The 1970s were a unique time for Turkish cinema, since the country was (like the rest of the world) going through a social and cultural revolution. Or was it? There was a certain dubiousness in this period: women could be free, but not too free… or they would have a dark shadow of judgment lingering over them.
Whether your fave Yeşilçam star is Türkan Şoray or Seher Şeniz, we can all agree on one thing: that they certainly weren’t afraid to dress boldly and to express themselves in their own direct and unafraid manner. Enter Feri Cansel, a stunning Turkish-Cypriot actress who took the movie industry by storm.
Queen of Cyprus
She was born as Feriha Cansel in Nicosia, Cyprus on July. 7, 1944, under the dramatic and emotional zodiac sign of Cancer and was of Turkish-Cypriot descent. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean, with their history going back 10,000 years to reveal the illustriousness of Ancient Greek and Assyrian culture.
As a youth, Feri was not afraid to play sports with boys and was always the center of attention; standing at the modelesque height of 5′ 7″. She studied at Atatürk Secondary School, which was the only coeducational school in Nicosia at the time. Her school friend Rahmi Özsan said:
“Feri Cansel loved to play boxing matches with men! She was a brave girlfriend who insisted that girls were no different from us and shared the same feelings.”
Disturbingly, she was married off at the mere age of 13 to a Turkish diplomat/British citizen 15 years her senior! At 19 she had a daughter named Zümrüt (translated to Emerald), who also became an actress when she grew up. How did Turkish and British laws allow this shocking child marriage? The situation traumatized Feri and inspired a lifelong need in her to seek independence and freedom.
The marriage was grotesque, but Feri made the best of it and went to London’s famous Alfred Morris’s hairdressing school, and then worked as a stylist. Imagine being styled by her and getting an amazingly perfect beehive hairdo in turn! After living with her husband in England for a few years, Feri divorced him. While everyone else wanted to move to Europe, Feri strived to live in Turkey after visiting as a tourist in 1964.
Life in Turkey
Following her move to Turkey, Feri forfeited her British citizenship and worked illegally at a club in Taksim Square as a service hostess, while living with a Cypriot belly dancer friend in one of the neighbourhoods of Istanbul called Pangaltı. Her visa situation presented an issue: Feri could only stay for 6 months because she did not have a work or residence permit.
Her musical colleague Zafer Şener described Feri as such:
“She was a strong-eyed, brave woman. May God have mercy on her… She was singing a rhythmic song with the refrain ‘Come to Me, Come to Me,’ which I did not hear from any other singer every night. Meanwhile, bowing slightly and rocking her sexy hips to the rhythm would make the hearts of all men, including the orchestra, jump. I remember her love of animals. She had a cute dog. Rest in peace.
Another bandmate named Manuk Hamparsumyan said of her:
“While I was playing in the Orchestra at Çakıl Casino for a long time, we accompanied Feri Cansel a lot. She was a cute and cheerful person. Although she had difficulty singing correctly, she was very good at covering it up with her good heart. Rest in peace.”
But not everyone was happy with Feri’s striptease career. An Istanbul police chief named Muzaffer Çağlar had issued this statement, which put fear into Feri’s heart:
“Feri Cansel is performing art in Turkey within the provisions of Law No. 5682. If her work permit is not renewed, if she is found to have engaged in harmful activities, she will be deported abroad, like other foreigners who act in this way, and I guess she will not be able to return to Turkey easily again.“
With her quick thinking and resourcefulness, Feri did what needed to be done in order to attain Turkish citizenship: In 1971 she married Yusuf İzzettin Tuzcu, the janitor of an apartment block in Istanbul. He was paid 6000 lira (equal to $2,300 USD today) for the sham marriage. She continued to work at the Parisien nightclub and live life on her own terms.
It was 3-month marriage of convenience, which dissipated in the courts under the guise of “severe incompatibility.” Feri received her first movie role in 1967 and did occasional bit parts afterwards, but the pay was too low and she supplemented it by performing striptease acts at nightclubs and taking singing lessons to work in cabaret.
And Finally, Stardom
Using her looks and charm, Feri managed to succeed in Yeşilçam (the Turkish move industry, which translates to Green Pine) and starred in the vulgar “seks filmleri” exploitation genre of the 1970s (probably inspired by Commedia sexy all’italiana.) These films were cheap, low budget, and lascivious sex comedies which often required Feri to disrobe and act like a thot.
She also liberally cursed in these movies and used foul language, which led her to be nicknamed the Emmanuelle of Kasımpaşa; a reference to the French erotic film saga of the 70s. The Emmanuelle series centered around the bored housewife of a French diplomat who travelled the world and had multiple affairs with men and women alike, with her husband’s encouragement (it truly was a degenerate time period!). Kasımpaşa is a working-class town in Istanbul which apparently has some interesting slang and blue-collar characters.
In 1969, Feri fell in love with Kurdish actor Yılmaz Güney on the set of the 1969 crime film Bir Çirkin Adam (A Bad Man). He was famous as an activist for Kurdish rights in Turkey, and was known as “the Ugly King” for his homely working-class appearance. Unfortunately, he did not take Feri seriously as a partner, and he dumped her and left her heartbroken. Feri had atrocious taste in men, and it’s tragic she got kicked to the curb by a mustache guy who looked like a pizza delivery man.
A dedicated and loyal lover, Feri went running to the courthouse in support after Yılmaz was caught with two guns in his possession. She even quit her job as a stripper to please him. Feri continued simping hard for Yılmaz:
“They call the man the ‘Ugly King’. But what is ugly? He is the most beautiful in cinema, inside and out. Especially who else has that mysterious smile with his curved lips and those penetrating deep eyes, for God’s sake!”
“I have a place in Turkish cinema today, and I owe this to Yılmaz Güney. Thanks to him, my name was in the newspaper columns, the people recognized me. But let me tell you right away that I did not make friends with Yılmaz Güney for the sake of advertising. I really loved him. Just like the crazy ones.”
She had spoken highly of him, only to be let down in the end:
“Yılmaz is the best person I know in Turkey. A man who frankly says what he thinks and what’s on his mind. Handsome strong, knowledgeable, tough, like a rock. Since I married a man who was 15 years older than me at the age of 13, I wanted to meet a man like Yılmaz who took everything he wanted, or rather broke it off, all my life. Thank God my dreams came true, I found the man I was looking for. I am attached to Yılmaz, I love him. I hope I will not be disappointed in the end, I will end this happy togetherness with a happy ending.’“
He then dumped her to marry a 17-year old named Fatoş. Yikes…
Because she was so often nude in her films, Feri acquired breast implants in the 1970s; as well as a nose job. Viewers only saw her exterior image: a glamorous erotic B-movie queen with a perfect figure and a luxurious lifestyle. Yet even with her newfound fame, Feri was still insecure and full of self-doubt. And who had funded her surgical enhancement? Ironically, it was all paid for by Yılmaz Güney, the lover who eventually scorned her.
For some reason, her procedure was given a full-page spread by a Turkish newspaper named Günaydın on November 16, 1969. Following Yılmaz’s release from jail for the possession of illegal guns, he held a celebration with Feri and his closest friends at a casino. She appeared very taken with his “bad boy” public image. The next day would be a transformative one for her: she was to get silicone implants and a rhinoplasty.
Feri constantly complained to Yılmaz that she disliked her nose and chest, so he agreed to pay ten thousand liras to a hospital for her operations. After undergoing the painful work and then gaining consciousness, the first thing Feri did was to ask for a hand mirror to gaze into as she proclaimed, ”It is not easy to be the future fiancee of Yılmaz Güney.” When she finally had her bandages removed, Feri said in wonder, “Look how much I have changed!”
She was a trooper though: despite the discomfort of the surgeries, Feri’s only complaint was that she was stuck sleeping on her back for the first few weeks of recovery. The plastic surgeon, impressed with his own work, told her, “You hit it off with surgery, this new nose will suit you very well.” Even so, it was still not enough to make Yılmaz marry her. At least she got free cosmetic procedures out of it, and the relationship increased her profile in the tabloids.
Confidence and Tragedy
Feri was not ashamed to dress (or undress) however she wanted, and was boldly quoted as saying;
“As a result of my breast surgery, which I had to have for my aesthetic appearance, I became the woman with the most beautiful breasts of Yeşilçam and it gave me the most beautiful, unique, capable, artistic opportunities.”
An obsessed workaholic, she is credited on IMDB as starring in 134 films in 15 years. Their quality may be dubious, but at the time she was one of the most famous female stars in Turkey. She stated:
“I can’t make a limitation that I will make so many movies a year. If I like the offer, I accept it. In fact, 5 or 6 films a year is very normal, but this year, I made 7 films at the beginning of the work. Let’s see where it will end up?”
