Yaşar Kemal

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Kemal Sadık Gökçeli
Born 1923 (age 91–92)
Gökçedam, Osmaniye, Turkey
Occupation Novelist
Period 1943 – present
Notable works

Ağıtlar ("Ballads"; debut)

İnce Memed ("Memed, My Hawk"))
Teneke ("The Drumming-Out")
Ince Memed II ("They Burn the Thistles")
Notable awards

Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger
Prix mondial Cino Del Duca
Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France
Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France

Yaşar Kemal, (born Kemal Sadık Gökçeli[1] 1923) is a Turkish writer of Kurdish origin. He is one of Turkey's leading writers.[2][3] He has long been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, on the strength of Memed, My Hawk.[4]

As an outspoken intellectual, he does not hesitate to speak on sensitive issues.[5] His activism resulted in a twenty-month suspended jail sentence, on charges of advocating separatism.[6]


Kemal, was born in Hemite (now Gökçedam), a hamlet in the province of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. His parents were from Van, who came into Çukurova during the First World War. Kemal had a difficult childhood because he lost his right eye due to a knife accident, when his father was slaughtering a sheep on Eid al-Adha, and had to witness as his father was stabbed to death by his adoptive son Yusuf while praying in a mosque when he was five years old.[1] This traumatic experience left Kemal with a speech impediment, which lasted until he was twelve years old. At nine he started school in a neighboring village and continued his formal education in Kadirli, Osmaniye Province.[1]

Kemal was a locally noted bard before he started school, but was unappreciated by his widowed mother until he composed an elegy on the death of one of her eight brothers, all bandits.[7] However, he forgot it and became interested in writing as a means to record his work when he questioned an itinerant peddler, who was doing his accounts. Ultimately, his village paid his way to university in Istanbul.[7]

He worked for a while for rich farmers, guarding their river water against other farmers' unauthorized irrigation. However, instead he taught the poor farmers how to steal the water undetected, by taking it at night.[7]

Later he worked as a letter-writer, then as a journalist, and finally as a novelist. He said that the Turkish police took his first two novels.[7]

When Yaşar Kemal was visiting Akdamar Island in 1951, he saw the island's Holy Cross Church being destroyed. Using his contacts to the public, he helped stop destruction of the site. However, the church remained in a neglected state until 2005, when restoration by the Turkish government began.[8]


In 1952, Yaşar Kemal married Thilda Serrero,[9] a member of a prominent Sephardi Jewish family in Istanbul. Her grandfather, Jak Mandil Pasha, was the chief physician of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.[10] She translated 17 of her husband’s works into the English language.[11] Thilda died on January 17, 2001 (aged 78) from pulmonary complications at a hospital in Istanbul, and was laid to rest at Zincirlikuyu Cemetery.[11] Thilda is survived by her hushand, her son Raşit and a grandchild.[11]

Yaşar Kemal remarried on August 1, 2002 with Ayşe Semiha Baban, a lecturer for public relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul. She was educated at the American University of Beirut, Bosphorus University and Harvard University.[12]


He published his first book Ağıtlar ("Ballads") in 1943, which was a compilation of folkloric themes. This book brings to light many long forgotten rhymes and ballads and Kemal had started to collect these ballads at the age of 16.[1] His first stories Bebek ("The Baby"), Dükkancı ("The Shopkeeper"), Memet ile Memet ("Memet and Memet") were published in 1950. He had written his first story Pis Hikaye ("The Dirty Story") in 1944, while he was serving in the military, in Kayseri. Then he published his book of short stories Sarı Sıcak ("Yellow Heat") in 1952. The initial point of his works was the toil of the people of the Çukurova plains and he based the themes of his writings on the lives and sufferings of these people. Yaşar Kemal has used the legends and stories of Anatolia extensively as the basis of his works.[1]

He received international acclaim with the publication of Memed, My Hawk (Turkish: İnce Memed) in 1955. In İnce Memed, Yaşar Kemal criticizes the fabric of the society through a legendary hero, a protagonist, who flees to the mountains as a result of the oppression of the Aghas. One of the most famous living writers in Turkey, Kemal is noted for his command of the language and lyrical description of bucolic Turkish life. He has been awarded 19 literary prizes so far and nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973.

His 1955 novel Teneke was adapted into a theatrical play, which was staged for almost one year in Gothenburg, Sweden, in the country where he lived for about two years in the late 1970s.[14] Italian composer Fabio Vacchi adapted the same novel with the original title into an opera of three acts, which premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milano, Italy in 2007.

