The Supreme Court of Appeals’ General Law Council has sentenced Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel Prize-winning author, to pay TL 1,000 each in compensation to six people for remarks he made about the killing of Kurds and Armenians at the hands of Turks. The sentence came on Friday despite an earlier acquittal in a criminal court in İstanbul.
The compensation suit stemmed from an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger in 2005 when Pamuk said “30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed” in Turkey. Turkey denies that Armenians were systematically killed between 1915 and 1923, saying both sides suffered losses in internecine fighting during the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
In May 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that had dismissed claims of personal damages against Pamuk, paving the way for a new case. The claims came from lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, a suspect in the Ergenekon case, and family members of soldiers killed in Turkey’s fight against terrorism. Ergenekon is a clandestine criminal organization accused of working to overthrow the government.
The suit’s six plaintiffs originally sought TL 36,000 in damages from Pamuk.The appeals court decision has been met with heavy criticism by Turkey’s intellectuals, who accused the high judiciary of “acting in line with certain ideologies.” Oral Çalışlar, a journalist and writer, said Pamuk did not even use the word “Turk” in his interview with the Swiss magazine. “So why did they file a lawsuit against him? And what will happen if everyone decides to file a lawsuit against Pamuk? Will he pay compensation to all of them? It is hard to accept the fact that we are pushing an author who brought the Nobel Prize to Turkey into a corner. We cannot talk about the rule of law [in the decision against Pamuk],” he complained.
Professor Baskın Oran, an advocate of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, drew a link between Pamuk’s sentence and a well-known anecdote in Turkey, the story of Hayri the Duck. In the story, Hayri has a nickname, “Duck,” which he dislikes. One day a man sitting next to Hayri in a coffeehouse looks out of the window and says, “I think it will be cloudy today.” Upon the man’s remarks, Hayri attacks the man and beats him. When his friends ask him why he beat the man, Hayri says: “When it is cloudy, it rains. Water is abundant when it rains. When water is abundant, lakes are filled with water. And ducks swim in lakes. And that guy called me a duck!” According to Oran, Pamuk is being punished for something he did not actually say.
According to Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) President Can Paker, the sentence imposed on Pamuk is a source of shame for Turkey. “People have the right to express their opinions freely. It is not a crime to do so unless it is done in a manner to foment hatred or violence in society. Pamuk expressed his opinion as a writer. For me, the court decision is totally wrong.”