Success Story Extending from Diyarbakir to Paris: “Haw”

This year, writer Kemal Varol received the “France-Turkey Literature Award” organized by the Comite France-Turquie Association, which aims to build a bridge between France and Turkey. “Haw/Ouaf”, Varol’s novel about the harsh political environment of the 1990s in Diyarbakir, through the eyes of a dog named “Mikasa”, was chosen as the best Turkish novel translated into French this year. Varol announced to VOA Turkish that Mikasa, the protagonist of the novel, will be an animated movie, and that his previous novel, Lovers’ Day, can be watched as a movie on Netflix, starring Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ.

Mayor Francis Szpiner, the head of the award jury Kenize Mourad, the President of the Comite France-Turquie Marc Büker and the selection jury members; writers Nedim Gürsel and Venus Khoury Ghata, sociologist-author Gaye Petek, Turkish publications director of Acte Sud Publishing Timour Muhidine, and historian Frederic Hitzel working on Ottoman history.

The 16th Mayor of Paris, Szpiner, a member of the Republicans (LR) party hosting the award ceremony, said that culture, especially books, are “the most important weapons of mass destruction” that break down prejudices between the two countries. Szpiner expressed that they are happy to host this cultural event that builds a bridge between Turkey and France every year.

Marc Büker, President of the Comite France-Turquie Association, said that the association, which has established an important bond between the two countries, has left behind its 72nd year; He said that they will continue to carry out their economic, diplomatic, political and cultural activities. Büker said, “Literature is a bridge between people. Here, many Turkish writers’ works are being translated in France. There are a lot of French writers in Turkey as well. We aim to increase these relations.”

Before inviting Kemal Varol, who surpassed many writers such as Kenize Mourad, Elif Şafak, Murathan Mungan, Aslı Erdoğan, Enis Batur, and Sedef Ecer, the chairman of the jury introduced the 9 works that made it to the finals. Gaye Petek, one of the jury members, explained why they chose Haw among the 9 powerful works that made it to the final, “Because it was an interesting dystopia with a ten-degree different point of view. It was very valuable for us to tell both the pain and the love story by using the animal as a personality. Fakli, “It’s a new, authentic work. It’s a special narrative that the author pulls himself back into the dog’s skin and presents it from an outside perspective,” he said.

While receiving his award, Kemal Varol, a Turkish teacher at a secondary school in Diyarbakır, said, “Actually, I’m not saying anything new. Moreover, Bulgakov, like John Berger, tried a way that had been tried many times before me, making my hero not from among people, but from another creature, a street called Mikasa. It was a unique experience for me to write about an environment of violence that I know very well from his eyes, to put all my belongings aside while writing and to try to be impartial like him, to feel the pain of people from all walks of life in that dog’s heart. “It was very exciting to watch it from his eyes. I hope you will experience the same excitement while reading it.”

“Mikasa” becomes an animated movie

After the award ceremony, Kemal Varol gave an interview to VOA Turkish and explained that the adventure of his work “Haw” from Diyarbakır to Paris did not end here, and that negotiations for an animated movie are ongoing.

VOA English: Why is “Haw” a “dog” hero?

Kemal Varol: I love dogs very much. In the city where I live, a dog farm was established with the support of the EU. I would go there. And while I was watching those dogs, I came across two dogs who had failed mine-seeking training. As I look at them, “Can I write about my experiences through their eyes?” I thought. Through the eyes of a dog, I told what happened in an imaginary country in the 90s.

VOA English: Is the dog’s look more innocent?

Kemal Varol: More impartiality. A writer must be impartial, the canine hero helped me in that respect, I guess. It made me impartial.

VOA English: What were the initial reactions like?

Kemal Varol: When the book first came out, I got different reactions. For example, people who are afraid of dogs called me, and now there are readers who say they love dogs. “Oh, did such things happen there once?” There were also those who said I guess people sometimes trust the stories of the writers more than the reporters. Because writers of letters have less opportunity to manipulate, we tell them in a conscientious language beyond the language of news. In the book, beyond the story of the region, I tell how a conflict environment causes destruction in the soul of a person. To understand the military there, to understand others as well… My aim was to look at everyone with a humane perspective, without judgment.

VOA Turkish: You were chosen among such heavy writers in Paris? What is it like?

Kemal Varol: It seems very strange to me. It was previously published in America. The second language is French. It is an honor to be chosen from among such great writers. I never thought that the book would have such a worldwide response. The book also received an award in America. When I wrote it, it never occurred to me that this would happen. It seems surprising to me. In the country of Proust, Hugo, Zola, it is an honor to receive a small award.

“I’m a little hopeless”

VOA Turkish: You talk about the 1990s in the book. What do you think when you look at it today?

Kemal Varol: It is very important that the deaths stop compared to the past and that those dark years come to an end. In the ’90s, no matter what you did or even if you did nothing, getting home was not guaranteed no matter what your viewpoint. Now we are glad we are at least alive. But there is a state of silence. I don’t know, I’m a little hopeless. As you know, writers always think negatively. I wouldn’t want to live the 90’s again.

VOA English: Iraqi Kurdish immigrants looking for hope drowned in the waters of France yesterday, 27 immigrants lost their lives. What did you feel?

Kemal Varol: Yes, I saw it. I felt so much pain. Maybe because of their economic problems, people were displaced from their homes. If he is trying to escape from a place like Iraq that we think is relatively comfortable, we need to question the reasons for this. People migrate not only for ethnic but also for economic reasons.

VOA Türkçe: What projects are there for the future?

Kemal Varol: Mikasa will be an animation hero. Animated film talks with a Franco-German company continue. It’s a long term project. My previous novel “Lovers’ Day” is being filmed. This novel was very popular in Turkey. We wrote the script together with the director. Kivanc Tatlitug is in the lead role. Filming is over. The movie that can probably be watched on Netflix in 2022.