Yasar Kemal-Turkish novelist and playwright

Yasar Kemal-Turkish novelist and playwright

Thousands of people attended the funeral of Master Turkish novelist Yasar Kemal.
The writer died at age 92 in the afternoon of February 28, 2015 in the intensive care unit. Following the religious funeral service held at Tesvikiye Mosque, attended by former president of Turkey, political party leaders, high-ranked officials and a huge crowd, he was laid to rest in Zincirlikuyu Cemetery on March 2, 2015.

The writer was hospitalized since mid-January in Istanbul due to cardiac and respiratory problems.

Yasar Kemal was born as Kemal Sadik Gökceli as the son of a Kurdish family in Adana, in south-eastern Turkey only weeks before the proclamation of the Turkish republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

His native valley of the Cukurova was the setting for most of his novels. “No writer can claim to be a great novelist without its own Cukurova,” he said one day.

At the age of five Yasar Kemal suffered a profound shock when his father was murdered while praying at the mosque and this left him with an impediment of speech which lasted up to his twelfth year. Surprisingly, it was only when singing that he did not stammer and this led him very early in life to improvising songs according to the Anatolian tradition of folk minstrels. It was this love of poetry that made him want to learn to read and write in order to record the poems he composed. But at that time there was no school in Yasar Kemal’s village, as was the case then for 95% of Turkish villages. So at the age of nine the little boy walked to the neighbouring village every day and attended school there. Later his family moved to the small town of Kadirli where he completed his primary schooling. He was the first villager of Hemite ever to finish a primary school.

The tragedy in his life had served as frame to his novel “Salman Solitaire”, published in 1980.

He claimed the legacy and influence of Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and Stendhal.

The Turkish born Greek-American producer and writer Elia Kazan said “Kemal is a storyteller in the oldest tradition of Homer. He is the voice of the voiceless.”

Known for his strong Marxist beliefs, Yasar Kemal was arrested several times for his political activism.


  • Sari Sicak, (“Yellow Heat”) (1952)


  • Ince Memed (Memed, My Hawk) (1955)
  • Teneke (The Drumming-Out) (1955)
  • Orta Direk (The Wind from the Plain) (1960)
  • Yer Demir Gök Bakir (Iron Earth, Copper Sky) (1963)
  • Olmez Otu (The Undying Grass) (1968)
  • Ince Memed II (They Burn the Thistles) (1969)
  • AkCasazin Agalari/Demirciler Carsisi Cinayeti (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Murder in the Ironsmiths Market) (1974)
  • AkCasazin Agalari/Yusufcuk Yusuf (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Yusuf, Little Yusuf) (1975)
  • Yilani Oldurseler (To Crush the Serpent) (1976)
  • Al Gözum Seyreyle Salih (The Saga of a Seagull) (1976)
  • Allahin Askerleri (God’s Soldiers) (1978)
  • Kuslar da Gitti (The Birds Have Also Gone: Long Stories) (1978)
  • Deniz Kustu (The Sea-Crossed Fisherman) (1978)
  • Huyukteki Nar Agaci (The Pomegranate on the Knoll) (1982)
  • Yagmurcuk Kusu/Kimsecik I (Kimsecik I – Little Nobody I) (1980)
  • Kale Kapisi/Kimsecik II (Kimsecik II – Little Nobody II)(1985)
  • Kanin Sesi/Kimsecik III (Kimsecik III – Little Nobody III) (1991)
  • Firat Suyu Kan Akiyor Baksana (Look, the Euphrates is Flowing with Blood) (1997)
  • Karincanin Su ICtigi (Ant Drinking Water) (2002)
  • Tanyeri Horozlari (The Cocks of Dawn) (2002)

Epic Novels

  • Uc Anadolu Efsanesi (Three Anatolian Legends) (1967)
  • Agridagi Efsanesi (The Legend of Mount Ararat) (1970) – the base of the opera Agri Dagi Efsanesi 1971
  • Binbogalar Efsanesi (The Legend of the Thousand Bulls) (1971)
  • Cakircali Efe* (The Life Stories of the Famous Bandit Cakircali) (1972)


  • Yanan Ormanlarda 50 Gun (Fifty Days in the Burning Forests) (1955)
  • Cukurova Yana Yana (While Cukurova Burns) (1955)
  • Peribacalari (The Fairy Chimneys) (1957)
  • Bu Diyar Bastan Basa (Collected reportages) (1971)
  • Bir Bulut Kayniyor (Collected reportages) (1974)

Experimental Works

  • Agitlar (Ballads) (1943)
  • Tas Catlasa (At Most) (1961)
  • Baldaki Tuz (The Salt in the Honey) (1959-74 newspaper articles)
  • Gökyuzu Mavi Kaldi (The Sky remained Blue) (collection of folk literature in collaboration with S. Eyuboglu)
  • Agacin Curugu (The Rotting Tree) (Articles and Speeches) (1980)
  • Yayimlanmamis 10 Agit (10 Unpublished Ballads) (1985)
  • Sari Defterdekiler (Contents of the Yellow Notebook) (Collected Folkloric works) (1997)
  • Ustadir Ari (The Expert Bee) (1995)
  • Zulmun Artsin (Increase Your Oppression) (1995)

Children’s Books

  • Filler Sultani ile Kirmizi Sakalli Topal Karinca (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 Carsisi (“Murder in the Ironsmith’s Market”), 1974
  • Choix du Syndicat des Critiques Litteraires pour le meilleur roman etranger (Ete/Automne 1977) pour Terre de Fer, Ciel de Cuivre (“Yer Demir, Gök Bakir”).
  • Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 1978 pour L’Herbe qui ne meurt pas (Olmez Otu); Paris, Janvier 1979.
  • Prix mondial Cino Del Duca decerne 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 Litterature Etrangere, 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 Legion d’Honneur de France; Paris, 1984.
  • Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, Paris, 1988
  • Grand Officier de la Legion d’Honneur de France; Paris, 2011.
  • Krikor Naregatsi Medal of Armenia, 2013.

Honorary Doctorates

  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Strasbourg University, France, 1991.
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey, 1992.
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bilkent University, 2002
  • Honorary Doctorate, Cukurova University, 2009
  • Honorary Doctorate, Bogazici University, 2009

This article originally appeared on EverythingTurkish

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