Interview with psychologist Gunduz Vassaf turned into book
In 'Gunduz Feneri: Gunduz Vassaf'la Nehir Soylesisi,' the activist, iconoclast and writer narrates his life and times in the U.S., Turkey, Switzerland and Germany and gives his perceptive political and social views of the countries where he has lived.
By Metin Demirsar
Istanbul (Dunya) – I first met Gunduz Vassaf in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1959. I was seven years old. He was 13. We were living on the grounds of Concord State Hospital, where his psychologist mother and my psychiatrist father were employed. His father, also a psychiatrist, was working at another hospital.
The future student leader, iconoclast psychologist and rebel writer was going to a private academy for the elite, while I was going to a public school.
Over the next 52 years, our lives ran parallel, as we moved between the U.S., Turkey, and Europe, often converging and diverging on political and economic issues. I was the sole child of my family. He had a much older brother and sister who lived in Turkey – siblings from his father's first marriage. Mr. Vassaf led a more pampered existence then I did, as his mother was over 40 and his father was over 50, when he was born. My parents were 26 when I was born. I have no brothers or sisters.
Mr. Vassaf was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1946. He studied at Robert College and George Washington University and Hacettepe University. I was born in Istanbul in 1952 but didn't return permanently to the city until I was 19.
I studied at Michigan State University, the Middle East Technical University, Robert College, the Bosphorus University and at the University of Southern California, the University of Geneva and at the West German Film archives in Wiesbaden, Germany, and attended seminars in London and Edinburgh, Scotland.
His formative years were spent in the big cities of the western U.S. and in Ankara and Istanbul, while mine were spent in the small towns and rural areas of the Black Sea coast of Turkey, the U.S. and Canada. While I became a journalist writing for the international press, he became a psychologist and a writer. His uncle, Zekeriye Sertel, was one of Turkey's greatest journalists and newspaper publishers.
Now, Kursad Oguz, a journalist, has turned a 40-hour interview with Mr. Vassaf into a book, 'Gunduz Feneri: Gunduz Vassaf'la Nehir Soylesisi.' The 518-page Turkish-language book, printed by Alfa Publishing House of Istanbul, makes easy reading. It costs TL 24.
We learn from the book that Mr. Vassaf's mother, Belkis Vassaf, was a pace-setter. One of Turkey's first women psychologists, she was also the first women to graduate from Columbia University, a former men's school of higher learning. His father, Ethem Vassaf, was a related to the family of Turkey's revered first president Kemal Ataturk, and served one term as a deputy with the conservative Democrat Party that ruled the country from 1950 to 1960.
The Vassafs lived in the U.S. on and off from 1936 on to the 1970s, working at psychiatric hospitals in New England.
Mr. Vassaf completed high school at the elite Istanbul Robert College, where his classmates included future bank executives Ibrahim Betil and Vural Akisik, businessmen Rona Yircali, and Osman Berkmen, Yeditepe University President Ahmet Serpil, and economics professor Cem Behar.
He later studied at George Washington University in Washington D.C. on an athletic scholarship -- he was a star soccer player -- and became president of the International Students Council and was a prominent anti-war student activist during the Vietnam War, and was in the front ranks in the October 1967 March on the Pentagon.
His views of the changes brought on by the anti-war movement in the U.S. are extraordinary.
Mr. Vassaf returned to Turkey in the 1968 upon graduating and received a Ph.D. in psychology from Hacettepe University. He worked at Hacettepe University as a psychologist and counselor, advising students with social problems and later taught at the Bosphorus University in Istanbul.
He also worked and taught at universities in Switzerland and Germany, and has written many books on psychology, including a modern study on the children of Turkish guest workers in Germany and written editorials for major liberal newspapers.
In Turkey, he opposed the 1971 and 1980 military coups, and criticized the restrictive measures introduced at Turkish universities, and escaped arrest after the September 12 intervention by living on Sedef Adasi, then a largely inhabited island and part of Princes' Islands in the Sea Marmara, where he makes his summer home today.
His penetrating views of the military coups, political parties and the social and psychological conditions in Turkey are exceptional.