Etem Erol, a senior lector in Turkish, passed away after suffering from a heart attack in January while on vacation in Bulgaria. He was born in 1955 and was buried in the town of his birth, Akçay, Turkey. He was 60 years old.
Erol, who had taught at Columbia University before coming to Yale, was a historian and language pedagogue. He taught all of the University’s modern Turkish and Ottoman Turkish classes, and his colleagues and students said his presence was felt far beyond the classroom, from interacting with the New Haven Turkish community to sponsoring cultural events and film screenings. In all such endeavors, they said, Erol brought his signature energy and smile, qualities that will be sorely missed.
“Etem Erol loved life, loved Turkey, loved his students and loved Yale. We will miss his energy, his laugh and his presence in our community,” said Alan Mikhail, a history professor who teaches on the early Muslim world and the Ottoman Empire.
Erol’s enthusiasm and warmth, as well as his rich historical and cultural perspective, brought the Yale Turkish language program to life and made class enrollments soar, according to acting chair of the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department Christina Kraus. Beyond his teaching duties, Erol was also an active member of the Council on Middle East Studies, and he participated on the council’s Cinema Series and served on its fellowship committees.
Erol’s colleagues and students said they best remember him from anecdotes about his energy, happiness and passion for Turkey. One of his popular sayings was that everyone in New Haven should “speak Turkish and be a Fenerbahçe fan, Fenerbahçe being the glorious Turkish soccer team.” He was also a part of a New Haven “Turkish Club,” an informal community of local Turks.
Michael Rapoport GRD ’18, one of Erol’s students in the NELC Department, said Erol would be remembered for “being a happy person.”
“It may seem unremarkable to characterize someone as a happy person, but Etem was always laughing, smiling and joking,” Rapoport said. “And he had a lovely ability to share his laughter, smiles and jokes with those around him. Even on those days when I may not have been looking forward to going to class, I would always look forward to seeing Etem. Knowing that he would be laughing and smiling in class would always brighten my mood. Even now, the memory of him has the same effect.”
NELC will hold a memorial celebration of Erol’s life on Feb. 12.