Orhan Pamuk: “Erdogan wants to control everything”

Sameer Rahim in Prospect:

ScreenHunter_1427 Oct. 15 17.42The Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has never been afraid of speaking out. In 2005, he broke a national taboo by speaking to a Swiss newspaper about the killing of one million Armenians during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, he was prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” in a case that brought him international attention. In 2006 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the committee praising a writer, “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” During those years, Pamuk told me when I met him in London, he felt he became “too political,” asked to comment about events in his native land in a way western novelists usually are not. But the genial Pamuk also admitted that he finds it difficult to “keep my mouth shut” about the state of his country.

I asked him whether the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), has damaged Turkey’s secular identity. “Before Erdoğan came to power 13 years ago, everyone rightly thought secularism was under threat,” he told me. “Now, according to a newspaper poll, only 5 per cent of the population are worried about Turkey’s secularism, but 67 per cent think he is too authoritarian.” Erdoğan won a landslide parliamentary victory in 2002 with support from mainly poor and religious Turks. Since then he has intensified his grip on power. Last year he became the country’s President and began turning the ceremonial position into a political power base. Pamuk is disturbed by Erdoğan’s manoeuvres. “He has violated Montesquieu’s rules over the division between the judicial, legislative and executive powers. He does this without even hiding his manipulations.”

Pamuk is most worried about Erdoğan’s attitude to freedom of speech. “He is pressuring journalists and newspapers too much,” he said. “This is not acceptable.” As a Nobel prize-winner and internationally renowned writer, Pamuk is freer to criticise the government than ordinary Turkish journalists. I sensed he was speaking on their behalf.

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