Rıfat Ilgaz: The creator of malicious children in Turkish literature

Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Turkish novelist, poem and storyteller Rıfat Ilgaz and he was remembered by Turkey on his death anniversary on June 7.

Born on May 7, 1911 as the youngest child of Fatma Hanım and Hüseyin Vehbi Bey in Kastamanu province, Mehmet Rıfat Ilgaz completed his primary and secondary education in this city. He graduated from the Muallim Mektebi boarding school, a teacher training college, in 1930.

He started writing poems when he was a student. In 1936, he studied literature in the literature department of the Gazi Education Institute. Working as a schoolteacher in the districts of Gerede Akçakoca and Gümüşova for six years, he was later appointed to Istanbul. He worked as a Turkish teacher at Karagümrük High School and Nişantaşı High School.

Literary identity and writing life

In 1926, his first published poem was “Sevgilimin Mezarında” (“Beside my lover’s grave”). Ilgaz also studied philosophy and met Hasan Tanrıkut, Sabahattin Kudret Aksal and Salah Birsel in the same years. He published Yürüyüş Magazine with Ömer Faruk Toprak in 1942 and worked with various poets including Orhan Kemal, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Cahit Irgat, İbrahim Abdülkadir Meriçboyu and Nazım Hikmet in this journal.

His first poetry book “Yarenlik” (“Friendly Discussion”) met literary enthusiasts in 1943. The following year he was jailed for six months because of his poetry book “Sınıf” (“Class”) . Ilgaz wanted to continue teaching after his release; however, he quit teaching in 1947 for various reasons and began working as a journalist.

Attempting to maintain a socialist and realistic line in his writing and his life, Ilgaz was prosecuted for his works. He was sentenced to almost five and a half years in prison but did not serve his entire sentence in prison due to illness and amnesty.

Critic Asım Bezirci said of Ilgaz, who was influenced by poets of the time like Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel, Ahmet Kutsi Tecer and Halit Fahri Ozansoy, in Papirüs magazine: “We know Rıfat Ilgaz as socialist poet. We didn’t know he wrote poems that weren’t socialist for a long time. Such poems are among the pages of old magazines. Ilgaz did not include them in any of his books. This is why he has always been considered a poet who deals with social issues. In fact, these poems also played a role in Ilgaz’s success as a socialist poet. “

“Ilgaz’s power was his pen,” Aydın Ilgaz, the writer’s son, told Anadolu (AA) agency in an interview in 2018. He added that his father has always incorporated reality into his job.

“My father had 12 books of poetry,” says his son. He said his father’s poems that were previously banned are now part of school curricula.

Ilgaz also wrote a memoir of his life in prison titled “Karartma Geceleri” (“Blackout Nights”).

Turkish education satire

Ilgaz has also written extensively for magazines and newspapers. He published news in Dolmuş magazine under the pseudonym “Stepne”. “Hababam Sınıfı” (“The Chaos Class”) was one such story.

Becoming particularly popular with this story, he made a play of it which was staged at the Ulvi Uraz Theater in Istanbul for three months in 1966. It was performed over 600 times in front of an audience totaling 51,000 people. The play also toured Germany and Japan.

In 1975, this story made the jump to the big screen and proved so popular that it spawned five sequels. The film tells the story of the new assistant principal and history teacher at Çamlıca High School, Mahmut. He tries to discipline the mischievous kids in this class.

Ilgaz explained why he wrote such a story: “The Hababam class is a satire on Turkish education. The humor is white, positive. Laughter is not the main element of humor. You can laugh or cry as you wish. I criticize and don’t. I don’t even think of comedy. In the “Chaos Class” three things are criticized: cheating, memorization and manufactured respect. My humor is based on making others think. “

In his later years, Ilgaz focused on his memoirs and children’s books. With the idealism of his years as a teacher, he wanted to write for the new generation.

Death and inheritance

Ilgaz died on July 7, 1993 in Istanbul and was buried in Zincirlikuyu cemetery. A cultural festival takes place from July 7 to 9 in Kastamonu to mark the anniversary of his death.

Cide’s house, Kastamonu, where he was born and raised, has been turned into a museum. The Koşuyolu Adile Sultan pavilion, where his magnum opus “The Class of Chaos” was staged, was also transformed into a museum in 2014.

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Ann G. Starbuck