The Sick Man of Turkey: Rıfat Ilgaz and Humor in Hard Times

 

RifIlg

They came for Rıfat Ilgaz again when he was sixty-nine years old. Six years earlier, he had returned to his Black Sea hometown of Cide and settled into a slowed-down version of his professional life: he still wrote columns for the local paper and he still published a range of books, but now he could rely on his social security checks month-to-month and devote time to organizing youth theater groups and literary events.

 

On the night of May 28, 1981 army commandos surrounded his house. They entered, ransacked his papers, and took him off blindfolded for further questioning. They wanted to know why a journalist like him—an urban intellectual, a leftist—would come to such a small town. After a fruitless interrogation, he was sent on to the provincial center of Kastamonu and placed in a slaughterhouse belonging to the local Meat and Fish Council that had been converted by the military into a temporary detention center. Such was Turkey following the September 12, 1980 coup.

 

Within a day his health—always poor—had deteriorated and he was moved to Ballıdağ Sanatorium, where he remained until his June 29 release. Several of his children had come to pick him up and return him to Cide, but on arrival there it became clear he could no longer access his social security payments. For the moment, he returned to Istanbul and resumed writing at his usual rapid clip. In addition to several new books in the following years, Can Publishing began releasing new editions of his classic story collections like Hababam Sınıfı [Hababam Class] and Radarın Anahtarı [Radar’s Key]. When he finally released an account of his ordeal in 1986, it was entitled Kırk Yıl Önce Kırk Yıl Sonra [Forty Years Ago, Forty Years Later]—a name indicating both how far back his career stretched and also how familiar he was with the more repressive side of the Turkish state.[1]

 

CONTENTS

I. Early Years

II. The Young Radical

III. The 1950s and Success

IV. Fame, Fortune, and Misfortune

Short Story: “I am Living Sick”

Poem: Sanatorium

I. Early Years
Mehmet Rıfat was born in Cide around 1911. His parents were from the nearby province of Bartin. His mother came from a family with deep connections in the region. His father came from a family of Black Sea fishermen and had leveraged a few years of middle school education into a job as a clerk and, ultimately, a minor official in the regional Debt Office. Rıfat was the last of eight children—one brother had died in WWI, fighting on the Mesopotamian front.[2]

 

Rıfat excelled in school. His family encouraged his literary abilities: at home, he would read out the paper in the evenings; outside the house, his father helped him publish poetry in local papers run by acquaintances. When his father passed away in 1928, Rıfat suddenly found his future options more constrained. At seventeen, he entered the local teacher training college despite warnings from his own teachers that it would be a dead-end, leaving him unqualified for teaching above an elementary school level. He felt, however, that a teaching job would give him time to pursue his poetry-writing career. It was during his two years of training that he first read 835 Verses by the modernist poet Nazim Hikmet, a work that led him to see the potential of poetry to change society.[3]

 

Upon graduating, he was assigned to teach in the province of Bolu. As it was closer to Istanbul than his hometown, he was able to travel to the big city for the first time while making his way to the provincial capitol to receive his placement. He was assigned to National Pact Elementary School in Gerede starting in August 1930.[4] In 1932 he married Nuriye, a fellow teacher at his school who promptly gave birth to a daughter. The following year he was assigned to Akçakoca and began his mandatory military service.[5] While visiting Ankara to participate in a military parade honoring the visiting Shah of Iran in 1934, Rıfat also met the up-and-coming writer Sabahattin Ali. Though the two did little more than exchange small talk while drinking in the park, it was the sort of connection Rıfat would need to cultivate if he wanted to become known as an author himself.

 

It was also in 1934 that he took the surname “Ilgaz.” The name referred to a mountain near his hometown. Although it was not added to any formal documents before 1936, he was required to decide on one immediately if he wanted to draw his government salary.[6] Around this time he also divorced Nuriye.

 

In Akçakoca he was active with the local People’s House cultural center, where he taught adult literacy courses and was president of the sports committee.[7] After being transferred to nearby Gümüşova in 1935, he seems to have wearied of teaching elementary school and decided to seek an advanced certification. From 1936-38 he studied at Gazi Education Institute and became engaged to a classmate named Rikkat.

 

At the end of his program, he was assigned to teach in Adapazarı. Yet, before he could begin his new job, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent for three months to a sanatorium. The diagnosis and the extended stay was to repeat itself frequently over the following several decades.[8] This first bout, however, was particularly bad: he recalls being placed in the room reserved for the worst cases and causing a commotion among the sanatorium patients and staff when he finally emerged alive.[9] He was discharged from the sanatorium in January 1939 and married Rikkat the following month. He finagled a middle school teaching job in Istanbul for the next school year—which was good since sanatoriums and dispensaries were concentrated in the city.[10] (On one trip to the sanatorium, he briefly encountered Nazim Hikmet. Unfortunately, the recently imprisoned poet’s guards did not let the two talk for long).

 

While his wife finished her schooling and did a stint in Eskişehir, he rented a room near Istanbul University and hung around cafes, making connections.[11] Among his favorite haunts in these years were the Marmara and Küllük [ashtray] cafes.[12]

Shortly after his job started in the fall, Rikkat gave birth to a son. For the next two years, however, she remained in Eskişehir teaching. He, meanwhile, entered the Department of Philosophy at Istanbul University as a graduate student. There his circle of acquaintances grew rapidly; he was now publishing his poems in a number of magazines. Soon he was editing his own.
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II. The Young Radical

Yuruyus Covers

Issues of Yürüyüş. Top Left: An issue from October 15, 1941, before Rıfat and his friends took it over. Top Right: their first issue from September 9, 1942. Bottom Left: A typical cover from the March 25, 1943 issue. Bottom Right: The final issue from June-July 1943

 

During the early 1940s, with the country mobilized for possible war and the government exercising tight control over media, starting a new magazine was no easy matter—typically it was simpler to buy an existing publication and reshape it as needed. With this aim in mind, Rifat secured the rights to Yürüyüş in mid-1942.

 

Originally conceived as a magazine of the arts and sciences, Yürüyüş [Onward March] had run for six issues over the course of 1941, featuring translations of John Stuart Mill, essays on “the military novel,” and other somewhat pallid fare. Under Rıfat’s stewardship, the change was dramatic: the black and white cover photos of some featured poet were gone, replaced now with increasingly dramatic sketches; featured writing included not only Rıfat and his literary circle, but also famous authors like Sait Faik. Within a few months, Yürüyüş was smuggling work by Nazim Hikmet and Raşit Kemal out of prison and publishing it under pseudonyms (in Nazim’s case, “İbrahim Sabri”; in Raşit’s case, “Orhan Kemal,” the name which he would continue to use throughout his career).

 

Even from the first issue, there was a leftist emphasis (profiles of Maxim Gorki and manifesto’s calling for “realism” in Turkish literature), but this tendency grew more marked with subsequent issues that spoke of “scientific morality,” “Turkey and the French Revolution,” and even included Rıfat’s allegorical poem “Class.” By mid-1943, government censors had had their fill of such material. The magazine was canceled.

 

Other aspects of Rıfat’s life were going wrong at the same moment. In October, at the beginning of the 1943 school year he got in a fistfight with a fellow teacher over grading decisions and was transferred to Nişantaşı Middle School.[13] In December he caught a lung infection while visiting his mother. Even his burgeoning poetry career was running into difficulties: in early 1943 he had published Yarenlik [Chit-Chat], a collection of poems emphasizing the daily struggles of people facing wartime mobilization. It had received positive write-ups from the Istanbul smart-set.[14] A similarly flattering reception met his second collection Sınıfı [Class]—but not from the government. Police seized copies of the book in February 1944.

