Haldun Taner’s artistic side can be explained in several aspects. A short story and play writer, a man of culture, a newspaper columnist and a teacher… He was a teacher whose stories and plays have been translated into different languages, and his plays staged overseas, a man who introduced Turkish theatre and literature to the world in international meetings, an author who has encouraged his readers to learn and think while reading his columns in newspapers and magazines which set off from current situations into boundless cultural thoughts, a pioneer who taught theatre as a subject at university for the first time, an author who wrote the first Turkish epic play Keşanlı Ali Destanı and established the first cabaret. Haldun Taner was an author, a man of culture and a teacher.
With respect to his personal characteristics; he had autographed his newly published book for me with these words. ‘Being an author does not always coincide with being human. I suppose my humble efforts have played a part in your choice to prefer me as a spouse.’
Haldun Taner was an author whose artistic character and value coincided with human values and thus, the more his readers had the chance to know him, their admiration for him grew. Born into a well-established Istanbul family, Taner lost his father at the age of five. His father Ahmet Selahattin Bey, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Istanbul University and a law professor in the international arena wrote feauture articles in newspapers defending the legal authority of the Turkish independence and spoke at liberty rallies. All his services accounted for him being known as one of the pioneers of the Treaty of Lausanne, however, he did not survive to see his homeland free. Haldun Taner started his primary education at Galatasaray High School with the opportunities the government had given him and later, with his own means, went to study at the Heidelberg University in Germany. In his own words, Taner explains his fortune and the opportunities society provided him in his essay titled ‘Sonbaharda Kavak Yelleri’:
‘…Yes. To work all the way till the end. To work as hard as a bee in order to pay back for being brought up in this nation’s best schools. To delay resting till after death… To resist like those tiny poplar tree leaves falling from its branches. And when the time comes, to fall down quietly without any form of resistance. By leaving one´s spot for the new ones to blossom in future springs…’
All of the positive attributes that formed his character included elements of courtesy, politeness, and delicacy. All of these were gained from the environments he grew up in as well as from birth yet when combined with his sharp wit and deep culture, a rich personality arose.
One of the characteristics that affected me was his loyalty. He would never forget anything, evaluating everything that was positive and when the time came he would reward it. He brought many people that he knew well and cared for, under the light in his book ‘Ölürse Ten Ölür, Canlar Ölesi Değil’.
He was a master in his social relationships as well. No matter who it was across him, he would respect him firstly because he was an individual, the politeness and grace in his attitude would never decline. Even in the most confusing situations he would identify himself with the person across him, and swiftly understand why he would behave in such manner and create an understanding environment. This would give the person trust and reassure him that Taner was a safe harbour. I believe this contributed to him recieving many letters from his readers. Yet, even in this understanding environment that he would create, he would never disclose his critical attitude or deviate from his character. His manner of approach was always outstanding. He always knew how to act, sometimes he was a graceful ballroom man, sometimes a worldly-wise Istanbul gentleman, sometimes an artist with a bohemian style, sometimes a down to earth man of the people, a highbrow, intellectual speaker and sometimes a disagreeable debater. However, at the common ground of all of this was his heart full of love. In his circle of friends, he was a humorist and a teasing man of happy disposition.
Many articles that were written after his death discussed his tolerance. Yet, he was never tolerant towards bigotry, lack of appreciation, oppression and disrespect. He always took up a position with freedom to think and create.
All of these characteristics that I witnessed very closely, also helped him gain admiration abroad. When ‘Keşanlı Ali’ was staged in Berlin and Hamburg, the frontpage of a newspaper in Berlin read ‘Grand Seigneur Aus Istanbul’ under Haldun Taner’s photo meaning ‘A gentleman from Istanbul’.
In a letter he wrote to me he had said that love was an act and responsibility. My life with him taught me what this actually meant. The love he gave me secured me even in his absence. When people heard about his death, I heard many stories about him. When I put all of these stories together, I saw how he bonded with people close and far. His untimely death saddened the whole country. A letter I recieved from one of our friends in Germany said, ‘Do you know the Halleys Commet passed the earth twice. The first was in 1915 when Haldun Bey was born, the second is this year, before his death’. In 1986 the Halleys Commet was actually very close to the world, and a Turkish group entered the Eurovision contest with the song ‘Halley’.
When I think of all of this, I remember his words: ‘Every person is unique. Every death in single.’ However, it may be possible that only one of them from amongst the rest, like all the deceased, occasionally comes close to the earth from far above and enlightens us. Why not… Isn’t life itself an illusion?