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Pamuk: The thorn in Turkey's side

Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk is a straight-talking rebel with strong views on his country's history.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 17:06 IST

Orhan Pamuk, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, is Turkey's best-known author, but also a straight-talking rebel whose views on his country's history have caused a storm both at home and abroad.

Recent statements on both the situation of Turkey's Kurds and the killings of Armenians in the early years of the 20th century turned Pamuk into a controversial figure.

"One million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it," Pamuk, 54, told a Swiss magazine in February 2005.

The remarks, which sparked outrage in Turkey, prompted a public prosecutor to file charges against Pamuk for denigrating the country's national identity.

The charges were dropped early in 2006, but the damage had been done.

Death threats followed, and a provincial official even ordered the destruction of Pamuk's books -- a move nullified by the government, touchy on rights issues as it strives to make Turkey a full member of the European Union.

Torn between his political dissidence and his desire to see Turkey in the EU, Pamuk said he was irked to see the country's many opponents in Europe using his court case to argue against Turkey's membership.

The country's decades-old attempts to become fully European, accompanied by clashes between Islam and secularism and tradition and modernity, and the often painful social and psychological impact of the aggressive westernization that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, form the core of Pamuk's writing.

Born on June 7, 1952 into a wealthy, westernized family, Pamuk gave up architecture studies at the age of 23 and devoted himself to writing.

He published his prize-winning first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons, seven years later.

Pamuk mostly shuns the public eye, chain-smoking and writing for long hours in an Istanbul flat overlooking the bridge over the Bosphorus linking Europe and Asia.

Often casually dressed with jacket over T-shirt, his boyish appearance offset by greying hair and thick glasses, Pamuk talks a mile a minute, the words spilling out in bursts as he grimaces and gesticulates.

He first drew the ire of the state in the mid-1990s when he denounced the treatment of the Kurdish minority as the army waged a heavy-handed campaign to suppress a bloody separatist insurgency in the south-east.

The government extended an olive branch in 1998, offering him the accolade of "Artist of the State," but Pamuk rejected the honour.

By then, he had become the country's best-selling author. His sixth novel, My Name Is Red, brought him international fame and a slew of awards.

His books, translated into 32 languages, are: Cevdet Bey and His Sons (1982), The Silent House (1983), The White Castle (1985), The Black Book (1990), The New Life (1994), My Name Is Red (1998), Snow (2002) and Istanbul (2003).

First Published: Oct 17, 2006 17:06 IST