 

Returning home on March 9, Rıfat saw his landlord’s daughter waving to him from an upper window, warning him that policemen were waiting at his door. He ran. Later he would explain his decision in terms of his health: just a week earlier, doctors had diagnosed his infection to be continuing; under the circumstances, he did not want to worsen his condition in a jail cell. But another concern may also have been on his mind: what fate was awaiting him in prison. During the early 1940s, the Turkish government was under pressure from both pro-Soviet and pro-German forces—and which it would side with remained unclear. Whereas communist intellectuals like Nazim Hikmet had been jailed and leftist publications like Rıfat’s closed, representatives of the far-right like Nihal Atsız were still allowed to publish their journals and demand that the government remove “known communist” teachers like Sabahattin Ali.[15]

 

Rıfat spent the night sleeping in the park and then made his way to the home of a friend. He stayed there for most of the next two months. Although Rikkat was able to pick up his next paycheck, there were to be no further ones: his school treated his absence as a resignation. On May 3, the far-right held a massive rally in Istanbul that finally provoked the government to action: on May 9 leading far-right journalists and military officers were arrested.[16] Confident that government policy was moving in his favor, Rıfat turned himself in on May 24.

 

He was promptly put in a holding cell with recently arrested figures from the far-right. Rıfat recalled the contrast between their treatment and his: while he was kept in restraints, they were free to wander about. Not that the conditions were ideal for anyone: one night alarm bells rang; all the prisoners were rushed out to the yard at bayonet point and commanded to put on shackles.[17]

 

In August he was convicted for publishing communist propaganda and sentenced to six months in prison. The three months he had already spent in confinement were counted as time-served and he was released in November, broke and in poor health. Using some money lent by the writer Sait Faik, Rıfat was able to check into the sanatorium on Heybeliada in December 1944. A relapse in September 1945 had him back again for three months. Running short on cash by December and still sick, he re-applied for work as a teacher and was promised a job starting in the fall of 1946 (albeit in the distant province of Yozgat). In February 1946, Rikkat gave birth to a second child—his third.

 

During the two and a half years without steady work, he continued to write for and edit various publications. These included Aziz Nesin’s Cumhuriyet [Republic] and Sabahattin Ali’s Gün [Day].[18] He also re-published his first poetry collection, Yarenlik. He was back at the sanatorium in May 1946 when the Turkish Socialist Party (TSP) was founded but was signed up upon discharge by a friend in the leadership. Together with Nesin and Ali, he began discussing a new publication that might serve as a platform for the party.

Nesin Ali

Aziz Nesin (left) and Sabahattin Ali (right)

 

Though Rıfat had to withdraw from the party in September 1946 on account of his imminent teaching job, the goal of starting a paper continued—in fact it grew more pressing after the TSP was closed that same month.[19] By November 1946, Sabahattin Ali and Aziz Nesin released the first issue of Markopaşa, a satirical paper attacking the government and its apologists in the media and academia. The magazine was tremendously popular; the initial print-run of 6,000 grew to 30,000 by the eighth issue.[20]

 

In May 1947 the government closed the paper, but it was quickly brought back under the name Merhumpaşa, often with the subtitle “published on those occasions when our reporters are not under surveillance or in jail.”[21] Perhaps getting inspiration from this phrase, the government tried a new tack: jailing Sabahattin Ali. After his release, he continued publishing until, fearing he was about to be arrested again, he made a run for the Bulgarian border and disappeared from Istanbul in March 1948. Thereafter Aziz Nesin published under titles including Merhumpaşa, Yedi Sezkiz Paşa, Bizim Pasa.[22] Sabahattin Ali’s body was found months later. The man who had promised to help him across the border had murdered him.

 

During much of this period, Rıfat was in and out of sanatoriums. Soon after starting his new teaching job in October 1946 and publishing Yaşadıkça [Through Living], a new book of poetry, he relapsed and from January to June 1947 was back in treatment. Beyond the sanatorium walls during these months, the political climate was again growing oppressive for leftists. As in 1944, right-wing activists were claiming that the state was shielding communist teachers.[23] The former Education Minister (and target of these accusations) launched a libel suit against one accuser and in the ensuing court battle, Rıfat was asked to give a written deposition in defense of the former minister. When the current (and more conservative) Education Minister learned of this testimony in June, he had Rıfat fired.[24] The immediate effect was that Rıfat was kicked out of the sanatorium and again responsible for his own bills.

 

In late 1947 Rıfat picked up a job as editor-in-chief of Alibaba, another Sabahattin Ali venture. He also began working for Merhumpaşa and even became editor alongside Aziz Nesin in late 1948. Although the government had eased up its pressure on major opposition parties, this light touch did not extend to left-wing parties or their partisans.[25] In September, the government censors decided his recent poetry book Yaşadıkça was subversive and seized copies. In recalling the experience, Rıfat opines:

 

A poet will naturally take himself as a subject. My tuberculosis, my hospitalizations—mentioning these things is a crime. Mentioning my teachers and my students becomes a crime—they arrest you and throw you in jail. Mentioning my stints in jail—a crime! Let us live easy and we’ll mention that! Though they don’t speak of the homeland and the nation as warmly as us, in their language we are the subversives and traitors.[26]

 

Such accusations continued to come in late 1948. An article entitled “Kings” drew particular ire from the Iranian, Egyptian, and British ambassadors who demanded the Merhumpaşa writers be prosecuted.[27] The Turkish government complied: when the investigation started in December, Rıfat was forced to leave the state-run hospital he had been staying at since September and transfer to the private sanatorium on Heybeliada. With the “Kings” trial starting in January, he arranged with Sultanahmet Prison to let him stay in the hospital ward, but there his condition worsened again and he was transferred to a private hospital once more. Prison and hospital stays did not stop his editing work: in May he became editor-in-chief of Hür Paşa, the latest iteration.

marko

The first issue of Markopaşa (November 25, 1946)

 

Given a furlough in July while the trail dragged on, Rıfat divorced his wife and moved into an apartment with co-workers from Merhumpaşa before moving to Izmir for the winter in search of a better climate.[28] Settling back into the Heybeliada sanatorium upon returning to Istanbul in 1950, he awaited his sentence—which, when it finally came down, was for five and a half years.[29] He never had to serve time in prison, however, since he was still at the sanatorium in June when the newly elected Democrat Party government passed an amnesty bill including left-wing activists such as Rıfat and Nazim Hikmet. In the days following the election, Rıfat was approached by a friend hoping to buy the rights to Markopaşa. Rıfat agreed to help him but felt continuing the publication would be pointless: it had been “the first real example of opposition” to the single party regime, but its “age was finished . . .our people’s hope was now tied to the Democrat Party.”[30]
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III. The 1950s and Success

For many journalists—especially those on the left—the early 1950s presented a challenge. Domestically, the aim of ending one-party rule had been achieved; lacking that rallying cry, it was difficult to organize a coherent opposition. Journalists loyal to the former ruling party were quick to criticize the Democrat Party government, but their preferred alternatives were political leaders whom a writer like Rıfat found equally distasteful. Likewise, both the government and its main opposition vehemently opposed leftists like Rıfat—and Turkey’s involvement in the Korean War soon after the 1950 election only served to increase intolerance of communism and its apologists.

 

Out of the sanatorium in 1951, he began planning new literary magazines with his old Yürüyüş collaborators like Orhan Kemal. These talks led to a magazine called Yeryüzü, which ran from September until March 1952. He also published work in journals like Kaynak, Beraber, Tan, and Adembaba. Stories for the latter magazine drew the attention of the Democrat Party government, which had little patience for criticism or the sort of “social realism” that writers like Rıfat sought to convey. His new book of poetry, Devam [Continue], was seized by the police and seven cases were opened against him. Though nothing came of these prosecutions, he recalled—perhaps with some exaggeration—that one judge asked him why he could not write about Turkey’s “beautiful side.” Replying that he was a “realist” writer, he was encouraged by the judge to be more of a “naturalist” one.[31]

 

In better health over the course of 1954, he maintained his routines: he published a new book of poetry (Üsküdar Sabah Oldu, the first not to be seized by police); he found work as an editor at the magazine Tan; and he got married a third time (this lasting only two weeks).[32] Yet at the age of forty-three, Rıfat was far from being a “success.” His poetry books (still funded out of pocket) had gained him some notoriety and his involvement with Yürüyüş and Markopaşa had helped him form connections with some of Turkey’s leading writers . . .but when one considers that, in 1955, the writer Yaşar Kemal (who had published his work in one of Rifat’s magazines and was twelve years his junior) released his masterpiece Mehmed, My Hawk, Rıfat’s achievements appear rather meager.

