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Keeping the past under lock & key

Is Orhan Pamuk the new Salman Rushdie? As the Turkish writer found to his chagrin, the fervently secular Turkish State can be as uber-sensitive as the best Ayatollah in town.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 00:15 IST
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Is Orhan Pamuk the new Salman Rushdie? As the Turkish writer found to his chagrin, the fervently secular Turkish State can be as uber-sensitive as the best Ayatollah in town. Pamuk’s ‘crime’ was to state in an interview in February 2005 that “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it”. The Armenian Holocaust of 1915-17 is another pile of dust that has been swept under history’s carpet. When an internationally renowned writer talks about it — thereby breaking a taboo — an old wound is suddenly exposed.

In June last year, Turkey introduced a new law, Article 301: “A person who explicitly insults being a Turk, the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be imposed to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to three years.” Quite clearly, Turkey is in denial about the less glorious bits of its Ottoman past. Pamuk was charged for “insulting Turkey’s armed forces” and “insulting Turkishness”.

Turkey — and the world — immediately took sides. Those protesting against Pamuk thought he was playing to a Western gallery. Those protesting against Istanbul’s ire underlined the gag on the freedom of speech imposed by a country that fervently desires to be a European nation. It was finally this wish to join the EU that made Istanbul drop the secular fatwa against Pamuk. One wonders whether some mandarin in Brussels, Paris or Berlin, in a bid to block ‘Islamic’ Turkey’s entry into the EU, will now extol the virtues of Vlad Tepes, the ruler of Transylvania (in modern Romania) who stopped the Ottoman hordes from overriding Christian Europe in the 15th century. The Turks, like Bram Stoker, of course, will insist on always seeing the bloodthirsty ‘Defender of Europe’ as the Dragon, or Dracul.