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24 Jan 2022

A deer of liberty in Tullamore - Turkish journalist reflects on shared history

A deer of liberty in Tullamore - Turkish journalist reflects on shared history

Turkish journalist Cagdas Gokbel pictured with his wife Emine. The Turkish couple are living in direct provision in Tullamore

Cagdas Gokbel is a Turkish journalist and writer living in direct provision in Tullamore. Cagdas and his wife Emine left Turkey because of their political beliefs. Here, Cagdas writes about his family history and finds parallels with Ireland's independence struggle.

IN 1908 Senior Captain Ahmed Niyazi Bey from Resne (now Resen, North Macedonia), an officer of the Rumelian army, rebelled against the Sultan and went to the mountains with 200 soldiers under his command.

In the years before the First World War, a nation that no longer wanted to be imprisoned in the darkness of history was rising up again in the Balkans. They were tired of oppression, poverty and ignorance.

According to legend, one day Niyazi and his men, who were by then starving in the forest, encountered a female deer. As his men took aim with their guns to kill the animal, Niyazi gave an order that shocked everyone - the deer would not be killed. Hungry men could be fed without killing a deer.

He explained his decision to his men as follows: “We came to the mountains and occupied her homeland, so we never had the right to kill her.” Today this saying contains a great lesson for people who ruthlessly exploit nature and its resources.

The deer stayed with Resneli Niyazi and his men after that day and became the symbol of those who rose against the tyranny of the Sultan. When the Sultan transferred his powers and the constitutional order was declared (July 23, 1908), Resneli Niyazi, his men, and the deer of liberty entered Istanbul (see picture below).

In those years Niyazi's name and the deer of liberty were etched on society's heart. The deer is still the symbol of Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and is represented by a large monument in Sıhhiye Square. The Deer of Liberty is the name of what's left of revolutionary Turkey.

In time, Anatolia was occupied again. Only poets could describe the famine and suffering of the war years. Nazım Hikmet Ran, who is as well known as William Shakespeare in Anatolia (or by those who see the world only on their own axis and not known by Westerners who only recognise their own existence because of arrogance), tells the tragic story of a soldier who looks for oats in horsedung in order not to die of hunger in his book 'Memleketimden İnsan Manzaraları' (Human Landscapes from My Hometown).

In 1903 my grandfather Aleaaddin Gokbel was born in a place which had been suffering from wars and famine. He went to the mountains to follow the Kuva-yi Milliye militia to escape the cruelty of the enemy army in the occupied lands. Just like Resneli Niyazi and his men. My grandfather fought with rifles specially produced for children and did not accept captivity. His commander was Hikmet Kıvılcımlı, head of the Köyceğiz Kuvâ-yi Milliye (Köyceğiz National Forces).

To make this more understandable for Irish readers, it is best to compare the great men of the Turkish revolution to the heroes who fought for the independence of Ireland. We can liken the first president of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal to Michael Collins with his military genius and tactical talent; and Hikmet Kıvılcımlı to James Connolly in the way of his literary, philosophical and theoretical skills.

Unfortunately Hikmet Kıvılcımlı and his ideas are not well known internationally and if that is the case, it is our fault. Today, all these historical facts are known by a few Turkish. They are spending more time tweeting or social media, just like other people.

As my grandfather used to say, creating an educated and fine person is a difficult process that requires intense effort. On the contrary, spreading ignorance happens very quickly and easily, like an epidemic.

After the war ended and the country was liberated, two important needs emerged: one was bread and the other was books. It was not just enough to feed people: poor Anatolian children also needed to acquaint themselves with Oscar Wilde, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. That's why my grandfather's books and library occupy a great place in my childhood memories.

Among those books my grandfather would tell me about Ireland and Irish War of Independence. The struggle of Anatolian society for independence and the struggle of the Irısh were similar. Of course he knew those men the Turkish faced at Gallipoli but my grandfather and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk never saw those men they met in Çanakkale as enemies. While criticising the Ottoman dynasty, Mustafa Kemal did not start off the easy way. He would criticise the period of rise rather than the period of fall.

