Heidi Trautmann

676 - Tamer Öncül @ StreetArt Café in Kyrenia

By Heidi Trautmann


A summer evening, a bookstore at night, some poetry lovers sitting comfortably in a circle in the small fore garden…. we have come to meet poet Tamer Öncül. Opportunity to ask a poet for his reasons, his philosophy, his experience; why do you write poems and when have you started, where does your inspiration come from, etc. etc. Zeki Ali, another poet, and known for his music programmes on BRT, was also present.

It became an animated exchange of ideas between the poet and the guests after he had started to recount of his career as poet and writer. I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Tamer Öncül some time ago which is included in Volume II of my book ‘Art and Creativity in North Cyprus’ soon to be published. Tamer is a modern and critical mind and I would like to introduce him to my readers because it is through the artistic and creative people that we learn most about the country we live in.  If you want to find TC poetry in other languages, ask Ayça from the bookstore, there is also my book ‘North Cyprus My Way’ containing some poetry of local poets in English and German.


Here are some passages of text from my interview:


Tamer ÖNCÜL, Poet, Dentist and Columnist, born in Nicosia in 1960

Poetry versus today’s humanity

“What is the meaning of humanity today? Are these two-legged living creatures on our globe still human in the sense we used to know?  The classic definition in our dictionaries of ‘human’ is: having or showing the best qualities of mankind which are kindness, tenderness, compassion, consideration, civilization, refinement etc. This definition is dead, it has been replaced by ‘barbaric’, we have returned to the level of barbarians, living beings who are only interested in satisfying their basic needs and their insatiable greed.  These beings don’t stop at destroying their own trees and cultural assets.”


Tamer Öncül expresses his disgust about the developments in his country - but also in the whole world. Ideals such as pride, honour, truth, love of country have vanished, have been trampled on during recent years. These values have been sold out for something more treacherous. This is Cyprus for him today. He tells me this in his dentist’s office in Nicosia, an office where next to the clinical equipment for the care of dental patients are shelves full of books - not only scientific books but volumes of poetry and literature.  The walls are decorated with pictures by his artist friends, a place where one can feel at ease. Tamer Öncül is a handsome man with relaxed composure, not at all as his poems would make us believe, but rather like the doctor his patients trust in. A bit confusing; how do these two roles work together, I ask him.

“To concern myself with the various pains of patients demands the same kind of psychological approach as poetry.” Tamer explains, “One does not exclude the other, rather the two support each other. Studying dentistry was a chance decision; the alternative would have been archaeology, but I followed my brother’s advice – he studied medicine himself – to   go for dentistry. And the most important thing about it is that it leaves my head and my heart free for literature and poetry.”

Tamer Öncül was born into the years of trouble and the places of his childhood were all in the area between Kermia and Gönyeli, especially the house of his grandfather who more than once had to take the family in, in times of crisis. “On the one hand, I grew up with the mysterious stories and legends my grandfather told us during the hours of the dying day and on the other, I grew up with the noise of guns, to see soldiers come and go, to see and hear people die, to see and smell blood, and we could feel the hate and mistrust like solid walls.”


Our Wall

To Niyazi and Panikos

Look! I am just in the middle

Ugly, protruding vertebras

Of your humpback…

Your rusty, breakable bones

Are crackling

Under my feet

You, I

And terrible searchlights

Are illuminating

The desolation’s lie.

Look! I am alone on your back…

The people, your creators,

Stayed behind and in front of me…

                They all together gaze at their pains

                Inflicted by each other…-

Eyes blushed from shame

Follow my haughty shadow I feel…

They look through bullet holes:

Frightened and offensive.

Look I am just in the middle.

The one, whose steel muscles shiver,

And thorny black hair

Piercing your bloody flesh of your back…

I heard your story

From a young man

Watering his roses

By passport.


Look !We are alone…

Confess it all and tell me…

Say, who nourishes you?

Say, how many flags you serve,

How many people’s vampire?

July 1997, Ledra Palace





You ask me

Why do I write

So much war poetry?

To make you disgusted

With war….