Kemal lays claim to having recreated Turkish as a literary language, by bringing in the vernacular, following Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's sterilization of Turkish by removing Persian and Arabic elements.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]



  • Sarı Sıcak, ("Yellow Heat") (1952)


  • İnce Memed (Memed, My Hawk) (1955)
  • Teneke (The Drumming-Out) (1955)
  • Orta Direk (The Wind from the Plain) (1960)
  • Yer Demir Gök Bakır (Iron Earth, Copper Sky) (1963)
  • Ölmez Otu (The Undying Grass) (1968)
  • Ince Memed II (They Burn the Thistles) (1969)
  • Akçasazın Ağaları/Demirciler Çarşısı Cinayeti (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Murder in the Ironsmiths Market) (1974)
  • Akçasazın Ağaları/Yusufcuk Yusuf (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Yusuf, Little Yusuf) (1975)
  • Yılanı Öldürseler (To Crush the Serpent) (1976)
  • Al Gözüm Seyreyle Salih (The Saga of a Seagull) (1976)
  • Allahın Askerleri (God’s Soldiers) (1978)
  • Kuşlar da Gitti (The Birds Have Also Gone: Long Stories) (1978)
  • Deniz Küstü (The Sea-Crossed Fisherman) (1978)
  • Hüyükteki Nar Ağacı (The Pomegranate on the Knoll) (1982)
  • Yağmurcuk Kuşu/Kimsecik I (Kimsecik I - Little Nobody I) (1980)
  • Kale Kapısı/Kimsecik II (Kimsecik II - Little Nobody II)(1985)
  • Kanın Sesi/Kimsecik III (Kimsecik III - Little Nobody III) (1991)
  • Fırat Suyu Kan Akıyor Baksana (Look, the Euphrates is Flowing with Blood) (1997)
  • Karıncanın Su İçtiği (Ant Drinking Water) (2002)
  • Tanyeri Horozları (The Cocks of Dawn) (2002)

Epic Novels

  • Üç Anadolu Efsanesi (Three Anatolian Legends) (1967)
  • Ağrıdağı Efsanesi (The Legend of Mount Ararat) (1970) - the base of the opera Ağrı Dağı Efsanesi 1971
  • Binboğalar Efsanesi (The Legend of the Thousand Bulls) (1971)
  • Çakırcalı Efe* (The Life Stories of the Famous Bandit Çakircali) (1972)


  • Yanan Ormanlarda 50 Gün (Fifty Days in the Burning Forests) (1955)
  • Çukurova Yana Yana (While Çukurova Burns) (1955)
  • Peribacaları (The Fairy Chimneys) (1957)
  • Bu Diyar Baştan Başa (Collected reportages) (1971)
  • Bir Bulut Kaynıyor (Collected reportages) (1974)

Experimental Works

  • Ağıtlar (Ballads) (1943)
  • Taş Çatlasa (At Most) (1961)
  • Baldaki Tuz (The Salt in the Honey) (1959-74 newspaper articles)
  • Gökyüzü Mavi Kaldı (The Sky remained Blue) (collection of folk literature in collaboration with S. Eyüboğlu)
  • Ağacın Çürüğü (The Rotting Tree) (Articles and Speeches) (1980)
  • Yayımlanmamış 10 Ağıt (10 Unpublished Ballads) (1985)
  • Sarı Defterdekiler (Contents of the Yellow Notebook) (Collected Folkloric works) (1997)
  • Ustadır Arı (The Expert Bee) (1995)
  • Zulmün Artsın (Increase Your Oppression) (1995)

Children's Books

  • Filler Sultanı ile Kırmızı Sakallı Topal Karınca (The Sultan of the Elephants and the Red-Bearded Lame Ant) (1977)

Awards and distinctions[edit]

