Aziz Nesin has always been one of my favourite Turkish authors —and my first writer crush, too! He was probably the most prolific author Turkey has ever seen —I mean we’re talking about more than 100 books here, Peoples! It wasn’t just me, everyone in my family enjoyed his writing. Together, we even went through a phase of quoting from a particular book of his (Seyyahatname) which was about an American tourist visiting Istanbul. It was so funny, like clever funny. Later on, they made it into a four-part television series.
Aziz Nesin. That’s him in the photo below. Photo taken by internationally acclaimed Turkish/Armenian photographer Ara Güler.
He pissed a lot of people off, though. Not just by criticising Turkish government on the grounds of free speech and human rights violations but also translating and attempting to publish Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel: The Satanic Verses. That on its own made him the target for radical Islam organisations which led to some despicable chain of events.
On July 2, 1993 while Aziz Nesin and many other intellectuals, poets and musicians were attending a cultural festival in Sivas (my birthplace) to celebrate the life and work of a 16th century poet: Pir Sultan Abdal. Soon after Friday prayers, a group of Islamic fundamentalists somehow broke through the police barricade and surrounded a local hotel called Madimak (madimak is an edible wild herb/vegetable which grows only around that area). This was the hotel where the attendants of the festival like Aziz Nesin were staying, most of them Alevi musicians, writers, poets. The crowd was shouting “Death to the infidel!” They were of course threatening Aziz Nesin with that. The hotel was under siege for 8 hours until the monsters set the place on fire with everyone in it. The incident left 35 people dead. However, Aziz Nesin was one of the lucky people who managed to escape with the help of a firetruck. Initially, they failed to recognise him but when they did Aziz Nesin was beaten by the very firemen who rescued him while a city councilman, Cafer Erçakmak was shouting “This is the real devil we should have killed.” Like I said before; he pissed a lot of people off. This time by simply staying alive.
Although Aziz Nesin died of a heart attack in 1995 and I have never met him personally, we still have a friend in common: Saliha Scheinhardt. She is an internationally acclaimed Turkish author who writes in German. My friend and Aziz Nesin wrote to each other between 1980 and 1995, basically until he passed away. After his death, my friend published those letters exchanged between them two. She signed and gave me a copy of the book in 2001 (see photo below), quoting Paulo Coelho. By the way, the profit from the sale of this book goes to Nesin Foundation which was founded by Aziz Nesin in 1973 to provide education and accommodation for underprivileged children.