Democracy restricted to ballot box in Turkey - Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk

Turkish democracy is “restricted to the ballot box”, with no separation of powers, Turkey’s Nobel Prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk told news website Kısa Dalga in an interview on Thursday.

“However, when they don’t get the desired outcome, they annul the run as happened in the eastern provinces and the latest Istanbul elections,” the novelist said. “There is no freedom of opinion, no separation of powers, that is, the courts have no independence.”

“When you can’t criticise issues such as the sociological make up of Turkey, if you can’t speak of the faults, the rest of it that you can say is just window dressing,” Pamuk said. “They keep having discussions on the television every night, but we live in a world where divergent viewpoints are not represented.”

“At this point, if you can’t speak, then don’t speak,” the renowned novelist said. “But it’s not (pundits’) fault. In the end, nobody can be real when there is no freedom of opinion.”

Pamuk said he wasn’t keen on talking politics anymore. “I speak because journalists ask me.”

“We say a few political words, twisting ourselves into shapes, but then we sit back and wait for the attacks,” he added.

Pamuk has received much ire over his comments in the past, especially in 2005 after his comments on the events of 1915, widely recognised among scholars as the Armenian Genocide.

“Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do,” Pamuk had said, speaking to a Swiss journal. The barrage of threats the novelist received at the time led him to leave the country for several months.

Pamuk faced trial for his comments for insulting Turkishness, a charge that Armenian journalist Hrant Dink also faced before he was shot dead in 2007 by an ultra-nationalist hitman.

Pamuk had started to write a new novel five years ago, but finishing it came in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, he told Kısa Dalga. He released the novel, Nights of Plague, in March this year, just ahead of Turkey going into a strict full lockdown on April 29.

“I thought I’d finish the novel, the pandemic would end, I would publish it, and everybody would read,” he said. “Well, the pandemic had no end but I finished the novel. What can we do, we thought, we had to publish.”

His book has been politicised, Pamuk said, despite him wanting to steer clear. “I used to run my mouth. Now I can’t even do that,” the novelist said. “But this book was soiled with politics. Many people thought, ‘We can’t criticise the government, what can we do, let’s criticise Orhan Pamuk’.”

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