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Never Shrink from Sacrifice (Archival)

By Ahmed Emin Yalman

From "Journalists In Action," a book of essays created for the Journalism School's 50th anniversary in 1962-63.

Ahmed Emin Yalman, an outstanding figure in international journalism, reveals in his article some of the tribulations he has faced. There have been honors as well – among them the “Golden Pen of Liberty” from the International Federation of Publishers, the award of the Time Magazine World Forum, and medals and citations from Columbia University, the University of California, and the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Dr. Yalman, author of a long list of books published in Turkey, England, Germany, and the United States (his most recent work for an American audience is “Turkey in My Time,” published in 1956), has served his country not only as a journalist but also as a professor at Istanbul University and as a public information officer.


I am 75 years old, an active journalist in Istanbul. I was sentenced in 1960 to 18 months of imprisonment. An attempt was made on my life in 1952; wounded by five bullets, I was expected by all to die. In 1925 I was charged with revolutionary activities and tried by a political tribunal. In the decade before that I was twice exiled – first by the Sultan to Kutaiah for three months, then to Malta for 21 months by British occupation authorities.

Either compromise or a willingness to look the other way might have enabled me to avoid each of these misadventures.

But in 1914, a great and good man urged me to devote myself to the advancement of Turkey, to be a daring and enterprising journalist, and never to shrink from any sacrifice were it necessary and right.

The man was Dr. Talcott Williams, the first director of the Columbia University School of Journalism. I have tried always to be faithful to his precepts.

I was one of the first Turkish students to study in the United State of America. After the Young Turk revolution in 1908, Columbia University generously offered scholarship aid to Turkey. For this assistance there were 180 applicants; five of us were chosen.

We each signed agreements with the Government in Istanbul, promising to serve as teachers for five years after our return, and for this we received monthly expense allowances of $100 to cover room, board and living expenses.

I had not wanted to teach; my heart turned to journalism. I had entered the field at the age of 19 as the English translator for a daily newspaper, Sabah. The year was 1907, and the censorship exercised by Sultan Abdul Hamid was strict. A year later the Young Turks movement achieved notable gains, and in an easier climate for writing I joined the staff of The Yeni Gazette, while continuing my studies in the law. In 1909 I became chief editorial writer for the Gazette.

Then came America. We began our studies at Columbia in February, 1911. I acquired my degree in sociology and was studying for a Ph.D. when I learned that soon there would be a Pulitzer School of Journalism at the University. Perhaps I could be permitted to take extra work in this division; quickly, anxiously I arranged to meet with the director to plead my case.

What a pleasant surprise was awaiting! After we had chatted for a few minutes, Dr. Williams revealed that he too had been born in Turkey, in the province of Mardin. The son of a missionary family, he had lived in my land for his first 16 years. “I have always wanted to repay the debt I owe your country and your people,” he said.

Dr. Williams conducted a class in editorial writing; I was given leave to enroll in it. We met each morning, as if we were an actual editorial board. After we had discussed the general situation, each chose a topic for the day. Our teacher then read our contributions with great care, guiding, criticizing and inspiring us.

His assistance to me went far beyond this, however. His suggestions helped me in the preparation of a draft of my doctoral dissertation, “The development of modern Turkey as measured by its press.” And occasionally, when a guest of mark visited him, Dr. Williams invited me to join the group at his home on West 117th Street. Perhaps once each week I met with him in the evening to discuss the old Turkey and the new land that was evolving – invigorating talks that unfailingly ended with the downing of a glass of yogurt.

Just before the summer of 1913, I told Dr. Williams of my plan to spend the school vacation in Turkey with my family.

“You must not do that,” he insisted. “It is your duty to spend your vacation becoming familiar with every phase of American life.”

This remarkable man had already planned a program for me! First I was to attend the National Editorial Association convention in Colorado Springs as his representative. Next, with a group of small-town journalists, I would embark on a tour of the Midwest, the South and the East. In a number of cities along the way he would make arrangements for me to visit and work with leading newspapers.

And thus a young student from Turkey was enabled to visit Franklin, Indiana… and to work for several days on The Concord (N.H.) Patriot, the house guest of the publisher, Edward Gallagher… and to fill assignments on The Chicago Inter-Ocean… and to write editorials for The Springfield (Ill.) Republican, explaining the Turkish view of the Second Balkan War, then being waged… and to visit an Indian reservation and the Chillocco School in Oklahoma.

Perhaps the wonder of these experiences can be made more vivid through contrast. In the Massachusetts cities of Worcester and Peabody, in Manchester, New Hampshire, and in Providence, Rhode Island, were groups of Turkish immigrants – some 20,000 men, women and children. Between semesters I went to New England to study the conditions in which these working families were living. I did not meet even one who was attempting to learn English; such an effort would have indicated, they feared, that they did not intend to return to their homeland. They thus saw nothing of the United States, learned nothing, felt nothing.

Even this trip to New England had been made possible by Dr. Williams. He purposefully introduced me to a friend of his, a professor who had just returned from Turkey with a rare manuscript, an eye-witness account of the conquest of Rhodes by the Turks early in the 16th century. I was commissioned to translate the work and I was paid so generously that further travels were made possible.

In 1914 I left America – and in the cabin of my steamer a letter from Dr. Talcott Williams awaited me. “Devote yourself to the cause of advancement of Turkey, our common country of birth…”

During the years of World War I, there was mismanagement and injustice, betrayal and defeatism to be fought. I allied myself with the National Resistance Movement, and was twice exiled.

Conditions changed – I was invited to head the press and information department of the new government; later I was asked to become ambassador to Washington. Both invitations, I felt, had to be declined – more could be achieved for my country through journalism.

Sometimes fidelity to the freedom of the press required blunt refusal to write. For more than a decade Turkey had a one-party regime; newspapers that differed with the government were not allowed to appear during the late Twenties and early Thirties. I preferred to remain silent. I could not, after the training in truth I had received at Columbia, do otherwise. Nor did the attempted murder in 1952, nor two months in prison before the revolution of 27 May 1960, as a part of a sentence of 18 months, change the belief I held so proudly that the journalist must try to see what is right, what is wrong, and must tell what he sees.

I have always been in trouble. Yet there has always been a happy, last-minute escape. It has been a life worth living. Were I able to begin again, I would not hesitate to choose the same course.

Thanks to one great man, I hope to live proudly and die proudly as a journalist.


Posted by: AlumniAlumni, FriendFriend April 2012

One Comment

  1. Posted 04.27.12 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Ahmet Emin Yalman is very well known Turkish journalist. I dont if there is an English version of “Yakın Tarihimizde Gördüklerim ve Geçirdiklerim – What I Have Seen In Recent History.” Published in 1971, 4 volumes. As you wrote, he was in prison before 27 May Revulotion. Because his newspaper was against the goverment.

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