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Turkish Author Defends Comments On Deaths of Armenians, Kurds

Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who has spoken publicly about the deaths of Armenians and Kurds within Turkey during the past 90 years, says he will stand behind his comments -- despite charges that have been filed against him by a Turkish court.

Pamuk faces a possible jail sentence for his comments.

He goes on trial in Turkey in December on charges of "insulting and weakening Turkish identity." He told a crowd in Frankfurt/Main, Germany, yesterday that he stands by his remarks on the killings of Armenians in Turkey from 1915 -- and about the killing of more than 30,000 Kurds in southeast Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s.

"The last thing that happened to me in the political area was that I told a Swiss newspaper that 1 million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed," Pamuk said. "And I also said that those are subjects we do not normally talk about in Turkey. Then I was accused in Turkey. All I wanted to say was that this subject is not being openly discussed in Turkey. And secondly, that we have to openly discuss what happened to the Armenians in Ottoman times -- every person living in [Turkey] must be able to talk about it."

Pamuk is one of Turkey's most prominent authors. He received one of Germany's highest literary awards -- the Peace Prize of the German book trade association -- at a ceremony today.

Pamuk says court cases like the one against him are a dangerous sign for a country like Turkey that is trying to achieve membership in the European Union.

"I defend what I said then -- word for word," Pamuk said. "What happened is not just the pain the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had to endure. It has reached a new dimension, which has partly to do with the proposed EU membership for Turkey. This dimension means that in Turkey the freedom of thought needs to be natural as well as human rights. Everybody needs to be able to say what they think. I am conscious of my responsibility regarding what I said. And I still am defending what I said."

Pamuk did not use the word "genocide" in his controversial interviews. He also said he supports Turkey's bid to join the EU.

The issue of freedom of speech has hampered Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Entry talks between Brussels and Ankara began in October after lengthy wrangling among the EU's 25 member states on the conditions of entry.

Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink recently received a six-month suspended prison sentence for insulting Turkish identity in an article. Turkey's foreign minister has said he expects the charge against Pamuk to be dismissed.

Germany's chancellor-designate, Angela Merkel, is among a handful of EU leaders who opposes full membership for Turkey. Opinion polls also show high levels of opposition to the move among citizens of Germany, which is home to almost 3 million Turks.