One of the old and loyal artists of Turkish theater and cinema, Ihsan Devrim, is only one of the thousands of children whose life have totally changed with the services of Darüşşafaka Society with a history that goes back to 1.5 centuries. Ihsan Devrim, who passed away in 2010, is known as Sürmeneli Yakup Dede [in English: ‘Yakup Granddad of Sürmene’] by most of us, who was a character in the television series called “Super Dad” (in Turkish: Süper Baba), which was one of the most favorite TV dramas for millions of people in the 90s.
Ihsan Devrim, who stated, “My life has completely changed thanks to Darüşşafaka; I have become a literate person instead of being a dead-end kid”. He studied in Darüşşafaka in 1926-1936. His student number was 918. He said, “I was called ‘Kazatsky Ihsan’ at Darüşşafaka”, and added: “A dance called ‘Kazatsky’ was highly popular at the schools in those years. I was the best in Kazatsky.” Devrim, who was born in 1914 in Üsküdar, narrated his story as follows: “My father was promoted to be a Major in the Ottoman army. We used to live in Üsküdar, Inadiye Quarter, Bakkal Street. Then, the name of the street was changed to Musahipzade Celal Street.” At that point, Devrim states that they used to live in the same street with Musahipzade Celal, who is recognized to be one of the milestones of Turkish theater, and they established a close relationship.
Turning point from a grocery boy to a famous artist
We asked Devrim to narrate his story of Darüşşafaka: “I studied at elementary school, in other words primary school , in Sokullu Mehmet Paşa located in Üsküdar Toptaşı. In Üsküdar, Paşa Kapısı, there was a school called Sultani, i.e. secondary and high school. But I did not have a father at that time because he passed away leaving my mother a widower. She used to sew clothes to make a living. I could not consider going to Sultani School. We did not even have the income to cover the books and notebooks required for the school. On those days, shoe repairing and being a grocery boy were ideal works for children as they both have tips. So, I had to work either as a shoe repairer or a grocery boy. A fatherly neighbor said, “You are wasting your life, son”, and asked me, “Why don’t you take Darüşşafaka’s exam?” I asked, “What is Darüşşafaka?” Then, he answered, “Don’t you know?” and started to talk about Darüşşafaka. It was 1926… He added,
“There is an admission exam at Darüşşafaka now. I will take you, if you wish to go.” I took and passed the exam in 1926.”
Yet, passing the exam had not been enough after all. In 1926, Darüşşafaka had decided to accept eighty students, forty of which were coming from Darüleytan, i.e. orphanage, without being subject to examination, but seventy children had passed the examination in that year. Lets hear the rest of the story from Ihsan Devrim: “At that era, there was an orphanage called ‘Darüleytan’. The children were really poor orphans without any parents. We were informed that seventy students, who had passed the exam, would draw lots for admission. There were three options for the lots: school, reserve and empty. The chairman of the committee for the procedure of drawing lots was a great musician Kazım Us, who had also studied at Darüşşafaka. When I drew the lot, it was empty. We started crying with my mother… There was a slope from the building of Darüşşafaka located in Fatih to the iron-gate. We walked through the slope crying in tears, you see. There was nothing to do: I would become either a grocery boy or had to have a similar job. There was no way to got to school for me. We went home. We had a grocer neighbor and my mother talked to him for taking me as an errand boy. The grocer told her that he would not pay, and he could only allow me to have the lunches with him. My mother accepted it.”
914 Rıdvan: The first child psychiatrist in Turkey
Ihsan Devrim narrates his life-changing story, with the same excitement which he felt on that day upon a letter that came from Darüşşafaka while he was waiting to be a grocery boy: “I received a letter from Darüşşafaka after seven or eight days following the drawing day of the lots. I had not started to work as a grocery boy yet. We went to Darüşşafaka with my mother. Mr. Ali Kami, who had studied and become a principal at Darüşşafaka, and left the office when he was elected as a member of the Parliament for Istanbul, said: There has been a mistake in Ihsan’s lot. One side of the paper that he drew is completely empty and ‘reserve’ is written on the other side. Some of the children who passed the exam could not be registered because of their health conditions and it was found out that some of them had fathers as a result of the investigation we made. Then, we had to look for the fourth reserve. We are accepting Ihsan under these circumstances. I accepted to start from the fourth grade, i.e. to study previous two grades once again, although I had graduated from the primary school. In that year, forty children came from Darüleytan, and we were divided into two branches: the students who passed the exam and the students who came from Darüleytan. One of those students was Prof. Dr. Rıdvan Cebiroğlu, i.e. 914 Rıdvan, who is one of the first child psychiatrists of Turkey and the founder of the Department of Child Psychiatry of Istanbul School of Medicine.”