 

*

Dolmus Covers

Dolmuş Covers. Top Left: the first issue from January 5, 1956. Top Right: a typical cover mocking Prime Minister Menderes from March 15, 1956. Bottom Left: the April 19, 1956 issue that was seized by censors for “obscenity” because it associated politicians and their infrastructure projects with alcohol. Bottom Right: an April 23, 1958 cover the censors did not deem “obscene”–the caption of women waiting in a ration line reads “Sugar Line.”

 

The second half of the 1950s fundamentally changed Rıfat’s career. In 1956 he was invited to join the staff of Dolmuş, a new satirical magazine run by İlhan and Turhan Selçuk.[33] The brothers had been involved with a series of similar magazines during the 1950s and Dolmuş followed the typical pattern: anti-government political commentary on the cover, risqué cartoon on the back, and various short stories sandwiched in-between. Under the pseudonym “Stepne,” Rıfat began writing stories in the February issue. Starting in July he began a series of stories titled “Hababam Class,” which focused on high jinks among boarding school kids. The series was a hit for the magazine and became a regular feature. By the following May, he had produced enough stories to collect them in a small book. At this point, however, he continued to use his pseudonym: he still wanted “Rıfat Ilgaz” to be known as a serious poet.[34]

 

At a price of 2TL, the first edition of Hababam Sınıfı sold 5,000 copies and netted Rıfat 250TL for merely recycling his work.[35] Perhaps warming to the idea of non-poetic fame, he put his own name on the second edition published in June. Two collections of his other Dolmuş stories were published in late 1957 under the titles Radar’s Key and Don Quixote in Istanbul.[36] In August he also began a new series of satirical stories focused on his own experiences with state-run medical institutions and, in a case of life imitating art, became ill again.[37]

 

Illness did not slow his prolific writing and editing—nor does it ever seem to have done so. He continued publishing short stories in Dolmuş and began publishing them in another satirical magazine, Taş [Rock], as well. Diversifying was a smart decision since Dolmuş folded in July 1958. Although it sold well, it had run afoul of the government. After initially seizing issues, which led to defeats in court, the government found it easier to simply ignore the magazine’s requests for paper allocations.

 

Reduced to black-and-white, coverless editions, the Selçuk brothers ended their publication. Before moving on to other comedic work, they tried their luck at a sports gazette. They hired Rıfat and he used his pull to have his friend Orhan Kemal hired too.[38] On top of all this activity, he started a publishing house. The first book, Bizim Koğuş [Our Ward], was a collection of his recent comedic stories about his hospital stays.

 

His efforts in these years once again placed him on the wrong side of the government, which had grown more aggressive in its response to criticism following electoral set-backs in 1957. By 1960, it had launched an investigation into the main opposition party with the possibility of closing it. Rıfat was not exempted from this tightening of the screws: on May 20, he was called to police headquarters and informed that he was about to be exiled from Istanbul. Politely offered a choice of locations, he chose nearby Adapazarı. Over the next week he made preparations for moving, only to wake on the morning of May 27 to discover that the military had launched a coup and successfully removed the Democrat Party government from power. He was—at least for a moment—no longer seen as a threat to the state.
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IV. Fame, Fortune, and Misfortune

Hababam Sınıfı (1975)

The following two decades were among his most productive. He published short stories, novels, plays, and children’s books, sold the film rights to Hababam Sınıfı, founded publishing houses, and was married two more times—the first in 1965, to a doctor (they divorced in 1969); the second to a fellow novelist, Afet Muhteremoğlu.[39] They married in 1970, had a daughter the following year and were separated by 1974. These years were also his least overtly political. In 1965, he turned down an offer to run as a senate candidate for the Workers’ Party of Turkey and though he began working for the magazine Türk Solu [Turkish Left] in 1968, he did so as its literary editor. In this spirit, a trip to the Soviet Union the same year was merely to attend a meeting of the Afro-Asian Writers Union.[40] Even his fictionalized account of his time on the lamb in 1944, Karartma Gecesi [Darkening Night, published in 1974), focused on the emotions surrounding his experience rather than any political stand that had led to it.

 

In 1974 he formally retired in order to start collecting social security and in September 1975 left Istanbul for Cide. There, he continued writing for local papers and publishing his own books. He also worked to develop local “cultural” opportunities, volunteering with children’s theatre groups and donating money to establish a library. His political activity was likewise limited to regional affairs including assisting the local fishermen’s and truck drivers’ cooperatives.[41] The fact that the military saw fit to arrest him in 1981 speaks more to the intensity and range of its repression than it does to his own culpability.[42]

 

Rıfat lived twelve more years following his 1981 detention. He continued to write during these years and was the frequently the recipient of awards and other honors. To a large extent, his reputation has become associated with his light-hearted satirical works far more than his more tendentious, socialist ones.[43]

 

Still, his last years were far from a happy ending or victory lap: during a book tour in North Cyprus, a car accident left him with a broken hip and unable to walk on his right leg. In September 1992, the Istanbul municipality of Bakırköy named its cultural center after him—only to have it renamed five months later by the newly-elected right-wing mayor. It was now called the “Necip Fazıl Kısakürek Cultural Center” in honor of an Islamist-nationalist journalist whose publications had criticized the one-party regime at the same time as Markopaşa.[44] Worse still, on July 2, 1993 he learned that his friend Aziz Nesin had narrowly escaped death in the city of Sivas when a crowd of Islamist activists had gathered to protest him and other writers from Turkey’s Alevi religious minority.[45] The mob had set fire to the hotel where Nesin and others were staying. Nesin had escaped. Thirty-five others had not. One day later, Rıfat learned that another close friend—the writer Asım Bezirci had died. Rıfat himself passed away on July 7 of lung failure.

 

Grim, yes, and therein lies the gripping element of his work—especially his satirical writing: the ability to wring laughs from the petty indignities and less pleasant realities of life. Nowhere is this contrast more clear than in his stories of hospital life. To give some sense of his writing, I have included below a translation of his first sanatorium story as well as a poem he wrote on the same topic [46]:
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I am Living Sick

Dolmus Cover 3 29 56

After how many years of hearing the ruling party wish me good health by shouting, “Enough! Enough! Enough!” did this sickness of mine start?[47] When told that high prices were gone, for example, I now jump in and say “They’re over there!” like some stubborn political opponent.

As soon as a doctor—an apolitical guy whose name can be left out—told me, I knew it was true. Though I believe in all sorts of ailments. This one had never entered my mind!

“Fine doctor,” I said, “But the cause?”

“The cause is simple! . . .Environmental sickness . . .Going around this country since 1950 . . .First it begins in your nervous system, then it reaches your heart and settles in . . .an anger . . .a—”

“No doctor!” I said, “That’s wrong! Nothing angers me. When the government assures people worried about Elmalı Dam’s high water level that ‘Your own standard of living is high too,’ I laugh and let it slide. When we’re forced to eat 2TL spinach and they talk of cheapness, I still don’t get angry.”[48]

The doctor took a mallet in his hand and started tapping away at my most ticklish areas. I gave no reaction. In order to make me angry, he began to parrot political speeches, “We’ve made 10 billion lira in investments, we’ll make 20 billion more,’ ‘We’ll turn that cigarette in your hand into five kuruş,’ ‘In one hand will be oil; in the other, honey.’”

