Tags: Turkey | Kurds | literature | Kemal

Yasar Kemal, Turkey's Literary Giant, Dies Aged 92

Saturday, 28 February 2015 12:44 PM EST

Yasar Kemal, who was one of Turkey's most celebrated writers, a traditional storyteller with a social conscience and an outspoken champion of the Kurdish cause, died on Saturday at the age of 92, state media reported.

Kemal died in an Istanbul hospital where he was being treated for pulmonary complications, respiratory problems and cardiac arrhythmia since January 14, the official Anatolia news agency said.

Tributes poured in, including from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the death of Kemal.

Of Kurdish descent, Kemal won numerous international awards for his epic tales set in the Anatolian heartland that recounted the struggles of rural villagers against oppression and industrial tyranny.

He faced several trials in Turkey over his writings and his political activism, particularly his denunciation of brutal government crackdowns against the Kurds, and served time in prison.

At one stage he was forced into hiding because of death threats against him and harassment by the Turkish authorities and also spent several years in exile in Sweden.

Kemal began writing poetry when he was at primary school but burst on to the Turkish literary scene in 1955 with his first novel "Memed, My Hawk" which was translated into about 40 languages and earned him rapid international fame.

Born in 1923 in a hamlet on the plains of Cilicia in southeastern Turkey as Kemal Sadik Gokceli, his early years were traumatic.

He lost his sight in one eye in an accident and at the age of five he witnessed the murder of his father Sadi while praying in a mosque by Sadi's adopted son.

He left school before completing his education, and worked in a variety of odd jobs including as a cotton-picker, tractor driver and library clerk.

In 1950, Kemal was detained on charges of disseminating communist propaganda, the first of several arrests during his lifetime, but was later acquitted.

Kemal, whose adopted name means "Kemal the survivor", moved to Istanbul where he worked as a reporter for the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper.

It was in Istanbul that his leftwing political activism flourished, becoming a member of the Turkish Labour Party and setting up a Marxist magazine, but he was frequently the target of official investigations over his articles.

Lyrical and richly descriptive, his novels were often inspired by Anatolian legends and ancient folklore and introduced the wider world to Turkish literature.



"Memed, My Hawk", his most renowned work, tells the adventures of an idealistic villager turned outlaw who becomes a legend after rising up against the Aghas or feudal lords. It was made into a film in 1984 directed by and starring the late British actor and dramatist Peter Ustinov.

His uncle, a notorious bandit killed at the age of just 25, often served as the model for Kemal's rebellious Robin Hood-style heroes.

Social injustice and the struggles of the poor against tyranny and economic hardship were constant themes running through his other novels too, including "Iron Earth, Copper Sky", another novel that was adapted for the silver screen.

"I don't write about issues, I don't write for an audience, I don't even write for myself. I just write," he once said in an interview with a British newspaper.

After Turkey's second coup in 1971 he was imprisoned but released after a wave of international protests and later went into exile for several years in Sweden.

In 1995 he was given a suspended jail sentence over his criticism of the "oppression" of the Kurdish minority, but he remained unrepentant.

"This situation cannot go on, it has to stop. The war is ruining Turkey. I'm not a hero but I have to speak out," he said in 2007.

He also defended his compatriot, the Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk, when he was vilified for describing the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman empire as genocide.

Kemal has been bestowed with numerous literary and human rights awards, including France's highest honor the Legion d'Honneur and has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature — an award many Turks believe he should have won.

In 2001, he lost his wife Thilda, a Belgian from an old Jewish family who translated many of his works into English, contributing enormously to his international success.

He leaves behind a son and his second wife Ayse Baban.


© AFP 2024

Yasar Kemal, who was one of Turkey's most celebrated writers, a traditional storyteller with a social conscience and an outspoken champion of the Kurdish cause, died on Saturday at the age of 92, state media reported.
Turkey, Kurds, literature, Kemal
Saturday, 28 February 2015 12:44 PM
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