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Author on Trial for Anti-Turkish Remarks

Acclaimed Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk is scheduled to go on trial in Istanbul on charges of insulting his country for his comments on the deaths of Armenians and Kurds in an interview with a Swiss newspaper.

A judge adjourned the trial until February to give the Turkish Justice Ministry time to consider whether to proceed with the case.

If convicted, Pamuk -- whose books include Snow, Istanbul and The White Castle -- faces up to three years in prison. In February 2005, he told the newspaper Tages Anzeiger that no one in Turkey is willing to deal with painful episodes in the country's past, including treatment of its Armenian minority or its continuing problems with its 12 million Kurdish citizens.

His remark that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it," is being prosecuted as a breach of a law against "public denigration" of the Turkish Republic or "Turkishness."

"I just made a statement about one of our great taboos: What happened to [the] Ottoman Empire's Armenians in 1915?" Pamuk told NPR in October. "This is a taboo we still cannot discuss."

His reference to the most contentious issue in Turkish history -- the massacre of Armenians during World War I -- made headlines across Turkey. It also brought the denunciations that led to the charge against Pamuk for violating Article 301/1 of the Turkish Penal Code.

There's little debate that starting in 1915 the Turks began to deport hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Men, women and children were forced into the desert, where many died of starvation and disease while many others were murdered. Many people know this as the Armenian genocide, which claimed the lives of perhaps 1.5 million people. But to this day, Turkey claims the deaths were caused by ethnic conflict and war, not genocide.

Pamuk's free-speech case may complicate Turkey's efforts to join the 25-nation European Union. On Thursday, the EU made the stakes clear. "It is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial tomorrow, but Turkey," said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn of Finland. Prosecuting "a nonviolent opinion casts a shadow over the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU," he added.

A delegation from EU's elected parliament attended the trial's opening.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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