Ata ATUN, Prof., Dr.
Civil Engineer, Writer, Political Advisor, Publisher and Expert in Cyprus history
Born in Famagusta in 1948
Discipline is the only way for me
Member of an old Famagusta family, a family used to actively take part in their people’s concerns and take the lead, used to study and travel and thereby find new objects of interest, used to promote education and culture in their country. This background may serve as an explanation to the fact that Dr. Ata Atun has many wide fields of interest and activities which I could not recognize all at first glance and which seem to oppose each other.
“That is a long story,” Ata Atun said, when I asked him how a learnt civil engineer with a preference for Mathematics and Technical Drawing - he has written many educational books about it and done the drawings as well!! - and in Computer Analysis programme of reinforced concrete building in late 1900’s, then a research work “An estimation of the fish stock in the bay of Famagusta” to become a member of Parliament and politician and finally an active expert in the history of Cyprus.
“These are just the corner posts, let me tell you: I graduated from T.E.D. College in Ankara and Şişli College and attended Al-Hikma American University (Branch of Boston University, today University of Baghdad for my Civil Engineer BSc in 1971. I later undertook graduate study and research in Computer Analysis Programme of Monolithic Split Foundation at Century University in Los Angeles, receiving my MSc degree in 1987. In a postgraduate study and research in Survey and Analysis of the gravels of the TRNC in the same university I received my PhD in 1989. I completed a postgraduate programme in Washington DC on December 1994 and received my Associated Professor Degree in 1998 and became full Professor in 2005 at the Near East University in Nicosia. I also attended summer courses in Journalism in Prague held by Charles University of Prague and the Fund for American Studies of Washington. So, this is my academic education, the frame work.”
Yes, I realize. An analytical and experienced mind like his will not stop at one only field of activity but will automatically go into any problematic situation that he is faced with, do research and look for a solution.
I look around the beautiful office Ata Atun has organized for himself to his own taste with long rows of book shelves, one of the offices in the building of SAMTAY Foundation (Suna ve Ata Atun, Mağusa Tarihini Araştırma ve Yazın Vakfı – Foundation to Research the History of Famagusta by Ata and Suna Atun ) in the centre of Old Famagusta, in one of the old lanes which I have roamed many times. SAMTAY Foundation, this is now one of the centre points in Ata and Suna Atun’s life. It is a building which once housed the pharmacy in the basement, a pharmacy which was owned by Suna Atun, the wife of Ata – she is a graduated pharmacist - and which is now entirely the Centre of SAMTAY Foundation with a very important archive in the basement, archive of newspapers, magazines and books, on the first floor a wide studio for researchers and co-workers, conference rooms and private offices. A most sincere place of thought. where you can breathe the airs of literature and research work done, a very inspiring but comfortable atmosphere, and everywhere books around on all walls.
SAMTAY is the end of the chain, isn’t it, I ask. What came before?
“After returning to Cyprus I joined the Turkish Cypriot Army (Mücahit) right away. This was in September 1970. I met my wife in Famagusta and we got engaged on March 14, 1971. I knew her from high school. We got married in August 1972 and I retired from the army in September. We established a company the same year and opened the pharmacy. However, in the 1974 Turkish Intervention I participated as a Mücahit again.
After 1974 the trade boomed and we became an importing and distributing business.
In 1975 I entered politics upon the request of late Mr. Denktaş and was elected Member of Parliament for the National Unity party (UBP) of the Famagusta constituency. My father Prof. Dr. Hakkı Atun was an academic and teaching at that time at the Hacettepe Medical University, Ankara, Turkey. Due to my excellent knowledge of the English language I was elected by the Parliament to the Foreign Affairs committee. Duly I started working close to Mr. Denktaş, drafting the press releases and announcements initially. I actually worked with him on a voluntary basis for almost 24 years and the last 10 years as a political advisor without any official title. From the year 2000 to 2009 I was the political advisor to Mr. Serdar Denktaş in the Democratic Party, again it was a position of a non-governmental status. As an official governmental position I held the Chair of the Development Bank from 2004 to 2006. Active politics in the sense of decision making is not really my favourite occupation because it opposes my instincts as an engineer and also my sense of fairness. Through the ongoing peace talks with the Greek Cypriot leaders I was part of the negotiation group. Since 1947 none of the proposed 50 plans of solution were accepted by the Greek part because of one detail, that was the participation of the Turkish Cypriots, which I think is the basic requirement for any talks.”
That is quite a career starting at the age of 27 years only. When did he open the sea transport business, I asked.
“We, as the A&S Atun Limited, A&S stands for Ata and Suna, entered the sea transport business in 1982 by first constructing a fishing trawler locally and later by buying a new one from the UK. Then, in 1992 we bought a coaster and the other vessels followed later one by one totaling five altogether today.”
Now, we must talk about his academic career again, if we want to try to establish a time line.
