JOOST – The loss of a wise man

The loss of a wise manWhen I first met YaIar Kemal he had already evolved from a famous Turkish writer into one of Turkeyand#39s wise men. It must have been 2003 or 2004.

After many years he had just published a new book. But I did not pay him a visit to talk about literature.

As a European politician trying to understand the complexities of Turkey, my then-assistant Ali Yurttagul aised me to talk to YaIar Kemal. He would be able to provide me with some insight into the deep layers of Turkeyand#39s turbulent history and confusing psychology.

I knew YaIar Kemaland#39s name from the leftist bookshop I had worked at after finishing university. Together with Nazim Hikmet he was — at that time, the mid 1980s — the only Turkish writer whose books had been translated into Dutch and English.

Besides, according to the strict criteria of those radical days, YaIar Kemal was a andquotpolitically correctandquot writer because in his books he sided with the oppressed and the rebels.Ali and I visited him at his apartment on the Bosporus and talked with him about Turkey.

To be honest, he did the talking and we listened, with Ali translating as best he could the long and winding sentences of the writer I vividly remember how impressed I was — not because he came up with new insights about Turkeyand#39s potential EU membership or the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. He just sat there in his chair overlooking the Bosporus and told stories about his own past, Turkeyand#39s past, the languages and cultures of Anatolia and the suffering of its people.

Sometimes I was not sure whether he was referring to an event that had really happened or to a story from one of his books. I felt like a schoolboy sitting at the feet of a gentle and patient teacher, a wise man who clearly enjoyed guiding me through the labyrinthine history of the land and the people he loved so much.

What made this journey so instructive and amusing was his laughter and joking about all of the foolishness and misguided ambitions that are part of that same story as well. After several hours we were all exhausted.

We bumped into each other on a few occasions later but only met again in 2006. First, he made fun of me in his own charming way at the French consulate on July 14.

I had just had a serious haircut, and when he saw me entering the premises he stepped forward amid a big crowd and started laughing at me: andquotYou look like Zinedine Zidane! Please donand#39t hit me!andquotHe was referring to the famous French football player who, just a few days before during the final of the 2006 World Cup, was infamously sent off for head-butting his Italian opponent Marco Materazzi. YaIar Kemal obviously liked Zidaneand#39s combination of brilliance and defiance and could not stop himself from alluding to it that afternoon.

A few months later he and his wife AyIe came to my wedding at the Pera Palace Hotel. We did not have much time to talk, but a few years later Cengiz Candar recalled a beautiful anecdote about YaIar Kemal and the wedding.

When Cengiz asked him on whose side he was — that is, the brideand#39s or the groomand#39s — YaIar Kemal replied that, of course, he was there on Nevin Sungurand#39s side because she was a Turkish woman. Then Cengiz, a fanatic Fenerbahe supporter, told YaIar Kemal that I was a big Fener fan as well.

YaIar Kemal looked at him, burst out in laughter, and said: andquotIn that case, I am here from Joostand#39s side!andquotYaIar Kemal was one of Turkeyand#39s most acclaimed writers. But he was much more than that.

He had this combination of charisma and wisdom that define the great men of each country. He was loved and respected by many, even those who might not agree with everything he said.

YaIar Kemal was one of Turkeyand#39s wise men. He will be missed dearly in these hectic times.

Turkey needs people like YaIar Kemal, people who are able to rise above the dirty daily details and paint a bigger picture — for instance, on the Kurdish issue that was so close to his heart. It is especially sad to realize he wonand#39t be there anymore to play his part in finalizing the tortuous road to peace the country has embarked on.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman