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How I met the Father of Internet

I changed the title of this blog a couple of times. It is about another Mustafa I knew: Mustafa Akgül.

A Wikipedia article summarizes Mustafa Akgül as a Turkish computer scientist who was the key figure of the acceptance of the internet in Turkey. Mustafa passed away in December 13th 2017. On April 12th 2018 Turkish Post Office (Posta Telefon İdaresi, PTT) printed two stamps commemorating Mustafa as ‘the father of internet in Turkey’. This was a special set of stamps, 750 altogether. I guess, most of them bought by a collector who planned to make a fortune years later by selling them. I regret I did not get a copy, not for making a profit, but for remembering Mustafa’s infectious smile.

I met Mustafa in 1979 in Waterloo. He and his wife Nurcan were our closest friends. As recent graduate students at the University of Waterloo, we were poor. We could hardly have enough to make the end of the month. Mustafa and his wife Nurcan were generous with their time, food, affection. Mustafa was doing his PhD in Combinatorics and Optimisation. Waterloo University was one of the rare places with a Faculty of Mathematics. As master’s students in sociology, we were clueless what combinatorics meant. I am sure Mustafa explained it many times, but I only remember his amazing smile and even more amazing record collection. I was introduced to Theodorakis, Maria Farantouri, Victor Jara, Joan Baez, Ivan Rebroff, classics, folk, jazz and many more artists and genres of music through Mustafa. His depth of knowledge was impressive. His humility and his desire to share his knowledge was admirable.

I never heard from him after we left Waterloo. I wrote to him a couple of times but never received a reply. Maybe the messages never reached him, maybe he was too busy or he did not remember us as the way we remembered him. Regardless, I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me his love of music, for his friendship and his big smile.

Mustafa recorded some of his records for us as we had not other means of listening to them at home. One of these recordings was from Maria Farantouri whom we met in Toronto on May 31, 1981. During the first part of her concert, she sang some of her older songs I had first heard at Mustafa’s place. After the intermission, to our surprise, she began singing songs from her new recording with Zülfü Livaneli in Turkish and Greek. We were hearing these songs for the first time and were in tears. After the concert, our Greek friends let us visit Maria Farantouri at the backstage. She was as warm and welcoming as I remember her from Mustafa’s records.

I like to imagine that Mustafa passed away at eight o’clock as in the Thedorakis song To treno Fevgi Stis Okto (The Train Leaves at Eight O'Clock). I will miss the father of internet in Turkey with his love of music and his big smile.

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