1143) Open Letter to Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Laureate

As a Turkish-American and a reader of your books, including ‘’Kar - Snow’’, I greeted the news of your selection as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature both with elation and sadness. You have honored the Turkish nation with its very first Nobel prize, but I am afraid ‘’at a price and with consequences’’ that will hurt the image of Turkey abroad. . .

Therefore, I can not congratulate you as many have already done, although many have also shown reservations, including the President of the Republic of Turkey. I had a chance to meet you during a conference in Istanbul back in 2002 where you had introduced Naom Chomsky at a conference, and had told you that you were a great writer. I had also presented to you my review of your book Kars, voicing my concern on some of the statements in your book, hoping that you would respond, but it never came. The review of ‘’Kar’’ that was presented to you at that time is given below.

As someone who is concerned with the propagation of negative image of Turkey in the United States, where I have lived for almost fifty years, I would like to make several recommendations to you before you deliver your speech at the Nobel Award Presentation on December 10, 2006. There is a great danger that in the United States, where thirty six states have already adopted resolutions admitting April 24 as genocide day, which is a lie, the US Congress will also follow soon. With your newly acquired title of Nobel Laureate, you can help prevent this and tell the truth, beginning with your class at Columbia University.

First, please read the book by Zebercet Coskun, Hacin, which tells the story of a town near Adana where both the Moslems and the Armenians were killed. The atrocities against the Moslem inhabitants of the town were committed by Armenians who had joined the French forces occupying the region following the First World War. This is a rare book that tells the killings on both sides during the Armenian revolts that took place all over the eastern Anatolia before, during and after 1915 and the re-settlement of the Armenians, which you seem to ignore, at a time when the French Parliament has passed a stupid law, which is bound to be forgotten soon, just like the French acceptance of the Armenian genocide day back in 2002. A review of Hacin is also given below if you care to read.

Second, please talk to those who have spent a life time on the Armenian issue and have written many books on the subject, such as Prof. Dr. Turkkaya Ataov and Ambassador (Ret.) Bilal N, Simsir and others. They will certainly enlighten you truthfully on the events that took place during those tragic years and give you an opportunity to admit that you made a mistake by speaking on a subject that you knew very little and which you avoided in your novels. Even your mother has stated that you made a mistake by stating that thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed, as was reported in Sabah newspaper today.

Third, perhaps you can write a novel about ‘’Van’’ where over 30,000 moslems were killed by the Armenians who captured the city with the support of the Russians and even declared the ‘’Republic of Armenian Van.’’ This would tell the world that the story of Van during the war as told by Missionary Clarence D. Usher in his book, ‘’An American Physician in Turkey’’ was totally one sided and the movie ‘’Ararat’’ based on this book with many distortions was made to create hatred against the Turks.

It was moving to hear you tell Mehmet Ali Birand during your first interview on Turkish TV that you will go to Sweden with your daughter. As a last recommendation, please take your mother with you too.


Yuksel Oktay, PE
Civil Engineer, MSCE, Columbia University
Kizilcahamam, Ankara

Iletisim Yayinlari, Istanbul (In Turkish)
January 2002

Orhan Pamuk is probably the best known contemporary Turkish novelist in the US and around the world, after the legendary Yasar Kemal, and in Turkey as well. An incredible advertisement blitz like never before for a literary work, with posters even at bus stops, introduced Pamuk’s novel ‘’Kar ‘’ to Turks in early 2002. Now the book has been translated into English and the famous Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has written a review of the book, published recently in ‘’Review of the Books’’ section of the New York Times.

In her review, Atwood states that the North American readers should get to know Pamuk, which is a good idea. Except, the North Americans and others from around the world should know Pamuk with all of his conflicting views. During his recent trip to Turkey, even President Bush mentioned Pamuk when he made his controversial speech at the Galatasaray University along the Bosphoropus, stating that, according to Pamuk, the best view of Istanbul is from the center of the Bosphorus bridge. But Pamuk was quick to issue a statement that ‘’Bush had misunderstood him.’’

Following is a review that was written back in 2002.

