(Associated Press) - Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who faced a criminal charge for discussing some of his country's most painful episodes, won the Nobel literature prize on Thursday for his works dealing with issues of identity and clashing cultures. The decision drew a brief but intense round of applause when Hoarse Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, announced it.
A Turkish court dropped charges against Pamuk for insulting "Turkishness," ending a high-profile trial that outraged Western observers and cast doubt on Turkey's commitment to free speech, reports Trend.
Pamuk, 54, who gained international acclaim for books including "Snow," "Istanbul," and "My Name is Red," went on trial last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.
"Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he said in the interview.
The controversy came at a particularly sensitive time for the overwhelmingly Muslim country. Turkey had recently begun membership talks with the European Union, which harshly criticized the trial.
French lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill making it a crime to deny that the Armenian massacre was genocide. The bill still must be passed by the French Senate and signed by President Jacques Chirac
Engdahl said Pamuk's political profile had not affected the decision to award him the prize.
"It could of course lead to some political turbulence but we are not interested in that," Engdahl said. "He is a controversial person in his own country, but on the other hand so are almost all of our prize winners."
He said Pamuk was awarded the prize because he had "enlarged the roots of the contemporary novel" through his links to both Western and Eastern culture.
"This means that he has stolen the novel, one can say, from us Westerners and has transformed it to something different from what we have ever seen before," Engdahl said.
Pamuk has long been considered a contender for the Nobel prize and he figured high among pundits and bookmakers. His works are available in Turkish, English, French, Swedish, German and other languages.
The last writer from a predominantly Muslim country to win the literature prize was Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz in 1988. Mahfouz died in August.
The Swedish Academy said that the Istanbul-born Pamuk "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."
In its citation, the academy said that "Pamuk has said that growing up, he experienced a shift from a traditional Ottoman family environment to a more Western-oriented lifestyle. He wrote about this in his first published novel ... which in the spirit of Thomas Mann follows the development of a family over three generations."
His second novel, "The House of Silence," used five different narrator perspectives to describe a situation in which several family members visit their aging grandmother at a popular seaside resort with Turkey teetering on the brink of civil war.
"Pamuk's international breakthrough came with his third novel, 'The White Castle.' It is structured as an historical novel set in 17th century Istanbul, but its content is primarily a story about how our ego builds on stories and fictions of different sorts. Personality is shown to be a variable construction," the academy said.
Pamuk will receive $1.4 million, a gold medal and diploma, and an invitation to a lavish banquet in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of prize founder Alfred Nobel.
Last year's winner was British playwright Harold Pinter, a vociferous critic of U.S. foreign policy