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Turkey's Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is controversial at home

Submitted by Anna Tomova on Sun, 10/12/2008 - 07:25. Orhan Pamuk
Ankara Turkey

When Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk opens the
Frankfurt Book Fair this week, he will do so not just as Turkey's most
famous novelist, but also as one of its most controversial.

Pamuk has never been far from debate inside Turkey, where he has
critics in both the religious conservative camp and the secular
establishment.

But what really riled Turkish nationalists were his comments in 2005
concerning the massacres of Armenians in Turkey during the First World
War and Turkey's continuing fight against Kurdish separatists.

"Thirty-thousand Kurds and a million Armenians have been killed and
almost nobody dares to mention that, except for me," Pamuk was quoted
as saying in a Swiss magazine in 2005.

After his commentsm he was immediately denounced by nationalists in
Turkey and charges were brought against him that he had "insulted
Turkishness". The charges were later dropped for technical reasons but
the incident polarized Turkey.

When he became the first Turkish author to win the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 2006, many praised his work. Others claimed that he only
won it because of his "anti-Turkish" political statements. Some were
torn.

"We are angry at Pamuk because our Turkish soul weighs heavy in us,
but for the same reason we are also proud he won the highest literary
award," wrote Ertugrul Ozkok, the editor of Turkey's top selling
newspaper, Hurriyet.

In what was a clear snub, the president of Turkey at the time, Ahmet
Necdet Sezer, failed to publicly congratulate Pamuk.

Pamuk may no longer live in Istanbul, where he claims to have received
death threats from nationalists, but his opening of the Frankfurt Book
Fair this week is a clear acknowledgement that he is still Turkey's
leading author.

Born in Istanbul in June 1952, he has published eight novels and a
memoir which explore the way Turkey is torn between East and West and
how it is torn between conservative religious folk and modern
western-looking secularists.

The writer sees the splits clearly, but also looks into how the two
actually make Turkey what it is. His main argument is that upholding
one's own history and traditions is not incompatible with a modern
secular state that seeks to join the European Union.

Educated at the prestigious American Robert College high school in
Istanbul, Pamuk went on to study architecture at Istanbul Technical
University, but dropped out after three years. He later went on to
complete a course in journalism at the University of Istanbul.

While never actually going into journalism, Pamuk wrote his first
book, Darkness and Light, in 1974. It was not published until 1982
under the title, Cevdet Bey and His Sons.

Since then he has written a number of prize-winning novels including
The White Castle, The Black Book, My Name is Red, and Snow. His latest
novel, recently released in Turkey, Masumiyet Muzesi (The Museum of
Innocence), is currently topping the book charts.