Names: Figen & Kemal
Been together since: 1965 or 1993
Kemal: It was around 1965. I was 5 or 6 and we lived in Istanbul. Figen’s parents had just separated. My father decided to take them under his wings and into our home. There was Figen, her mother and her elder sister, who was my age. Figen was cross-eyed when she was a child and although her sister was considered to be the pretty one, my eyes saw no one else but Figen right from the start.
By the time we were 7 we already were in love with each other as much as innocent children can be. We used to walk around holding hands.
Figen: We used to fall asleep holding hands, him in the upper bunk and myself in the lower.
Kemal: We actually started kissing by the time were 7, not that we knew how at that age. We even got caught and spanked a few times. But it was really the most innocent type of kissing, as pure as can be. Even as teenagers we kept it very innocent.
When she was about 15 years old, my parents convinced her parents to make up and they reconciled.
Figen: My mother and myself now had to move back to my father’s home in Bandirma. We were still very much in love and we kept in touch via constant letters. We used to summer together as families.
Kemal: Our love did not wither at all. We were blind to everyone else except each other. Everyone knew that we were in love. When we were around 15 years old I told my mother that I wanted to formalize this union.
Figen’s father really loved me as he did not have a son. Saying that, he was quite a strict father and a very powerful businessman. I couldn’t talk to him directly about this, it just didn’t work that way back then. So we asked Figen’s mother for her hand. Unfortunately, her mother said that there was no way her father would allow this as he wanted his daughter to marry a wealthy man. She refused to even ask him. It really was a big blow.
They left two days after that. We were devastated. I had never touched alcohol before that day but just a few minutes after they walked out of the house, I went and bought a bottle of Raki and proceeded to down it! I was a mess for 3 days; crying, drinking, sleeping then crying some more. I started drinking every single night until the early hours of the morning trying to fill the big, black void within. I lived like this for over a year.
Figen: I meanwhile had fallen behind on my studies. I still had Kemal in my heart but we were not communicating because of the situation. Life had to go on.
There was a bakery across the street from where I lived. There was a boy that used to work there. My friend and I were young and playful and made a bet to see who could get his attention.
This boy ended up coming to my door to talk to me. My father saw us and got deathly furious, convinced that there was more to the story. I ended up running out of the door with this boy, whose name I barely even knew at this point, just to stop my old fashioned father from hurting us as he was raging. I was terrified. We ran out the door and got married just like that. If I knew my way around, I would have just ran away to find Kemal but I really didn’t know how.
I was 15 and my husband was also very young. We had a daughter when I was 16 My marriage lasted for 6 years.
Kemal: I was still just drinking my sorrows away.
I had a distant relative who lived in Germany. She was pregnant and unmarried. They had brought her to Turkey to stay with us. My mother really wanted us to get together hoping that she would save me from this self-destructive lifestyle and settle down a little. I hardly noticed her for the first 3 months. Back in the day, a child out of wedlock was legally classified as ‘Illegitimate’ and I really didn’t want the child to carry what would have back then been considered a black mark upon him. I felt sorry for both of them more and more. So I decided to take her under my wings, adopt her son and raise him.
Figen: We were completely out of touch. Those days most people didn’t even have a telephone in their homes.
Kemal: I never legally married that girl, she was just my partner. And in time, strangely, my family, who had pushed me to marry her, started to turn against my relationship with her. One night, my mother ended up kicking us out of the house, including the little baby. We had nothing. I had to start from scratch and I did.
I was missing Figen. Life went on. I went on to have a child of my own with my partner.
Figen: I meanwhile was still married. I heard Kemal had had a child with her.
He started doing his military service. I was unwell and was in hospital. His mom was coming to visit me. When he heard this, he insisted on also coming along and even risked missing his curfew to get back to his military base.
This was the first time we saw each other since we had been torn apart. He just stood there looking at me. He was the only thing I had in my heart and it really shook me up to see him. He had to leave very soon after to catch his flight and we were both committed to others so there was nothing to do.
He ended up having yet another child with his partner after that. So now they had 2 children plus the one she had had before. He still had not formally married her.
Kemal: I never married her because I did not love her. I still had Figen in my heart. I was always providing for them but I never wanted to marry her and I never ended up doing so.
One day, about 5 or 6 years into our union, I finally told her I wanted to leave her, that I wanted to be with Figen. I meanwhile had a lady friend that she knew about. I am by nature a very monogamous person and don’t even believe in divorce but I had been casually seeing this other lady friend and was hoping this affair would turn my partner off and make her leave me. It never worked.
