|Kemal Sadık Gökçeli|
6 October 1923|
Gökçedam, Osmaniye, Turkey
|Died||28 February 2015
Yaşar Kemal (born Kemal Sadık Gökçeli; 6 October 1923 – 28 February 2015) was a Turkish writer and human rights activist of Kurdish origin. He was one of Turkey's leading writers. He received 38 awards during his lifetime and had been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature on the strength of Memed, My Hawk.
An outspoken intellectual, he often did not hesitate to speak about sensitive issues, especially those concerning the plight of the Kurdish people. He was tried in 1995 under anti-terror laws for an article he wrote for German magazine Der Spiegel accusing the Turkish army of destroying Kurdish villages. He was released but later received a suspended 20-month jail sentence for an article he wrote criticising racism against minorities in Turkey, especially the Kurds.
Of Kurdish origin, Kemal was born to Sadık and his wife Halime on 6 October 1923 in Hemite (now Gökçedam), a hamlet in the province of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. His parents were from Van and 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. 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.
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 of whom were bandits. 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.
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.
Later he worked as a letter-writer, then as a journalist, and finally as a novelist. He said that the Turkish police confiscated his first two novels.
When 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 the destruction. (In 2005 the church was restored by the Turkish government.)
In 2005 Kemal wrote a new introduction to his novel Memed, My Hawk, wherein he prognosticated that "...confronted with the massacre of nature, that great scourge of our age, we will create myths of fear as our ancestors did."
In 1952, Yaşar Kemal married Thilda Serrero, 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. She translated 17 of her husband’s works into the English language. Thilda predeceased Yaşar on 17 January 2001 (aged 78) from pulmonary complications at a hospital in Istanbul, and was laid to rest at Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. Thilda was also survived by her son Raşit Göğçel and a grandchild.
Yaşar Kemal remarried on 1 August 2002 to 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.
Later years and death
On 14 January 2015 Kemal was hospitalized at Istanbul University's Çapa Medical Faculty, due to respiratory insufficiency. During the afternoon of 28 February 2015, in the intensive care unit, where he had been admitted owing to multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, he died. Following a religious funeral service held at Teşvikiye Mosque, attended by former Turkish president Abdullah Gul, political party leaders, high-ranking officials and an enormous assembly of mourners, he was laid to rest on 2 March 2015 beside his first wife Thilda's grave in Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. Kemal is survived by his wife Ayşe Semiha Baban and his adoptive son, visual artist Ahmet Güneştekin.
|“||I don't write about issues, I don't write for an audience, I don't even write for myself. I just write.||”|
|— Interview with The Guardian.|
Kemal published his first book Ağıtlar ("Ballads") in 1943, which was a compilation of folkloric themes. This book brought to light many long forgotten rhymes and ballads. He had begun to collect these ballads at the age of 16. His first stories Bebek ("The Baby"), Dükkancı ("The Shopkeeper") and Memet ile Memet ("Memet and Memet") were published in 1950. He penned his first tale 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. Kemal used the legends and stories of Anatolia extensively as the basis for his works.
He received international acclaim with the publication of Memed, My Hawk (Turkish: İnce Memed) in 1955. In İnce Memed, 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 writers in Turkey, Kemal was noted for his command of the language and lyrical description of bucolic Turkish life. He was awarded 19 literary prizes during his lifetime 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. 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- Filler Sultanı ile Kırmızı Sakallı Topal Karınca (The Sultan of the Elephants and the Red-Bearded Lame Ant) (1977)
Awards and distinctions
- "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.
- 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.
- The Sedat Simavi Foundation Award for Literature; Istanbul, Turkey, 1985.
- Premi Internacional Catalunya. Catalonia (Spain), 1996
- Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award for Courage in Response to Repression, Human Rights Watch, USA, 1996.
- Stig Dagerman Prize (Swedish: Stig Dagermanpriset), Sweden, 1997.
- Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (German: Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels), Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1997.
- Premio Internazionale Nonino for collected works, Italy, 1997
- Bordeaux, Prix Ecureuit de Littérature Etrangère, 1998
- 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
- The Bjørnson Prize (Norwegian: Bjørnsonprisen), Norway, 2013.
- Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 1984.
- Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, Paris, 1989.
- Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 2011.
- Krikor Naregatsi Medal of Armenia, 2013.
- Doctor Honoris Causa, Strasbourg University, France, 1991.
- Doctor Honoris Causa, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey, 1992.
- Honorary Doctorate, Bilkent University, 2002
- Honorary Doctorate, Çukurova University, 2009 
- Honorary Doctorate, Bogazici University, 2009
- Honorary Doctorate, Bilgi University, 2014
- Yaşar Kemal – YKY
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...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.
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- Kemal, Memed, My Hawk (New York: New York Review Books Classics, 2005), p. xii.
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