NAMIK KEMAL (1840 – 1888)

Namık Kemal was born in 1840 in Tekirdağ, Turkey. His real name was Mehmet Kemal but he used the pen names Ahmet Nafiz, Hitam-ı Acemi, and Sabir. Kemal came from a prominent family, and as a youngster he took Arabic, Persian and history lessons. As an adult, he worked as a state official and held many important positions. Kemal moved to Istanbul and met Şinasi, who was one of the illustrious literary and political figures of the time. This meeting was to become a turning point in Kemal’s life. Namık Kemal joined the staff of Şinasi’s newspaper Tasvir-i Efkâr, who upon moving to Paris handed the publication over to Kemal.

Kemal was soon sentenced to exile by the Ottoman government because of the paper’s critical coverage of the government and escaped to Paris in 1867. This move proved to become a turning point in his life. In 1868, he began publishing the newspaper Hürriyet in London, and continued his support for political freedoms in the Ottoman Empire. He eventually parted ways with fellow intellectuals at this paper and decided to move back to Istanbul upon the invitation of the Ottoman grand Vizier. Namık Kemal returned to Istanbul in 1871 and resumed his career at the Diyojen, but he never published under his real name again. In 1872, fate repeated itself and Kemal was forced to leave Istanbul for Gelibolu (Gallipoli) where he published his newspaper İbret, and sought solutions to the various troubles that the country was experiencing.

Namık Kemal’s national fame came to him with his dramatic play Vatan Yahut Silistre.  The play was a call for patriotism and freedom and had just that impact on audiences throughout the Empire. When Namık Kemal returned to Istanbul, excited and enthusiastic masses paid visits to the office of his newspaper İbret, much to the discontentment of the government of the period. İbret was closed for an indeterminate time, and Kemal was again sent on exile to Famagusta for 38 months. Following the demise of the government during the coup of 1876, he returned to Istanbul to become the first Turkish literary figure to deal with modern concepts such as individual freedoms and nationhood. 

Rather than focusing on the ideal state, Namık Kemal draws the portrait of an ideal human being, and concentrates on the issue “what kind of an individual should one be.” Namık Kemal maintains that the individual must follow ideals and personally struggle to attain freedom, progress and development. His drama was an appeal to personal responsibility, demanding that “the people” rise to the challenge to secure their freedom. His eulogy to “Hürriyet” (Freedom) contains seven essential concepts; the individual and his personal attributes, love of motherland and the defense of its territorial and political integrity, freedom and the fight for freedom, reverence to ideals, the need of a national history, the current state of the homeland, and the portrait of a new and ideal human being or individual. When he wrote this text that epitomizes his philosophy of freedom, Kemal was exiled in Famagusta.

Namık Kemal proclaimed, “Literature does not have a motherland,” and emphasizede its universality. He also maintained that literature had to be true to life. Kemal managed to unify his political struggle with his prolific literary career, and during his short life he made valuable contributions for the improvement of the political structure of the Ottoman government. Namık Kemal died on December 2nd 1888 on the island of Sakız (Chios).

His Works;

Poetry: Namık Kemal’in Şiirleri (Poems by Namık Kemal, after his death first complied by Sadettin Nüzhet Ergun, 1941).

İntibah (Regret, 1876), Cezmi (Cezmi, 1880).

Vatan Yahut Silistre (Motherland or Silistra, 1873), Zavallı Çocuk (Poor Boy, 1873), Akif Bey (Mr. Akif, 1874), Gülnihal (Young Rose, 1875), Celalettin Harzemşah (Celalettin Harzemşah, 1885), Karabela (Misfortune, 1910).

Tahrib-i Harabat (Destruction of Ruins, 1885), Takip (Pursuit, 1885, critique on divan poetry on account of the opinions of Ziya Paşa which were stated in the preface of his anthology Harabat), Mes Prizon Muahazenamesi (Mes Prizon Critique, views that he stated when Recaizade Ekrem wrote a similar translation to his with the Italian poet Silviyo Pellica, serialized in Mecmua-ı Ebuzziya, 1885 and 1912), Renan Müdafaanamesi (Critique of Renan, work in which he defended Islam against the views of Ernest Renan, 1908).

Devr-i İstila (Invasion Period, the enlargement of the Ottoman Empire, 1867), Barika-i Zafer (Conquest of İstanbul, 1872), Evrak-ı Perişan (Scattered Leaves, disordered papers, with the meaning, the lives of Selahattin Eyyubi, Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Yavuz Sultan Selim, 1872), Kanije (Kanizsa, 1874), Silistre Muaharası (Silistra Siege, 1874), Osmanlı Tarihi (Ottoman History, new edition, 3 volumes, 1971- 74), Büyük İslam Tarihi (Great Islamic History, edited by İhsan Ilgar, 1975).

* Biographical information concerning Namık Kemal has been gathered from Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçılar Ansiklopedisi.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation.

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