  • "Seven Days in the World's Largest Farm" reportage series, Journalist's Association Prize, 1955
  • Varlik Prize for Ince Memed ("Memed, My Hawk"), 1956
  • Ilhan Iskender Award for the play adapted from his book with the same name, Teneke ("The Drumming-Out"), 1966
  • The International Nancy Theatre Festival - First Prize for Uzun Dere ("Long Brook"), 1966 -Theater adaptation from roman Iron Earth, Copper Sky.[15]
  • Madarli Novel Award for Demirciler Çarşısı ("Murder in the Ironsmith's Market"), 1974
  • Choix du Syndicat des Critiques Littéraires pour le meilleur roman etranger (Eté/Automne 1977) pour Terre de Fer, Ciel de Cuivre ("Yer Demir, Gök Bakır").
  • Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 1978 pour L'Herbe qui ne meurt pas (Ölmez Otu); Paris, Janvier 1979.
  • Prix mondial Cino Del Duca decerné pour contributions a l'humanisme moderne; Paris, Octobre 1982.
  • Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 1984.
  • The Sedat Simavi Foundation Award for Literature; Istanbul, Turkey, 1985.
  • Paris, Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, 1988
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Strasbourg University, France, 1991.
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey, 1992.
  • Premi Internacional Catalunya. Catalonia (Spain), 1996
  • Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award for Courage in Response to Repression, Human Rights Watch, USA, 1996.
  • Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1997.
  • Premio Internazionale Nonino for collected works, Italy, 1997
  • Bordeaux, Prix Ecureuit de Littérature Etrangère, 1998
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bilkent University, 2002
  • Z. Homer poetry Award, 2003
  • Savanos Prize (Thessalonika-Greece), 2003
  • Turkish Publisher's Association Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003
  • Presidential Cultural and Artistic Grand Prize, 2008[16]
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bogazici University, 2009
  • Honorary Doctorate, Çukurova University, 2009 [17]
  • Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 2011.[18]
  • 2013 Krikor Naregatsi Medal of Armenia[19]
  • 2013 Bjornson Prize (Molde, Norway)


  1. ^ a b c d e Yaşar Kemal - YKY
  2. ^ Ertan, Nazlan (1997-03-06). "French pay tribute to Yasar Kemal". Turkish Daily News. Archived from the original on 2008-11-15. 
  3. ^ Perrier, Jean-Louis (1997-03-04). "Yachar Kemal, conteur et imprécateur". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  4. ^ "Ölene kadar Nobel adayı olacağım". Hurriyet (in Turkish). 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  5. ^ Norman, Roger (1997-06-05). "Yasar Kemal and the last of the nomads". Turkish Daily News (Hürriyet). Retrieved 2008-12-15. ...for Yasar Kemal has become perhaps the best known champion of human rights in Turkey, the godfather of freedom of conscience. He is no stranger to prison and currently has a suspended prison sentence hanging over him. 
  6. ^ "Yasar Kemal asks Germans not to mistreat Turks". Turkish Daily News. Reuters. 1997-10-19. Archived from the original on 2008-11-14. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Bosquet, Alain (1999). Yaşar Kemal on his life and art. Eugene Lyons Hebert, Barry Tharaud (trans.). Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-0551-5. 
  8. ^ Asbarez, 1 October 2010: The Mass at Akhtamar, and What’s Next
  9. ^ Taylor & Francis Group (2004). "KEMAL, Yashar". In Elizabeth Sleeman. International Who's Who of Authors and Writers. Routledge. p. 290. ISBN 1-85743-179-0. 
  10. ^ Uzun, Mehmed (2001-01-22). "Thilda Kemal: The Graceful Voice of an Eternal Ballad". Turkish Daily News. Archived from the original on 2008-07-11. 
  11. ^ a b c "Thilda Kemal, wife and translator of novelist Yasar Kemal, dies". Turkish Daily News. 2001-01-19. Archived from the original on 2008-11-14. 
  12. ^ Kayar, Ayda (2002-08-11). "Yaşar Kemal evlendi". Hürriyet (in Turkish). Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  13. ^ Birch, Nicholas (2008-11-28). "Yasar Kemal's disappearing world of stories". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-01-03.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Göktaş, Lütfullah (2007-06-30). "Yaşar Kemal’in Teneke’si İtalyanca opera". NTV-MSNBC (in Turkish). Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  15. ^ Köy Seyirlik Oyunları, Seyirlik Uygulamalarıyla 51 Yıllık Bir Amatör Topluluk: Ankara Deneme Sahnesi ve Uygulamalarından İki Örnek: Bozkır Dirliği Ve Gerçek Kavga Nurhan Tekerek
  16. ^ "Cumhurbaşkanlığı Kültür ve Sanat Büyük Ödülleri dağıtıldı". Milliyet (in Turkish). Anka news agency. 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-12-04.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  17. ^ "Yaşar Kemal: Umutsuzluk umudu yaratır". ntvmsnbc.com (in Turkish). Anadolu Ajansı. October 7, 2009. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Yaşar Kemal'e büyük "nişan"". CNN Türk (in Turkish). 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2011-12-18. 
  19. ^ "Turkish writer Yaşar Kemal gets Armenia’s Krikor Naregatsi medal". Hurriyet. 9/4/2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)