Ata Atun went into teaching at the Near East University on his favourite subject: “I had started teaching Civil Engineering at the Near East University in 1992, that makes 20 years now for 16 hours a week…..I have thoroughly enjoyed this part of my life, and still do, I love teaching and I love the strict rules of this academic discipline.”
Ata Atun shows me the educational books he has written and illustrated for the Civil Engineering faculty and other faculties as well.
With all these successful occupations there was an important turning point in his life.
What made him and his wife decide to turn their interest on culture and history, it was first around Famagusta, now they have widened their range of interest to the whole of North Cyprus.
“It was actually a moment when our children had grown up. We have two children, a daughter who has studied economies and psychology respectively and a son who graduated in 1994 with a Master degree in Economy and Marine Administration respectively, one after the other. After his military service, I handed the company over to him, trained and advised him. It was a decision my wife Suna and I had made, to give up trade altogether and concentrate on a hobby of us, the history of Famagusta, to do something worthwhile with the rest of our life. In the year of 2000 we founded the SAMTAY Foundation with the vision of researching the past to carry it to the future. A co-founder of SAMTAY Foundation is Mr. Bülent Fevzioğlu, a researcher, author and coordinator of the foundation. Many books the foundation has published carry the name of Suna Atun and Bülent Fevzioğlu jointly as authors.
My wife had given up her pharmacy and plunged into the new project with all her heart to research and collate, to write and publish all facts of our history based on documents we would find. In the last 12 years we have published 45 books.”
While my pencil races over my notepad, Ata Atun brings me one published book after the other – he returns it immediately to its place for not risking any damage - and tells me the background of them: there is the very first book he wrote, the History of Famagusta - a book on 116 Turkish artists from 1823 till today and only in Famagusta! The translation of the Excerpta Cypria by Claude D. Cobham - he had found the antique book on one of his travels and paid a lot of money for it.
The bookshelves in the SAMTAY Foundation are filled with precious books, found and collected, bought for high sums or found on street markets for very little money when the value of the book was not known. Luck. He must be very proud of his collection. He is, he confirms.
There are the ten volumes as a sort of Political Diary from 2001 to 2011; there are recordings of 117 Short Story writers from 1897 to 2004; a book on Turkish Cypriot novel writers: here I can hardly believe the figure of 116 authors from 1834 – 1958.
For the three volumes on the History of Nicosia it took Ata Atun five years of research; there is a Dictionary of the Cypriot Turkish Dialect; the History of Music groups from 1963 - 2000; the History of Football in the country; the History of Journalism of the TRNC, just to mention a few to demonstrate the wide variety of published books. As a very special treasure I am shown a book on Ottoman Scripts, and I can see from the way he cradles it in his arms, how much it is to his heart. He uncovers to me another talent he has and that is painting and drawing: he makes his own illustrations, not only technical ones in his educational books but also very romantic ones, either as a cover picture or when he could not provide a photo documentation he just made one himself!
Ata Atun’s wife Suna is a full partner in SAMTAY; I would like to learn more about her activities. “Suna has started teaching Turkish literature at the Eastern Mediterranean University in 2005, and with all her experience of research she has done for SAMTAY, she is one of the experts in Turkish Cypriot literature. She is an excellent researcher, and just to mention some works of her: There were three novels by Hikmet Afif Mapolar (1919-1989) published in local newspapers in sequences only; Suna went into researching the old newspapers in the National Archive and copied them for publication, the Marble Woman, or Love Valley, for example; a great task!”
How does he manage all his daily duties, even for him, the day has only 24 hours, and one does need some hours of rest to refresh the mind.
“My day starts at 5.30 in the morning, when I do my writing of articles or if a book is in process, a new chapter. It is my best time, a time I only have for myself.” Since 2002 Ata Atun has started to write political articles in local newspapers and they come up to a figure of over 1500 texts published!! For a couple of weeks now, the readers of Cyprus Observer have the pleasure to read his insider comments on political events which is very much appreciated.”
“In the mornings I go to my office at A&S Atun Limited, our Shipping Company, the responsibility of which my son Sunat had to return to me when he accepted the appointment as Minister of Economy and Energy. I have an accurately set time schedule for my obligations that is my post as lecturer at the Near East University, I cannot avoid keeping to it, and all the other activities such as conferences, meetings on request by the President, have to fit in. Still today I am called by President Dervis Eroğlu to assist and advise him due to my experience and knowledge of Greek Cypriot tactics of negotiation.” I am appointed by the president to the Presidential Advisory group of May 2010.
When I come home in the evening where I have another office, I continue my writing and reading. There is no distraction for me like television or any other form of entertainment. Only strict discipline!”
At the age of 64 Dr. Ata Atun has gone back to the rank of a student to make his PhD in Politics at the Girne American University which will be completed in May-September 2013; that makes it his second PhD.
When I said Adieu to him I asked him one last question: How did he spend his childhood? There is a slight hesitation before he answers, a little bitter: “My father was a Professor of Medicine and always on the move across the world, and I with him, a migrant.”