INTERVIEWERWhy did you set it in the small town of Kars?
PAMUKIt is notoriously one of the coldest towns in Turkey. And one of the poorest. In the early eighties, the whole front page of one of the major newspapers was about the poverty of Kars. Someone had calculated that you could buy the entire town for around a million dollars. The political climate was difficult when I wanted to go there. The vicinity of the town is mostly populated by Kurds, but the center is a combination of Kurds, people from Azerbaijan, Turks, and all other sorts. There used to be Russians and Germans too. There are religious differences as well, Shia and Sunni. The war the Turkish government was waging against the Kurdish guerillas was so fierce that it was impossible to go as a tourist. I knew I could not simply go there as a novelist, so I asked a newspaper editor with whom I’d been in touch for a press pass to visit the area. He is influential and he personally called the mayor and the police chief to let them know I was coming.
As soon as I had arrived I visited the mayor and shook hands with the police chief so that they wouldn’t pick me up on the street. Actually, some of the police who didn’t know I was there did pick me up and carried me off, probably with the intention of torturing me. Immediately I gave names—I know the mayor, I know the chief . . . I was a suspicious character. Because even though Turkey is theoretically a free country, any foreigner used to be suspect until about 1999. Hopefully things are much easier today.
Sounds to me like he was there mid-late '90s. I passed through Kars in April 1990, travelling east on a bus with a fellow Australian; both of us female, her very blonde, me more pooh-brown. All I remember is how desolate it was; isolated and grim and grey. We stopped for a break, got off the bus, tried to ignore the staring, then tried to find out waht was happening when an unconscious man with blood on his head was carried past and bundled into a car to be driven away.
'What happened?' I gesticulated to a man nearby. (I had no Turkish then.)
He replied with a stream of words, made the shape of a gun with his fingers and said something else which I took for 'bang bang'.