To critics, she had only this to say:
“Nudity exists all over the world. Okay bro?.. In Germany , harcore movies are playing. Are those who don’t undress better actors than me or my friends who undress like me? None of us are ill of exposure. However, we undress because the script requires it and the audience wants it that way.“
In 1974, tragedy struck in the form of a violent traffic accident. After a decline in her health during a follow-up exam, doctors determined that Feri’s breast implants had to be removed as they presented a risk of cancer. From thenceforth, the silicone was taken out of her chest and she went back to her natural body type. Audiences still loved her regardless, and she continued to play seductive “vamp” characters onscreen.
Feri’s regrettable taste in men continued on in July of 1976, when she married businessman Yusuf Tereyağoğlu, the son of one of Ankara’s leading families. It was her third marriage of conveniece, and like the others, it was also bound to fail. Although Yusuf was wealthy, he and Feri did not get along and divorced three years later in 1979. As the 70s faded into the 80s, Feri’s film career began to flounder, and she started to focus more on live performances and business ventures.
A Gruesome Demise
In August of 1983, Feri Cansel signed a striptease contract with a restaurant/nightclub in Bursa called Turistik Köşküm Night Club for a substansial amount of money. On Sept. 2, 1983, at the age of only 39, Feri was brutally murdered by her jealous fiance Melih Ük at her home on Cihangir Akyol Street. At 11 PM, he had entered the house drunk and in an agitated state; being on the verge of bankruptcy. He was known to be an angry alcholic.
Seeing clutter on a table, Melih asked rudely, “What is this doing here? Take it somewhere else.” Feri retorted, “I know where to put it.” From thereon, an intense argument erupted between them. Suddenly, Melih leapt up from the sofa and grabbed his 7.65-inch Kırıkkale brand gun. Feri cried out, “This man is going to kill me, help me.” Melih coldly said, “You have already deserved death. You have another loved one. I will not help you with him.”
In a state of drunken envious rage, he shot Feri three times in the head. Feri’s heroic daughter Zümrüt jumped onto Melih and tried to wrestle the gun out of his hands, but was grazed on the forehead by a bullet in the crossfire. He was ironically described by those who knew him as “a man who would not hurt even an ant.” They had known each other for four years, and no one expected their relationship would end so badly.
Zümrüt gave a shocking testimony of what occured that night:
“I left the room when my mother argued with Melih, who came to take some of her personal belongings. My mother was crying. I went inside. Melih had a gun in his hand. At first I thought he was jokingly scaring my mother. I was scared when I heard a gunshot. My mother fell to the ground. The gun fired again. I collapsed on my mother. One of the bullets fired from the gun missed my forehead.”
Feri and Melih met in 1979 after spotting one another at a concert in Izmir. He was a coarse looking tradesman with an ugly mustache who was already married, but for some reason Feri took a liking to him and they moved in together in Istanbul. They even opened up a market together named Zümrüt, after her daughter. She had hoped that Melih would be the man she would finally settle down with, but instead he dealt her the ultimate betrayal.
Feri was excited to go to Bursa to continue her dancing career and was packing her things for the trip that coming morning. Gripped in an episode of maniacal envy; most likely over Feri’s controversial striptease career and public nudity, a drunken Melih used his insecurity as an excuse to end her life. What’s even sadder is that Feri’s daughter Zümrüt bore witness to the senseless murder of her mother.
A Trial and a Funeral
Coward that he was, Melih fled the crime scene and left her to die. Feri was still breathing, so she was taken to Taksim First Aid Hospital. Sadly, the gunshot wounds were lethal and she passed away in the early hours of Sept. 2, 1983. Heartbreakingly, a childhood photo of Melih was discovered in Feri’s wallet after her death. Her funeral was held on September 6, 1983 at Şişli Mosque, in the Muslim tradition. The service was attended by other glamorous Yeşilçam actresses, such as Mine Soley, Mine Mutlu, and Serpil Örümcer.
Melih Ük was caught in Moda two days after his escape, and was tried before the 3rd High Criminal Court of Turkey, and recommended a 25-year criminal sentece. At the police station, he lied that Feri owned the gun and tried to fire it at him first:
“Feri took out her gun and said, ‘Get out’. When I tried to take the gun from her hand, she fired. Then I took the gun and fired. I regret. But I was under heavy provocation. It ruined my life.”