He said, “Olive oil,” and I didn’t care. He said, “Meat!” and I didn’t make a sound. He said, “Rubber!” he said, “[Minister of State] Zorlu!” he said, “[Minister of State] Sarol!”[49] I didn’t even twitch. Again, he picked up the mallet . . .

Hitting me in the center of the forehead he cried, “[Prime Minister] Menderes, one . . .!” It smarted a bit, but I didn’t react. Faster now: “Menderes, two!!” I didn’t make a peep. “Menderes, three!!!” Nothing. “Menderes, four!!!!” The hammer came down with full force and I didn’t budge one bit.

“You’re a tough one! I haven’t heard of one who can take such a beating!” he said, tossing the mallet away and himself onto the couch.

“Don’t get angry doctor,” I said, “What’s to be done? Just grin and bear it until the 1961 election.”

I brought a glass of water and soothed the poor guy. Regaining his composure, he said, “Your ailment doesn’t come from nerves.”

“Then where does it come from?”

“Strip!” he replied.

I stripped as far as I could strip. He stuck his ear to my back, “Take a breath!” he said.

I forced myself, but nothing came of it.

“Come now, take a breath!”

“I can’t!”

“Why not, huh?”

“The stuffiness!”

The doctor was growing angry again, “Come on, enough with the politics! Breath!”

“I can’t, okay! It’s not up to me!”

“Fine,” he said, “I’ll find the true cause of your ailment!” Again he put his ear to me. “Cough!” he said. “Come on—cough!”

I tried to make myself, but I wasn’t in coughing condition. The doctor looked at my face pityingly, “My dear friend,” he said, “Your lungs are worn out!”

“Well, what can come of worrying about it . . .?

“Yes, but the ailment is working away at your heart.”

“Let it!” I said, “I can take whatever comes for the two years until the election!”

“Drop the politics!” he repeated. “What you need is to be in bed.”

“Alone?”

“What you need is to check in for awhile . . .at a sanatorium, for example . . .If not that, a hospital . . .”

“I can’t!”

“Do as I say!” he said, cutting me off.

The doctor wasn’t wrong. These past days, I’d been exhausted. For me, the worst of the ailments I had were the financial sort. The café-owner, the restaurateur, the grocer, the butcher—I was bearing the brunt of all their price hikes. The owner of the paper I worked for printed columns upon columns about these but wouldn’t think to add a kuruş to our salaries. One day, coming from the stairs short of breath, I approached him and said, “What ever you can do—“

“No raise!” he shot back.

“I don’t want a raise. I’m sick,” I said. He was pleased. “I need to be admitted to a hospital.”

He thought. He dialed the phone. “Nail Bey, is that you,” he said, beginning a conversation.[50] He was calling the deputy mayor, Nail Bey. Ohh, I thought, We’re going to be admitted to Cerrahpaşa! Finishing the talk, he said, “Okay, it’s done. Go tomorrow, check yourself in!”

Now both my sickness and hospital admittance had been approved. I passed that night with heart palpitations and shallow breath. The following day I popped into Nail Bey’s office right at 9:00am. The doorman stopped me on the stairs. “You can’t go in,” he said, standing in front of me.

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t”

“Now come on: Nail Bey is in there, right?”

“Yes, inside . . .”

“And who’s with him?”

“The Director of the Hospital for the Indigent . . .”

“Perfect! I’ll be an honored guest.”

I wanted to enter, but he pressed his chest against me, “Now wait a minute!”

Hopeless, I began to wait. Half an hour, an hour, two hours. The crowd in front of the door began to grow. The line of people waiting spilled down the stairs. I’d come to my wits’ end. When the coffee guy entered, I trailed after him. They were sitting across from each other chatting. Seeing me, the minister scowled and said, “What do you want?”

“My boss sent me sir,” I said, “He said to you on the phone—”

“Said what?”

“That I was sick . . .that you’d have me admitted . . .”

“I don’t’ remember anything about that . . .well, if you have an application. . .”

I didn’t even listen to the rest. I detested these applications as much as I detested anything. If you had business, let’s say, and you didn’t need it settled, go write an application and give it time. The application would become a petition and the petition would turn back into an application—and still I’d be left fuming. Fortunately, we didn’t grow up in the time where one petitioned the sultan! Pity on those who did! Had the doctor who inspected me with the mallet while saying, “Menderes, four” added “Application,” it would have been enough to make me go crazy.

In order to avoid this application process, I tried a new tactic, “Sir,” I said, “For me or a newspaper owner—”

“I know, I know,” he interrupted, “Get an application.”

I snarled to myself, Nothing will come of this. I went out, saying to myself that I would write that application by the afternoon and stick it up his nose . . .

When I presented it, he read it with a glance. It was only three words. In large letters I had written, “I am sick!”

“That’s it?” he said.

“I could add a few other choice words, but I didn’t think it necessary,” I said.

“Well, say them!”

“How about: ‘and I’m living’!?”

“No argument there . . .But you say you are sick, and you also say you are living. Maybe you’re confused . . .you should see a doctor . . .”

“No need. My sickness is doing just fine!”

“You need a report!” Okay! Now there was a second word capable of getting on my nerves: “Report”! It drove me nuts that everything needed approval—even a movie ticket. On the back of my application he scrawled some hieroglyphs and signed it like a doctor would a prescription.

“Take this,” he said, “And go straight to the Directorate of Health . . .”

 

Dolmus Cover 4 5 56

Neither dolmuşes [collective taxis] nor tramways went to the Directorate of Health. It was the sort of road people traveled bare-foot . . .As I went along, breathing heavy and sweating feverishly, some wise-guy behind me teased, “Are you sick, buddy?”

“Yeah, I’m sick. What of it?”

“Come, I’ll take you to a swell doctor. You got money?”

“Mind your business,” I said, “If I had money, would I be sick?”

“There’s a specialist there. Fresh from America! I can get you there in a jiffy.”

“What specialty is that?”

Perhaps I looked a bit youthful to him. “The clap,” he said.

“Pervert!”

Seeing me angry, he changed his tune: “Well now, they also understand about nervous conditions!”

“Well, I can’t understand! I need a specialist in chest ailments—so scram!”

“Chest, schm-est. It’s gone beyond that now—it’s deeper in you!”

I got to the Health Directorate, panting as I climbed the stairs. The director’s office was closed shut . . .The assistant’s door was cracked open, but there was no one inside. An office boy took the paper in my hand and asked, “What’s this?”

“Like the signature on it says: it’s an application!” I replied.

“What do you want, a handout or something?”

“A handout? Financial problems aren’t the issue! I have heart and lung problems! I want a referral!”

A veteran director threw the application in my face with indifference. “Come tomorrow!” he said and gestured at the stairs.

The following day I went in pursuit of the assistant, “It’s been sent from the mayor’s office, I want the referral!”

He turned my three-word application over and over. He read it, and read it once more. “This isn’t an application, it’s an ‘express telegram’!”

To speed up this whole I process, I said, “Okay, sure whatever. I’m in a hurry . . .”

He looked at me pityingly, “Shame about the signature.”

“Why is it a shame . . .? Can there be a signature-less application?”

“Not just the signature, there’s no need for the application. We can admit you without even the application.”

Out of joy I said, “Fine, in that case can I just rip this up?”

“Have them fill out a form below, bring it to me . . .Go down the stairs to the left . . .”

In my ecstasies, I had forgotten even to say thanks. But how could I not be rejoicing? If I wasn’t such a mess, I’d never have been sent onwards. I was barely able to take the stairs.

Like petitions, like reports, “stairs” were another thing that infuriated me. Since this ailment—this heart ailment—had started, all stairs and all steps had become my nemesis. Not that I’d liked going up in the first place . . .

