Heidi Trautmann

Our dear friend Ali Nesim has died - A humanitarian and noble man, a philosopher and writer


By Heidi Trautmann


A long time ago, in 2005 I have met Ali Nesim in his house in Zeytinlik, the place where he grew up. We sat for hours and talked and his wife Tulay was with us; and many times they returned my visit and came to our house in Yeşiltepe and brought cake. I did an interview with him which I would like to make available for our readers, in order for them to understand what he stood for.

Ali NESIM – Citizen of Templos

Writer, Philosopher and Man of the Theatre, born in Zeytinlik in 1941


There was once a boy of five, with a stick in his hands, sitting under an olive tree near the village of Zeytinlik – Templos in the old days – tending his parents’ flock of sheep. He scooped water from the brook which came down from the mountain, disappearing as it approached the village. He was tired.  From his home, he could see the castle of 101 houses which is today called St.Hilarion Castle, where he would look out for the beautiful queen combing her golden hair, as the legend tells, and who one day came down from her castle, following the sweet tune of a pipe. There she found the shepherd with whom she fell in love.

The time was 1946 and this boy was Ali Nesim, son of several generations of Zeytinlik farmers. Today Ali Nesim is a tall, slim, upright man with deeply set eyes.

“The house where we are sitting at the moment is on the land of my grandparents and parents. There used to be four brooks, filled with water all the year round, with which we would water our fields of wheat and vegetables. We were no more than 100 villagers, but there were many summer houses for the city people who came here for the hot season. The villagers worked very hard, all of them: men, women and children.  After working in the field, my mother used to make bread and hellim for the Kyrenia market. It meant getting up early in the morning, milking the cows and tending to the other animals. I remember my donkey on which I brought the milk to the collection centre. I loved riding that donkey to the market. We delivered meat, vegetables, oil and all the handmade things the village women made. You know where the Ordu Pazarı in Girne is? That used to be an empty field where we would tether our donkeys and carts to unload our goods for the market which was in the still existing building opposite the Round Tower, a market which at that time used to be in full swing.”

“Then came harvest time, when work never stopped, and our backs ached. But in the evenings when the work was done we would all sit around, happy to be together and to be healthy, and we would sing.  One of the grown-ups would narrate many legends to us which had never been written down, passed down only by mouth. These legends made a great impression on us. The women went to the village tomb, a legendary place, with a silent prayer or a secret wish. Children dreamt of the golden haired queen, and lovers sought advice in the Phaneromeni Chapel.”

“There was one special thing that happened during my childhood which I still remember. It was getting close to the end of the Second World War and two German pilots had been shot down by the British army. They hid in our carob fields, and my mother used to send me to them with some bread and milk. I wasn’t at all scared, but then one day they were gone.”


When did he have time to go to school, then?  “When the work was done and if there was time left, we also went to school. Our elementary school was in the Ottoman House restaurant building down the road in Zeytinlik: one room and one teacher for all the different age groups. I enjoyed school and must have been a good student, as I easily passed the entrance exams for the Turkish Lycée in Nicosia. Out of 250 students only 90 could be admitted, and there was only one secondary school in Nicosia for all the applicants. School fees were quite high, £7 sterling a year. My parents had to pay in instalments; at that time people had hardly any ready cash.”

The time came when Ali Nesim had to decide what to do next. What made him choose philosophy and social sciences as subjects for his studies in Ankara? 

“I remembered my time as a boy, sitting amongst my sheep thinking how hard life was for some people. I wanted to know more about the human side of my people, the social aspect, and I wanted to learn more about the origins of our culture, its legends and their influence on people. Because only when you know your roots, can you understand what is on the surface.”

How did his parents finance it? “Yes, that was hard for them, especially in that crucial year of 1959, as the carob harvest was unsatisfactory. That harvest should have provided my fare to Ankara. I was really desperate. But somehow we managed to get me on my way with just one pair of trousers and one jacket, but I brought many things from Cyprus: razors, nylons, textiles and all sorts of articles of British origin. You see, at that time, industry and technology were non-existent in Turkey. People were very poor in Ankara, but still they paid good prices for these things, and thus as students we could finance our studies and daily life.”

After graduation in 1963, Ali Nesim returned to his village. Three months after his arrival, war broke out. “We were attacked from all sides. We managed to hold the mountainside up to St. Hilarion, but the areas from the Ottoman House to the coast and on both sides of our village were in Greek hands. We had men posted around our village and fighters in the mountains. People from Lapta and Karşiyaka came flooding in by the hundreds with only some random possessions in their hands. I helped organise shelter and food for all those people in our houses and in tents.”


