Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn criticism after he accused the Nobel Committee of awarding a prize to a Turkish citizen he described as a terrorist, Birgun daily on Tuesday reported.
Erdogan answered questions from university students during an event held on the occasion of Human Rights Day in the capital Ankara on Tuesday.
“They just went ahead and awarded the prize to a terrorist from Turkey. Why? Because that’s how their logic and understanding works,” the president said about the Swedish Academy.
Erdogan went on to say, however, that there’s nothing to argue about the Turkish biochemist Aziz Sancar, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2015 for his studies in DNA repair, and that they applaud and appreciate him.
Many people, therefore, inferred that Erdogan’s jibe was aimed at novelist Orhan Pamuk, the only other Turkish citizen who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006.
Pamuk is known as a critic of Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) government.
The Turkish president’s accusation came after he slammed the Academy for awarding the prize for literature to Austrian writer Peter Handke who has faced widespread criticism for backing late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia.
“Nobel showed what it is [by awarding Handke]. It finished itself. I don’t value Nobel,” Erdogan said on Tuesday, emphasizing that he wouldn’t accept it if he were to receive a Nobel Prize in the future.
Fahrettin Altun, the president’s Communications Director, on Tuesday explained in a tweet soon after Erdogan’s controversial “terrorist” remarks that he was not referring to novelist Pamuk.
“Our respected president was referring to people who, despite being known for anti-Turkey ideologies and terrorist activities, have been nominated for Nobel prizes or awarded by different international organizations,” he said.
Turkey’s veteran TV host and reporter Sirin Payzin challenged Altun in a tweet shortly afterward.
“So, who did you describe [as a terrorist] in that case? I wish you’d named someone. If it’s so easy to label someone as a terrorist, one should also name him, right?”
Veli Agbaba, the vice-chair of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Tuesday, reminded that Erdogan had expressed his gratification to Pamuk in a phone call after the novelist won the award back in 2006, to point out the change in Erdogan’s stance towards the Swedish Academy.
“The fact that Pamuk has been declared a terrorist means all the rest of us could also be described as one. This is unacceptable,” journalist Murat Yetkin argued in a written news analysis on Tuesday.
He further interpreted Erdogan’s accusing a novelist, who is a source of pride for Turkey, with terrorism, as a sign that his regime will get “tougher than one could imagine.”
“It won’t be surprising to see the Turkish judiciary filing a criminal complaint against Orhan Pamuk after these remarks [by the president],” Yetkin added.
Kemal Ozkiraz, chair of the Avrasya research firm, also stressed in a tweet that all the world would regard a leader as a dictator if he describes a Nobel Laureate novelist as a terrorist.
“Do you want me to tell you a secret? Erdogan has mistaken Orhan Pamuk for [journalist] Can Dundar and the Prix [Europa] award he received [as the Best European Journalist of the Year in 2017] for a Nobel prize. He mistakes journalism for terrorism, anyway,” Ozkiraz also held forth.
Former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Dundar, had to flee to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article, reporting Turkey had provided Islamist groups in Syria with weapons.
Those who criticize Erdogan and his ruling AKP government are often labeled as terrorists in Turkey. Among those charged with terror-related offenses are civil society figures, academics, journalists, politicians, activists, and other critics.