Directly contradicting the testimonies by Zümrüt and their friends who were present that day, Melih’s words were a total fabrication. He was completely shameless and unrepentant until the end. While on trial, Melih also claimed that he was in financial debt because of Feri. He alleged that when he arrived home on the day of the murder, he asked Feri who she was talking to on the phone:
“Because Feri works at night, I used to pick her up from the casino and come home late. Because of this, my work was delayed and I was in debt. I came from Izmir on the night of the incident. I saw Feri talking on the phone with someone else. She insulted me when I asked who she was talking to. When the argument got bigger, Feri took the gun and said, ‘There are other people in my life. I was talking to my girlfriend,” she said and walked over to me. I took the gun from her hand and fired a few shots and ran away.”
In every story, he always blamed the victim. Yet in the Forensic Medicine reports, it was stated that two of the four shots that caused death were fired from far away; not up close as he claimed. The lies were clearly mental gymnastics from a man who was unable to put his ego aside and admit his guilt. At a 1984 hearing, Melih was given a more lenient sentence of 15 years and 10 months in prison.
Tragically, Melih only served a meagre 7 years in prison in the end, due to the misogyny and neglect of the Turkish legal system which virtully allowed men to get away with femicide. Zümrüt is still alive and in her early 60s, and is married with three children. After her mother’s demise, she pursued a brief acting career which ended in 1986. There is no doubt she loved Feri very much and was a courageous girl who tried to save her life.
Feri had famously stated that women are no different from men, and had believed in her own rights and autonomy. It was tragic that her life was cut down so early at the age of 39 because of a narcissistic person who did not respect her humanity. Feri’s second funeral and final burial took place on her island home of Cyprus, and was funded by close friends as she was nearly broke at the time of her death.
Feri was used by the Yeşilçam industry to strip and perform lascivious songs in her youth, but once they considered her “old” because she was nearing 40; she was promptly discarded by those who once casted her in dozens of films. A week before her death, Feri lamented the state of her entertainment career to director Yılmaz Atadeniz after bumping into him on the street:
“While walking on Istiklal Street, we saw a very nice lady from behind. Her legs were like pillars… When we suddenly turned around, we saw Feri Cansel… She was very happy to see us, hugged, kissed, asked how we were. At that time, she took a break from cinema and she was a singer. She said to me, ‘Oh Yılmaz Brother… I missed the movie sets and you guys so much. Singing is a tough job. I wish you would pick me up from the house at 7 am and take me to the set at 10 like before. I miss cinema,’ she said. She was killed a week later.”
Yılmaz Atadeniz went on to make disgusting victim-blaming comments about Feri:
“Feri was an interesting woman. She was very confident. While most of the female actors in Turkish cinema had their benefactors and someone protecting them, she did not. That’s how she lived her life. There was a man she was with once. He was too harmless to hurt even an ant... She insulted the man, said words that touched his masculinity, and provoked the man… Zümrüt was also at home. The man stabbed Feri. So Feri burned both herself and the man because of her tongue…”
Ironically, when asked who was her favourite actress, Feri stated it was Seher Şeniz; a fellow tragic Yeşilçam star. Seher committed suicide in 1992 after the decline of her acting career and a slew of toxic relationships. The two women were both forced into child marriages with older men; a practice which sadly seemed common at the time in Turkey. And like Feri, her life was overrun by tragedy as stardom turned out to be a double-edged sword.
Between 2010 and 2020, there were 2,296 femicides in Turkey. In a 2013 Hurriyet Daily News poll, 34% of Turkish men surveyed claimed that violence again women was sometimes necessary. A 2006 study in Sivas, Turkey found that 52% of women surveyed experienced domestic violence. The same misogynistic and backwards attitudes which caused Feri to lose her life and then be blamed for her own death are sadly still present in Turkey today.
Feri’s legacy lives on as a woman who pioneered cabaret fashion, attitude and glamour in Turkish cinema. With her vivacious charm, sense of humor and modelesque beauty, Feri made a strong impression on moviegoers during the 1970s. She rose through adversity and became a self-made woman who went through financial highs and lows, yet stayed positive and hopeful throughout. Had her depraved fiance not robbed her of her life at such a young age, there is no doubt that Feri would still be stunning audiences to this day.