Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan

To call the past to account

To call the past to account… He was a real intellectual. So much so that in 1982, before the outcome of the Nobel prize was announced, he had already guessed that Gabriel Garcia Marquez would win the Nobel prize. At the time we were 22-23 years old.

We were in a country where the rate of literacy at shamefully low. I am talking about the years before the 12th of September, those years where fifteen-twenty young people were killed every day… The mothers and fathers of the present generation. These were also the times when the new generation did not know anything other than a little hearsay information and where mothers and fathers seemed to have forgotten everything. One day, exactly 10 years later, he appeared, almost as if he had emerged out of our memories at the Cerrahpaşa-Edirne Medical School, out of those strange days full of horror, pain and fear, a time when people where suspicious of each other.

Instead of the blond, blue eyed young man who was full of life, the person who arrived was a pale man, his teeth had fallen out; it was as if the years had rolled over him like a tank. I had the feeling that I knew him from somewhere, but had he not introduced himself it would have been impossible for me to recognize him. After months of being on the run he had been captured and subjected to all kinds of barbarous torture, he had lost his kidney and he was physically broken-down. As if to say: “Look at my body and see my soul”, he was suffering from a deep depression, and looking a bit closer I found out that his condition was accompanied by post-traumatic stress. I mobilized myself with body and soul to help my dear friend. I had only recently become an associate professor, and was someone who with great difficulties, without a room of his own etc. had to come and go to the faculty every day. It was as if we were both still paying the never-ending bill of those cursed years. And we did not know if it was really us who should be answering for it…

There was deep silence. The left-wing could find no score to settle with the right-wing, nor the right-wing with the left-wing – at last we were like different brothers of the same family. We were in a pitiable state. We were in shame, confused, down-trodden, cowardly… We had let go of the past which we had lost and were trying to save the future. I gave him one of the best drugs available at the time and asked him to come back in a month. Why a month? Was there a scientific reason for it? Or was it because he was so real that it prevented me from closing my eyes to those years full of fear? I don’t know…

A month later he came and said “I have come to thank you.” “You have made me indifferent!” The effect of antidepressants could not have been described any clearer. He was still an educated man, an intellectual. You are lost in thought, are you not? I know, it has not been nice to return to the past with memories that some of you do not want to talk about, memories most of which are devoid of emotional logic. So if we cannot hold each other responsible, had we been trapped in an international game? Should we be accusing other states? One asks oneself: “Which other nation has behaved so idiotically? Is there another example in history for what we have lived through?” Whatever we did, we only harmed ourselves; we have to fully understand that. If we had not been so soft-bellied, who could have had such a free hand to do as they wish in this beautiful country of ours…? If we do not want to live through the same nightmare again, we should analyse those years down to the smallest details, face our failures and then laugh together or cry together. One has to recognize that the most dangerous situation is be to be split into two, like a watermelon… We should frankly and openly tell our children everything. We should be able to say: “Yes, I was an intellectual of the most idiotic kind”. And in the meantime, we should all together send him our love, respect and greetings…

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