Tarık Akan, poster boy and political activist

Tarık Akan, poster boy and political activist

He was the ever smiling, unusually handsome, late-20s star of Turkish cinema from the mid-1970s.
Not the womanizing, heartbreaking type of handsome though. Rather the smart, kind boy next door who would save the kitten from the tree or stand against the teacher in the class mobbing your child, but who would also stand by the teacher against the unfair principal and was the favorite of the girls in the neighborhood.

Tarık Akan (Üregül was his real surname) suddenly became the most popular star of romantic comedies and melodramas. In those films he always had to struggle with fathers, unsympathetic bosses and cheating rivals but was the one who was kissing the girl at the end.

Nuri Çolakoğlu, a seasoned journalist, recalls a joke from those days in reference to an Orhan Gencebay pop-hit of those days, “God create me over again,” adding “And put a little bit of Tarık Akan in it.”

As someone who studied mechanical engineering and then journalism in academia, Akan was not indifferent to the highly politicized atmosphere of the late 1970s. This apple of almost every woman’s eye in Turkey started to appear in rallies as a member of actors and actresses unions. His transformation was obvious when he co-starred in “The Mine,” where he portrayed a union leader in 1978, without leaving the melodramas which made him so popular.

This transformation did not pass unnoticed by the prosecutors of the military rule after the 1980 coup d’état.  He was arrested for attending a meeting to celebrate the birthday of world-renown Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet (who died in self-exile in 1963 after seeking refuge in the former Soviet Union) and being a member of the Peace Association.

In 1982 when he was released from prison, he missed the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in the film by Yılmaz Güney, a leftist film actor, director and writer who was in exile in France after the coup, but the movie, “The Road,” won the Palm d’Or.

The last movie that he starred in was in 2009, when he had already become a starring figure in political protestations. Supporting a left wing-secular line under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments, he took part in many rallies and demonstrations, from protesting the mass arrests of the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials to the arrest of journalists and pressures on the media to being an active supporter of the Gezi Park wave of protests in 2013.

His recent stance was enough to make him a target of AK Parti supporters from time to time but not enough to erase his former popularity as the golden boy of the best melodramas in Turkish cinema. Cem Küçük, a pro-government columnist, said on his Twitter account that he wished Akan remained “as the poster boy of Yeşilcam,” the Taksim street considered the heartland of Turkish cinema. But not all those were as nice as Küçük in their criticisms; some openly disagreed with the “Be God’s mercy be upon him” wishes, leaving the insults aside, showing the level of intolerance in society nowadays.

He was sincere in his smiles on those posters, sincere in his anger in front of police barricades and sincere in his weekend treats with his three grown-up children in the modest kebab house in Beşiktaş by the Bosphorus, which was among his favorites. 

Tarık Akan, 66, died of cancer on Sept. 16, 2016, in Istanbul.