Pamuk and Uzun at Istanbul Conference on ‘Freedom of Thought’

ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–Monday’s conference on "Freedom of Thought" at Istanbul’s Bilgi University brought together Kurdish and Turkish academics who addressed violations of freedom of expression and recent court cases in Turkey involving literary figures.

Political activist Noam Chomsky sent a letter to the gathering saying he too has experienced Turkey’s repression of expression while visiting the country–and commen’s the continuing struggle against such abuses.

Conference participants include Orhan Pamuk–as well as Kurdish writer Mehmed Uzun–who currently lives in Sweden and has been a staunch defender of free speech and the Kurdish language in Turkey. He said that he commen’s Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent visit to the southeastern Kurdish town of Shemdinli where there have been recent attacks against Kurds. He stressed–however–that in spite of expectations by the European Union and other organizations–Turkey has not made satisfactory progress in protecting freedom of expression. "It’s shameful that literary figures in this country are tried for what they write and say."

Pamuk said that people on his level are not the only ones who suffer censorship–but countless others in Turkey do–as well. "Only the world’s poor and underdeveloped countries try and imprison their writers," stressed Pamuk.

Pamuk has been charged with "public denigration of Turkish identity," after speaking to a Swiss newspaper about the Armenian genocide. Pamuk–who was forced to flee abroad after receiving a series of death threats following the interview–will go to trial in December–and if convicted–faces up to three years in prison. But Pamuk stood by his words and defended his statement and his right to speak out in a recent interview in the Observer. "I said loud and clear that one million Armenia’s and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey–and I stand by that. For me–these are scholarly issues," he said. "I am a novelist. I address human’suffering and pain–and it is obvious–even in Turkey–that there was an immense hidden pain which we now have to face."

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