917 Nusret: Aziz Nesin
Indeed, one of the most interesting students who are mentioned in Ihsan Devrim’s memories of Darüşşafaka is Aziz Nesin, who is an unrivalled author of Turkish literature:
“I was at the second grade of the secondary school. My student number was 918 Ihsan, and there was 917 Nusret, i.e. Aziz Nesin, next to me. Nusret was a quiet and shy boy. Nusret left the school at the seventh grade, as his father -who was considered to be dead- returned home.”
Ihsan Devrim as an Author
Ihsan Devrim had a passion for literature for a certain period. He has published three books called ‘Evimiz’, ‘Hatıralar’ and ‘Yemen Türküsü’ [in English: ‘Our Home’, ‘Memories’ and ‘Yemen Song’]. Devrim’s literary life started in the years when he was studying at Darüşşafaka: “I was into literature in 1930s. There was a journal called Resimli Ay [in English: ‘Pictorial Moon’] and also an additional journal called Küçük Hikâyeler Koleksiyonu [in English: ‘Short Stories Collection’]. They started a story competition. I was at the seventh grade. At Darüşşafaka, my student number was 918 and there was a friend next to me: 919 Rüştü… I had written two stories and wanted to send them to the competition. Rüştü was a character in one of my stories and I won the competition with that story. Resimli Ay Matbaası [in English: ‘Pictorial Moon Printing House] presented Rüştü with ten or fifteen books and journals. After I won the competition, I subscribed to a journal called Varlık [in English: ‘Life’] and they started to publish my stories. In 1934, my signature became quite famous; Sait Faik, Ihsan Devrim and Ümran Nazif…”
Devrim, who attended the School of Law after Darüşşafaka, added:
"I was studying at the School of Law in 1938. We, three friends, opened a bookstore called ABC Bookstore: Burhan Arpad, a storywriter and journalist, Salah Birsel, a poet, and me… Then, we left with Burhan. There was a butcher across the ABC Bookstore. I rented the store and opened Devrim Bookstore. Devrim Bookstore would continue to sell books for many years, but I published Rıfat Ilgaz’s book called ‘Sınıf’ [in English: ‘Class’] ”
Ihsan Devrim on stage
Devrim’s theater career started at Darüşşafaka: “When we were studying at Darüşşafaka, we established a troupe called Üsküdar Gençler Mahfeli [Üsküdar Youth Center]. We started to prepare plays with my friends from Darüşşafaka and Üsküdar. There was Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi [in English: ‘Republican People’s Party’] (CHP) [in English: ‘RPP’] across the Üsküdar Park and CHP provided us a hall. We started to stage plays on Saturdays and Sundays at that hall. The people of Üsküdar embraced us.”
Opening the curtains
Although Devrim left the School of Law at the end of the first grade, he met and got married with Mrs. Ilhan while she was studying at an upper class at the same school: “I got married and moved to Bakırköy. I started working at Bakırköy Community Center. We had an absolutely amateur stage life. Turhan Göker, who was a good actor, was also working with us at the Community Center. He was also working at the City Theaters and he was insisting me to apply to the City Theaters. I got a letter from City Theaters in 1950 or 1951. In the letter, I was requested to see Mahmut Moralı, who was a director at the City Theaters located in Tepebaşı. Then, I found out that Turhan Göker had applied to the City Theaters on my behalf.” Devrim, who started to work as a prompter at the City Theaters, was retired in 1973.
Fame with a single TV drama
As an old and loyal actor, he was widely acclaimed at ‘Süper Baba’ [in English: ‘Super Dad’], which was broadcasted on a private TV channel in 1993-1997. Perhaps, that is why he said that his role as Sürmeneli Yakup Dede [in English: ‘Yakup Granddad of Sürmene’] in the TV drama has excited him the most: “The TV series lasted for five years, and then we started shooting ‘Baba Evi’ [in English: ‘Family Home’]. The audience likes me. I will never take this for granted.”