Soon Ali Nesim reported for work as a teacher in the Turkish Secondary School in Nicosia, and he continued teaching for twenty years. In those years, he developed his love for the theatre, wrote many plays and directed the school theatre groups. “I have two passions in my life: one is my love for my people, my wish to learn about them and to find out how they can be helped, and the other is my love for the theatre which I could later indulge to the full as Director of the Cyprus Turkish State Theatre in the Yeni Şehir area. It was unfortunately burnt down later and was never restored, which is a great shame.

After three and a half years as Director, I was made to retire because of a change in government.” A change in government, I ask, quite confused. “Yes, it is a rather tragic truth in our country that with every change of government, all the leading men in government offices have to go and are replaced by new men, and that applies to all departments. That explains many things, doesn’t it?” Oh yes, it does.

“But do not believe that I have retired from work. I have taken over as director of the theatre group at the Near East University, where I produce one of my plays each year and I am also Director of the Turkish Cypriot Theatre Club.  In between, I hold lectures such as the one I am now preparing, called the Impact of Legends on People. The important thing is to be amongst young people and to watch them growing up; to be amongst artists keeps me fit and curious.”

Have his scientifically researched books, such as Kibris Türk Edebiyatinda Sosyal Konular (Social Topics in Turkish Cypriot Literature) and others, together with his short stories been published in English? “No, unfortunately not, but I do go to international conferences where I present my conclusions.”

I ask the philosopher and socialist, what do you think will happen to us human beings, what will happen to humanity? “Humanity will survive, in a different form perhaps. What the world needs in the first place is a new philosophy as the basis for a new development, for new ideas, a new direction of art and a new process of thinking. The rivers of the old days are dry, so we need to find new springs. People have developed by separating themselves from nature, they have lost respect for the older and wiser.  But I am positive that one day we will find the key to open the door to liberty, equality and fraternity, in short to a love of life.”

(Published in Cyprus Times on August 25, 2005)


Review of his newly published book “Discover the Precious Things of Life”

Do something unusual, today

let your old soul die

and bring to new life

love of heart and body

and happiness.


With this poem on the back cover of his new book “Discover the Precious Things of Life”, Ali Nesim declares his belief that the world is in need of a new philosophy, in need of a new courage to find a way back to our true identity, to give new strength to body and heart: a rebirth. “We have developed isolated from nature, wisdom is no longer valued, but I am positive that one day we will find the key again to open the door to a new appreciation of wisdom, free will and rationalism”.

These three keywords of Ali Nesim are evident in all his essays.  For him, these form the only way to a peaceful coexistence. He says this, because he knows the harshness of life from his own experience and from watching his fellow villagers as a young boy and young man. In his short stories, he brings to life events from his home village Zeytinlik, stories which were told in the evening hours after hard work in the fields.

“In my childhood, when I used to tend the sheep in the foothills of Saint Hilarion, I would look to the mountain as my intimate friend, my confidante in times of trouble, my teacher who taught me to use my eyes and my ears, my most beloved teacher.” He declares his love for the mountain in a poem, his appreciation and gratitude. He deplores the destruction of nature, the blindness of people who allow this to happen, the loss of beauty in his home country.

He chose to study philosophy and sociology because he was interested in the social organisation of humanity, how a people’s background, and their past and their legends, influence their development and their daily life.  Only when we know the influences that form our origins, can we understand why we are as we are, why our life is as it is.

Ali Nesim’s book was launched in June 2006 and the entire royalties of the first edition will go to the Orthopaedic Disabled Association in Nicosia.

(Published in Cyprus Today on July 22, 2006)


Review of his new book: The Cry of an Olive Tree

Ali Nesim is well known and respected for his deep love of Cyprus, its culture, legends and nature. The many books he has written and published are testimony to this. Ali Nesim grew up in Zeytinlik, knows its background stories and has seen its development in all its positive and negative aspects. During his childhood, his family – and all the families in Cyprus – lived from what nature gave them and appreciation for this natural abundance was much higher. Today you can buy everything ready made and packed in the supermarket and most of our children no longer know what it takes to plant, grow, tend and harvest, the life cycle of trees, plants and animals.

I am of Ali Nesim’s generation, born in the same year, and although grown up in Germany, we both still know how wonderful it is when you live from the produce of your field or garden.

