The Fisherman of Halicarnassus: Bodrum, Blue Anatolia and beyond

Bodrum of Muğla province is among the most visited tourist destinations in the world. Once a small fishing village founded on the ruins of the ancient site of Halicarnassus of Caria, Bodrum has witnessed a true renaissance in the last decades and became the summer vacation spot of millions of tourists coming from all over the world. The popularity of the city has emerged from the famous Blue Voyage and the special interest of artists and intellectuals, both Turkish and foreign.

As a matter of fact, one individual was responsible for starting the rush to Bodrum. Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, often referred to as "The Fisherman of Halicarnassus," the pen name he adopted after he settled in Bodrum, was the first man to lead people to spend time in the town and environs, which he would call "the Blue Anatolia."

Early life

The Fisherman of Halicarnassus was born "Cevat Şakir" in Crete on April 17, 1886 to Mehmet Şakir Pasha, Ottoman High Commissioner to Crete, and Sare İsmet Hanım. The Fisherman was the eldest of six siblings, all talented artists. Fahrelnisa Zeid and Aliye Berger, two of his sisters, would become famous painters, while his niece Füreya, daughter of Hakkiye, the eldest sister of The Fisherman, was a ceramic artist.

Fisherman's uncle Ahmed Cevat Pasha served as the Grand Vizier during the Abdülhamid II reign. Indeed, The Fisherman's name was a combination of the names of his father and uncle, who loved children though he couldn't have one despite two marriages.

In 1895, Abdülhamid dismissed Cevat Pasha, and Şakir Pasha quit his post in Crete and moved his family to the Princes Islands in Istanbul in order to protest his brother's dismissal.

The Fisherman passed his early years in Athens, where his father was the Ottoman Ambassador. He was first schooled on Büyükada, the biggest of the Princes Islands, before he enrolled in the Robert College. He didn't like the school. He once spoke of the time spent at the college as a total waste. He wrote, "We spent three years to read some crap, and three years more to forget them. A total of six years of nothing."

However, in 1907, he graduated from Robert College and his father made him move to London to study history at Oxford University. In 1913, he moved to Italy to study painting and married an Italian model named Agnesia Kafeira. They had a daughter. On the other hand, The Fisherman had a boy, too, from a secret affair with a Spanish woman named Pilar. His son born from Pilar died in the Spanish Civil War.

A very sad incident

The Fisherman returned back to Istanbul in 1914 together with his Italian wife and his daughter, which was a shock for the family, of course. His father couldn't accept the situation and father and son began quarreling all the time. Besides, the son had spent too much money and the father was now bankrupt.

They visited Afyon province to sell a family property in order to receive some money. However, The Fisherman accidentally killed his father during a severe quarrel. The Fisherman was arrested and charged for murdering his father. The court sentenced him to fourteen years in prison, seven of which he actually served.

Cevat Şakir with his daughter Ismet Kabaağaçlı.

The Fisherman was released during the British occupation. He writes of this as a dark experience. He couldn't bear the British officers, who were always cruel against Turkish citizens. He decided to join a Sufi lodge and began practicing Sufism.

The Fisherman could speak many languages including Arabic, Persian, English, Italian and Latin, and old and new Greek. He tried to earn his by writing for newspapers. He wrote both short stories and cultural pieces. Besides, he made the graphic designs of the "Resimli Ay" (Monthly Illustrated), where some notorious leftists such as Nazım Hikmet wrote.

The Fisherman divorced Agnesia and married his uncle's daughter Hamdiye. They had a boy called Sina.

Punishment turns out to be a reward

In 1925, The Fisherman was again arrested. But this time the cause of arrest was political. The public prosecutor sued him for a short story he wrote. It was a small piece about an Ottoman runaway soldier. The accusation was that he tried to provoke people against the army, though the story was about the Ottoman State, not the Turkish Republic, which was founded two years before the story was published.

The court sentenced him for three years imprisonment at the Bodrum Castle. The young writer was lucky since the Castle was in ruins. So, he served his three years staying in Bodrum. He rented a house and began living as he wished.

The Fisherman divorced Hamdiye and married Hatice, a young girl from a Turkish Cretan family. The new couple moved to Istanbul after The Fisherman's sentence ended, but they would return to Bodrum since he couldn't feel comfortable in Istanbul.

The Fisherman lived in Bodrum for 25 years, during when he could to contribute to the life of the villagers. He taught them how to plant orange trees. He also worked as a fisherman for a period of time.

Blue Anatolia

The Fisherman is the public face of a group of writers and artists, who are called the Blue Anatolians. They were defending that idea that Anatolia was the cradle of civilizations. They thought the heritage of Anatolia, mostly the Hellenic legacy, belonged to the people living on the Anatolian territory now. Therefore, the culture of Turkey consisted of all, not only the Turkish culture with the Ottoman and Seljuk backgrounds. The Fisherman claimed that the civilization arose from the Mediterranean and its hinterland and was the common legacy of all nations who had served it.

It's obvious that the Blue Anatolians tried to find a solution for rooting the cultural Westernization policy of the Turkish Republic. The nationalist cultural policy and the so-called "Turkish history thesis" preceded their efforts, leaving a latent but strong influence on them.

The Fisherman was an expert on ancient mythology and Aegean geography. He worked as a tourist guide for years and helped Bodrum gain massive touristic attention through the years. He wrote numerous essays on mythology, humanism, marine, et cetera. Besides, he wrote historical novels on famouspirates and captains of the Ottoman State.

The Fisherman was a talented essayist. Readers of various ages can easily get familiar with his point of views. He can explain a philosophical thought as if he is writing a short story, or as if he is reporting on a football match. His anecdotes are very rich thanks to his education.

The Fisherman of Halicarnassus died of bone cancer on Oct. 13, 1973 in İzmir and was buried in Bodrum, in accordance with his will. Next to his grave, there is a small museum named after him.

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