Aziz Nesin (1915 - 1995)
My Own Story
My father, an Anatolian village boy, came
to Istanbul at the age of thirteen. My mother, from another Anatolian village, also came
to Istanbul as a very small child. They had to make this long journey, meet in Istanbul
and get married so that I could come into the world.
The choice was not left to me, so I was born at a very unsuitable time--the bloodiest
and most fiery days of World War I, in 1915. Again, the choice not being in my hands, my
birth occurred not only at an unseemly time but also in an unfavorable place, on Heybeli
Island. Heybeli lies offshore of Istanbul and was the summer residence of Turkey's richest
people. And since the rich couldn't live without the poor--they had such a great need for
them-- we, too, lived on the island.
I don't mean to imply with these remarks that I was unlucky. On the contrary, I
consider myself as being quite fortunate in not coming from a rich, noble and famous
They named me "Nusret." In Turkish, this Arabic word means "God's
Help." It was a name entirely fitting to us because my family, destitute of any other
hope, bound all their hope in God.
Ancient Spartans killed, with their own hands, offspring who were born weak and puny,
raising only the strong and healthy. This process of selection for us Turks is performed
by nature and society. When I disclose that my four brothers died in infancy, unable to
endure their hostile environment, you will easily understand how stubborn I was in
surviving. And my mother, unable to endure beyond her twenty-sixth year, died, leaving
this beautiful world, so worth living in, to those who were strong.
In capitalist countries the milieu is excellent for merchants, in socialist countries,
most favorable for writers. That is, a man who knows his business must become a writer if
he's in a socialist state, or a merchant if he's in a capitalist one. How contrary a man I
was going to be was already evident in my childhood, for even at the age of ten, in a
country like Turkey--a capitalist scrap pile--I'd determined to become a writer though no
one in my family could read or write.
My father, like every good father who gives thought to his son's future, advised,
"Forget this silly idea of writing and take a good honest job, one you can make a
living at!" I was beyond listening to him.
My obstinacy didn't stop there. Although I wished to be a writer, yearned to take pen
in hand, I entered a school where they would thrust a rifle in my hand.
During my early years I couldn't do what I liked, and didn't like what I did do. I
wanted to become a writer, but became a soldier. At that time, the only schools where
poor, penniless children could study free were military schools; therefore I was forced to
enter a military boarding school.
In 1933 when the surname law was passed which directed every Turk to select a last
name, people's secret feelings of inferiority surfaced: Some of the world's stingiest
became known as "Eliachik" (Openhanded), the greatest cowards named themselves
"Yurekli" (Stoutheart), and many of the laziest took the name ''Chalishkan"
(Industrious ) . One of our teachers chose the surname of "Cheviker" (Dextrous)
when he could barely sign his name to a letter. The rampant racism present caused people
with mixed blood to grab for surnames which signified they were Turks.
Invariably I came last in any kind of scramble; I was no different in this one for nice
surnames. No surname remained that I could take pride in, so I assumed the name of
"Nesin" (What-are-you?). I wanted to think of what I was and pull myself
together whenever anyone called "What-are-you? "In 1937 I became an officer, you
know, a Napoleon. Well really, I was merely one of the Napoleons. Every new officer thinks
himself Napoleon. Some of them never recover from this sickness; it lasts a whole
lifetime. Others are cured after awhile. ''Napoleonitis'' is a dangerous and contagious
disease. The symptoms are these: The victims think only of Napoleon's victories, never of
his defeats; they are prone to tuck a right hand between jacket buttons; they stand before
a map of the world, drawing arrows with a red crayon and, after subjugating and occupying
the entire world in five minutes, regret that the world is so small. Victims of this
disease rave as in a high fever. There are other dangers. In later stages, they may fancy
themselves Tamerlane, Ghengis Khan, Attila, Hannibal, Moltke, even Hitler or others such
As a fresh young officer, twenty-two or twenty-three, I conquered the world a few times
on the map with a red crayon. My Napoleon complex lasted only a year or two. However, even
during this malady, I never leaned toward fascism.
From childhood on, I desired to be a playwright. In the army were infantry, cavalry,
artillery and tank corps, but no military playwright branch, so I looked for a way out and
was discharged in 1944.
Even after becoming generals, some officers still had an ache in their craws to be
poets or writers and wrote poems or novels, much to the amazement of everyone but
themselves. Yet how nonsensical and comical it would seem to them if a fifty-year-old poet
should want to become an army commander.
I began storywriting during my military service. Since in those times a soldier who
wrote for the newspapers was looked upon with disfavor by his superiors, I didn't write in
my own name but under my father's, Aziz Nesin. My real name, Nusret Nesin, was obscured by
this first pseudonym and forgotten.
In those times they referred to me as the young writer. My father was a graybearded old
man. When this graybearded old man had business in a government office and introduced
himself as Aziz Nesin, nobody believed it and they gave him a hard time. My father
persisted in trying to prove his identity as Aziz Nesin in various official bureaus until
Years later, when my books were translated into foreign tongues, in order to collect my
copyright royalties which had come to the bank in the name of Aziz Nesin, I fought to
prove that I was Aziz Nesin although "Nusret Nesin" was written on my identity
Like many others, I started my writing by composing poetry. Nazim Hikmet, while staging
his hunger strike, advised me to give up poetry, that I wrote it badly, and that I should
confine my writing to stories and novels. From these remarks I concluded that Nazim was
jealous (!) of me. To those who've asked why I gave up poetry, I've replied that I
abandoned it because one doesn't make money in Turkey as a poet. The truth of the matter
is that, due to my great respect for poetry, I dropped it.
