A Hero Died in Istanbul 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The death was reported on September 21, 2013 of Professor Dr. Y. İzzettin Barış, the pioneering medical researcher who investigated the causes of malignant mesothelioma clusters in the “Cancer Villages” of Anatolia, Turkey.


In a book he published ten years ago “Let's Take this Doctor as a Hostage,”1 Dr. Barış acknowledged that the “most significant part of my life” was his work as a faculty member of the Chest Diseases Department at Hacettepe University, Ankara. His involvement with mesothelioma was a common thread throughout his career with his first encounter coming towards the end of his residency at the Gulhane Military Academy in 1964. In 1973, he visited the region of Mihalıççık, 150 kilometers from Ankara, to observe the workings of one of Anatolia's many open pit asbestos mines. What the researchers discovered on that visit was astonishing:

  • totally unprotected asbestos workers;
  • children playing on asbestos mounds;
  • villagers using asbestos-contaminated soil to make pots, line their stoves, improve the flavor of grape juice, polish their teeth, powder babies' bottoms, insulate and decorate their homes.

Over the coming years, Dr. Barış visited many areas of Turkey and found communities such as Şabanözü, Maden, Göller Bölgesi, Ayranci, Ivriz, Halkapinar, Ergeli, Kureşyler, Karain, Garipler and Tuzköy which had been decimated by asbestos. Villagers and the authorities ascribed the high incidence of premature deaths to “fate,” it was left to Dr. Barış and his team to identify the real killer: mesothelioma.2

Through his research and through research founded on results he had achieved, huge strides were made in understanding the nature of mesothelioma including: the non-occupational risks posed by exposure to asbestos, the existence of a genetic disposition in some families to contract mesothelioma and the prevalence of malignant mesothelioma mortality in areas where environmental exposure to erionite was high. Over the years he had opportunities to present his findings to international colleagues and his work was published in English language as well as in Turkish peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Barış was one of the founders and the first President of the Turkish Thoracic Society. He received many awards for his ground-breaking work.

September 25, 2013


1 Barış Y.İ. Let's Take This Doctor as a Hostage – A story of cancer research in Anatolia. 2003.

2 Carbone M, Emri S, et al A mesothelioma epidemic in Cappadocia: scientific developments and unexpected social outcomes. Nature Reviews Cancer 7, 147–154 (1 February 2007)



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