I went downstairs calmly. I entered the room on the left. A few ladies were gathered around their notebooks, furiously discussing fashion. I read out my application to the prettiest one. With the politeness of a concierge she said, “Shall we check you in at once?”

“At once!” I said.

She took out a form, wrote my name and so forth. “Have the assistant director sign this, okay?” she said, handing it to me.

The sudden speed of the process was giving me whiplash. Thank God for this Democrat Party, I said to myself. Real practical guys. They’ve gotten rid of applications and all that. Taking the stairs required great effort, but I made it. It was as if my knees had been refreshed.

Signing my form, the assistant said, “See, no need for application, right?”

“All thanks to you sir,” I said giving a grin tailor-made for the occasion.

He also smiled, “Now take this form straight to the clinic in Fatih.”

“Whaaaat?”

“If you’re truly sick . . .” (I was about to say, “Would I tell a lie,” but he continued) “then we’ll admit you . . .if not—”

I didn’t listen to the rest. Grasping the form in my hand, I took to the streets. I thought about going to the newspaper and pouring out my troubles to my boss. But no, I thought, Consider the cost of angering him: an editorial might ruin everything. Things going smoothly as they are, I shouldn’t mess it up now.

I jumped on a bus, Fatih passed by us. Well, the guy took me as far as the Beykoz clinic. Nothing to be angry about there . . .

The clinic was full to bursting. Coughers and sneezers were waiting in line to get in. From exhaustion and weakness, my condition took a turn for the worse. Seeing me, they said, “Go in!”

The doctor at the register said, “Give your form.” I handed it over. After giving it a once-over he said, “That’s not it!”

“There’s no other . . .” I said, “Is it a petition you want?”

“What ‘petition,’ huh? What do you think this is? A courtroom? Give me your form.”

“I guess I don’t have one.”

“What you mean ‘I don’t have one’?”

I realized I’d been fooling my friend when saying nothing got on my nerves—because I was starting to blow my top. Staring at me, the doctor said, “Fine, give your ‘form.’ We’re not the ones who’ll have to deal with you.”

“What form, huh?” I said bristling.

“The clinic card.”

“I don’t have one!”

“Are you saying that you’ve never come here before?”

“I came once, a patient brought me here . . .a beautiful girl.”

“Don’t tell lies! You came and were examined, we gave you a receipt, we opened a file.”

“I don’t remember!”

“Well, think carefully. Are you always like this? Do you always tell lies? If not, give your number.”

That’s it! What was next: “Are you shot?” “Are you killed?” Oh boy, oh boy. I said to myself. Be calm, don’t fly off the handle. Trying to collect myself, I coolly said, “Sir, you remember me coming here as a patient. Thank god for your memory! Now try to think—do you remember my receipt number?”

How would you respond if you were a poor guy suffering such an “insult” at work? Well, he opened his mouth and spoke with a tone fit for the Minister of Health: “You, sir, are a professional patient! You’re always like this: wandering from hospital to hospital, eating, drinking, checking in wherever Why can’t you stop doing stuff like this to doctors? Why must we suffer people like you? Get out!”

“It’s easy, sir. Just pour gas over our heads and . . .”

“Enough! Out!”

“ . . .Whatever’s most efficient . . .”

“Enough!”

“ . . .Just a match . . .”

“Out!”

This time, with a softer tone, I started to say, “Sir. You doctors, against us journalists . . .” Amazing! The white-jacketed guy before me suddenly became as meek as a lamb. You’d think the bully a second ago hadn’t been him at all. I repeated “Journalists like us.” I’d found the magic words. “Why you’re acting so harsh, I can’t understand . . .I wasn’t about to take a photograph of you or anything.”

“You’re right,” he said, “Here, come!”

Within five minutes all the Health Directorate forms necessary for admitting me to the right hospital for my sickness had been filled out. With the petition in my pocket and the troublesome form in my hand, I set out again towards the Health Directorate.

Dolmus Cover 5 12 56

After glancing at the clinic’s note, the lady at the Health Directorate said, “Okay!” She said that but, by now, I wasn’t paying much attention to “okays.”

“We’re going, right?” I tried to clarify.

“Right away, to Nümune Hospital in Haydarpaşa in fact!” She printed a paper from the machine.

“Lady!” I said, “The things you’re writing, marking, signing—I don’t trust any of them anymore! I mean, am I going to check in now?”

“Of course, of course, you’re going to check in but first you have to get in line.”

“In line? In line what’s going to happen?”

“They’re going to write your name . . .in a month, two months . . .three months . . .your turn will come.”

This time I pushed aside the “okay” and said, “That means that as soon as my turn comes, I’ll be admitted!”

“Right away!”

I pulled the application out of my pocket. “Lady,” I said, “I give up with this! Let’s put this old application into action again. Send me to the municipal hospital. Line, schm-ine—I’m sick of waiting!”

“That means you’re not going to wait?” Then after thinking of some new way to make this difficult for me, she said, “Well . . .where are you from sir?”

“I’m from Bartin, but my birthplace is—”

“So you’re not from Istanbul . . .?”

“Is that a condition: being from Istanbul?”

The lady, having found the right word to annoy me, said, “’Condition,’ what do you mean? A ‘condition’, yes . . .Of course a condition!”

“That means being an Istanbulite is a condition?”

“You can’t stay in the municipal hospital. Only Istanbulites can!”

“Ahhh!”

“That’s how it is!”

“At this point in my life I don’t have any desire to be an Istanbullite!” Still, there was the petition in my hand. I was going to fold it up and stick it in my pocket, but the woman grabbed my hand angrily—whom she was angry at I couldn’t imagine . . .

“What do I care?” she said, “Be wherever you want to be from! I can transfer the documents to the Municipal Health Department.”

She did as she said.

As they say, you can find the way to Baghdad if you ask enough people—and, by asking here and there, I found myself in front of a big building in Nuruosmaniye.

“Health Department?” I asked the doorman.

“Upstairs!” he said. I went up, now asking an assistant. “Upstairs!” he said. I went up. Again I asked. “Up!” I went up. Again. “Up!” I went up. “Up!” I took one more flight, but this time I collapsed at the top of the stairs. I should have told off this damned building and all that comes from its top floor—but where was the energy to do that?

They lay me out on a bench. One of the assistants said, “Why didn’t you take the elevator? You’re in no shape to be using the stairs!”

The guy was right. What was I doing at the Health Department anyway—well, whatever: I stuck out the petition in my hand at him, “I am sick!”

“I don’t need some piece of paper to tell me that,” he said after eye-balling me, “What else?”

“I want to be admitted!”

“Where are you from?”

This was getting complicated again. “Me?” I said, “I’m from Bartin, but I was born in Cide and I live in Istanbul!”

“Istanbul means . . .”

Really stressing the word, I repeated, “I-stanbul!”

He started investigating the petition: “Signed by the Head Assistant. . .Wonderful . . .But what’s the document number?” He looked all over the paper and stuck it in my face, “It’s missing! You haven’t had it recorded at the central building!”

“It’s there . . .You have to transfer the—”

Me?” he interrupted, “Are you telling me what to do? Do you know how long I’ve been working here!?”

I had not been defeated by stairs yet. Five floors, ten floors—who cares. Then the exit, then the elevator—who cares. Beyond that a hundred steps, a hundred back . . .a two hundred-step trip . . .

The official, seeing how tranquilly I took to the stairs, yelled after me, “We’re closing in a quarter hour. Hurry up!” I shot down the stairs like a bullet. The clerks were getting ready to put on their coats and leave. They numbered my petition and entered it in their registers. Gasping for breath, I returned to the Health Department. I felt my heartbeat racing—my chest was pounding. I tried to take my pulse, but it was impossible to count. My vision was getting dark, my head was spinning.