Now he has published a new book in English and Turkish: “The Cry of an Olive Tree”. It is an epic poem, a long poem dedicated to the olive tree, weeping for itself and for mankind, an elegy of one living soul to another, a cry addressed to humankind.


In his foreword he says:

“In this epic story I have tried to narrate the tragic story of the olive tree. This was an unavoidable duty for me. As a human being raised among olive trees, I cannot endure the pathetic end of the olives. I am sure, all of you have felt the same reaction at the destruction of the olive trees.

Unfortunately,  politicians are not as sensitive as the people to the environment; nevertheless, this must not be allowed to silence us: We have to fight as individuals and as groups.

In this book, most of the pictures are taken by my son Bulut Nesimoğlu and the pictures of the Great Fire in 1995 are taken by my son Dr Tayfun Nesimoğlu.

I want to thank to Roger Simpson from English Language and Literature Department of Near East University who edited the English version of this book.

I also want to thank my daughter-in-law Burcu Nesimoğlu, who helped me in all the stages of this book.

Of course the biggest thanks go to my eternal and the oldest friend the old olive tree, who whispered these words into my ears in its last breaths.”




 The 1st Address


I am an olive tree,

An indigent

On the mountains,

On the plains,

And on the fields:

I have sweetly smelling silver leaves,

And golden-oil.


A sacred tree!


A friend of all mankind.


I’m the holy tree of all Prophets.

I am the tree who feeds

The hungry,

Makes the poor rich,

A sacred tree

Curing the sick,

And a friend to man!

I am an olive tree:

A sacred tree!


A friend of all mankind.


I’m the holy tree of all Prophets.

I am the tree who feeds

The hungry,

Makes rich the poor,

Cures sick,

The sacred tree!


A friend of all mankind!


No one knows and how?

While man increased, we the olive trees, decreased.

As we decreased, man increased!


While the machines smashed our bodies,

The cracks from our branches indeed

Were the cracking bones of the people who had planted us!

It was the annihilating nature,

The annihilated:

Were the human’s works.

Were the human’s  achievements,

Were the human’s wealth,

And the human’s food given by God.


Yet, we ask:

What happened to the people?

Who loved and possessed nature, saved and grew trees?

What happened to your fathers, your grandfathers?


O you men! If you have lovers you rise and get higher and higher.

If you have lovers you get richer and richer.

Do not forget:

You are happy, as long as you have lovers.


While they are making homes for themselves

They destroyed ours.

They committed suicide and applied genocide to the olive trees.

While aiming and saying: “I want to earn more and more.”

In fact, the people got more and more poor.


I, the olive tree say:

“If you are destitute in trees, this means that you are poor in love.

If you are destitute in forests, this means that you are poor in natural beauty.

If you are destitute in greenery, this means you are poor in “humanity”,

Indeed, they don’t see this eternal truth.


Amendment 2012

I talked to Ali Nesim in the summer of 2012. The world around us is on fire. What is his estimation of the present situation, I asked him. His answer was: “The civilisation that mankind has created over the centuries is in danger today! A lot of inhumane things are happening. Mankind has become the destroyer of men and of the higher values. How long will this continue? Do we have to wait until the end and mankind is obliterated? Who will stop this erosion? Indeed I am deeply pessimistic. We have to work hard to restore ethical and humane values, respect, love and to promote peace. Men need each other; only mankind can help mankind.

Let’s hope and be optimistic and let’s pull together for our future. Let’s trust each other. Together, we can do anything.”



-Kibris Türk Edebiyatinda Sosyal Konular, 1986

-Batmayan Egitim Günelerimiz, 1987

-Şahmaran (Öyküler, 1989

-Kıbris Türk Genç Hareketi, 1999

-Kıbrislı Türklerin Kimliği, 1999

-Yaşamın Güzelliklerini Keşfedin, (denemeler-öyküler),  2006

-Kıbrıs Efsaneleri, Turkish, English (with S.Öznur), 2007

-Kıbrıs Efsaneleri, Turkish, English, German (w S.Öznur), 2009

-Templos Zeytinlik (Social life and culture), Turkish and English, 2009

-The Cry of an Olive Tree, Epic Story, Turkish and English, 2009


My thoughts are with his family in these sad days. He will be ever present with us through the work he did.









Ali Nesim meeting Halkios, the migrating Cypriot
Ali Nesim meeting Halkios, the migrating Cypriot 'angel'

Ali Nesim at the Zeytin Festival in Zeytinlik
Ali Nesim at the Zeytin Festival in Zeytinlik

Ali, the young man
Ali, the young man

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