I spent a hurried few minutes this afternoon in Istanbul’s İstiklal street, buying a few CDs ahead of my trip to London in a few days time. I wasn’t surprised to see a few demonstrators gathered not too far down from the French Consulate – after all, it was a Sunday afternoon, and the street was as crowded as ever.
I do normally stop for quick chat when I come across them, but today there was no such time for that. As I passed by one young lady, though, she called after me, “Come on, a signature on this petition from you too – Orhan Pamuk should face trial”.
I didn’t stop to answer. This was not because I was in a hurry, but because I genuinely didn’t know what to say. I walked down the street thinking about it. My first reaction was “no, of course he shouldn’t be tried, he’s done nothing wrong”. All he did was tell a Swiss magazine: “Thirty thousand Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it.” He was put on trial under that wonderful Article 301, it attracted massive international attention, and it folded before it could get underway. Regardless of whether what he said is true or not, he shouldn’t be punished for saying it.
But my opinion changed while the demonstrators were still in earshot. Orhan Pamuk himself had expressed disappointment at how he had not been able to argue his case. The trial did collapse over an obtuse technicality involving the Justice ministry, owing no doubt to the world attention focused on the case. Countless other people including Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, have been tried and sentenced under the same charges that the judge dismissed for Pamuk.
So by the time I passed the demonstrators again, CDs in hand, I found myself agreeing with them, though not necessarily for the same reasons. Orhan Pamuk should be tried. Orhan Pamuk himself thought he should have been tried. Perhaps he should be tried so that the ineffectiveness of 301 can be laid before the eyes of the world.