I was about to collapse in front of the elevator. “Up!” I told the operator, “To the Health Department!”

He wasn’t paying attention.

“Hurry!” I said. He didn’t budge.

“Friend!” I said, “My situation is urgent!”

“It’s forbidden!”

“What’s forbidden?”

“Can’t go up without four people.”

“Drop the joking, huh. Is this some sort of dolmuş?

“What joking? It sure wasn’t your dad who wrote this.” His finger rested on a piece of paper on the wall. The piece of paper had a signature and an official seal—a ten-clause elevator law resembling the International Declaration of Human Rights.

“Fine but the officials are about to leave. My petition . . .”

“Petitions, smeshm-itions: I don’t know about all that. Without four people I can’t go up!”

“Can’t go up, huh? We’ll see about that!” I stalked away from the door and started calling out to passersby, “Gooooooing up to the Health Department! One . . .two . . .Elevator-doooooolmuş! . . .Are there no good countrymen here! . . .Dolmuş to the Health Department!”

Passersby weren’t understanding a thing.

“Dolmuş . . .one. . .two! . . .Elevatoooor-doooooolmuş! . . . .Here we go! . . .”

I was waving around the petition in my hand, hoping to communicate my situation—it was useless. Realizing I should be able to find a poor guy and offer him a good price, I cried out, “Dolmuş for twenty-five kuruş! I’ll give you the money! . . .Elevator twenty-five kuruş! . . .Goooooing up . . .one . . .two! . . .”

A few hobos collected in front of the elevator. I picked three and stuck twenty-five kuruş in each one’s hands. “Get into the elevator!” I said. They got in. I turned to the elevator operator, “Got anything to say? Now up!”

He got in too. He closed the doors. “Up to the Health Department!”

From nerves and exhaustion, my pulse was rising. The stuffiness inside the elevator was making me black out. With a “Whoop!” I collapsed right there. I’d fainted—without even needing to transfer my request an ambulance took me to Cerrahpaşa. The doctor on duty gave me a perfunctory inspection at the door and said, “There’s no empty beds! Someone come get this guy! If we have to deal with every citizen who passes out, our job is going to be tough!”
[BACK TO CONTENTS]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yuruyus Cover 12:5:42

Sanatorium (1942)[51]

 

Not even five months have passed

Since first I applied

And now, here we enter Heybeliada!

That means that this year has revealed itself

Through falling leaves,

And beds prematurely emptied!

 

From where did this trouble seize us,

What illusion did I give myself

What sadness befell me . . .

Our cores are rotting, that’s agreed,

So far we’ve accepted this difficulty

With mobilization and bread it grew . . .

 

When it comes down to it,

How fast it was forgotten

Those days of running from clerk to clerk

And those doors whose lines we waited in . . .

Disturbed,

No coal, nor wood problems remain,

Nor thoughts of soup or grain . . .

Without even thinking of bad things

We cough and cough

And if we feel hunger,

We still wait for our evening meals.

And strong cough syrup,

Reminding us of old days

While we pull towards health!

 

We take refuge in a warm sweater, a snack,

Be patient my friends

Lying flat on our backs

We’ll live a bit longer

Living off the fat of the land!

[BACK TO CONTENTS]

 

 

 

*     *     *     *      *     *     *     *  *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *

 

[1] Sevengül Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” in Rıfat Ilgaz, ed. Sönmez, Sevengül (Ankara: T. C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2011), 66-69. He recounts the details of his interrogation and imprisonment in Rıfat Ilgaz, Kırk Yıl Önce, Kırk Yıl Sonra (Istanbul, Çınar Yayınları, 1986).

[2] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 13-16. Though Sönmez’s chapter provides much of the basis for this essay, its content is largely the same—often verbatim—as can be found in Mehmet Saydur, Biz de Yaşadık: Dünden Bugüne Rıfat Ilgaz (Istanbul: Çınar Yayınları, 1998) and Asım Bezirici, Rıfat Ilgaz (Istanbul: Evrensel Basım Yayın, 2013). All these books draw on the same quotes and it is simply because I happened to read the Sönmez piece first that I am mentioning it more—save for the rare cases where the details differ.

[3] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 23-24.

[4] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 25. His starting salary as an elementary school teacher was 52TL a month. According to The Economist (June 6, 1930), 1TL was equal to around $4 [given that £ 1 equaled both 110 piastres (kuruş) and $4.86]. Thus, Rıfat’s 1930 salary would have been $208—which, according to US Inflation Calculator, would have been around $3000 in 2017—which seems a bit too high to be accurate.

[5] For his military service, Rıfat was sent to a regiment in Adapazarı. While training, he met Kemal Tahir, a young leftist and aspiring writer. Five years later, in 1938, Tahir would be prosecuted alongside Nazim Hikmet for spreading communist propaganda among soldiers (Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 25-6).

[6] For a discussion of the 1934 surname law see Meltem Türköz, “The Social Life of the State’s Fantasy-Memories and Documents on Turkey’s 1934 Surname Law,” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2004) and Meltem Türköz, “Surname narratives and the state–society boundary: Memories of Turkey’s family name law of 1934,” Middle Eastern Studies 43, no. 6 (2007): 893-908. For an interesting discussion of male naming patterns, see Doğan Gürpınar, “What is in a Name? The Rise of Turkic Personal Male Names in Turkey (1908–38),” Middle Eastern Studies 48, no. 5 (2012): 689-706.

[7] Saydur 32-3. For more on People’s Houses, see Kemal Karpat, “The People’s Houses in Turkey: Establishment and Growth,” Middle East Journal 17, no.1/2 (Winter-Spring 1963): 55-67; Asım Karaömerlioğlu, “The People’s Houses and the Cult of the Peasant,” Middle Eastern Studies 34, no. 4 (October, 1998): 67-91.

[8] As Ceren Gülser İlikan explains, in the early years of the Republic of Turkey, tuberculosis remained one of the leading causes of death, causing perhaps 15.8% of all deaths in Istanbul and Izmir circa the First World War (58)—and this was actually low compared to a city like Paris where (as David Barnes suggests) tuberculosis may have caused 20-25% of all deaths in the last nineteenth century. While Abdulhamid II had pressed the medical community to develop its techniques in combating the disease (in part, perhaps, because his predecessors had died from it), it was not until after WWI that the medical community pressed ahead with a campaign of screenings, injections, medicine distribution, and sanatorium building. Moreover, as İlikan describes, it was only after WWII that the state assumed responsibility for the effort—which had, up to that point, been led by voluntary associations. See Ceren Gülser İlikan, “Tuberculosis, Medicine and Politics: Public Health in the Early Republican Turkey” (master’s thesis, Boğaziçi Universitesi, 2006). For a history of tuberculosis and its place in (French) society, see David Barnes, The Making of a Social Disease: Tuberculosis in Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

[9] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 29.

[10] In fall 1939, Rıfat started work in the Istanbul neighborhood of Karagümrük. The job paid 83 TL a month with a 5TL raise when he became assistant director. To give some context: he says that bread cost 1TL on the black-market at the time. (Saydur 44-45; Rıfat Ilgaz, Sarı Yazma [Istanbul: Çınar Yayınları, 1990], 271).

[11] An example of how these connections were made: At the sanatorium Rıfat became friends with Hüseyin Bekar, a student from Bursa, who introduced him to Niyazi Akincioğlu (also from Bursa), Suphi Taşan, Celal Vardar, and Hilmi Büyükşekerci—all of them studied with the famous poet Orhan Saik Gökyay (Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 31).

[12] Küllük Café in particular seems to have been a favorite of writers like Sabahattin Ali going back almost a decade—it was even the subject of a book by the writer Sıtkı Akozan in 1936 (Sevengül Sönmez, ed., A’dan Z’ye Sabahattin Ali (Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayınları, 2009], 329).

