19 October 2006

1155) Away From Maddening Voices

Let us rejoice for it is the time to be happy: In 10 years' time, all people will remember is that a Turkish writer got the Nobel Literature Prize, not his remarks to a Swiss newspaper and hopefully not Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). . .

In the hectic week that was dominated by the French Parliament's lower chamber, the General Assembly's vote on a draft law that would penalize the denial of Armenian genocide, there were several positive voices: that of the Le Monde editorial on the question, the words of French European Minister Catherine Colonna, and the call of Perihan Magden to Turks after Pamuk got the Nobel: "A little more jubilation and a little less jealousy, please."

Penalizing the naysayer
Probably every argument that needs to be made against the French draft law that penalizes the denial of Armenian genocide has been made already, at least once. Turkish politicians, diplomats, businessmen, and most important of all intellectuals, have pled against the law. The most persuasive argument came from France's Le Monde newspaper, which called on the deputies right before the critical vote to reject it.

Politicians should not act as a "Ministry of Truth," said the article. Neither should freedom of expression mean taking history and the Armenian case as a political hostage. The work of memory should be done by Turkey, not the French Parliament, said the article.

The words of Catherine Colonna echoed the same sentiment and underlined the "memory work" that was started by Turkey. She also underlined the reaction of Turkish intellectuals against the law adding: "Are we better placed than they are, to judge?"

Neither of those voices, which underlined the need for Turkey to come to terms with its history free of external pressure, changed the fate of the French vote. Ankara was hardly surprised: despite the efforts made at all levels, Turkish diplomacy saw that the law would pass the General Assembly after six months' delay and concentrated on the next step: burying it in the Senate.

For some Turkish diplomats, the process was painfully reminiscent of the first law, when France recognized the Armenian "genocide" -- a law that Turks were assured as being "without effect." The law, which first surfaced in 1998, was buried in the Senate until 2001, but later became law. It raised its head every now and then, as a barometer of the activity of the Armenian lobby, the political climate and the weight of some groups which would be uneasy with the rapprochement of Turkey with the European Union. "Let France pass this law once and for all and let both countries deal with it," one senior diplomat told TNA. "Its reappearance is causing more harm than the law itself."

The Turkish Foreign Ministry statement, made hours after the key vote in French General Assembly, expressed the Turkish disappointment and dismay but carefully omitted any measure of retaliation. Rather, it drew on what it called "the French paradox," namely, leaving its own history to historians, but passing laws on the history of another country.

But "retaliation in all relevant areas" was evoked by Foreign Minister Gull at a press conference Thursday. "Let no one think that Turkey will forget this act and do nothing about it, just like three years ago. All relevant measures will be taken," he said.

Turkey doing nothing three years ago? Say that to the French companies who were in Turkey waiting for their contracts.

National pride or Nobel's shame
A European ambassador whose country had the Nobel four times were absolutely giddy with happiness when he heard that Orhan Pamuk won this year's Nobel Literature Prize. When he read Pamuk for the first time, he called home and said it needed to be translated into his language -- he would do it himself if no one did. In the cocktail salons of Ankara, Turkey-watchers were delighted at the success of the writer whom they have read in more than 20 other languages.

The delight, alas, was not shared in many other places. Many Turks felt that it was not Orhan Pamuk's mastery of words but his criticism of the Turkish government, particularly on the Armenian question expressed during an interview with a Swiss newspaper, that has won him the prize. Pamuk went on trial for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in recent Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast. Charges against him on denigrating Turkishness were dropped earlier this year.

"Is it not normal that Pamuk, a Turkish intellectual rather than a paperback writer, has opinions about the events in Turkey?" said Perihan Magden, the acid-tongue Turkish writer who threw her support behind Pamuk.

I shall not pretend that Pamuk is my favorite Turkish writer. I would not, however, doubt that he is a good writer and as Harold Pinter, last year's Nobel laureate said, deserves the Nobel. He is one that has marked his generation and possibly those to come. There is no error in the words of the Nobel committee that Pamuk explored the symbols of clash of civilizations -- should he not have done? Just read "Snow," "My Name Is Red," and also his earlier, less complicated "House of Silence."

Yes, there is a political element -- as there should be in most good literature. But again, history will remember Pamuk by his works, and hopefully, the infamous Article 301 will by then be long forgotten.

(NAZLAN ERTAN)
19 October 2006
New Anatolian

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