“When I Left My Country, I Started Appreciating My Culture More”: AUC Student Alya Yumrukçal Shares Her Favourite Book from Home

By Natalia Zalega

Illustration by Sabine Besson

AUC’s 900 students come from more than 60 countries. The Herring has talked to several of them, all coming from different parts of the world, and asked them to share a book that reminds them of a broadly defined home. A piece of literature that they think is representative of their country. The conversations involve the importance of language, nature, history, political situation, and personal family stories. Join the journey through AUC’s cultural diversity via the intimate conversations about literature. Today: Alya Yumrukçal from Turkey shares her story about the book A Season in Hakkari (original title: Hakkâri’de Bir Mevsim) by Ferit Edgü.

“Experiencing the Netherlands, I feel like I long more for the Turkish part of me, specifically I long for Istanbul. Istanbul makes my own identity, it builds me.

The book is called „A Season in Hakkari”. It is a city in the eastern part of Turkey in the mountains. There are a lot of conflicts in this city, and nobody sheds a light upon it, nobody cares. I want to represent my country, as a reflection of this book.

The story is about the sailor whose boat sinks and he wakes up, as a teacher. He starts observing the people, the season, the surroundings, and he tries to understand who he is. In English, there is no word for such an observer that he is being called in Turkish. The reader can observe the construction of the character’s identity. He keeps trying to remember his own past. He feels out of place and guilty, he wants to help these people, but he does not know how. He finds himself in an internal dilemma.

The sinking boat is a metaphor for being exiled. Hakkari, on the other hand, is a metaphor for the real harshness of life. In Hakkari it is cold. Coldness is such an important aspect; children die because of the cold weather. It is hard to survive. The sailor tries to help these people, but at the same time not to intervene, because he does not know anything about this place. He tries to survive and find his identity.

I also want to stress the way this book is written; it is like a poem. The lyricalness of the text makes it even more emotional. It touches upon the issues of education and health system, problems which are not solved in the eastern part of Turkey.

Video by Natalia Zalega. Alya Yumrukçal reads an excerpt from Hakkâri’de Bir Mevsim.

As an Istanbul citizen, I live in a very privileged state, which I am aware of. I am aware of the conditions, in which these people live, but I cannot do anything about it, because these are systematic problems. I remember these people, and I am sad about it, but I still do not do anything about it. That leaves me in an internal conflict. How can I be happy when I know that lots of my people are suffering? I feel guilty about my privilege.

 These people are a part of Turkish culture. They have the same Turkish rituals, like drinking tea. That is also what made me reflect on it that they have the same daily routine but in very different conditions. There is a scene where the guy enters the barber’s shop and just opens the conversation. This is a very Turkish thing, you just become friends with anyone. This is very intimate. Even when these people are in extreme conditions, they still are very intimate. I think this is a really good part of our culture.

In this book, other ethnic groups are also represented. Assyrian people and Kurdish people. You can see the difference between the ethnic groups, and I really enjoyed that. Normally, when we talk about Turkey, we think only about Turkish people. The involvement of these other ethnic groups allowed me to enter their lives, understand the way they think. Just acknowledge and appreciate their existence. It is important because the creation of Turkish culture and identity also depends on these other ethnic groups. The way we interact with them says so much about us as well.

I read it 2 years ago, just before I left for the Netherlands. I read it just once, but it already sticks to me. When I was experiencing cold in the Netherlands it reminded me of some parts of the book. It is different because although Amsterdam is cold, people are living in good conditions. They are wealthy and I wish the same for my country.

When the child dies the reaction of the mother is “Oh okay, again, that is sad”. And then they burn them to have heat. This is what they do for survival. When I read it, I was shocked by this reality.

When I left my country I started appreciating my culture more. I am giving more importance to my people. I see people here having no critical problem. In my country lots of people are starving, the economy is tragic, there is no access to education and health, our first needs are not provided. Here, people get more than they need, this is a luxurious thing for me. I wish the same for my country.

The main character realizes that when you are in Turkey, you normalize these problems. They become a part of your routine. He is facing children’s death. When the child dies the reaction of the mother is “Oh okay, again, that is sad”. And then they burn them to have heat. This is what they do for survival. When I read it, I was shocked by this reality.

But from when I left, whenever I come back, I stop normalising it. When we normalise these problems, it means that it becomes a part of us, so we cannot make them disappear. We are used to it, but there are places where people do not need to think about survival, and we should integrate this into our culture.

I definitely believe in personal touch with the author through cultural background, so sometimes I read Turkish books just to remind myself that this is where I come from. I miss it, especially Istanbul. It is where I was raised and born.”

Editor’s note: This article is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was written, edited, and fact-checked by students of the journalism course. Some content may have been altered by The Herring’s editors for clarity and style.


Find the first three parts of the series here:

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