 “In 1984 I graduated and got married to my Cypriot wife who studied eye medicine in Istanbul. We both stayed on in Istanbul working in our respective professions, until 1989. But

homesickness compelled us to return to Cyprus. My first poetry book was published in Istanbul in 1987. Besides organizing our private life back in Cyprus, during the first two years we found jobs in Kyrenia.  Then I started to write for the newspaper Yeni Düzen as a cultural columnist covering cultural developments and events in North Cyprus, and, as time went by, as a book critic…”….A nasty job, is it not, I asked?

“Yes, you can easily hurt people’s feelings and then they don’t speak to you any more.  Yet it is the work I criticize and not the person. You know we have too many so-called artists, hobby poets who throw poetry at the market. But if we appraise poetry according to its quality, we have no more than 20 poets and short story writers of international standard.”

I tell Tamer that I know that he is a board member and Coordinator of the North Cypriot Artists and Writers Union …

“As a union we are able to coordinate our forces much more effectively to make our Cypriot poetry known internationally.  Through our cooperation with other foreign unions we get our books or perhaps only parts of them translated into other languages, such as English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Azerbeijani, Arabic, Lithuanian, etc. ……….

There is a wave of melancholy and hopelessness going through the verses, conveyed by images of decay, the colour of blood, black nights of dreams, a heavy sadness. There are surrealist images also, and hardly any twinkling stars to soften the view, no sun to warm the heart, no blooming flowers giving off sweet scents. Why are they so uncompromisingly sad?  Will the shadow of your people’s unhappiness lie over your verses forever?  Could you not allow yourself to experience a drop of happiness once in a while?

“Yes, I am subject to melancholy, hopelessness, thoughts of blood, death and gloom…but this should not lead to the conclusion that I write ‘dark poems” which propagate hopelessness. But to trade empty hopes with fool’s poetry would mean ignoring the dark barbaric age we live in.  Instead I choose to illuminate the existing reality in all its nakedness and where we are now is our final stand!  It is my duty to point out that we can either choose to return to our humanity or we perish.



 “As I stressed before, not just Cyprus and Cypriots but the whole of humanity has lost its values. In this “barbaric age” wrongly called the “age of communication” instead of the “cyber age” where greedy consumerism is encouraged rather than production, we should try to return to “human values”...I know that writing poetry and publishing books is not enough to change the situation... you are saying “we need to find a new key”...a single key is not enough to open up the doors of this confusing labyrinth...we need a lot of keys and a lot of people (from all fields)... everyone should contribute their part...an artist’s key is his/her art.  For those outside the realms of art and poetry there should be other keys supplied by “civil organisations” and “alternative living” to fight in all areas of life... “


Yes, Tamer Öncül is right. Our times carry in them the seed of an epidemic and it reaches all the niches of our world. We can only hope that his words and those of his colleagues reach sensitive ears.



1987 - Günleri Kayıp Bir Çocuk Güncesi (İstanbul; Kendi Yayınım); 82 Sayfa

1992 - Şiirdir Dünya (Lefkoşa; Kendi Yayınım); 52 Sayfa

1996 - I Hora -ŞŞ eher (,Lefkoşa; Pygmalion Yayınları); 80 Sayfa

1996 - Yitik Aşklar Sokağı (Lefkoşa; Pygmalion Yayınları) 58 sayfa

1998 - Gündüz Düşleri (İstanbul; Hera Yayınları); 80 Sayfa

2003 - Kuru Pınar Yazıtları (Lefkoşa; Pygmalion Yayınları); 90 Sayfa

2008 - Düşler (İstanbul; K.T. Sanatçı Ve Yazarlar Birliği Yayınları); 96 Sayfa


Kıbrıs Türk Yüksek Öğrenim Gençliği Hareketleri (Araştırma-Derleme. Lefkoşa, 1999. Öntaç Düzgün’le birlikte. Naci Talat Vakfı Yayınları); 360 Sayfa

Referandum /Yeni Sözlük /Köşe Yazıları,( Lefkoşa 2006; Kendi Yayınım); 308 Sayfa

Toyki - … Derleme. Lefkoşa 2003 Eylül; Vakıf Yayını); 68 Sayfa






















Tamer Öncül
Tamer Öncül

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