I told my partner I was going to go to Bandirma with my lady friend to see Figen. She said she would also come along. She really didn’t want to lose me but she knew she also could not stop me. She figured the most she could do to control the situation a little was to be there too. So off we went all together: my partner, my lady friend and me.
When we reached Bandirma we settled into my aunt’s house. Turns out Figen was living right next door.
Figen and I saw each other. Again were taken aback by the strength of the connection we felt, so very magnetic and solid.
Her marriage was in big trouble meanwhile. That night another huge fight erupted between them next door and we actually went over to calm the situation down. Figen was saying she couldn’t take it anymore and wanted a divorce. She left her home and came over to my aunt’s, where we were.
Around midnight, her husband, who was always quite dramatic, tried to take his own life. He wanted to manipulate her into staying. We checked him into the hospital. Figen and I were sitting outside telling each other what we had been holding back for six years. I told her she was all I had ever wanted, that I wanted to take her back to Istanbul with me, start afresh. She accepted.
Her husband was better by the morning light. We left the hospital and came home. I told Figen’s mother that I had been in love with Figen since we were children and that she was my reason for living. Her mother gave us her blessing to take her with me back to Istanbul.
We took her husband and went to the Notary to start divorce proceedings. I paid for everything and he left. We all headed back to Istanbul in a bus. We also had Figen’s daughter with us. My lady friend had no issues with this as we had a very casual relationship. My partner was not very happy but seemed accepting. She always knew of my deep love for Figen.
When we reached Istanbul I took Figen to my mother. Although my mother had been the one to push me into a partnership with my partner initially, she soon was adamant on splitting us up. So she welcomed Figen into her home for about a week or so.
Figen slept in the living room. We were still innocently holding hands, talking until the morning, reciting poetry and singing to each other. This really was all that we did. We must have been 22 or 23 by then. My mother had a hard time believing this and started to imply that we were behaving inappropriately as Figen was still legally married to another man. She started saying that I had children I had to look after, that this wasn’t right. She wanted Figen to leave.
Figen had a sister who lived in Istanbul. I told her to stay with her until I sorted everything out.
Figen: I found out about his mother’s opposition later. She had meanwhile brought Kemal’s partner back to him again while I was away.
Kemal: My mother was very interested in spells. I dropped Figen off to her sister’s but I have absolutely no memory of this. I don’t remember dropping her off or anything else to this day. I was always disturbed by this. Years later, we actually saw a spiritualist who confirmed that we had repeatedly had many very powerful spells cast upon us to split us up but that God had willed for us to be together and this is why we were blessed to eventually be reunited again. At that moment though, I had completely forgotten about her! It was incredible!
Figen: And I was at my sister’s waiting to be picked up by him. He never showed up. I decided to return to Bandirma but first I wanted to ask him why he never came. I found my way to his place. I had no idea that his ex-partner could even be there. I rang the doorbell, she opened the door. I was absolutely shocked! Their son, who was 4 years old at the time, was sent off to go and collect his father. Apparently Kemal was refusing to stay at home those days, he was staying with friends.
Kemal arrived. He explained what his mother had said, that she had brought his ex-partner back home and that he had no financial means for us to live together. He promised that one day he would find a way to bring us back together again and that we would be married.
I had no other choice, I left. I retuned and finalized my divorce regardless. He meanwhile moved to Gemlik with his partner and children.
Kemal: We still couldn’t be apart. We somehow managed to find each other and started talking on the phone. Back then the calls could only be put through via an operator and they would get disconnected after 3 minutes. I used to beg the operator ladies and they would allow us to stay on the phone for hours. We would sing to each other and speak sweet words of love.
Figen: I had meanwhile accepted the situation so we were not making any plans on getting back together. We spoke for about 2 months but I couldn’t help it, I wanted to see him one last time. So, I decided to surprise him. I dropped by his town without telling him but found out when I was there that he had left town on business that day.
They asked if I wanted to speak to his father instead. I said, “Sure”. I thought it was Kemal’s father but they were, it turned out, referring to his partner’s father. What a surprise that was.
Kemal: I never made a secret about loving Figen so he knew of her, everyone did.
