Yaşar Kemal

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Yaşar Kemal
Yilmaz Buyukersen wax Museum (Yasar Kemal).jpg
Yaşar Kemal in
Yılmazbüyükerşen wax museum
BornKemal Sadık Gökçeli
(1923-10-06)6 October 1923
Gökçedam, Osmaniye, Turkey
Died28 February 2015(2015-02-28) (aged 91)
Istanbul, Turkey
Occupation Novelist
Notable works
Notable awards
  • Thilda Serrero (m. 1952–2001)
  • Ayşe Semiha Baban (m. 2002–2015)

Yaşar Kemal (born Kemal Sadık Gökçeli; [1] 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. [2] [3] 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 . [4] [5]

Turkish people or the Turks, also known as Anatolian Turks, are a Turkic ethnic group and nation living mainly in Turkey and speaking Turkish, the most widely spoken Turkic language. They are the largest ethnic group in Turkey, as well as by far the largest ethnic group among the speakers of Turkic languages. Ethnic Turkish minorities exist in the former lands of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, a Turkish diaspora has been established with modern migration, particularly in Western Europe.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.

<i>Memed, My Hawk</i> book by Yaşar Kemal

Memed, My Hawk is a 1955 novel by Yaşar Kemal. It was Kemal's debut novel and is the first novel in his İnce Memed tetralogy. The novel won the Varlik prize for that year and earned Kemal a national reputation. In 1961, the book was translated into English by Edouard Roditi, thus gaining Kemal his first exposure to English-speaking readers.


An outspoken intellectual, he often did not hesitate to speak about sensitive issues, especially those concerning the oppression of the Kurdish people. [6] 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 the Turkish racism against the minorities in Turkey, especially against the Kurds. [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

<i>Der Spiegel</i> German weekly news magazine based in Hamburg

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. With a weekly circulation of 840,000 copies, it is the largest such publication in Europe.


Kemal was born to Sadık and his wife Halime on 6 October 1923 in Gökçedam, [12] [13] a hamlet in the province of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. He was born into a Kurdish family [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] that had partly Caucasian and Assyrian origins. [19] Kemal had a difficult childhood, because he lost his right eye in a knife accident when his father was slaughtering a sheep on Eid al-Adha. Moreover, when he was five years old he witnessed his father being stabbed to death by his adoptive son Yusuf while praying in a mosque. [1] These traumatic experiences left Kemal with a speech impediment, which lasted until he was twelve years old. At nine Kemel began school in a neighboring village, and later he continued his formal education in Kadirli, Osmaniye Province. [1]

Gökçedam is a village in the central district of Osmaniye Province, Turkey. It is the birthplace of Yaşar Kemal.

Hamlet (place) small settlement in a rural area

A hamlet is a small human settlement. In different jurisdictions and geographies, hamlets may be the size of a town, village or parish, be considered a smaller settlement or subdivision or satellite entity to a larger settlement. The word and concept of a hamlet have roots in the Anglo-Norman settlement of England, where the old French hamlet came to apply to small human settlements. In British geography, a hamlet is considered smaller than a village and distinctly without a church.

Provinces of Turkey first-level administrative division of Turkey

Turkey is divided into 81 provinces. Each province is divided into a number of different districts. Each provincial government is seated in the central district. The central district usually bears the name of the province. There are only three exceptions to this naming scheme:

Kemal was a locally noted bard before he began 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. [20] 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. [20]

Istanbul Metropolitan municipality in Marmara, Turkey

Istanbul, formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives in suburbs on the Asian side of the Bosporus. With a total population of around 15 million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's most populous cities, ranking as the world's fourth largest city proper and the largest European city. The city is the administrative center of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul is viewed as a bridge between the East and West.

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. [20]

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. [20]

When Kemal was visiting Akdamar Island in 1951, he saw the island's Holy Cross Church being removed. Using his contacts to the public, he helped stop the removal. In 2005 the church was restored by the Turkish government. [21]

In 1962 Kemal joined the Workers Party of Turkey and "served as one of its leaders until quitting after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968". [22]

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." [23]


In 1952, Yaşar Kemal married Thilda Serrero, [24] 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. [25] She translated 17 of her husband’s works into the English language. [26] 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. [26] Thilda was also survived by her son Raşit Göğçel and a grandchild. [26] [27]

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. [28]

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. [27] 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. [13] [29] [30] Kemal is survived by his wife Ayşe Semiha Baban and his adoptive son, visual artist Ahmet Güneştekin. [31]


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. [1] 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. [1]

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. [33] 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 was a major contributor to Turkish literature in the early years after the language's recreation as a literary language following Atatürk's Reforms of the 1930s. [20]




Epic Novels


Experimental Works

Children's Books

Awards and distinctions

Literature prizes


Honorary Doctorates

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