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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
(Published in Cyprus Today on
July 22, 2006)
Review of his new book: The
Cry of an Olive Tree
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.
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
foreword he says:
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.
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.
to thank to Roger Simpson from English Language and Literature Department of
Near East University who edited the English version of this book.
want to thank my daughter-in-law Burcu Nesimoğlu, who helped me in all the
stages of this book.
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 CALL OF AN OLIVE TREE TO
The 1st Address
I am an
sweetly smelling silver leaves,
of all mankind.
holy tree of all Prophets.
I am the
tree who feeds
the poor rich,
friend to man!
I am an
of all mankind.
holy tree of all Prophets.
I am the
tree who feeds
rich the poor,
of all mankind!
knows and how?
man increased, we the olive trees, decreased.
decreased, man increased!
the machines smashed our bodies,
cracks from our branches indeed
cracking bones of the people who had planted us!
the annihilating nature,
human’s food given by God.
happened to the people?
loved and possessed nature, saved and grew trees?
happened to your fathers, your grandfathers?
men! If you have lovers you rise and get higher and higher.
have lovers you get richer and richer.
happy, as long as you have lovers.
they are making homes for themselves
committed suicide and applied genocide to the olive trees.
and saying: “I want to earn more and more.”
the people got more and more poor.
olive tree say:
are destitute in trees, this means that you are poor in love.
are destitute in forests, this means that you are poor in natural beauty.
are destitute in greenery, this means you are poor in “humanity”,
they don’t see this eternal truth.
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.
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,
Efsaneleri, Turkish, English (with S.Öznur), 2007
Efsaneleri, Turkish, English, German (w S.Öznur), 2009
Zeytinlik (Social life and culture), Turkish and English, 2009
of an Olive Tree, Epic Story, Turkish and English, 2009
thoughts are with his family in these sad days. He will be ever present with us
through the work he did.