French journalist Lionel Serik traced his roots back to Turkey, where he recently paid a visit as a guest of the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency. Lionel Serik might be labeled a nomadic man, the Pierre Loti of modern times. No matter what he’s called, his life is surely a source of inspiration for those who are seeking to write the story of a man searching for his roots in distant lands.
Having a foreign surname, which has always aroused people’s curiosity, French journalist Serik is in pursuit of his roots, which he has traced back to Turkey. “I was always looking in the Yellow Pages when I was in Montreal, New York, Paris, Singapore, Riyadh and Dubai and could never find a Serik,” said Serik during a recent interview in İstanbul, where he was visiting as a guest of the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency. “I was born in France on the island where Pierre Loti was buried. The graveyard he’s buried in is 50 meters from my house, so I was bathed in the culture of Pierre Loti,” says Serik.
Serik’s story of discovery had a sad beginning. “When my father passed away, we had to go through all the legal papers with his successors,” explains Serik. “My father had a bit of a complicated childhood, but we were told that the name Serik is originally from Turkey and that there’s a town called Serik in Antalya.”
Tracing the tracks
As Serik’s father was an orphan, his family hardly knew anything of his past and thus things were harder for them to trace. “My father was born in Belgium,” Serik says, continuing his story, “It’s very far away from the island that I was born on, and I decided that I wanted to investigate and find out the whole truth of where I came from and where my ancestors are.” Last year Serik went to Belgium to investigate the matter. “I got my father’s birth certificate and a document issued by the authorities on the birth of my grandfather, whose name was Ömer. My grandfather was born in Algeria, and my great-grandfather’s name was is Muhammet bin Ali. When I was investigating, I also found out that my grandfather and my grandmother passed away in the early 1980s, which means that I was 20 plus, but I never met them.”
After investigating further, Serik discovered that his ancestors were from one of the nomadic communities in Turkey. “Seriks are Yörüks. They are a nomadic people, which definitely suits me very well. I’ve been living all over the world. I left home when I was 18 years old, and I lived in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and America for about 20 years. The only difference from the original nomadic people was that they were using camels, horses or donkeys and I’ve been using planes instead.”
Trip to Turkey
After getting into contact with the Turkish Embassy in Paris, and particularly the cultural attaché, Hasan Yavuz, Serik was able to establish contacts in Turkey. Also, being one of the foreign guests of the İstanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture events, Serik was invited to the inauguration ceremony, which took place on Jan. 16.
“I spent a week here in İstanbul, and then I went to Antalya last Friday,” says Serik. “I was honored and very warmly welcomed and hosted by Ahmet Ümit, the district governor of Serik and by Mehmet Habalı, the mayor of Serik. He was very impressed by the way he was treated, both by the authorities and the local people. “I had the most beautiful experience of my life; I cried on Sunday night.” A special celebration was organized in the town, and a lamb was sacrificed in honor of Serik. “To my biggest surprise, they sacrificed a lamb before my eyes,” he says.” This whole experience strengthened Serik’s ties with Turkey, “I had my Turkish blood and now my heart is Turkish, too.”
However, he has not yet been able to find anyone with the same name in Serik. But he continues to hope. “Ümit and Habalı are going to do research using the administrative documents to see if I can find some of my ancestors,” he says. In addition, he has met a historian who specializes in Serik who also gave him some useful information about the history of the town.
“I’m going back [to France] more satisfied than I anticipated because all these people have made me feel at home, part of their family, like a brother,” says Serik after his experience in Antalya. “It has been so touching, so emotional for me, that I feel more Turkish than ever. These two days that I’ve spent in Serik were more rewarding for me than any document I was able to find.”
According to historical records, in the 18th or 19th century some people were sent from Serik to Algeria, either in exile or on official business or to fight against the French. “And that coincides with the fact that my great-grandfather Muhammet bin Ali was in Algeria and that my grandfather was born there. Then they moved to Belgium,” says Serik. However, the story becomes murky at that point. “I don’t know when or why,” he says.
Preserving the memory of Pierre Loti
Serik emphasizes that Pierre Loti’s hometown, Rochefort, cannot be thought of without thinking of Loti himself. “Pierre Loti is like the flag for the whole town,” says Serik. “His home is now a museum. Through his books, we know of his love of Turkey. If you visit his house in Rochefort, you’ll see that he has a room decorated like a mosque in his house and that half of the rooms have an old Turkish style. And he was a very weird person who was also very much into organizing very big parties. Sometimes it would take one year to organize one evening with 30 of 40 people. He was a person who liked being respected and famous in France, but here he was very discrete, hanging out with local people and smoking nargile.”
In order to preserve the memory of Loti, Serik intends to establish a sister city relationship between Rochefort and İstanbul. “In 2023, it is going to be the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic as well as the 100th anniversary of Loti’s death,” says Serik.
“I intend to come back towards the end of March or the beginning of April to plan an official trip for the French delegation some time in May. This will lead to a cultural exchange, including historical and various scholarship exchanges,” notes Serik.
A new chapter
“A book has been closed and I’m opening a new one for me,” says Serik with great contentment. “I have all the reasons to be become like Pierre Loti and have a second home here, perhaps a first one… I know I now have a home in Serik, and I’ll definitely go back there, no matter what.”
31 January 2010, Sunday
HATİCE AHSEN UTKU İSTANBUL
Lionel Serik – Texte / Text
Histoire écrite en français / Story written in English