The Story of an Exile in the Mediterranean: A Punishment or a Reward?

The Story of an Exile in the Mediterranean: A Punishment or a Reward?

Halikarnas Balıkçısı, Fisherman of Halicarnassus or Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı is one of the first people that comes to mind when one thinks of Bodrum, for his deep love and care to the formerly small fishing town on the Aegean Coast of Turkey. He is identified with the town for the time he spent here planting flowers, composing poems, writing novels.

He made Bodrum famous and he was also the founder of the famous mavi yolculuk, meaning blue voyage. A historian, humanist, and an ecologist, Halikarnas Balıkçısı was one of the most popular writers and has been described as a modern Homer for Bodrum.

The main street in Bodrum carries his name, and quotations from his work adorn billboards, such as the notorious one on the hill that welcomes visitors to Bodrum: “When you reach the top of the hill, you will see Bodrum. Don’t assume that you’ll leave as you came. The others before you were the same too. As they departed, they all left their souls behind.” 

Who was the Fisherman of Halicarnassus?

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, or the Fisherman of Halicarnassus was born in Crete in 1890, into a prominent Ottoman family, as the eldest of six children during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit. His father was Mehmet Şahir Paşa a historian and diplomat; his uncle, Ahmed Cevat Şakir Pasha, grand vizier from 1891 to 1895; his mother a Cretan child-bride.

Left: Father Mehmet Şakir Pasha, mother Sare İsmet Hanım and Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı.
Right: Mehmet Şakir Pasha and Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı.

The beginning of his colourful life was in Athens where he lived because of his father's diplomatic duty. He spent most of his childhood there, where he started to feel the magnificence of the sea. 

He completed his primary education at Büyükada (Prinkipo) Local School founded by his father, and his secondary education at Robert College, one of the most prestigious high-schools in Istanbul. 

Although he wanted to study maritime, his family sent him to Oxford University in London, where he studied History of Modern Ages. For Cevat Şakir, who loved readimg, Oxford's library was an invaluable blessing, he almost lived in the library.

Later, he followed an Italian woman named Agnessia Kafiera, whom he met in London during his university years, and went to Italy. Here he took painting and Latin lessons and learned Italian. A year later, when Agnessia became pregnant, they got married and returned to Istanbul where his daughter, Mutarra Agustina, was born. Cevat Şakir started to live with his wife and child in his family's mansion in Büyükada. But the following year he was convicted of shooting his father. 

A Painful Family Event

It was right before the First World War, when the Kabaağaçlı family was in financial trouble, and his father, Mehmed Şakir Paşa, decided to settle in the family farm in Afyon. A painful event awaited the family, in the autumn of 1911. There was a fierce argument between Cevat Şakir and his father Şakir Pasha in which the subject was the Fisherman's wife. Rumours had spread that there was a secret relationship between Şakir Paşa and his daughter-in-law at that time. When the argument raged, Cevat Şakir killed his father with a bullet from the gun in his hand. This incident upsetted the family very much. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison when he was 28 years old.

In an interview years after the incident, Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı's son Sina stated that claims about this incident are not based on a sound basis; “This claim is absolutely untrue. As someone in the shadow of the gallows, it is certain that my father would embrace such a cause like a life preserver. However, neither my father nor anyone else ever mentioned this event. My father argued with all his might that his father committed suicide during all the trials. Besides, if such an event had occurred, would my grandmother not have applied to the court and would have calmly watched her favourite son being taken to the rope?”

Although no one knows exactly what happened, years later Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı described that night in a letter he wrote to his close friend Azra Erhat;

Let’s come to the night that killed someone. Well, my dear, the argument was about very complicated issues and it was very intense. My father kept a variety of pistols and guns on the farm, always afraid of an assassination. First a rich man, then a soldier. The quarrel got to such an extent that he fired at me. I randomly picked up a pistol over there, but I had first seen his hand going to a pistol. I fired without aiming at him. First his, then mine. Something like at the same time. No arguing or I'd be dead. But no, he's dead! I'm devastated worse than death too. I felt terrible pain, but I felt no remorse. Something even scarier than that happened. I lost my self-confidence. So I think I'm lying that day to this day. I get angry when they praise me.”

