Pressure from Turkey blamed as Sarajevo reverses decision to honour Orhan Pamuk

The Nobel laureate, who is a vocal critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was nominated for the honour while writing screenplay about Bosnian war

The city of Sarajevo has abandoned plans to make Orhan Pamuk an “honorary citizen” of the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital, with critics blaming the move on fears of offending Turkey.

Pamuk had been nominated for the honour by local publisher and bookshop Buybook, which suggested the Nobel laureate be made an “honorary citizen of Sarajevo” as he was planning to visit the city this spring while working on a screenplay about Bosnia during the war. According to Buybook director Damir Uzunović, while the council commission initially voted seven to zero to make the Turkish author an honorary citizen, a second vote saw Pamuk’s candidacy rejected by four votes to three.

“The council commission explanation was that Orhan Pamuk did nothing or almost nothing for the city of Sarajevo. Some members from the ruling party estimated that awarding Mr Pamuk might cause the anger of Turkey’s current government. They used this opportunity to send a message to Pamuk … that he is not welcome in Sarajevo,” said Uzunović.

“We have stated that Orhan Pamuk is one of the most important contemporary writers, and that none of the current Nobel laureates has ever come to Sarajevo. Mr Pamuk is by far the most read and most famous writer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, as his exclusive publisher for B&H, we invited Mr Pamuk to visit Sarajevo several times.”

Pamuk is a controversial figure in Turkey, where he has faced prison for “insulting Turkishness”. According to Agence France-Press, which first reported on the decision, Bakir Izetbegović, who leads Bosnia’s ruling SDA party, is close to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Samir Fazlić of the opposition party Nasa Stranka told AFP that the second vote’s outcome was due to Pamuk’s “opposition to the politics of Turkish president Erdoğan” and “fear ... of Erdoğan”.

The Sarajevo’s mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

The change of heart over Pamuk was also heavily criticised by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Bosnia-Herzegovina. “These gentlemen in power were elected to be city fathers of Sarajevo, but they are behaving like stepmothers of a little Erdoğan’s hamlet,” said spokesperson Malik Garibija.

“I am certain that Turkey is our friendly country and that the Turks are a friendly people to us, so I am sure that they too will shrink from such gestures, just as every good friend would do. A friend would raise us up and would not allow us to kneel before him,” said Garibija.

“I hope that Orhan Pamuk will become an honorary citizen of our city. Great books he has written make him one of the most famous Turks and one of the greatest writers in history, and we would be honoured to have him as our fellow citizen. These political turmoils are temporary and surely they will pass, but such amazing writings will continue to exist long after all these political projects have been forgotten. Both Sarajevo and Orhan Pamuk’s writings are marvellous pieces of human history, and for sure they will stand there together, unlike the current city authorities and their shameful decisions.”

He added that the SDP would be asking for the issue “to be resolved” by the city council, “but I am afraid that it is already too late and that the city is already disgraced, the damage to the reputation of Sarajevo was made as soon as such news went into the ether.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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