Mediating Turkishness between National and Global Public Spheres: Orhan Pamuk's Nobel and Public Intellectuals in Turkey

By Ece Algan, Nazan Haydari,
Submitted to Session P2276 (Political Thought and Nationalism, 2009 Annual Meeting
Cultural Studies; Globalization; Nationalism; Transnationalism; Turkish Studies;
Two events triggered a heated public debate in Turkey in 2007, revealing the complex relationship among collective memory, state discourses, national identity, freedom of expression and the role of intellectuals as knowledge producers. First, Elif Safak faced charges for her latest novel, The Bastard of ?stanbul, under article 301 of the Turkish criminal code, which criminalizes any form of expression degrading Turkish national identity. Her novel brought up various perspectives of Armenian-Turkish history that are considered taboo in Turkey. Later, the controversial novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was also prosecuted under article 301 for acknowledging in the international arena the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish question, became the first Turkish Nobel Prize winner in literature. Historically and politically contextualizing and analyzing the representations of those events within the commentary sections of two national newspapers (Milliyet and Zaman) that represent the political spectrum of Turkish intellectuals, this paper addresses the following questions: What are the challenges introduced by globalization for local intellectuals in redefining their identities against/within the discourses of the state, collective memory, nationalism and universal rights of expression? How does globalization lead to the interrogation of the relationship between Turkish identity and the locally established political views of leftism, secularism and Islamism? By analyzing the Turkish columnists’ responses to Orhan Pamuk becoming the first Turkish Nobel Prize winner in literature on the same day that the French parliament passed a law criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide, this paper also illustrates the impact of globalization on domestic journalism. One of the challenges that globalization poses for domestic journalism is the increasing necessity to bridge the difference and tension between local sensibilities and transnational realities for the local population. As Turkish columnists, who function as public intellectuals in Turkey, increasingly see their job as mediators between the nation and extra-societal global public sphere, they offer alternative interpretations to state ideologies.