I learnt about Gülriz Sururi’s death, from a Turkish friend who was passing through London and invited me out to lunch on 2nd January, to bring in the New Year.
Given, after 55 years in England, I am not always up to date with what is going on in my homeland, this piece of news saddened me deeply; especially, given I had met Gülriz personally, literally, the day before I left Turkey, as it turned out, to start a new life in London. And where did this meeting take place? In my bedroom.
For those about to accuse me of disrespecting the memory of a great artist, I hasten to add, while, in September 1963, in bloom of youth, Gülriz was a most sensuous and attractive lady, I was barely fifteen! Here is the story:
The Kavurs, on my paternal grandmother’s side, were “Çürüksulu”, that is Circassians, and that was how we were closely related to the late Haldun Taner – who had a considerable influence in my formation.
However, to revert to that fateful day in September 1963, the phone rung at our flat in Nişantaşı, where we used to live. Home alone, I picked up the receiver. It was Haldun Taner, asking if he and some friends could make use of my piano – those days I used to take lessons from a most patient Armenian lady, and had a baby grand Bechstein in my bedroom.
Soon enough, Haldun Taner arrived, accompanied by Engin Cezzar whom I immediately recognised as “Hamlet” – from his legendary performance thereof had had a run in Istanbul well over six months; and Gülriz Sururi, plus a gentleman with a beard, whom Haldun Taner introduced as Yalçın Turalı – who had composed a new musical which they wanted to try out.
So, Yalçın Tura sat at my old Bechstein and accompanied Gülriz and Engin, who sung various numbers. Then, after about an hour, all done and dusted, they thanked me and left. The musical was called KEŞANLI ALİ DESTANI, a sort of Turkish “Threepenny Opera”. As everybody knows, when the musical opened, Gülriz excelled in the part of the female lead, and became even a bigger star which she fully deserved to be.
Now, reading about this great artist, I was shocked to learn that the Fundamentalist Moslems in Turkey found a way to berate her even at death – because, like her husband Engin, Gülriz Sururi, too, refused religious rites.
Of course, it is hardly surprising that the female star of KEŞANLI ALİ DESTANI, a musical which might as well be about the President of Turkey, is berated even at her passing. After all, talented, liberated and attractive, Gülriz was hardly the role model that Ankara these days wishes Turkish women to be like. Consequently, Gülriz Sururi’s rejection to be buried with Islamic (or any other) rites, is nothing short of a slap on the face to those who, in 2019 Turkey, still choose to parade their wives in hijabs.
In the final analysis, however, Gülriz shall be remembered long after our present rulers are gone – as a true icon of Kemal Atatürk’s women.