Due to the ambitions of Sultan Mehmet and Kanuni Sultan Süleyman, poor Anatolian people were fighting in lands they had never known. Therefore, my grandfather developed empathy instead of hostility with the soldiers who were sent by the British administration, and that empathy made him interested in the history of countries such as Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

My grandfather did not take part in the Dardanelles War but during the Turkish War of Independence he heard terrible stories from his friends and relatives on the mountain about it. Those who visit Gallipoli are astonished at the close distance between the trenches and how geographically challenging the Anzac landing sites were.

Unfortunately, the trenches' originality could not be preserved due to landslides and other reasons but nevertheless, Gallipoli (see below, commemorative stamp published by the Irish postal service in 2015) is a must-see place for those who do not see Turkey as consisting of just sea, sand and sun. According to some historians, up to 4,000 Irish died in those battles.

Mustafa Kemal was one of the commanders of the bloodiest front line. For years, he remembered the war with great pain. A humane relationship and communication was established between the soldiers in the trenches.

One of the most important things I learned from my grandfather is to never be an enemy of a nation. All those poor people who came to Gallipoli and invaded our country are not criminals. Their governments are responsible. This is why we have never hate a poor English, Irish or Australian soldier.

Mustafa Kemal wrote a letter to the mothers of the soldiers, including the Irish. In this letter, he wrote: “Wipe your tears – your sons are now sleeping in our warm lands and in peace … they died in this land, they became our sons”.

My grandfather used to say that the resistance of Ireland during its war of independence inspired the Anatolian people and the dream of being an independent republic was common for both societies.

He wanted to be able to come to these lands and visit historical places such as the General Post Office. Unfortunately, that never happened. When I looked at the world map as a child, I was amazed that my grandfather was able to establish an intellectual intimacy with the people of a country that was geographically so far away.

The Soviet Union was geographically closer to us, and we received weapons and gold aid in the struggle for independence. Not only gold, but special memories were transported from the Soviet Union too. The war was won with those precious aids, not with the tales made up by ignorant people.

Before my grandfather passed away, he left a Soviet made Serkisov pocket watch (pictured below) to be given to me. I always carry that precious gift with me.

I told its story to Tullamore Presbyterian church pastor William Hayes, who listened with interest. When we went for a walk we noticed the symbolic structures in Tullamore. We were looking over

each structure with interest, including the iron axe on the courthouse's hedge that represents justice and was inherited from the French Revolution.

People abandoned the oral tradition after they discovered writing. We writers dream, and we record history for humanity thanks to those men described above. I am sure these lines I have written will attract the attention of my Irish writer friend Liam Cahill, a native of Waterford who lives in Co Meath. It is a good feeling to write under the same free sky as Liam.

Now, I intently observe every inch of Offaly. I am often asked a question: “Why Ireland?” I can never say that I made an unconscious choice. I think I try to reverse the darkness into which my country is dragged today, by looking at the world from the shoulders of my grandfather and precious men like him. Once you force history back you lead the society, the country, to disaster. Today, Afghanistan is trapped inside such a black hole. It is difficult to predict what interval of history they are in. Turkey is faced with the same dark future and we must struggle to avoid it.

It was a great loss that he did not have the ability to write all these memories. When a writer died, he was sad as if all humanity had died. He used to say: “Just as Resneli Niyazi made efforts to prevent the deer from being killed, we are the action men who need to protect these men who produce and spread good ideas to humanity.”

Hrant Dink, executive editor of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish weekly newspaper, described himself as a “timid pigeon” in the article he wrote before he was killed. The timid pigeon was brutally murdered in front of his newspaper in Istanbul. What remained of Dink was the image of his body lying on the ground and his shoes torn, an image which will never be erased from memory.

Now, as a journalist and writer, I see myself as a deer of liberty in Ireland. I always give the same answer to my Irish friends as a writer and journalist whose asylum application process has been slow: “Nothing has changed, I'm still waiting for Godot.”

As I wander the streets of Tullamore, I look at people and my surroundings carefully. An author must be a good observer. I have a plan to write a novel about this place and I will not change the names of good people I know. I see myself as a deer of liberty wandering through the endless green nature of Ireland, an animal I know the Irish would never kill.

This is why I continue to live, write and struggle in Ireland. This is what my motivation is.

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