Who needs to read ‘’Kar’’? Certainly not the readers of Kars, a historical city at the eastern part of Turkey, where most of the story takes place. Kars is portrayed as a backward, poverty stricken place where the Islamic militants roam and the military stages a mini coup against the Islamic militants. I don’t think Turkish readers need this book either even though the subject matter covers major dilemmas that faces the Turkish society today. It is not an easy book to read with references to wearing headscarves, Islamic militants, Kurdish guerillas (?), corruption, the role of the military and the activities of MIT (National Intelligence Organization) and people from the old Pontus state, as Pamuk refers to the people of the eastern Black Sea region. On page 43, one sentence has close to 90 words.

According to Atwood, the North Americans need to read this book in order to learn about the contemporary Turkey. However, she also includes some of her own views on certain topics in the book. This is what she sneaks in when reference is made to the empty Armenian church; ‘’testifying to the massacre of its worshippers.’’ This is followed by a statement that Ataturk banned the headscarves as part of his ‘’ruthless modernization.’’ Modern dress code was among the many principles that was at the core of the founding of the new Republic, but there was no ban on the headscarves. This kind of statements of course serves the purpose of some people and institutions in the US.

The book is mainly a love story of a poet who returns to Turkey after living in Germany as a political refugee for 12 years. Ka, short for the main character Kerim Alakusoglu, goes to Kars to attend a funeral and also to find one of his girlfriends and to bring her to Frankfurt to live with him, even though his main objective is to write about the suicides of young girls, who, the book claims, as a protest to ban on headscarves. His high school sweetheart has been married once, divorced, lived with others, but welcomes Ka with an open heart. He finally makes love to her in a hotel room in Kars, but after this episode and in the middle of the book, the story switches to Frankfurt where, we are told, Ka is murdered (p. 252). Than the story goes back to Kars, where the sister of Ka’s girlfriend decides to cast away her headscarf during the staging of a play, at the urging of Ka, in order to save an Islamic militant.

Ipek, another interesting name like many others used throughout the book, and former wife of Muhtar who is running for the mayor’s office, is a complicated and an angry person, who does not wear a headscarf. She complains to her newly found boy friend Ka that as a Turkish girl, she did not get a chance to be close to men. When Ka reminds her that he is a Turk, she dismisses it by saying that ‘’To be a Turk is usually an excuse for wickedness or a pretext’’.

The second character is a man named Lacivert, who is hiding in Kars. He is in love with Kadife, the sister of Ka’s girlfriend, who covers her head since she believes that no one without faith can be happy. She goes on stating that ‘’people in poor countries have nothing other than faith to embrace’’. Lacivert has committed murders in the past. Ka meets him several times and Lacivert talks about his beliefs and reasons for his actions. At one point, Lacivert states that according to KA, the path to a decent and good life in this country is not through religion, belief in God and sharing the peoples lives, but through imitating the West (p. 324).

The book tells us that young girls are committing suicide because they can not wear headscarves and a director is murdered for not allowing students to attend classes with headscarves. The man suspected of the murder tells the director that ‘’he is the defender of those people who are fighting for their faith in this secular and materialistic country (p. 46)’’. The suicide is actually a story that has been carried to Kars from Batman where young girls started killing themselves about five years ago for social reasons and had nothing to do with headscarves issue. Kars in a way becomes a staging place for Batman and Turkey.

Some of the characters are of Kurdish origin who are referred to as ‘’guerillas’’, rather than ‘’terrorrists’’ and they all speak Turkish. As Ka and other characters walk around Kars, the author makes references repeatedly to ‘’buildings built by the Armenians’’ and at on point, Ka has one of his characters ask ‘’what happened to the millions of Armenians who once lived in Kars and Turkey? (p. 279)’’ but does not provide an answer. This is something that the North Americans will pick not knowing the real truth behind the Armenian tragedy.

The entire story of the book takes place within a short period and in winter, and snow never stops falling, not even in Frankfurt where the author takes us to briefly. Kar, the title of the book, is ‘’Snow’’, which also happens to be the name of the poetry book that Ka is writing while in Kars. The story is told by a third person, and Orhan Pamuk appears as himself towards the end of the book, traveling to Kars four years after Ka is murdered. References are made to several books of foreign authors but none by Turkish authors.

