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FAKIR BAYKURT (1929 – 1999)

Fakir Baykurt, who wrote under various pen names such as Osman Akpürçek, Tarik Kirat, Yasar Yalçin, and Mehmet Gazi, was born on June 15, 1929 in the Burdur province of Turkey . Baykurt spent his childhood in various parts of Anatolia , and he was a Turkish teacher by trade. His first novel Yilanlarin Öcü was published in 1958, and it proved that he was a man of letters, and that he was a proficient novelist who could depict village life in its full realism. This novel, which takes a social realist approach to village life, earned him the Yunus Nadi Novel Award for 1958, and attracted a lot of critical acclaim. In his works, Baykurt deals with the problems and the conflicts that rural folk experience. Yet he is not a mere onlooker, but also an activist who strived to change both society and individuals. Baykurt was one of the founders and the president of Türkiye Ögretmenler Sendikasi (Teachers' Union of Turkey), the president of Türkiye Ögretmenler Dernekleri Milli Federasyonu (National Federation of Teachers' Associations of Turkey), and he was one of the architects of the first nationwide teachers' boycott ever held in Turkey. In addition, in 1979, Baykurt started working as an educational expert for German authorities in Duisburg to integrate foreign born children into the educational and social system. Baykurt became an important social activist and an ardent fighter for various social establishments and non-governmental organizations.

Baykurt claimed that the importance of literature came not from its subject matter, but from the language that it used. His works featured the same natural, plain Turkish that the people used. In his own words, “I have always written with the beautiful words I heard from my mother, from my aunt, and from my villagers. And then they became my own words. I have never been an extreme nationalist, yet when it comes to language I am more king than the king — if such a thing can be measured. In other words, I would sacrifice my life for language. Language is a confidant, and it is the source of my courage. That is where the light is.” Hence, his works featured plain and familiar language that could easily appeal to various groups within society. In his works, he frequently used proverbs, idioms and regional words that he had collected from Turkish folk literature. Due to this approach toward Turkish literature, Baykurt is honored as the “subconscious voice of the people.” However, Baykurt did react to being categorized as a village novelist, “Mine are not village novels, but novels about the life of the village. Perhaps putting labels on literary works is what critics are supposed to do. Yet, I did not write a village novel, I only tried to compose a decent novel about life in the village. I do not know a genre called an urban novel either. This could only be a novel about life in the cities.” This statement from Baykurt started discussions about the sub–genre of Turkish literature known as the “village novel,” and at least this label was no longer used to describe Baykurt's novels. Baykurt's villagers are not stereotypical individuals who act within an idealized good or an absolute evil. Rather, economic and social conditions determine the actions of Baykurt's characters.

Baykurt did not only portray village life, but he was also interested in the fate of Turkish villagers, who never experienced city life even in Turkey, who migrated to Germany in hope of starting a better life. His novels Yarim Ekmek, Koca Ren and Yüksek Firinlar collectively known as “Duisburg Trilogy” deal with the hardships of these workers stuck between two cultures. Just like many of his stories, the author's novels analyzed the effort Turkish villagers showed to integrate into western culture, and showed the painful confusion they experienced in the face of these western societal forces. The novels give a gripping account of the culture shock, the confusion, the uncertainty, and the resulting pain these “guest workers” endured in a country and society so foreign to them.

Baykurt's works are considered important not only for their literary value but also for sociological and folkloric elements that they contain. He stated that all his effort went into representing the state of mind of the villagers that he knew well, while considering the realities of art. The author's works have earned countless awards, and many have been adapted to theater and film. In 1962, the novel Yilanlarin Öcü was made into a film by director Metin Erksan, and this particular work still considered as the most prominent film in the history of Turkish cinema.

Fakir Baykurt died in Germany on October 11, 1999.

Awards: Yilanlarin Öcü 1958 Yunus Nadi Novel Award, Sinirdaki Ölü 1970 Turkish Radio and Television Story Award, Tirpan 1970 Turkish Radio and Television Award and 1971 Turkish Language Association Novel Award, 1980 Avni Dilligil Drama Award, Kara Ahmet Destani 1978 Orhan Kemal Novel Award, Can Parasi 1974 Sait Faik Story Award, Baris Çöregi 1984 Berlin Senate Children's Literature Award, Gece Vardiyasi 1985 BDI (Germany Industrial Union) Literature Award, Yarim Ekmek 1998 Sedat Simavi Novel Award

Works: Stories: Çilli (Freckles 1955), Efendilik Savasi (War for Dominion 1959), Karin Agrisi (Stomach Ache 1961), Cüce Muhammet (Muhammet the Dwarf 1964), Anadolu Garaji (The Anatolian Garage 1970), On Binlerce Kagni (Tens of Thousands Ox Carts 1971), Can Parasi (Soul Money 1973), Içerdeki Ogul (The Son Inside 1974), Sinirdaki Ölü (The Dead Man on the Border 1975), Kalekale (Castle 1978), Baris Çöregi (The Bun of Peace 1982), Gece Vardiyasi (Night Shift 1982), Duisburg Treni (Train to Duisburg 1986), Bizim Ince Kizlar (Our Slim Girls 1993), and Telli Yol (Wired Road 1998).

Novels: Yilanlarin Öcü (Revenge of the Snakes 1958), Onuncu Köy (The Tenth Village 1961), Irazcan'in Dirligi (The Peace of the Consenter 1961), Kaplumbagalar (The Turtles 1967), Amerikan Sargisi (American Bandage 1967), Tirpan (Scythe 1970), Köygöçüren (Village Crusher 1973), Keklik (Partridge 1975), Yayla (Highland 1977), Yüksek Firinlar (High Ovens 1983), Koca Ren (The Big Ren 1986), Yarim Ekmek (Half a Loaf 1997), and Esekli Kütüphaneci (The Librarian with the Donkey 2000).

Children's books: Küçük Köprü ( The Little Bridge 1963), Deli Dana (Mad Cow 1963), Topal Arkadas (The Lame Friend 1964), Imece (Collective Work 1964), Sari Köpek (The Yellow Dog 1964), Yetim Ali (Ali, the Orphan 1964), Sinir Kavgasi (Border Fight 1964), Sümüklü Hanim (The Snivelling Lady 1964), Agaç Dede (Tree Grandfather 1964), Sakarca (Klutz 1975), Yandim Ali (I am Burning Ali 1979), Kerem ile Asli (Kerem and Asli 1964), Dünya Güzeli (Miss World 1985), and Saka Kuslari (Finch 1985).

* Biographical information concerning Fakir Baykurt has been gathered from Tanzimat'tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi .

Sources: Akyüz, Kenan. Modern Türk Edebiyatinin Ana �?izgileri , Inkilâp Yayinevi, 1995.
Photograph courtesy of Ara Guler

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation.

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