79 Years Ago A Kurdish Ugly King Was Born

“Sweetie I’m currently in prison, and my presence here is important for my work serving the cinema, I would carry on making films and I am sure that one day, I’ll make big and important films for humanity. My thoughts and other people’s thoughts will develop Turkish cinema. It is true that they imprisoned my body, but they will never be able to imprison my thoughts. My thoughts will remain free. I do not want you to cry these days. Beautiful days are coming, because at the end of each winter, comes the spring”. A Letter from yılmaz güney to his wife from prison.

yılmazPrison bars, isolation in remote areas and military service imposed on Yilmaz Güney did not stop him from making films.

Yilmaz Güney was born 79 years ago today, on April 1, 1937 in a small town near the city of Adana in Turkey from Kurdish parents. He learned his mother tongue, which was a strong reason for him to work for the Kurdish issue, he said, “I used to hear and see people speak Kurdish. I am a Kurd and my identity was grown inside me in stages“.

Yilmaz Güney grew up suffering from domestic violence by his alcoholic father. He worked as a bread seller so he could make some money to go to the cinema, where only aristocrats could attend. Money issues did not stop Yilmaz from watching his favorite western and Japanese films.


The famed Kurdish filmmaker developed his passion for art at an early age and wrote short stories for a local magazine. His most famous story was called The Propaganda for which he ended up in prison for two years in 1955.

yilmaz-guney4In 1960 and after moving to Istanbul and working as an assistant in a photography studio, Yilmaz entered the acting world with his first film “Both Were Brave”.

At a time when handsome faces occupied Turkish screens and despite the fact that Yilmaz was not sure how popular his face was, he acted in more than 10 films in 1964 and 20 films in 1965. In these movies, he played the cowboy, the brave, the rebel and even the leader of the Mafia.

Yilmaz was nicknamed the Ugly King and because of his popularity, he stole the hearts of the most beautiful women in Turkey, like Miss Turkey at that time, Nebahat Cehre, who attempted suicide for him and forced him to marry her. Their marriage lasted only two years.

In early seventies and after he finished serving in the army and being influenced by Marxism, Yilmaz decided to focus on directing. His films such as Umut (1970) had a revolutionary tone and opposed the Turkish regime. He highlighted the suffering of Kurdish people caused by poverty and injustice.

duvar_1982Guney did not only use his imagination to express the Kurdish struggle and suffering, he also used vivid images of that painful reality in Kurdish regions and remote villages. In his film the Hungry Wolves, he concluded with a scene in which a torch that did not extinguish, despite the continued shooting by the Turkish soldiers on a rebel trapped in an abandoned house.


Yilmaz Guney was affected by the violence perpetrated against his mother and on many women in Turkey. This was present in his films, he highlighted and repeated picturing women in traditional society only from one side, romance and forbidden lust, like in his two films Sürü and Arkadaş.

Although Yilmaz Güney acted in more than 108 films, directed more than 20 films, wrote more than 50 films and produced more than 16 films. He didn’t come to global prominence until 1982, when he was awarded as the best director for his film Yol (The Road).

Most of his films were banned in Turkey from late seventies until his escape from prison to France in 1981.


He concluded his career with his film Duvar (The Wall), in which he pictured violence and persecution experienced by children in the Turkey’s juvenile prisons.

Despite the ban imposed on them, Yilmaz Güney’s films could inspire movies throughout the world such as the Sacrifice (1981).