In January 2002, after the book was in print for about ten days, many TV channels had interviews with the author, including a documentary on NTV on the writing of the book. Many newspapers carried an article or an interview, some two full pages. Over 50,000 copies were sold been sold during its first month of publication, as the author had told during his interviews, out of first printing of 100,000, which is a record. No other book has received the media blitz advertising as ‘’Kar’’, according to many reviewers. It is also interesting that the author himself predicted that the number of foreign readers will surpass those in Turkey since he expects his book to be translated into 15 to 20 languages, as some of his earlier 7 books were. He had told the viewers that a contract had been signed for English and Arabic translations, with many more to come. Orhan Pamuk had also stated that he would like to see the book made into a movie.

Yuksel Oktay, PE
Istanbul, August 25, 2002


HACIN, by Zebercet Coskun

Hacin, a novel by Zebercet Coskun, tells the story of Moslems and Armenians living together for hundreds of years peacufully in a town that dates to the times of the Hittites, , than turning against each other during the war years and the re-location of Armenians in 1915. Following World War I, the French forces occupy Hacin along with many towns in the area aknown as Cilicia, including Adana and Maras and allows the return of the Armenians to their homes. The French occupiers put Armenians in charge of the administration of the town, who commit many atrocities against the moslem population during the take over. During the Turkish War of Independence, the town is liberated by the gurerilla forces on October 18, 1920 and the Armenian population leaves the area with the French occupiers.

The author, Zeber Coskun, born in Gemlik, Izmir, is a graduate of Arnavutkoy American College. In the postcript to the novel, she sates that, in order to attain the freedom of thought, she constantly reads, and to share her experiences gained through traveling and living in different parts of Anatolia, she writes. Ms Coskun sates that she wrote Hacin basing it on many documents, and without taking any sides. However, she emphasizes that she was happy to find out that her own nation was not guilty of any crimes. Her message at the end of the postcript states:

‘’Nothing, but sorrow will prevail in societies where personal ambitions and animosities take the leading role. Once more, I believe that the key to happiness is not within the system, but in the hearts of the people, in brotherhood and in love.’’

Hacin, known as Saimbeyli since 1923 when it was renamed in honor of Saim bey from Hacin, who is also one of the characters in the book, is a picturesque town high on the Tauras mountains, located on a highyway between Maras, Kayseri and Adana. The French occupies Hacin and appoints an Armenian, Karabit Calliyan, as the local governor and another Armenian as the head of the Jandarme unit which is made up of all Armenians. Literally, the Armenians rule the town, arrest moslems and put them into jails, the make shift government offices, killing many during interrogations. The Armenians believe that the Molsems in Hacin, those that were left behind, are cooperating with the moslem guerrillas who have taken back many villages near Hacin from the French anda re now approachin Hacin.

The novel begins with the main character, Mursel, going up the stairs to the second floor of his house where he lives with his wife Fatma and three children, Naime, Faik and Suleyman. Mursel is a school teacher and one of most respected member of the Hacin moslems. Mursel is sad, thinking of what will happen when the French take over the city and bring back the Armenians who were forced to leave four years ago. The Armenian family of Mihran Katayan lives in the same house, occupying the lower floor and the two families are very close to each other, providing all kinds of assistance, Mihran even hiding the 12 year old son of Mursel when the Jandame come to arrest the Moslems living in the house.

Mursel and the town’s elit go to the outskirts of Hacin to greet the French forces coming to take over the administration of the town. However, later they are worried that the Armenians returning to Hacin will take revenge. In fact, that is exactly what happens and the gendarme starts arresting Moslems for no reason. As the harrasment becomes unberable, Moslems of Hacin start making plans to escape , even bribing some of the Armenian gendarme in order to leave the town.

When the Armenian gendarmes put Mursel under house arrest, his wife, Fatma, goes to the American High School high on the hill and meets with Miss Cold, the Principal, and re-enrolls her daughter Naime, who becomes one of only two moslem students at the school. Fatma also asks Miss Cold to allow her to stay at the school to escape the constant harrasment by the Armenian jandarme who tells her that if she marries him, she will be saved. Miss Cold tells Fatma that she can not stay at the school and that she can not take sides in the conflict.

