my uncle, salih kaya sağın, died of brain cancer thursday, at 80. we buried him saturday.
of course this is not an invitation into my world to take part of my personal grief. my uncle was one of the last representatives of a generation, bred by the republic that belonged body and soul to the idea of republican turkey. born in the toddler years of the new turkish state to a middle class family, intelligent, well educated, sent to study mechanical engineering in switzerland on a state scholarship, fluent in english and french and excellent in german (according to his late "tante" in bern), a true gentleman, a grand-master in the freemasons, but above all else a devout "atatürkçü" (better known in english as kemalist). once, he would not speak to me for maybe two years because i argued that mustafa kemal was a dictator! (i was rather uncut in those years, now i think i would call him an autocrat). oh, his entire life, he hated religious extremism and mixing politics with faith(s) probably so much that by the time he was 70 or so, well contrary to the general trend he grew off any religious tentacles binding him. he probably believed in some higher being or non existence ruling the universe but he died no more moslem or christian than a red indian shaman. he hated the islam represented by tayyib erdoğan with a pure, unadulterated, unmitigable fervor.
he and his peers were the second liners in a relay race. they took the flag over from the first generation that was directly responsible for creating the republic. their goal in life was to advance the vatan, the patrie, the motherland before improving their personal fortune. despite all his qualifications, kaya bey spent solely about two years in the private sector. he dedicated his professional life and learning to a love affair with railroads. only when he retired (early) as vice president of the t.c.d.d. (turkish state railways) he launched into a new dimension in his career as an international technical advisor.
not only maths either: true to the tender spirit of the republican intellectual, he was a lettrist in his own right; one of his many publications (mostly about mechanics and it systems) was an updated translation of classic ottoman poetry, written in a turkish the younger generations can not hope to understand with their august vocabulary of 25 monosyllabics and 10 or so atavistic sound utterances. i guess the book sold 10 copies or so.
kaya bey was the epitome of the modernist, positivist, science oriented, technically minded "turkish youth" that the republican idea hoped to raise and entrust the future of the country. as many others like him, he put everything he had into that ideal. where he went wrong was where the republic's ideology went wrong: you cannot elevate the state to a semi sacred pedestal if you are to become modern. modernity is one dimension of capitalism as a comprehensive social system - not just an economic model -. modern only thrives on liberty, freedom and as little intervention as possible, in any field of experience, not just economics.
in his latter years my uncle did realize the powers liberation could mobilize but he nevertheless died a conservative atatürkçü with undying faith in a state that, by my standards at least, failed him.