Figen: He straight out asked me, “Dear, are you Figen?” I said I was. He told me that he knew we were both very much in love with each other. He also said that if Kemal knew I had come to see him he would try to leave his partner again. He pleaded his case and asked me to consider his daughter and their small children and requested that I step away and leave. In our culture we respect and obey our elders. I was so very naïve. I said, “Okay uncle, but can you please at least give him this note from me?” He said he would. I wrote, ‘I came to see the land that you call home. Now, I am leaving. I love you.’ After I left, unbeknownst to me, they had added the words, ‘Do not contact me again.’
When I returned home, he called me once and asked why I hadn’t waited for him… then he completely disappeared out of my life. I just couldn’t understand it. I really believe that there was a spell cast on him again. He again has no recollection of those days.
Following this silence I got into another marriage.
Kemal: My Figen is a very honorable woman who worked hard to make ends meet for herself and her daughter. She met this very nice gentleman who was very keen on her. His intentions were honorable. She married him as it worked for both of them.
I ended up moving to Sile in Istanbul. There was a very long break in our communication then. We did not hear from each other for about 14 years.
One day I had a dream; Figen had her arms open and was running towards me. I woke up in cold sweat and told my partner what I saw. I said that I was worried that Figen was in trouble and needed my help. My partner just said well why don’t you find her and ask. She just blurted that out without thinking. But it got me thinking. We had been in a domestic partnership for about 21 years at this point.
I had someone working for me who was pretty resourceful. I asked him to try to locate Figen and gave him the bits of information I had. I said, “Find her and your wish is my command.”
Again, there was no technology, no central database where you can look someone up. But soon he said he had good news: he had been able to track her mother down. I recruited my daughter in law as an accomplice. She pretended to be my sister and made the calls. It took a lot of effort and trickery but we finally spoke to Figen’s mother, then her sister and we finally got Figen’s number.
We called her. She was home, playing cards with her friends.
Figen: I always used to talk to my friends about my childhood love, Kemal, and say that we did not manage to get together here but that we would be with each other in heaven. Despite the years that had gone by, he was still very fresh on my mind. Everyone knew about him, even my husband.
There is a Turkish song and the words are, ‘We will surely meet one day, our love will not remain half-lived’ and I always used to get one of my friends to sing this song to me. That particular day, for the first time ever, my friend said, “Figen, I will not sing that song for you again. You need to forget this man. God knows, he isn’t even alive anymore,” and just then the phone rang!
His ‘sister’ was on the phone. I asked her how her ‘brother’ was. She said he was right next to her. I almost died! I said I would call them later as it wasn’t a convenient time then. I just couldn’t wait for my guests to leave!
The never-ending phone calls started again. I felt terrible because I was married to a very kind man. I really did not know what to do, I was tormented and torn. One day I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see Kemal one more day before one of us died. I told my husband I had to go visit relatives for a day and just left with the clothes on my back.
Kemal sent his son and daughter in law to fetch me. That was the start of the special bond I have with all of his children – they all call me ‘mom’ now.
So I arrived.
Kemal: They arrived. We met in the bus stop in Uskudar, Istanbul. You had to see us running to each other, arms wide open. Just like in the dream!
I brought her to my mom’s place. She again didn’t want Figen to stay as she was married. So, I brought her to my own house. I told my partner that Figen will stay with us for a few days. She accepted. She thought Figen would leave at the end of the few days… but every passing minute made me realize I just couldn’t let her go again. We realized we just couldn’t part, we just couldn’t, not ever again.
Figen wanted to go to talk to her husband face to face, start divorce proceedings and come straight back to me. She also had to sort out her daughter’s wedding plans. Every day I told her to leave the next day, I kept delaying it, too scared to let her go incase something happened again.
We would sit holding hands every night and talk until the sun came up. Our love was still very pure. Out of respect for everyone involved we still did not even kiss.
One day turned into two, to five then to six. I just couldn’t let her leave.
We finally decided we needed to call Figen’s husband and explain the situation on the phone. She called and told him everything. He could not believe her. I also spoke to him. I invited him over to Sile so that we could all discuss this. He finally accepted.
We had many deep, difficult but heartfelt discussions and explained that we had been in love since we were children and that we just couldn’t bear to be apart anymore.
Figen: He was a very nice, very kind man. It was very sad to see him so upset but we just couldn’t bear it anymore.
Kemal: He stayed with us for 3 days. He was so very sad and I felt really terrible about it but really we had past the point of return. He said he could see and feel clearly the intense love we had for each other. Sad as we all were, especially him, he gave us his blessing and said he would step out of the way and out of her life.
