ISTANBUL — One of modern Turkey’s most celebrated literary figures, Yasar Kemal, who repeatedly clashed with the Turkish state, died on Saturday in Istanbul following respiratory problems, lung infection and heart arrhythmia.
Yasar Kemal emerged as his country’s first novelist of global stature, whose works have been published in dozens of languages, was the country’s first candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Kemal Sadik Gokceli was born into a Turkish-Kurdish family in the village of Hemite (now Gokcedam) in southern Turkey. His home region of Cilicia is the backdrop for his sweeping tales of rapacious landlords, callous bureaucrats and peasant heroes who fight injustice. He wrote more than two dozen books, using a colorful narrative style that appealed to a broad audience, fiercely criticizing injustice and creating noble outlaws who became permanent parts of Turkey’s cultural landscape.
As an outspoken advocate of Kurdish rights and a sharp critic of his country’s leaders, Mr. Kemal was often in trouble with the law. He was tried and given a suspended sentence of 20 months in prison for “inciting hatred.”
As a young journalist, Yasar Kemal played a key role in stopping the planned destruction of a historic Armenian shrine, the Holy Cross Church on Akhtamar Island on Lake Van. Armenians are sympathetic characters in several of his novels. In 2013, the Armenian Ministry of Culture awarded him its “Krikor Naregatsi” medal to recognize “his tribute to Armenian cultural heritage and his courage, as well as his commitment to universal values related to justice, freedom and human dignity.”
“On these lands pople have gone through pain. The most sacred effort is to fight against hostility,” Kemal said upon receiving the award, adding that Krikor Naregatsi was a poet that he esteemed greatly and that he was honored to receive the medal.
Kemal, who wrote more than 20 novels and nearly 10 experimental works, besides short stories, is also famous for recreating Turkish as a literary language.