[13] In his memoir, Sarı Yazma, he does not mention his fistfight; he attributes his transfer simply to an “administrative reasons” (Ilgaz, Sarı Yazma, 266).

[14] One is reminded of Richard Hofstadter when reading about the Istanbul literary scene: Hofstadter once dismissed The New York Review of Books as “the New York Review of Each Other’s Books.” Likewise, Sabahattin Ali wrote a profile of Rıfat in the magazine Tercüme and also name-dropped him in the magazine Yürt ve Dünya while discussing the coming generation of literati (thus returning the favor after Rıfat’s Yürüyüş had profiled Ali); Behice Boran mentioned Rıfat in an article for Adımlar; and Pertev Naili Boratav wrote positively of him too (Alexander Bloom, Prodigal Sons: The New York Intellectuals and Their World [New York: Oxford University Press, 1986], 327; Saydur 45-7).

[15] For a discussion of Nihal Atsız and other far-right racist figures and their German ties in the 1940s, see Jacob Landau, Pan-Turkism: From Irredentism to Cooperation. 1995 ed. (London: Hurst & Company, 1981), 93-118; Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 133-6.

[16] The far-right’s May 3 rally was held in support of support Nihal Atsız. He had been sued by Sabahattin Ali after calling for the latter’s removal. The Ali-Atsız trial was delayed after Atsız’s arrest on charges of organizing anti-state activities. Stretching on over a year, the trials and retrials of Atsız and his fellow right-wingers ended in acquittals. For an excellent discussion of these events and later trials of left-wing academics, see Arzu Özturkmen,“Folklore on Trial: Pertev Naili Boratav and the Denationalization of Turkish Folklore,” Journal of Folklore Research 42, no.2 (May Aug, 2005): 185–216.

[17] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 37-9.

[18] As partner in another publication called Cumartesi [Saturday] Rıfat helped publish the first work by a young Yaşar Kemal (Saydur 58).

[19] According to Levent Cantek, Rıfat was less inclined toward the TSP than its more communist-influenced rival the Socialist Worker and Farmer Party of Turkey (Levent Cantek, Markopaşa: Bir Mizah ve Muhalefet Efsanesi [Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001], 177-8).

[20] Markopaşa was in many respects filling the gap once occupied by Tan. That paper had closed in 1945 after its was attacked for its leftist politics and its publishers fled the country. Many of the staff on Markopaşa had worked for Tan. The initial idea for the magazine had come from Turkey Socialist Party President Esat Adil Müstecaplıoğlu, who offered Aziz Nesin 100TL a week salary to run it. When this project came to naught, it was revived by Sabahattin Ali, who offered a more modest deal of 100% of all profits under 150TL a month or an even split above that (Kemal Karpat, Turkey’s Politics: The Transition to a Multi-Party System [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959], 150-1; Cantek, Markopaşa, 31-5; Sönmez, ed., A’dan Z’ye Sabahattin Ali, 340-2).

[21] Saydur 63.

[22] The account of Markopaşa here is—if you can believe it—simplified. There were falling-outs between Aziz Nesin and Sabahattin Ali and an additional competing publication owned by Orhan Erkip called Malumpaşa. Erkip was a one-time staff member who managed (for four issues) to secure legal rights to the paper and turn it into a right-wing mouthpiece with the aid of conservative journalist Necip Fazıl Kısakürek. For a detailed history of Markopaşa, see Levent Cantek, Markopaşa: Bir Mizah ve Muhalefet Efsanesi (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001)—especially pages 116-27 for the Erkip incident.

[23] For a discussion of the Yücel-Öner libel case and its effects, see Karpat, Turkey’s Politics, 374-82.

[24] Not only did Education Minister Reşat Şemsettin Sirer fire Rıfat in June 1947, in January 1948 he also petitioned the Supreme Court to investigate folklore professor Petev Naili Boratav for (among other things) calling UK and US fascist; being friends with musician Ruhi Su; suggesting the epic hero Karaoğlan was not “Turkish”; criticizing nationalist icon Namik Kemal; saying folktales are produced by the “aristocratic” classes; and being interested in the history of Anatolian rebellions (Özturkmen 196).

[25] Not only was little room allowed for left-wing voices during Turkey’s “transition to democracy,” but much of the period’s political maneuvering was aimed at painting opponents as communists or communist-enablers. Kemal Karpat gives an interesting example of Kenan Önar, the Democrat Party’s Istanbul branch president from 1946-8, who went from accusing others of communist sympathies to being accused himself of dividing the nation and, thus, aiding communism in the span of a year. Former Education Minister Hasan Ali Yücel, the target of Önar’s attacks was also criticized within the Republican People’s Party. In short, neither the major legal parties in this period accepted the legitimacy of socialist policies (Karpat, 213, 380).

[26] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 44. It seems this quote originally comes from an interview with Aziz Nesin in the 9/14/48 issue of Başdan (Saydur 76).

[27] Part of the article “Kings,” for which Merhumpaşa writers were prosecuted, read: “Awhile back, the Shah of Iran got married . . .While the poor Turkish people can’t even go on a Sunday jaunt, we were sending expensive gifts to the wedding nuptials of the Shah; we were sending journalists, reporters, and troops of soldiers. We say we’re a republic, but Iran is a monarchy . . .Now we learn that they are divorcing. We’re a republic, what’s it to us, right? Nooo . . .we sigh and moan; our journalists and our reporters’ eyes become fountains bleeding with tears. It was the same with the divorce of King Faruk [of Egypt]. . .While in Egypt and Iran, there’s only one king—and our time of shahs and kings, has passed—[we still have our monopolists like] the “Sugar King,” the “Rice King,” and the “Olive Oil King” . . .hopefully soon these kings will diminish—perhaps such a future awaits them” (“Krallar,” Merhumpaşa, 11/26/48 quoted in Saydur 80).

[28] In November 1948, he learned from an in-law that his wife wanted a divorce. He attributes this second divorce to his combination of sickness and court cases—especially since association with the latter might cost his wife her teaching job (Saydur 79-81).

[29] The trial court that sentenced Rıfat and others to such a long stint in jail was presided over by Salim Başol, who would gain fame a decade later for presiding over the trails of the Democrat Party’s deposed leadership (Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 45-7).

[30] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 45-6.

[31] Saydur 101. Rıfat observes that the expert report on his work provided by the court found no evidence of “communist” intent in his writing. Such expert reports continued to play an important role in court cases during the coming decades. Joakim Parslow, for example, shows how legal experts in the 1960s used literary analysis to counter charges of subversion (Joakim Parslow, “Lawyers on the Barricades: The Politics of Exceptional Law in Turkey, 1930-1980,” [Phd diss., University of Washington, 2015], 179-99).

[32] Rıfat’s third wife, Fikret, was from his hometown; they had known each other in the late 1920s and he had even had a crush on her. When he learned that she had moved to Istanbul and was working as a pharmacist, he used a cold as pretext for running into her and rekindling their old acquaintance. Though he gives no reasons for the divorce, three marriages in, one is less likely to apportion much blame on the brides’ side . . . (Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 24).

[33] Turhan Selçuk was one of the most influential Turkish cartoonists. Born in 1922 in Milas, he came to Istanbul in 1943 to study dentistry. He found cartooning work with publications like Aydede and Akbaba and soon dropped out of school to become a full-time cartoonist. Though he worked for major newspapers like Tasvir, Yeni Istanbul, and Milliyet, his most important work can be found in magazines like 41 Büçük and Dolmuş, which he published with his brother İlhan. According to Yaşin Kayış, Turhan Selçuk originally seemed little different stylistically from his peers, but in the period 1949-51 became more influenced by artists like Saul Steinberg who eschewed the standard picture-caption format in favor of cartoons that conveyed a story through images alone (Yaşin Kayış Democrat Parti Döneminde Siyasi Karikatür, 1950-1960 [Istanbul: Libra Yayinevi, 2009], 225-8).

