Sevilay Direkoğlu, who was one of the pillars of North Cyprus state broadcaster Bayrak Radio and Television Corporation (BRTK) and central to the development of broadcasting for Turkish Cypriots, has died at the age of 85. She passed away suddenly on Wednesday, 30 October, with no prior known health problems.
Born in Lefke on 10 December 1937, Direkoğlu was raised in the capital Lefkoşa at a time when Cyprus when under British colonial rule. Her first job was in the public sector, working at the Passport and Land Registry offices.
Direkoğlu had her initial break in broadcasting at the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation Television and Radio (CBC) as a news presenter in 1957. She was one of the first Turkish Cypriot women on air, chosen to present CBC’s Turkish News Service.
A review of this period in her career was captured in the BRTK magazine in 2020, in a special edition about the ‘History of Broadcasting Museum’. Direkoğlu is quoted as describing the TV news programmes from the 1950s and 60s.
“Greeks would have their programmes on Tuesdays and Turks on Fridays. I would announce the programmes that would be telecast and provide information,” Direkoğlu said.
Tensions between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities increased during the latter part of the 1950s due to attacks by Greek Cypriot terror group EOKA. These continued even after Cyprus gained its independence in 1960.
The Greek Cypriot coup and ten-day killing spree known as “Bloody Christmas”, which started on 21 December 1963, saw all Turkish Cypriot employees walk out of their jobs at CBC. Many were too fearful to come to work after news got out about the dozens of Turkish Cypriots in the capital and many more across Cyprus, who had been abducted and killed by EOKA militia, with homes in the Turkish quarters of various towns attacked and set ablaze.
Given her prominent role at CBC, Sevilay Hanım deliberated hard on whether she should continue to work at the government owned broadcaster but decided against it. Instead, she opted to join the team of Turkish Cypriot pioneers who founded BTRK on 25 December 1963, so they could keep their community informed at this critical time of crisis.
In February 1964, Sevilay Direkoğlu made her debut broadcast on BRTK radio, beginning a long-lasting career that would cement her position as the ‘Queen of Turkish Cypriot broadcast’.
As a seasoned broadcaster, Direkoğlu’s work spanned a range of areas: she was a news anchor, programme presenter, and a broadcast producer, and director.
Her most notable programmes included “Sabahın Getirdikleri” (What The Morning Brings), “Hanımlarımızla Başbaşa” (One-to-One With Our Ladies), and “Köye Doğru” (Heading Towards The Village), which, for twenty years, was essential listening on a Sunday.
The generous retirement rules for public sector workers in the early years of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus meant Direkoğlu’s time at BRTK came to an end in the mid 1980s. Yet she decided she did not want to stop broadcasting.
Her family relocated to Britain, where Direkoğlu resumed her reign over the microphone at Londra Türk Radyosu (London Turkish Radio) following a request from the station’s founder, Erkan Pastırmacıoğlu. As a result, Sevilay Hanım became a familiar and adored voice of London’s Turkish community too.
Last week, the TRNC and the Turkish diaspora in Britain greeted the news of this legendary broadcaster’s death with immense sadness, as well as an outpouring of love and praise for her on social media.
Countless loved ones, colleagues and public figures paid tribute to this pivotal figure in the history of Turkish Cypriot broadcasting.
“We are heartbroken by the news of Sevilay Direkoğlu’s death. BRT’s doyen radio and television producer and presenter, was also a valuable member of London Turkish Radio. We wish her God’s mercy and a place in heaven. Condolences to all,” wrote Erkan Pastırmacıoğlu on his Facebook page, sharing photos of Sevilay Hanım during her time at LTR and with the late TRNC President, Rauf Denktaş.
Uğur Karagözlü described the broadcaster as a “unique friend”, who, “until her last breath, spread joy and love around her.” He said, “She made us believe she would live forever with her incredible energy,” adding the void she left was “unfillable”.
Former BRTK colleagues fondly recalled memories of Sevilay Hanım’s assistance at the start of their careers, with good professional advice and practical support, such as vocal and diction training.
Her funeral on Wednesday, 2 November, started with her coffin being taken to BRTK headquarters in Lefkoşa for a memorial service in her honour. Among those who came to pay their respects to the late luminary was TRNC President Ersin Tatar, who spoke a few words at the service:
“Her voice found a special place in all our hearts. It’s impossible to forget that voice. Lucky me, I had the opportunity of listening to her voice during my studies in London,” the president said.
Sevilay Direkoğlu was laid to rest at Lefkoşa Cemetery, where she was buried alongside her late husband, artist and former TRNC Education and Culture Undersecretary Fikri Direkoğlu. She is survived by her three children, daughters Ayda Direkoğlu Bergsen and Aylin Direkoğlu, and son Alp Direkoğlu.
Sevilay Hanım will be remembered by her family, friends and former colleagues as a high-spirited, elegant woman who lived life to the fullest. She was a hard-working, one-of-a-kind lady with a flawless diction that gained the admiration of listeners and colleagues over the decades she broadcast.
T-VINE extends its heartfelt condolences to Mrs Direkoğlu’s family and friends for the loss of this incredible woman, who leaves an indelible mark on Turkish Cypriot society, may she rest in eternal peace.