These days, many of those who claim the title of poet continue to think that what they
produce is poetry, because they have no respect for poetry. I believe that poetry is a
great art because many writers, being unsuccessful as poets, are pushed into becoming
successful, famous writers. I'm not saying this about myself, for I won great popularity
by showing just how badly poetry could be written. The large amount of interest shown in
my published poems was not due to their beauty; it was because a woman's signature
appeared at the bottom. My poems were published under a female pseudonym and stacks of
love letters poured in addressed to that name.
From childhood on, it's been my ambition to set down words that would make people weep.
I took a story, written with this intent, to a magazine. The editor-in-chief, who should
have been sobbing as he read my story, showed such a lack of understanding that he laughed
long and loud, then, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, said "Bravo! Very
good. Write more stories like this and bring them to us."
This, my first disillusionment in writing, continues: My readers laugh at most of the
things I've written to make them cry. Even when I became known as a writer of humor, I
didn't know what humor was. I can't say that I really know now, but I can tell you as much
as I do know. I learned humor by doing it. Often I'm asked what humor is made of, as if it
were a recipe or formula. In summation of what I've learned about the subject, I'll give
such a formula: Humor is a very serious business.
In 1945, when those in power incited several thousand reactionaries to demonstrate and
demolish the Tan Newspaper, where I worked, I was left unemployed and could find no work
with any paper. They would not accept any writing under my name. Thus it was that I
commenced writing for newspapers and magazines under more than two hundred assumed names.
These were writings of all types including editorials, anecdotes, reports, interviews,
police novels and stories. Upon a newspaper owner's discovery that a pseudonym was mine, I
invented a new one.
Many many mix-ups occurred because of these assumed names. For example, I published a
monologue children's book under the name "Oya Atesh," a combination of my
daughter's and son's names. Those in power were unaware I'd penned these monologues, and
they were used in almost every elementary school in addition to being recited at evening
entertainments. "Oya Atesh" was listed as a woman author in the
"Bibliographie of Turkish Women Writers'' which was published later on.
Another story I wrote, which was published in a magazine under a French pseudonym, was
accepted in an anthology of world humor as an example of French humor.
Still another of my stories, which I published under an invented Chinese name, later
appeared in a second magazine as a translation from Chinese.
During the times I couldn't work as a writer, though I tried many jobs like grocer,
salesman, accountant, newspaper peddler and photographer, I was a failure at all of them.
As a result of my writing I've been imprisoned five and a half years. Six months of
those years were caused by King Farouk of Egypt and the Iranian Shah, Riza. King Farouk
and Shah Riza claimed that I insulted them in my articles and through their ambassadors in
Ankara had me brought into court, the end result being a six-month's jail sentence for me.
From my first wife I have two children, and two from my second--altogether, four
At my first arrest (1946), the question the police asked me continually for six days
''Who is the real writer of these articles that came out under your name?"
They wouldn't believe that I wrote them.
Not long after this event--two years--the opposite occurred. This time the police
claimed I wrote articles with other signatures. The first time I'd tried to prove I wrote,
the second, that I didn't write. On one such occasion an expert witness testified that I'd
written an article under another name, so I was imprisoned sixteen months for an article I
My first wife and I were married and walked under the sabers of my officer friends as
the orchestra played the tango, "Comparasita." I exchanged wedding rings with my
second wife through the bars of the prison. You see that this was not a shining beginning.
I was thin. Languishing again and again in prison, I put on weight.
In 1956 I took first place at the International Humor Contest and won the Golden Palm.
Newspapers and magazines which would not publish my writings with my own signature before
my winning of the Golden Palm, hastened to do so afterwards. But this didn't last long.
Then once more writings under my own name were banned from the newspapers and I was
forced to enter the contest again in 1957 to win another Golden Palm. After this, my name
reappeared in newspapers and magazines. In 1966, at the International Humor Contest, held
in Bulgaria, I took first place and won the Golden Hedgehog.
Upon the political revolution in Turkey on 27 May 1960, in my joy I donated one of the
Golden Palms to the State Treasury. A few months after this event I was again thrown into
jail. I'm saving the second Golden Palm and the Golden Hedgehog for future joyful days,
saying to myself that they'll be needed.
People are amazed that to this date I've written more than two thousand stories. Really
there is nothing surprising in this. If my family, whom I'm obliged to support, numbered
twenty instead of only ten, I should have had to write more than four thousand stories.
I am fifty-three years old, have fifty-three books, forty thousand lira in debts, four
children and one grandchild. I live alone. My writings have been translated into
twenty-three languages, my books into seventeen; my plays have been performed in seven
Only two things can I hide from others: one my fatigue, the other my age. Excepting
these two, all of me is exposed and open. It's said that I look young for my age. It must
be that I am so busy working I don't have time to age.
I'm not one who says, "Had I the chance to come to this world again, I would do
the same things all over again." On my second coming I would want to do more than on
my first, much much more and much much better.
If in the entire history of mankind had just one immortal been found, I would have
looked to him for guidance and tried to achieve immortality too; but what am I to do
without a model? It's not my fault--I'll die like everyone else.
I love humanity so much, so excessively, that I can even be angry with them.
This is my as yet unfinished story. I realize that readers are generally bored with
long articles so I think the conclusion won't take long. The thing I am most curious about
is the end of this story which I will never be able to learn.
In 1972 the Aziz Nesin Foundation was brought into being by Aziz Nesin in order to
enable children in need of to get a proper personal and professional education.
Nesin's outspoken atheism often made him a target of Islamic extremists. He most
recently made international news by translating and publishing in a newspaper parts of
Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Muslim fundamentalists tried to kill him in an
arson attack at a hotel in the Turkish town of Sivas in 1993. Nesin escaped the fire,
which killed 37 writers, poets and intellectuals who had gathered to commemorate the death
of a 16th-century poet hanged for his opposition to religious oppression.
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Aziz Nesin Foundation