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı was pardoned in 1918 for his tuberculosis disease after seven years in prison and regained his freedom.

The Beginning of An Exile in Paradise

Returning to Istanbul in 1918, Cevat Şakir was alone because his family members were offended by him. Except for his mother, other members of the family left him alone. Moreover, his Italian wife Agnessia took her daughter Mutarra and returned to Italy.

He made a living by translating and writing articles in weekly magazines, making pictures and illustrations, drawing caricatures and preparing colourful magazine covers. Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı played a major role in the development of the illustrated magazine cover in the Turkish press. His work appeared in various leading magazines of the time. 

One evening, the policemen appeared at the door of his house, and Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı had no idea that they came because of an article written by him. He was taken to the police station in Istanbul’s Üsküdar and was told he would go to the Ankara Independence Court, without knowing why: "You will find out there". The famous writer met with prison for killing his father before he found himself on the wrong side of the authorities once again (now those of the newly established Turkish Republic). 

When he heard the name of the Independence Court, he was scared, because very few of those who went there were free. Not knowing why he was going to the court, he set off again with the police officers to take the train from Haydarpaşa train station. When they arrived in Haydarpaşa, they learned that Zekeriya Sertel, the Managing Director of the Resimli Hafta magazine, would be tried together with him. Zekeriya Sertel, who was also his close friend, told him why he will be put on trial. The court claimed that he wanted to provoke the public against military service, with an article titled “How do those sentenced to death in prison go to be hanged knowing their end”, published under the pseudonym 'Hüseyin Kenan' in the April 13, 1925 issue of the Resimli Hafta magazine.

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı and Zekeriya Sertel took their way to Ankara, not knowing that they would be sentenced to death. Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı would be tried for the second time in his life, not something that happens to everyone in one lifetime. Zekeriya Sertel was not as worried as Cevat Şakir, trying to comfort him; “There is nothing in the article you wrote, but the timing was bad. They will spit in our faces saying, 'Don't be so rude again,' and then they will send you back to Istanbul," he thought.

At the door of the Independence Court, they learned that they would be tried with the death penalty. After a while, they entered a narrow courtroom, to listen to the death sentence. Even though the president of the court, Ali Çetinkaya, wanted them to be sentenced to death, they were exiled to Bodrum with Kalebent (a political prisoner confined to a fortress) for three years. When Cevat Şakir heard the decision, he says in his book Mavi Sürgün (Blue Exile), "I almost hugged and kissed the necks of the men in the courtroom".

Later, Zekeriya Sertel's destination of exile was changed to Sinop. Zekeriya Sertel arrived in Sinop in a few days, but Cevat Şakir's journey to Bodrum took three and a half months full of misfortunes. Years later, Cevat Şakir described the trial process at the Independence Court and his journey to Bodrum, which lasted for three and a half months full of misfortunes, in the same book.

The Fisherman of Halicarnassus is Born

Kabaağaçlı had the good fortune to serve half of his sentence in the Bodrum Castle. Yet, the castle was uninhabitable at the time because of shelling by a French battleship in 1915. So he lived in a small fisherman’s house on the beach, obliged simply to report to the police daily. Internal exile could rarely have been so pleasant. He had immediately rented a the house by the coast, which he considered so cheap that he paid the rent in advance for six months. 

Two months later, his new wife Hamdiye Hanım and his son Sina came to Bodrum. In the next few days, he discovered Bodrum and learned about fishing from the locals. He did not neglect writing and translating. He loved Bodrum so much that the place he came to as exile became his paradise. Quickly, in his works, he started using the pseudonym the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, inspired by the ancient name of Bodrum - Halicarnassus -  which he loved deeply.

