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Nobel winner Pamuk attacks France on genocide law

Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk decried a French law which bans the denial of Armenian genocide in Turkey.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 17:24 IST

Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, tried at home for commenting on the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, said on Friday a French law banning the denial of the Armenian genocide went against free speech.

"Freedom of expression is a French discovery and this law is contrary to the culture of freedom of expression. We must not pass a law forbidding freedom," Pamuk told Turkish broadcaster Kanal D in an interview from New York.

Turkey's powerful speaker of parliament earlier challenged Pamuk to declare his stand on the controversial bill approved by France's lower house of parliament on Thursday, which came the day he was awarded the literary world's most coveted prize.

Turkey denies that Armenians suffered genocide in Turkey during World War One, arguing that large numbers of both Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians died in a partisan conflict that accompanied the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The French bill shocked many Turks who are sensitive about their history and reluctant to discuss it, while the Nobel committee's decision puts the centre-right government in an awkward spot as it has been a regular critic of Pamuk.

Nationalist prosecutors took Pamuk to trial in January on charges he insulted Turkey's identity by telling a Swiss newspaper 1 million Armenians had died in Turkey during World War One and 30,000 Kurds had perished in recent decades.

The trial, under article 301 of the penal code, was later dismissed on a technicality but not before it brought a sharp rebuke from the European Union.

ABOLISH LAW

"Article 301 must be abolished... We (journalists, authors and publishers) are all facing difficult days but democracy will be secured in Turkey, we'll all spend our effort on this," Pamuk said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer have not yet publicly commented on the award, a signal of how deep the Armenian issue runs and how divisive a figure Pamuk is in Muslim but secular Turkey.

But a spokesman for Erdogan said he had spoke to Pamuk, congratulating him and saying it was good a Turk had won.

Many Turks are critical of Pamuk -- whose prose mixes East and West, past and present -- for bringing the Armenian issue into the public forum and especially to foreigners' attention.

At the height of the nationalist hysteria over his comments, one provincial official called for Pamuk's books to be burnt.

Most of Turkey's newspapers on Friday praised Pamuk for winning the country's first Nobel but many dailies questioned whether the move by the Swedish academy was political.

"Is the Nobel prize given to a Turk or to his claims about his country? This would be pity for Turkey and for Orhan Pamuk as well ... because he really deserved this prize," said Ertugrul Ozkok, editor-in-chief of leading newspaper Hurriyet.

Pamuk responded: "It's not the day to make deep criticism but a day to celebrate. I won't say anything to those who think I won this prize for political reasons."