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Pamuk, Turkish paper take up artists' cause

January 08, 2007|Benjamin Harvey | Associated Press

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk took over a Turkish newspaper for a day and devoted Sunday's front page to criticism of the oppression of artists in his native country.

Pamuk, whose trial last year on a charge of "insulting Turkishness" received international condemnation before it was dropped on a technicality, earned a degree in journalism but had never practiced the profession before becoming the one-day editor in chief at Radikal.

His cover story criticized the Turkish press and government for suppressing free expression.

Its banner headline quoted a 1951 article that encouraged Turks to spit on Nazim Hikmet, an acclaimed poet and communist who spent years in prison for his leftist affiliations and later died in Moscow. His exile inspired many of his best-known poems. The 1951 article featured Hikmet's photograph along with an encouragement for the Turkish public to recognize him and "spit in his face."

"This expression, which was used beside Nazim Hikmet's picture, summarizes the unchanging position of writers and artists in the eyes of the state and the press," Pamuk's story said.

Pamuk, who won the Nobel literature prize last year, is reviled by many in Turkey, where nationalists accuse him of treason for talking about the killings of ethnic Armenians and Kurds.

He is one of dozens of authors, journalists, publishers and scholars who have been charged with insulting Turkey, its officials or "Turkishness," a crime under a portion of the penal code that has drawn strong criticism from the West.

There was no official reaction to Pamuk's issue of Radikal, which has a circulation of just 33,000 but is considered one of Turkey's most important intellectual newspapers. Its editor in chief, Ismet Berkan, who faced similar charges as Pamuk last year, invited the author to run the paper for a day.

In one corner of Radikal's front page, Pamuk addressed writers directly in a friendly, self-effacing column under the headline "I Was a Journalist for Radikal Yesterday!" He said the editorship for a day was a way to realize years of unfulfilled professional dreams but added that he lost all confidence on the way to the newspaper's offices.

His front page also featured an article about a ceremony for Orthodox Christmas in Istanbul, the biggest city in predominantly Muslim Turkey and once the Christian capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Other articles on the front page dealt with the low percentage of women in politics and reaction to the video of Saddam Hussein's execution in Iraq.

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