Than, the Moslem guerillas enter Hacin after bombarding the castle for several weeks and start evacuating the Armenians from their homes, killing many along the way. Kurt Hasso even attempts to kill Armenian children, because his own children were killed by Armenians, but Suleyman stops him, telling hinm that the children had nothing to do with the conflict. The town is burned down, most of the houses are demolished and the book ends with Naime and Suleyman leaving Hacin on a horseback, because, there is no one left in the town. It is a very sad story.

The book is 391 pages and ends with a four page poem that tells the sad story of Hacin. Interestingly, a beautiful photograph of a bird adorns the cover of the book, a gift to the author from the world famous photographer Ara Guler, an Armenian Turk like no other.

The book is interesting where each main character tells his or her own story first hand. There are many instinces where the Armenians and Turkls help each other and together curse those who created the conflict, forcving them to kill each other. The American High School, one of over four hundred accross the Ottoman Empire at the time, tries to stay outside the conflict, helping the victims on both sides. The Principal, Miss Cold tells everyone that she has a wireless that she can use to tell America if any harm comes to her school. When the school is taken over, Miss Cold leaves Hacin as the town once again comes under the Ottoman rule.

Yuksel Oktay, PE
October 12, 2006



Dear Arie,

In regard to your comments about my mother's thoughts and suggestions that she addressed last year to the Nobel jury, please be advised that if Mr. Pamuk(yan) was being considered for the most "Outrageous Political Fiction Writer" no one would have questioned the jury's choice. It is the "Literary" aspect of the award that disturbs most, including my mother.

Was it a coincidence that last year, while Mr. Pamuk(yan) was supposedly being considered for the prize, he blurted out in a magazine interview in Sweden that the Turks committed genocide against the Ethnic Ermenians some 90 years ago and that 30,000 ethnic Kurds have been killed by the Turks in recent years?

As you know, for the last 30 years, the Ermenians have been lobbying world around and have murdered numerous Turkish diplomats to prove that there was a genocide! If defending one's own country against the invading forces and the self declared enemy from within that butchered entire villages occupied by the Muslim Turks, is an act of genocide, the meaning of this word begs to be revised. As for the 30,000 killed, this number represents the Turkish citizens, men, women and children who have been murdered by the Kurdish terrorist groups PKK over a 10 year period. Incidentally, the PKK terrorism seem to be on the rise again and the people are on edge on both fronts.
Needless to say, had Mr. Pamuk(yan) not resorted to twisting facts and making false accusations (Which he later pulled back!) against this nation at a time when relations between EU and Turkey are extremely precarious, his claims might have been overlooked. But, the fact that French assembly's unfortunate decision re the so-called Turkish genocide was voted the same day that Mr. Pamuk(yan)s winning of the Nobel prize was announced, serious doubts have been planted in people's minds that the prize was not awarded on the literary merit alone!

Speaking of the literary merit, here's another dilemma; a great number of people, myself included, are unable to comprehend his Turkish prose. To his critics, he says, "I write for myself!" Sort of, "Art for art sake" mentality. Although I had never heard it applied to writing, even if it were true in Mr. Pamuk(yan)s case, this claim is in direct conflict with the writer's aggressive marketing tactics. Why bother to try to sell so hard to the public if the works have not been intended for them in the first place?

If I ever get around, I will buy one of his translated novels to judge for myself, if indeed this writer deserved to be the winner over and above Yasar Kemal, for instance? It is not just his writing that seems to be incomprehensible. Once I watched an interview with him on Turkish TV. He was inarticulate and unintelligible not to mention, slippery! Quite like his prose. What ever Orhan Pamuk(yan)s talent might be, I hope it is not limited to making false claims for self gain. "Freedom of thoughts," does not give one the right to slender others. If a public figure chooses to act in a seriously deceptive manner, the repercussions are inevitable. It is quite regrettable that this author not only added fuel to fire but he also made it impossible for his countrymen to enjoy and be proud of his winnings.

Y . W .


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