A Life in Travel

5 minutes reading time (926 words)

My Family Roots in Turkey

 My family roots in Turkey have defined to a great extent who I am and what I have accomplished in my life and profession, especially guiding others to experience our world through adventure travel.

At home in Hollywood circa 1956 with my family including
my Turkish grandmother, Babanne, who came to visit us in California
before we started our family trips to visit them in Turkey.
 
Born in 1952 in Los Angeles, I've been traveling to Turkey on family trips since the 1960's. My father was born and raised in Istanbul just after the new Republic of Turkey was established by Ataturk in 1922. My father, Tevfik Kamil Kutay, hopped on a ship from Turkey headed to New York and then across the US to study architecture at Berkeley. He was 19 years old when his ship left Europe September 1939 the day of the German invasion of Poland so they zig-zagged their way across the Atlantic to avoid German U2 boats. He played soccer for UC Berkeley where he met my mom, and after getting married they lived together in Turkey for over a year before moving to Los Angeles where dad became a US citizen and practiced architecture.
 
Ready to take off on TWA standing on the tarmac in Istanbul
headed home concluding an early family visit to Turkey. 

Although I grew up in Los Angeles our family traveled to Turkey on numerous occasions to stay with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, and many cousins pictured here in the brief story of my Turkish family heritage. Our TWA flight was the start of our "roots style" family travel we did as I was growing up. With the exception of a cousin, all my familiar Turkish relatives are gone now, and dad passed away in 2004 along with any recorded memory of his origins even including his father (who I never met) but apparently immigrated into Turkey from Bulgaria during the reign of the last Ottoman.
Grandmother Babanne reads my sister's palm.  
 

The big lesson I learned as a young adult from my family trips in Turkey was this:
No matter if we don't speak a common language, 
we are all family on this Earth and there are always 

other ways we can communicate love beyond words. 

While visiting Turkey on several occasions as a teenager staying with relatives in their apartment in Istanbul, there were many times when mom and dad were not around to translate. Besides, I wanted to have my own interactions with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins which were mostly a game of charades resulting in much laughter, eye gazing, touching and smiles! We were all family so language wasn't as important as knowing by default there was love between us and time together was precious.
 
Hanging out together in the Istanbul apartment. From left to right:
Uncle Mustafa, Aunt Farazat, Sister Jale, me, mom, Babaanne, Aunt Jale.

Today, our principal Turkish guide and local trip manager, Alper Ertubey, with whom we have been working to guide trips in Turkey for over two decades is like a brother in our family. We know each other's families well and when my father died he helped me make arrangements for a memorial in front of that beautiful old home where dad was born.
 
After our son Tarek was born, dad hosted another family trip to Turkey to introduce his grandson
and daughter-in-law, Anne Kutay, to his homeland. He strolled hand in hand with Tarek through his old high school Galatasary.
In a light moment, dad is donning a hat Tarek wore everywhere...little did Tarek know it was a ceremonial circumcision hat!

Over the years, Anne and I lead a group of travelers back to explore my family roots in Turkey, riding the passenger ferry my dad commuted on every day to high school, and passing by the 'Abud Efendi Yali' (old Ottoman family home) he was born in located on the shore of the Bosphorus. We had a family reunion in that beautiful Ottoman home when I was in high school with four generations of women present: my great aunt Belkis Halla (a notorious Turkish socialite), my grandmother Babaanne, my mother Katherine Kutay, and my sister Jale Kutay.
After dad died and his older sister and our uncles passed away,
I took our son Tarek to visit our last remaining Aunt Jale
 a year before she passed. On the table is a picture of my
grandfather in his Ottoman military uniform. 

The old yali is such a classic and well-preserved historic Ottoman home it was used for several years as the set for the most popular soap opera throughout the Arabic world. But it has since been purchased by a private owner. It's still a grand site from the water. 
My father, Tevfik Kutay, was born into the generation of "New Turks"
just when Ataturk established the new republic of Turkey.
He was a sophisticated and debonair man of European style.   
 
On board a hired boat during a Wildland Adventure in Turkey
on the Bosphorus with the old 'yali' where my dad was born in the background.
 

My Turkish brother from another mother, Alper Ertubey,
who is our lead guide and in-country trip manager.

Keeping it wild, 
 
Kurt Kutay
 
See more information about our Wildland Adventures in Turkey or contact Kurt Kutay
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