Even though the name Bodrum means the lower floor of a building in Turkish, and therefore evokes darkness, when one comes to Bodrum, they realise that it is heaven on earth. Kabaağaçlı was fascinated by Bodrum and he stayed for 30 years. He was drawn to the area because of the mild climate, the sea and nature's beauty, kindness and hospitable nature of the locals, and their tolerant, largely secular way of life. He established a personal ideology known as Blue Anatolian Humanism that considered Anatolia as the genuine home of Mediterranean culture and saw the people of Bodrum as the inheritors of an Anatolian civilization that was thousands of years old. He purchased a small boat and began exploring the coast, stopping in handy bays and spending the night under the stars.

Bodrum was far from a typical village in southwest Anatolia at the time. It was far from today's densely populated tourism and over-urbanisation. The town retained its small fishing town identity. Of course, the natural resources of the Mediterranean were not exploited much either. On top of that, around half the population were Cretan Muslims, who had come to Bodrum as refugees in the early years of the century and then through the Exchange of Populations of 1923 between Greece and Turkey. The majority of Kabaağaçlı’s books and short stories are on the seafaring Cretans, whose culture he found inspiring. 

Cevat Şakir can be compared to European writers of the same era, who described life in other parts of the Mediterranean or southern Europe – such as Gerald Brennan in Spain, or Carlo Levi, exiled to Eboli in southern Italy. But until more of his work is published in other languages he will remain something of an enigma for non-Turks.

After a while, he had divorced Hamdiye Hanım, because he fell in love with Hatice, the daughter of a Cretan immigrant family. He soon married his third wife, Hatice. They had three children from this marriage; İsmet, Aliye and Suat. İsmet was born in Istanbul, Aliye and Suat were born in Bodrum.


Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı and his wife Hatice Hanım.

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı described his love for Hatice with the character of 'Musa' in his book Mavi Sürgün (Blue Exile). As you can see, 'Moses' in the book of Blue Exile is the Fisherman of Halicarnassus.

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı and his daughter İsmet.

The Real Exile Begins

After one and a half years of his three-year sentence, the Independence Court decided to send him back to Istanbul. The real exile began now for the Fisherman of Halicarnassus! He reluctantly returned to Istanbul. But he had already decided that he would live in Bodrum until he died.

Together with his wife, Hatice Hanım, they returned to Istanbul. When he arrived in Istanbul, he only had Bodrum on his mind, counting the days and even the hours to return to his home. He started writing and translating again in Istanbul to make a living.

He spent most of his savings on agriculture and fishing books, with the intention of preparing for Bodrum. He prepared fishing teams, and made changes because he found the sponge fishing tools in Bodrum to be primitive. The Fisherman of Halicarnassus does it all for his friends in Bodrum, for Bodrum. He promised himself “it is already heaven there; but if I don't make it ten times more heaven, I'm not a man," he said to himself.

He went to the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, bought seeds for Bodrum from the shops. He climbed a palm tree next to a hotel called Hotel Ciyakomo in Büyükada (Prinkipo) and collected seeds from its branches. But it is unfortunate that the tree he came out of is the tree right next to the hotel/house where the exiled Trotsky was staying (Former Member of the Constituent Assembly of Russia) a few officers immediately took the Fisherman of Halicarnassus down. They didn’t believe his claim that he only climbed that tree for the seed. They thought that they wanted to send an encrypted message to Trotsky, they recognised him at the police station and the fisherman of Halicarnassus was settled for good.

As soon as his three-year sentence expired, he ended up at the police station. The paper of his conviction could not be found, and therefore his sentence was over. So for a year and a half, the Fisherman of Halicarnassus stayed away from Bodrum for no reason. “I lost a year and a half of my life,” he said angrily.

A Devotee to Bodrum

Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı wrote most of his works in Bodrum and he never neglected it. He devoted himself, his life and his labour to beautifying this paradise district of Muğla. For example, even though they were expensive, he imported books about agriculture from abroad; in English, French, and Italian, books about agriculture fit for a southern climate. He saved money, brought seeds suitable for Bodrum’s climate. He became a Bodrum farmer too.