[34] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 48-50.

[35] Saydur 106-7. According to the Wall Street Journal, 250TL in December 1957 was equal to about $90 at the official government rate or $17 on the international foreign exchange market. Those amounts, according to the US Inflation Calculator, would be $783 and $150 in 2017.

[36] He was so busy with his story writing that he blew off the opportunity to write the script and plot for Turhan Selçuk’s popular comic book Abdülcanbaz. The first run of Abdülcanbaz had been written by Rıfat’s Markopaşa collaborator Aziz Nesin, who had also been forced by financial need to produce less overtly political, more comedic content in the 1950s (Cantek, Levent, Türkiye’de Çizgi Roman [İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2002], 142).

[37] The bill for his time at Yediküle Greek Hospital was around 200-300TL (Saydur 107).

[38] Kayış 178-89. Nor was the sports magazine the only occasion on which Rıfat helped Orhan Kemal. In 1959, having become the managing editor of a magazine called Büyük Gazete, Rıfat aided Orhan Kemal by serializing his first novel Eskici ve Oğulları According to Rıfat, he paid Orhan Kemal 5000TL for the rights to Eskici ve Oğulları in 1959. According to the Wall Street Journal, 5000TL in June 1959 was equal to about $1800 at the official government rate or $340 on the international foreign exchange market. Those amounts, according to the US Inflation Calculator, would be $15,000 and $2,900 today (Saydur 109).

[39] Afet Muhteremoğlu, the fifth woman who Rıfat married and divorced, was a fellow writer with several books and travelogues to her name. The two founded a publishing house called Sınıfı to release their works, but soon lost interest in the project. For her part, she recalls that, “Rıfat had a rather conservative side to him. He fancied himself a Marxist but he was really more of an Ottoman.” The two would visit old mosques and ruins together. After they separated, she grew more religious in thought, attire, and politics, eventually becoming a member of the AKP’s predecessor, the Welfare Party (RP), serving as a representative in the Beyoğlu Municipal Assembly. She died in 2015 (Ayşe Böhürler, “Ezidi kampında…Yeni Şafak, 1/17/15; Mahmut Çetin, “Tanıdığım Afet Ilgaz: Afet Abla,” Son Devir, 1/17/15)

[40] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 52-9. One might argue that attending any event in the Soviet Union in 1968 was a rather political statement in and of itself. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in August-September of that year split left-wing parties in Turkey and around the world. Rıfat attended the conference in October! For more about Soviet “international” cultural conferences, see work like Anne Gorsuch and Diane Koenker, eds., The Socialist Sixties-Crossing Borders in the Second World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013); Rossen Djagalov and Masha Salazkina, “Tashkent ’68: A Cinematic Contact Zone,” Slavic Review 75, no.2 (Summer 2016): 279-98.

[41] Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 62-5.

[42] One potential reason for his arrest—in addition to his outsider status in the community—was that he was caught up in an expanding dragnet. The military had begun arresting members of local unions and “People’s House” Cultural Centers. These People’s Houses were different from their predecessors in the 1930s and 1940s: whereas those earlier ones were tied to the governing Republican People’s Party, the 1970s version were more often tied to left-wing groups like Devrimci Yol [Revolutionary Way]. When a board member in one of these People’s Houses—a philosophy professor—had had his house searched, military investigators found both a banned copy of a Bertrand Russell book and also a signed copy of Hababam Sınıfı, linking Rıfat to the professor (Rıfat Ilgaz, Kırk Yıl Önce Kırk Yıl Sonra, 2010ed [Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 1986], 24-5, 29).

[43] In 2011, the AKP-controlled Ministry of Tourism released an overview of his career with a laudatory introduction by the Minister of Tourism himself (Rıfat Ilgaz. Sönmez, Sevengül [Ankara: T. C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 2011]).

[44] The explanation for renaming the Bakırköy Cultural Center after Necip Fazıl Kısakürek was that one should not name buildings after living people. After all, explained the newly-elected Welfare Party mayor Muzaffer Doğan, “It’s not clear what living people might do. Someone like Aziz Nesin [or Rıfat Ilgaz] might later insult people.” Moreover, he added, the name had been added quickly by the municipality’s former left-wing government, knowing full-well it would lose the comming election (“Rıfat Ilgaz Kültürevi,” Milliyet, 9/20/92; “‘Halkın Kararı,'” and Arife Avcu, “‘Refah’ın sevmediği sanatçı,'” Milliyet, 2/10/93; Sönmez, “Ben Sınıfın Şairi: Rıfat Ilgaz,” 71).

[45] For good accounts of Alevis in Turkey, see David Shankland, The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition (Routledge, 2003); Elise Massicard, The Alevis in Turkey and Europe: Identity and Managing Territorial Diversity. Routledge, 2013); and Kadir Tambar, The Reckoning of Pluralism: Political Belonging and the Demands of History in Turkey (Stanford University Press, 2014).

[46] The story “I Am Living Sick” is emblematic of the difficulties in tracing the development of Rıfat Ilgaz’s writing. The story originally appeared Dolmuş over the course of three issues (3/29/56; 4/5/56; 4/12/56), ostensibly penned by a narrator named “Laterna Cemil.” This story, however, is not included with the rest of his sanatorium tales in the first edition of Bizim Koğuş published in 1959 by his own Gar Publishing.

 

The story is not included (as near as I can tell) until the 1973 edition published by Sınıfı Publishers—the imprint started by Rıfat and his wife Afet. And here it is entitled, “Check In At Once!” This edition of the book—and subsequent editions—have a new title: Pijamlılar; they include two other new stories and retitle several stories from the original edition.

 

The main alteration between the story translated here and the 1973 edition is that some jokes that might date it (about the Democrat Party, say) are removed. Here and there, words and phrases have also been tweaked as well. The most glaring change occurs in the final paragraph, which was absent in the original story but which I have added in this translation from the 1973 edition.

 

The changes to Bizim Koğuş, however, are minor compared to other books I have looked at: the version of Radarın Anahtarı available today, for example, bears almost no resemblance to the original edition.

[47] A picture of a hand signaling “Stop” with the words “Enough, the final say belong to the nation” was an important symbol of the Democrat Party in its early years. Mocking this imagery became a common opposition tactic during the 1950s.

[48] Given that a copy of the magazine Dolmuş cost 60 kuruş, 2 TL spinach would be more than three times as much!

[49] At the time the story was published, Fatin Rüştü Zorlu (1910-1960) was best known as the Minister of State focusing on trade and commerce—particularly international trade. Educated in Paris and Switzerland, he had joined the Foreign Ministry and served in its commercial departments until 1954 when he became a member of parliament for Çanakkale. He was quickly given a position of influence, which earned him the dislike of many other ministers who did not like him stepping on their administrative turf. In late 1955, he was forced out by opponents within the Democrat Party and was being investigated for misconduct at the time of publication. He would later be cleared and appointed Foreign Minister—his position at the time of the coup in 1960 and his former position when he was executed in 1961.

 

At the time of this publication, Mükerrem Sarol (1909-1995) was also being investigated. He was an early member of the Democrat Party, having been close with Prime Minister Menderes since the 1940s. He was elected to parliament in 1950 as a representative for Istanbul. After his re-election in 1954, he was made Minister of State with responsibility for issues pertaining to journalists. This position made him a bête-noire for the media. In one instance, he sued journalists for libel when they claimed he was directing print supplies to his own newspaper, Türk Sesi.

[50] “Bey” is a term of respect in Turkish similar to “mister” but attached to first names.

[51] The poem “Sanatorium” first appeared in the December 12, 1942 issue of Yürüyüş. As I worry that my translation of several lines is particularly weak, any suggestions will be appreciated . . .a

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