USA: February 15, 2007. The Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk is living in exile in the United States and is believed to be in fear for his life.
Amid a climate of intimidation that has seen the prosecution and even murder of dissident intellectuals throwing into doubt Turkey`s aspiration to the join the European Union, Mr Pamuk, 54, who is living in New York, is said to have told friends he has set no deadline for his return. Instead, according to the prominent Istanbul columnist Fatih Altayli, the writer has quietly gone into exile.
"What I was told was more than mere rumour," said Mr Altayli. "Pamuk recently withdrew $400,000 from his bank account and said he would leave Turkey and would not be returning to his country any time soon."
Following the murder of an ethnic Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, last month, Mr Pamuk expressed fears for his own safety. The writer enraged Turkish nationalists by acknowledging that under the Ottoman empire Turks had triggered the genocide of one million Armenians nearly a century ago.
Such is the sensitivity of Mr Pamuk`s position, his agent and others close to the novelist have declined invitations to comment publicly on Mr Altayli`s allegation.
During the 1990s Mr Pamuk, whose novels includes Cevdet Bey and His Sons and The Black Book, began to write candidly about human rights issues and free speech in Turkey. The country`s authorities vociferously campaign against any suggestion that the state has inherited responsibility for the unacknowledged massacre of Armenians.
In an interview with a Swiss newspaper last year, Mr Pamuk said: "One million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in these lands but no one but me dares talk about it."
Two weeks ago, Mr Pamuk abruptly cancelled a speaking tour of Germany, fearing that his engagements would expose him to hostile elements within the diaspora. Yasin Hayal, a nationalist charged with incitement to murder Mr Dink, made what appeared to be a threat against Mr Pamuk.
He said: "Orhan Pamuk be careful."
With its candidacy to join the EU already troubled by suspicion of its Islamic government and the treatment of its Kurdish minority, Turkey would be dealt a further blow if its most prominent writer decided he was no longer safe in his homeland.
The damage would be compounded because Mr Pamuk is the foremost chronicler of Istanbul as the meeting point of Europe and Asia.
In meetings with Western leaders, Abdullah Gul, Turkey`s foreign minister, has moved to address concerns that the law granted a veneer of legitimacy to the shadowy figures who were threatening its liberal intellectuals.
He has promised reforms of an ambiguous law that allows nationalists to demand punishment for those they accuse of insulting the Turkish nation.
Mr Gul admitted that Turkey`s standing had been damaged by Mr Dink`s murder and the threat to Mr Pamuk.
"People outside Turkey think you can be thrown into jail for opening your mouth," he said.
"They think there are hundreds of journalists and intellectuals in jail. This is all false."
But he warned that outside pressure for greater tolerance of dissenting views was counter-productive, strengthening support for nationalist politicians in the run-up to a general election later this year.