Moris donated part of library to university in country of birth


IN contrast to what is today a majority homogeneous society in Istanbul, the era in which Moris Farhi was raised was truly multi-ethnic.

Turks, Jews, Greeks, Armenians and a plethora of others constituted the make-up of Turkey's biggest city.

It is one of the themes Moris has used in a number of his books.

Moris' 2004 book, Young Turk, is written against the backdrop of Nazism, with multi-racial Turkey giving sanctuary to Europe's fleeing Jews.

"I guess it is an ode to the lost multi-ethnicity of Turkey - and especially Istanbul," the 80-year-old told me.

"All of that is gone now and Turkey is turning into quite the Islamic state.

"It is quite a divided country, as there is still the intelligentsia who remain committed to secularism and believe in a hot-potch of peoples."

Moris' own background represents the early to mid-20th century melting part of Turkey.

His mother, Paloma (nee Cuenca), was born and raised in Salonika in today's Greece, the descendant of Jews expelled from Spain during the Inquisition.

And his father, Hayim Daniel, was born in Izmir.

Hayim Daniel's own father was a customs officials in Bulgaria at the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Paloma and Hayim Daniel's wedding was an arranged one -Paloma having left Salonika after it was returned to Greece in 1912.

Moris, who was raised in Ankara with brother Ceki, said: "Our first language was Greek, thanks to our mother, and we also spoke Ladino, French and, of course, Turkish.

"Ladino and French were the languages of the educated Jews."

He added: "My real first name is Musa, as everyone had to have a Turkish first name.

"We left Ankara for Istanbul when I was 11 as my father took over his uncle's business.

"Jews, Greeks and Armenians constituted around 10 per cent of Istanbul's population

"Later, the Greeks went to Greece, many of the Jews to Israel and the Armenians all over the world."

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, imposed secularism, changed the language from Arabic to a Latin script and envisaged a tolerant and model country.

"People of my generation were referred to as 'Ataturk's children'," Moris recalled.

After graduating with a BA in humanities from Istanbul's Robert Academy, he moved to the UK in 1954 and trained at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, with the intention of becoming an actor.

"The idea was that a group of us would go abroad, gain an education and come back to Turkey to create a theatre," he said.

"Before I left Istanbul, I had helped distribute the poems of Nazim Hikmet, a socialist who was imprisoned by the state.

"I was taken to the police station a couple of times, where I was slapped across the face.

"When I told my father I was going to return to Turkey from London, he said it was better if I stayed put, as the-then prime minister (Adnan) Menderes probably had a dossier on me."

After graduating RADA, Moris found acting work difficult to come by.

He explained: "In those days, accents mattered, particularly if you were interested in the classics and Shakespeare, like I was."

Moris turned his hand to writing, penning scripts for such television series as The Return of the Saint, Man in a Suitcase and The Onedin Line.

He also wrote scripts for Doctor Who in 1964, entitled Farewell Great Macedon and The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance.

Neither was produced for television, but both were published 45 years later in the book Farewell Great Macedon.

Moris said: "In it, Doctor Who meets Alexander the Great. I was told to send in a sample script, but in those days Doctor Who was only on for half-an-hour.

"There was no way I could have written such a short episode, so I submitted six half-hour scripts."

His first book, The Pleasure of Your Death, was released in 1972, and he followed it up with The Last of Days.

The latter pitted Israeli and Jordanian intelligence operatives against Arab terrorists after the Yom Kippur War.

"I was not raised in a Zionist family, but Israel was very much in our hearts and part of our lives, particularly after the Holocaust," Brighton-based Moris continued.

"My mother became unbalanced after the Holocaust because the majority of her family were murdered."

And, while many may consider the Shoah to be a solely Ashkenazi experience, Moris suggested Sephardim are hurt by that claim.

He added: "Many Sephardim were taken to the camps and killed. Most of Greece's Jewish population was wiped out.

"I believe out of the Balkan countries, only Bulgaria did not abandon its Jews."

Moris' multi-cultural upbringing included mixing with gypsies, the theme of his 1999 book, Children of the Rainbow, which examined the Holocaust's effect on central and east European gypsies.

"My father was quite sure we had gypsy blood," he said.

"I used to play with the gypsy kids when I was a youngster, but my mother was prejudiced towards them, as are many Greeks still today."

Children of the Rainbow received the Amico Rom award from the Associazione Them Romano of Italy and the 'Special' prize from the Roma Academy of Culture and Sciences in Germany.

Moris, whose first cousin is fashion designer Nicole Farhi, is also vice-president of PEN International - an association of writers - and has served as chairman of the English PEN Writers in Prison Committee, as well as chairman of International PEN Writers in Prison Committee

Honoured with an MBE in 2001 for services to literature, he is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature and The Royal Geographical Society.

Moris has donated part of his personal library to Istanbul's Bogaziçi University and last returned to his country of birth three years ago.

The Turkish Jewish population has dwindled, with many leaving during the past couple of years thanks to a rise in antisemitism and deteriorating relations between Turkey and Israel.

"Thanks to (president Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, antisemitism is being fermented in Turkey," Moris added. "I hate him.

"The deterioration of the relationship between Turkey and Israel also upsets me a great deal, although I am not enamoured of the Israeli government."

Moris moved to the south-coast after his psychoanalytic psychotherapist wife Nina died in 2009.

He recalled: "I did not want to stay in London following her death and my stepdaughter Rachel and her children live here."

Moris has a partner, Elaine, and, while not practising Judaism, he is proud of his roots.

He said: "The Jewish ethos has always been to care for the world, which is something I like."

© 2015 Jewish Telegraph