book, Mr Jevdet and Sons, a story about the life of the three generations of a rich family living in Istanbul, was awarded in Turkey Orhan Kemal and Milliyet prizes. It was a tardy success for Pamuk, and also a sign that he would sooner or later attain his aim. The Turkish writer’s next book, The Silent House, went out a year after the first one, in 1983. After being published in 1991 in France in French translation, this book is awarded the Prix de la Decouverte Europeenne.
In 1985, Pamuk’s third book, The White Fortress is published relating the story of the friendship of an Venetian slave and an Ottoman scientist. In 1990, The White Fortress was translated into English, and later on into many other languages. The book was published abroad in different languages. Thanks to this book Pamuk became the Turkish writer enjoying the biggest popularity abroad.
In 1985, Pamuk along with his wife goes to the USA where lives around three years. During these years he works at Columbia University of New York. Here also, isolated, he starts to write his fourth book which he titles The Black Book. He finishes the book in 1988-90’s, already in Istanbul, where it is published.
In this book, narrating the life story of a lawyer whose wife went missing, Pamuk tries to present to the reader the old Istanbul and its cultural life in detail. As well as its predecessors, the book meets with a great response in Europe and is awarded the Prix France Culture. Afterwards, influenced by a part of this book, Pamuk writes the story Secret Face on which a film is made, too.
In 1994, his New Life appears relating the life of the students of Turkey’s universities. This book is considered one of the most important works of the modern Turkish literature.
Pamuk’s best-selling book, My Name is Red, appears in 1998 and is awarded Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France. Later on, in 2002, it is awarded Grinzane Cavour prize in Itatly, and in 2003, Impac-Dublin prize.
From the late 1990’s, Pamuk starts to write articles on human rights, freedom of speech and ethnic minorities in Turkey. The Turkish writer’s approaches to these issues differ completely from the policies dominating in the country. In these articles, one can tell that he criticizes the Turkish state to a certain degree. However, in those years he was still too inactive in the political sphere.
In 1999, adding several parts of his diary to his articles published in foreign and Turkish newspapers, Pamuk composes a collection published under the title Other Colors.
In 2002 the book Snow appeared called by Pamuk “my first and last political book” which met with a very great response in Turkey. The book was about the political life of one of the Eastern cities of Turkey, Kars, where the problems and tension existing between the Turkish Islamists, military, partisans of laic state, Kurdish and Turkish nationalists were described.
Pamuk’s last book, Istanbul, was published in 2003. In this book, the author relates the memoirs of Istanbul and his life. Samples of works of foreign and Turkish photographers can be seen in the book, as well as various photos from Pamuk’s family album.
In 2005, Pamuk’s Snow is awarded in Germany Le Prix Medicis Etranger established in 1950 and considered the highest prize in Germany in the sphere of culture. In the same year, the writer’s My Name is Red is translated into Japanese. Pamuk’s books including the latter were translated into 33 languages.
FOR NOBEL PRIZE OR FOR JUSTICE?
Who is Orhan Pamuk
by Aline Ozinian
Part Three (see the previous part)
The lawsuit against Orhan Pamuk, a hopeful for the Nobel Prize on literature, questioned Turkey’s willingness to accept the European political values, then its readiness to join the European Union.
As we remember, the Turkish and foreign press mentioned that the lawsuit against the prominent writer was in the focus of attention of European officials.
In particular, Camiel Eurlings, Reporter on Turkey at the European Parliament, stated that condemning the writer for his opinions would be a serious mistake on the part of the Turkish state. Furthermore, the members of the Parliament from the Socialist Party stated that condemning Pamuk would be madness.
Olli Rehn, EU Enlargement Commissioner, also referred to the consequences of the continuation of the lawsuit against Pamuk, stating that it would describe in negative light Turkey’s progress in the course of the EU membership talks.
The lawsuit against Pamuk has already been canceled; all the opinions remained in the past. It is more interesting for the moment what the common citizen, student or intellectual of Turkey thinks who has had no objective of gaining dividends in all this process.
Against the Lawsuit, but Against Pamuk As Well
The lawsuit against Pamuk was interesting in the aspect that it divided into two groups those opposing it as well. That is, there were certain people who were not Pamuk’s adherents at all, and however, they were against the lawsuit considering it a harsh violation of freedom of speech.
We can say that they are concerned rather about the issue of the EU membership, and in their opinion other methods of fighting against Pamuk’s “lies” may be applied.
Of course, quite big is also the number of those blaming Pamuk for writing, thinking and describing Turkey in a way the Europeans like. According to them, Pamuk tries to view Turkey with the eyes of a European the reason of which is too clear, i.e. to win the Nobel Prize.
Calling Pamuk a “traitor of nation” or a “bribed intellectual”, they are asserting that Pamuk emphasizes deliberately the massacres of the Armenians and Kurds because it is connected with different groups.
Free, but with Restraint
During the last several years, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party have accepted a number of reforms which have eventually opened the door to beginning the EU membership talks in October last year.
Some of the reforms provide with more freedom, but the law prohibits from insulting the Turkish nation, state and Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. There is no well-marked line between unlawful insults and opinions expressed lawfully. Consequently, dozens of people are blamed for the same crime.
The Turkish nation is still concerned about the lawsuit against Pamuk.
The common citizen of Turkey for whom his nation is the highest value, who not only fails to utter the expression “Armenian Genocide”, but refuses even to admit that the Turks might have done harm to the Armenians at the beginning of the twentieth century, is reflecting in these days on Pamuk’s writings and the lawsuit against him.
It is right that nor does he accept and understand Pamuk at all.
But, on the other hand, he thinks about what the Europeans will say …
Days ago, postponing the hearing on the case against Pamuk, the judge asked the Justice Minister to clear up whether the lawsuit should be carried through or not. The latter answered: “A lot depends on the current situation of a nation which has always evaluated the national unity much higher than civil liberties. Many Turks oppose the lawsuit against Pamuk and others, however, as a matter of fact, many others do not oppose it.”