In those years, citrus fruits (lemon, orange, tangerine, grapefruit) were not grown as much as today on the Bodrum and Southern Anatolian coasts. The Fisherman of Halicarnassus took it upon himself to bring all kinds of citrus seeds, and his main concern was to bring the grapefruit into the country, because it is rich in vitamin C. He handwrote a 300-page book on citrus fruits, but the book circulated from hand to hand, and later disappeared. He told the people of Bodrum one by one how to grow these fruits and answered all the letters from Southern Anatolia about growing citrus fruits one by one.

A Representative of Anatolia

Kabaağaçlı owns the history not only of Bodrum but also of all Anatolia. At Oxford University Library, he studied ancient scientists and philosophers such as Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Thales, Socrates, Homer, Demoritos, Anaximander, Diogenes.

There he discovered the real importance of Anatolian Civilisations. And he put forward this thesis: “Greek civilisation is definitely a follower of Anatolian civilization, not a pioneer. Because the Greek civilisation is not as old as the Anatolian civilization.” He based this on the existence of Thales.

He did everything to explain Anatolian civilisations and the value of historical artefacts that they left. He talked about these in his books to explain what kind of treasure Turkish people live on.

Eventhough he personally did his best to protect historical buildings, he was regretful that the most important pieces of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum were taken to England, to the British Museum in London. He even wrote a letter to the British Royal Family: “The pieces in London integrate with the blue of Bodrum. They should not stay in London. It is necessary to bring them together with the blue with which they are integrated.” he said in his letter.

The letter was forwarded to the museum director. After a while, a sarcastic reply came from the museum director: “We took your suggestion very seriously. We had scientists examine the structure of the stones, and it is true that it really integrates with the blue. That's why we painted the hall where the artefacts are exhibited in Bodrum blue. Thank you for your close attention.”

Time to say Good-Bye

The time of separation involuntarily leaned on Kabaağaçlı’s door. His children had grown up and there were not enough schools in Bodrum in those years. They had to settle in Izmir. This period coincided with the difficult years of the Second World War, and financial difficulties were hard.

He left Bodrum with tears in his heart. He filled his pockets with seeds of flora of Bodrum and travelled up the creek and sowed the seeds all over Bodrum. These goodbyes lasted for weeks. He sold his best friend 'Yatağan' as well as the house he built with his own hands.

After Bodrum, it was difficult for the Fisherman of Halicarnassus to get used to İzmir. He wrote articles for Gündüz Stories Magazine, Tan, Cumhuriyet, Anadolu and Demokrat İzmir newspapers. He also worked as a tourist guide and teacher to earn a living.

After his death in 1973, he was buried in Bodrum.

Today he remains a figure of reverence in Bodrum. And his most famous quote, associated with Bodrum welcomes visitors in the town's entrance as such:

“When you reach the top of the hill, you will see Bodrum. Don’t assume that you will leave as you came. Others before you were the same too. As they departed, they all left their souls behind.”

Works of Fisherman of Halicarnassus-Cevat Şakir KABAAĞAÇLI:

The cult of the Fisherman has never been easy to explain to people who don't read Turkish because so little of his writing has been translated—not even his autobiography, Mavi Sürgün (The Blue Exile). Yet, here is a full list of his works:

Aganta Burina Burinata (1946)

Child of the Other (1956)

Uluc Reis (1962)

Turgut Reis (1966)

Sea Expatriates (1969)


Anatolian Legends (1954)

Anatolian Gods (1955)

The Voice of Anatolia (1971)

Hey Big Dorm (1972)

Think Writings (1981, posthumous)


From the Aegean Coasts (1939)

Hello Mediterranean (1947)

The Bottom of the Aegean (1952)

Long Live the Sea (1954)

Smiling Island (1957)

From the Aegean (1972)

On the Seas of Youth (1973)


Blue Exile (1961)


Call of the Sea

Give Way Sea

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