By Handan Kazanci
ISTANBUL (AA) - It has been six years since Turkey lost legendary author Yasar Kemal, an outspoken intellectual and prolific writer who became the country's first nominee for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ayse Semiha Baban Gokceli, chair of the Istanbul-based Yasar Kemal Foundation, told Anadolu Agency that a number of events would be held this year to honor the memory of the renowned author, who died on Feb. 28, 2015 at age 92.
The group was established in 2016, a year after the death of the esteemed writer.
Gokceli said it was founded to promote Kemal’s views, values, and stances on freedom, equality, and his love of humanity and nature, as well as respect for cultural differences.
Born in 1923 in Turkey’s southern Osmaniye province, the Kurdish-rooted Turkish writer was also known for fighting oppression and defending minority rights.
He won international acclaim for his 1955 novel Memed, My Hawk. The book, translated into some 40 languages worldwide, also earned him a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973.
On Saturday, various corners of the metropolis of Istanbul are holding events to remember the celebrated writer.
Istanbul’s Sariyer Municipality is holding an event in which writer and musician Zulfu Livaneli, author Selim Ileri, pianist Idil Biret, and actress Turkan Soray will share their memories of Kemal.
Separately, the Buyukcekmece Municipality will hold a panel discussion on the late author and the city as seen through his eyes.
Panel discussions and readings of Kemal’s works will also be held in other Turkish cities.
Gokceli, the widow of the writer, whose real name was Kemal Sadik Gokceli, quoted Livaneli, also one of the group’s founders, as saying it was founded “so that Yasar Kemal’s literature and character could be seen more deeply and passed down to future generations.
“The Yasar Kemal Foundation is also an homage to both the memory and the work of the great master.”
- ‘Voice of those who voices go unheard’
According to Gokceli, Kemal – who was born in 1923, the dawn of the Turkish Republic – lived through the major milestones of Turkey and was a keen observer and narrator of this momentous time.
“Yasar Kemal didn’t have much of a private archive, probably due to some effects of the circumstances of his life,” she added.
“He didn’t hold onto things like letters, notes, and diaries. However, poring over various domestic and international publications and press provides rich material.
“We’ve gotten support and contributions from many private archives in this regard,” she added.
Citing the spoken memoirs of many others who lived through these periods, she added: “We were able to record some of them using the oral history method as much as we could.”
Yasar Kemal was dubbed the “voice of those who cannot make their voices heard,” she explained, adding that the records would also serve as the archive of those who crossed paths with Kemal, but could not make their voices heard.
Gokceli also highlighted the celebrated author’s promotion of education as a way to foster creativity as well as the importance of including literature in young people’s lives.
Quoting Kemal, she said: “Knowing people is based on recognizing creativity, which is one of the greatest characteristics of human beings. Understanding nature and human relations, living nature is more meaningful today than ever before.”
The group supports and organizes many activities to help foster a love of reading in young people and the development of creativity, as well as free, independent, and autonomous thinking, she added.
- Literary heir
Feridun Andac, a Turkish essayist, told Anadolu Agency that he considers Kemal a narrator in the language of the world, in the course of the earth.
Andac, the author of Yasar Kemal’in Sozlerinde Yasamak (Living in the Words of Yasar Kemal, 2003), describes the famous writer as an “earth narrator” telling the story of humanity’s existence from the viewpoint of geography, culture, places, and their people, traditions, customs, and stories that happen in daily life.
“In other words, when you translate Yasar Kemal into another language and read it, actually it conveys feelings that aren’t foreign to you,” he said.
Citing Kemal’s Little Nobody trilogy (1980-1991), Andac said that when you read it today, you read “both his family’s story and Turkey's 200 years of tragic history and drift, its migrations, wars and the drama of humanity in war, the fear, how people feel dizzy with fear, and how people hit the mountains.”
Prominent Turkish writer and translator Azra Erhat once hailed Kemal as the son of Homer, the author of the Iliad and Odyssey, according to Andac.
“One end of Yasar Kemal’s narrative goes back to the epics of Homer, one to the [ancient Mesopotamian] Epic of Gilgamesh, and the other to Don Quixote, to the narrative of Cervantes.”
Andac suggested that those who want to understand Kemal’s works begin with his Little Nobody trilogy, a trio of works apparently as yet unavailable in English.
“It is his own story, and in a way, it’s the story of his life,” said Andac.
“Everybody starts with Memed, My Hawk [a novel in four parts published in 1955, 1969, 1984, and 1987], but his tetralogy The Story of an Island is actually the epic of a narrator who defends peace against war,” he added, referring to a series of novels completed in 2012, just a few years before Kemal passed away.