ANKARA: Armenian-American Writer’s Soul Back In Turkey


Turkish Daily News
October 4, 2008 Saturday

The Turkish Culture Ministry has announced plans to open a museum in
honor of Pullitzer Prize-winning Armenian-American writer William
Saroyan. The museum will be located in the southeastern province
of Bitlis, where Saroyan’s family lived before migrating to the
United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Saroyan is being
commemorated on the 100th anniversary of his birth with various events
in different parts of the world, including a UNESCO declaration of
2008 as the year of Saroygan. "The search in Bitlis continues on where
exactly the house that belonged to Saroyan’s family is located. If we
could discover where it is located, we will convert it into a museum
in early 2009," said Ertugrul Gunay, the Turkish culture minister.

Speaking to the Turkish Daily News, Gunay said Turkey had not
been sensitive about its artists so far and had not shown enough
interest in the places where they lived. "We will eliminate such
perceptions. Changes will be introduced in the cultural realm in
Turkey in 2009," he said. Saroyan was born in Fresno, California. He
grew up listening to stories being told by family members about
Anatolia, the land where his ancestors settled. Saroyan attracted the
attention of world literary critics with his first work. In 1939,
he won the Pulitzer Prize, immediately after publishing his second
book, "The Trouble with Tigers." The Turkish Daily News conducted an
interview with Rober Koptas, editor-in-chief of Aras Publications,
which publishes the Saroyan collection, and Aziz Gokdemir, editor of
the collection.

For Gokdemir, a Saroyan museum in Bitlis is a dream that will not
come true. "We just could not bear it if we knew the total number of
valuable artifacts that Turkey has lost so far. The West has protected
what Turkey would have lost. We just could not grasp the value of
artists like Saroyan when they were alive. I do not believe in any
possibility of opening a museum in memory of Saroyan," he said. "In
Turkey, there exists a widely held prejudice against the Armenian
Diaspora. We aim to put an end to such a rigid prejudice with the
Saroyan collection we publish," said Koptas. "On the one hand, there
is a diaspora,’ the existence of which depends on its anti-Turkey
stance. On the other hand, there are those diaspora members, such as
Saroyan, who longed for Anatolia throughout their lives," he said.

Anatolia drops from Saroyan’s pen

"Saroyan’s writing is warm. He is not didactic, not a message-driven
writer. He is like one of the ordinary people of Anatolia," said
Gokdemir, adding that the United States was home to many Armenian
writers similar to Saroyan. "Armenians carried the spirit of Anatolia
to Fresno, California, Watertown and Glendal when they had to leave
it. Warm and friendly people live thousands of miles away from us,"
he said.

There are a considerable number of Saroyan experts of Armenian descent
in the world, but Aras Publications employs Gokdemir as translator and
editor of Saroyan’s books because of his highly successful Saroyan
analyses, which have appeared in most prominent literature journals
in Turkey.

Saroyan before Bitlis, Saroyan after Bitlis Saroyan was told numerous
stories about Anatolia when he was a child. He came to Turkey in the
early 1960s to pay his first visit to Bitlis, a southeastern province
where his family had settled before they migrated to America at the
beginning of the 20th century.

Gokdemir said the journey to Bitlis had a strong effect on Saroyan’s
writing. "If we want to study Saroyan, we should divide his life
into two eras: Saroyan before Bitlis, and Saroyan after Bitlis,"
he said, adding that the author’s works written after his visit to
Bitlis contain a deep feeling of melancholia.

Gokdemir said his favorite Saroyan story was "Summer Joy" (Yaz Nesesi).

"Whenever I read that story, I cry like a child," he said.

"I hope humans will not have to face such pain in life anymore. I hope
no one will ever have to leave the land where they live," he added.

Koptas, on the other hand, said the Saroyan series was one of the most
prominent collections of Aras Publications. Six books by Saroyan have
greeted Turkish readers so far.

Koptas’s favorite story by Saroyan is "Cowards are Brave" (Odlekler
Cesurdur). "I think this world needs not heroes but good-hearted
cowards," he said.

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