Hashtag: #Ya?arKemal

Yasar Kemal: A Master of Words

Memed, My Hawk

A novel, by definition, is fiction, a form of a sequential story describing intimate experiences of imaginary characters. Fiction is an art and many great writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, and Joyce Carol Oates were fiction writers. Turkish writer #Ya?arKemal, who recently passed away, was a prominent fiction writer and best remembered for his first novel “Memed, My Hawk”, which was published in 1955.

This Varlik Prize winner is a story of a young peasant boy (Slim Memed) who tried to save his sweetheart (Hatch) from a forced marriage with the Agha (owner of the land and village chief). Hatch was captured as they attempt to escape but Meme, who wounds the Agha escaped into the mountains and later becomes a bandit. The novel to some critics is exciting and dramatic as it successfully portrayed the severity of peasant life in the Taurus highland of Anatolia during the 1930s. It tells the story of Memed, who in his youth rebel against the cruelty of the village chief and saved his people from tyranny.

Indirectly, Yasar Kemal was actually telling the story of Turkey’s ordinary people living in over 40,000 villages who experienced the impact of reforms and economic and social development in rural areas. Using archetypal characters, Kemal created a story of epic reach with common human moral and symbolic imagery. For instance, the burning of the thistles ( a group of flowering plants) the choked the village land symbolizes Memed’s personal revenge and a quest for social justice.

Published in 2007, the novel “They Burn the Thistles” is a sequel to “Memed, My Hawk”. It has descriptive passages that clearly tell the story of the bitter war between the greedy and brutal property owner and poor Turkish peasants.

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The Reality of Kurdish and Turkish Peasants Life

In reality, Kurdish and Turkish peasants living in Anatolian villages in the early 1900s were suffering from the powerful Aghas. For instance, since they need to return three kilos for a very kilo of seed they borrowed from an Agha, they were always impoverished and in debt to that particular Agha. Those who cannot pay were intimidated, harmed, and sometimes sent to jail. Moreover, since many Kurdish Aghas maintained a good relationship with the central government, agricultural policies continue to favour commercial classes and landowners in Anatolian region. For instance, the rise in cultivation and land prices often benefit landowners and family-owned business alone.

The “Agha System”, which is mostly in the East and Southeast region, is actually a “Master and Servant” relation. For instance, according to the book The Literary Garland, the peasants were observed to be graceful and dignified when paying their taxes, procure seeds, and even give presents to their landlord and village chief.

The harshness of peasants’ life and the need for land reform and better treatment made #Ya?arKemal the greatest writer in Turkey. His novels created “Slim Memed”, a fictitious character like a Turkish Robin Hood who fights against the Aghas who exploit the peasants.

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