Figen: His parting words to me were that if I ever changed my mind or needed him, his door and heart would always be open to me.
Kemal: My parting words to him were if he ever was in any kind of trouble or just needed help with anything at all, I should be the first person he turn to. I really would do anything for that man. He took good care of my Figen for 13 years.
Figen: We are both very thankful that he is now happily married and is living a peaceful life. We were more like two people sharing accommodation; it was not like a traditional, romantic marriage.
Kemal: I was on the same boat; I had also been in a domestic partnership but it really was more like sharing accommodation with someone you are responsible for. Figen and myself were both so hungry for love. We were both not used to being concerned for the other person. I was never questioned if I was late coming home, it was just a convenient arrangement what we were living in.
We were finally together – what a difference it was!
After we managed to get together, we started experiencing jealousy and those other human emotions that come with loving someone for real and even fought. This had never happened in any of our other marriages or partnerships as we just didn’t care.
Figen: There were many misunderstandings and we almost split up a few times but we always ended up back together again, we just couldn’t bear to be apart.
Kemal: And we got married. It was tough though. Sile is a small place and all eyes were on us as it was at the cost of broken homes that we finally managed to get together. There was a lot of pressure and it was often unpleasant with the families interfering all the time.
By then, I used to do pretty well for myself and had my own business. I wanted to get away and make a fresh start with Figen so I left it all behind for her. I gave the business to my employees for free, we took with us any savings we had, held hands and together turned our backs to our pasts and left this town heading into our new, unknown future.
We started from scratch. I did not let my pride stop me from doing jobs I was overqualified for, even becoming a driver, until we found our way again. We were just rebuilding our lives when my father got very, very sick. We sold absolutely everything we could on that day and moved right back to Sile to be with him. We remained until he passed away. After that we wanted to leave again. We were always back and forth.
We headed to Istanbul again. We hardly had any money in our pockets. Here I was back to square one again sleeping on cardboard boxes in an empty rented apartment that I had no money to pay for. Piece by piece we built up our new home, our new life.
We really had so many hard times but we miraculously made it through them. We would hold hands every evening and walk from Kurtulus to Ortakoy and back, singing songs and just enjoying each other. We would walk past the restaurants with a sandwich in our hands and listen to the singers from the street. We were so very broke but so very happy. I had my Figen by my side, nothing else mattered.
Our life has been like this. At our toughest times a way would always magically appear.
Figen: We have now been together for 21 years. To this day he starts his day with prayers of gratitude that I am by his side every morning when he wakes up. He is very romantic and is always making small romantic gestures, framing our photos or writing small messages in places for me to stumble upon. He will still kiss me on the streets, call me my love, my darling. We still feel that same deep love for each other.
There is an element of the divine in our love, it goes beyond reason. We have a telepathic connection. If I forget to ask him for a random thing from the shop, he always will pick it up regardless, no matter how unusual or random the item is.
We are grateful, happy and healthy. Love is ageless, it doesn’t matter how old you are.
What advice do you have for anyone who is looking for love?
Figen: You can’t just look for love then stumble upon it. You must first love God then your destiny will follow as God has written it down. We always ask God to light our way. We always see signs and we follow them. I would advise the same.
What advice do you have for couples going through a hard time?
Figen: Be very patient. As long as you love each other God will always help you out. Never neglect your love. Stick through it. That’s what we did. We waited patiently.
And don’t go for money and build your love on that. When you use love as your foundation, everything else will follow. We went hungry, stayed on the streets and this is how we found our happiness. Having riches doesn’t always guarantee happiness. We found our joy through the worst of times.
Kemal: Don’t ever sacrifice each other during hard times. Hold on to each other and God will always come thorugh.
One thing I have learnt about love is…
Kemal: Love is a lifetime of happiness. It is in everything, anything good that exists in this world has an element of love in it and when you approach with love you will get love back.
I still call her my love, my soul. We still look forward to coming home every evening. Every single day I tell her many times that I love her and she does the same. Real love doesn’t fade.
Figen: You have to have faith. There I was just happy to even hear his voice one more time and God put us back together again side by side. Here we are finally together in matrimony since 21 years. We still can’t believe it. We still talk about it often, how we finally managed to be together.
And we know one day we will die.
We also know that we will die together.
We pray for this.
(Interview & write-up by Bianca)