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Columbia Universtiy and Orhan Pamuk
Yuksel Oktay, Alum
School of Engineering and Applied Science 1964
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation 1970

Columbia University and Orhan Pamuk

October 24, 2006

Columbia Universtiy in New York City became home to two new Nobel Laureates early in October this year when Prof. Edmund Phelps won the prize in economic science on Oct 9 and Orhan Pamuk in literature on Oct 12. Prof Edmund Phelps has been teaching at Columbia University since 1971 and Orhan Pamuk from Turkey visited Columbia in the mid-1980s when he wrote his novel "Black Book" in a room above Butler Library. Orhan Pamuk will evidently be participating in the "Committee on Global Thought's" inaugural series on secularism and diversity later this semester, which has not yet started.

Columbia Universtiy occupies a large section between Riverside Drive and Morningside Drive from the West 112th street to West 122th in upper Manhattan and has many landmarks buildings and statues. In fact, following the Nobel Committee's anouncement, Orhan Pamuk held his first press conference in front of the Philosphy Hall and the famous "Thinking Man" statue of Rodin. The university is in the midst of a $4 billion capital campaign for the Manhattanville Project which will enable expansion for many decades to come. Many Turks, including the famous journalist Ahmet Emin Yalman, graduated from the various faculties of the university over the years and there are many who are enrolled now.

On a beatiful autumn day, I took the No 2 subway from the World Trade Center in downtown, where work is progressing for building the Liberty Tower in the area of the two WTC buildings, to the 110th street. After visiting the Seely Mudd Engineering school and the Avery Hall of the Architectural department, I was directed first to the Dodge Hall and later to the Kent Hall when I told the receptionist at the Visitors Center of the Low Memorial Library that I was looking for Orhan Pamuk's class.

On the 6th floor of the Kent Hall, which houses the Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culture, I met Etem Erol, a lecturer in the Turkish Languages section. Etem Erol mentioned that his office, where several paperback copies of "Snow" and "My Name is Red" were on his desk, was being used as an unofficial center for disseminating information on Orhan Pamuk. He promised that he would hand deliver my October 16 "Open Letter to Orhan Pamuk," since he said he has regular contacts with the author, who is also slated for a joint appointment with the School of Arts. Etem Erol also told me that there was an increasing interest in the Turkish language courses where over 30 undergraduates are now enrolled, but also complained that there was not enough support to make the teaching of Turkish available to a larger student body. (The school's catolog does not list Turkish Languages separately, which is under the Middle Eastern Studies section.) According to the Columbia University newspaper, "The Record," there is also plans to have Orhan Pamuk hold a symposium in November this year, possibly with Salman Rushdie.

Following a walk through the buildings, I decided to take a photograph of the famous statue in front of the Low Memorial Library. As I was getting ready, a young student sat next to the statue but got up as soon as she saw me with the camera in my hand. Afterwards, I asked the young lady if she was a student at the university. She said, "No, but I will be applying soon." She told met that her interest was in sustainable energy, presently working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Africa. Following a brief chit-chat on renewable energy, I asked her if she had heard of Orhan Pamuk. She said, "No." Than I asked her what comes to her mind when she hears or reads "Turkey" or "Turk." Her answer was, "The Armenian genocide," something that I hear often from foreigners. My response was that the Armenian genocide is something that is alleged, and that a great injustice is being perpetuated against Turkey on a civil war that took place during First World war when some Armenians rebelled against their own government of the Ottoman Empire in order to establish a state of their own on lands where they were not the majority. She looked perplexed, and I had to tell her that it is a long story and wished her success in her studies.

On the flight back to Istanbul, I noticed several travelers and flight attendants were reading books by Orhan Pamuk: "Snow," "Istanbul," and "My Name is Red," some in Turkish, others in English. In fact, I had with me "Kara Kitap--The Black Book" which I had purchased back in 1990 and had put away after reading a few pages, since it was very difficult to follow. "Kara Kitap" tells the story of an Istanbul lawyer searching for his wife who leaves him on a snowy day, and assuming a new identity in the process. In an interview with Tahsin Yucel back in 1991, this is what Orhan Pamuk said about "Kara Kitap."

"I don't believe any more than 3 or 5 people will enjoy reading the book, taking time or paying attention to the plot, but what can I do? I wanted to write such a book." (Cumhuriyet Hafta, 4-10 Ocak , 1991, USA Edition.) Now that Orhan Pamuk has won the Nobel, many from around the world will be reading his books. As Soli Ozel of Sabah newspaper wrote in his column recently, "Pamuk wins, Turkey loses." The story of Orhan Pamuk has occupied the media for the past two weeks, and will continue to do so for months to come. It is a pity that there is no scheduled lecture on "Orhan Pamuk" in the forthcoming Book Fair at the TUYAP in Beylikduzu Oct 29-Nov 4, 2006.

Yuksel Oktay, PE

School of Enegineering and Applied Science, 1964

School of Architedture and City Planning, 1970

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