Ziya Gökalp, whose real name is Mehmet Ziya was born on March 23,1876 in Diyarbakır. Ziya Gökalp started his education in Diyarbakır, and moved to Istanbul in 1895 to attend the school for veterinary medicine. During this stage of his life, he met important political figures of the era such as İbrahim Temo and İshak Sukûti. He was much influenced by the Young Turks movement and joined the political reform movement İttihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress). He was arrested in 1898 because of his dissident activities and spent a year in prison. After his release, he was sent to exile to Diyarbakir where he worked on a minor governmental assignments. After the declaration of the second constitutional monarchy, he established a branch of İttihat ve Terakki in Diyarbakır, and became its representative. He published the Peyman newspaper. In 1909, he attended the İttihat ve Terakki Congress held in Thessalonica as the Diyarbakır delegate. The next year, he was elected member to the central administrative council of this organization in Thessalonica. He taught sociology courses in İttihat Terakki’s school, which he had helped establish in 1910. In the mean time, he also published the Genç Kalemler periodical. In 1912, he was elected as a representative of Ergani Maden to the Meclis-i Mebusan (Parliament), and he moved to Istanbul. He was also one of the founders of the association Türk Ocağı (The Turkish Hearth). He wrote about nationalism and Turkish nationalism in the publication of this association Turk Yurdu, and in many other publications such as Halka Doğru, İslam Mecmuası, Milli Tetebbular Mecmuası, İktisadiyat Mecmuası, İçtimaiyat Mecmuası and Yeni Mecmua. In the mean time, he taught sociology at the Darülfünun-u Osmani (Istanbul University).
During the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Ziya Gökalp sought to fashion a new national identity. In essence, his philosophy consisted of the effort of synthesizing the ethical and cultural values native to Turkish society, and certain values borrowed from the west. He summarized this approach as “becoming Turkish, Muslim, and modern,” and he took the cultural component from Turkish nationalism, and the ethical component from Islam. Gokalp defended that the constructive element of international culture were national cultures and he gave priority to folk literature over court literature. He believed in the importance of positive sciences, which had made the technological and scientific development of the West possible and considered religion as an auxiliary element on the way to reach religious and social unity. His social model was influenced by Emile Durkheim’s theoretical concept of “solidarism.” He opted for this model because unlike liberalism, which was based on the individual, and Marxism, which was based on class struggle, solidarism considered vocational organizations as the essential social unit. He wrote countless articles explaining his social and political views, and he systematized the concept of Turkish nationalism. He played an important role in the establishment and the development of Turkish national literature.
In spite of the verse works and the poetry that he wrote in defense of Turkish nationalism, recent history Turkish cultural tends to acknowledge him more as a figure of political struggle. Ziya Gökalp earned great respect on the basis of his life of political activism. Leaving an indelible mark on the development of Turkish national identity, Gokalp died on October 25, 1924 as a citizen of the newly founded Republic of Turkey.
Ziya Gökalp's Works:
Poetry: Şâki İbrahim Destanı (The Legend of the Bandit İbrahim, 1908), Kızıl Elma (The Red Apple, 1915), Altın Işık (The Golden Light, 1923), Ziya Gökalp Külliyatı I (Complete Works of Ziya Gökalp, 1952).
Other Works: Türkleşmek – İslâmlaşmak – Muasırlaşmak (Becoming Turkish – Islamic- Modern, 1918), Doğru Yol (The True Path, 1923), Türk Töresi (The Turkish Custom, 1923), Türkçülüğün Esasları (The Principles of Turkism, 1923), Türk Medeniyeti Tarihi (The History of Turkish Civilization, 1925), Türk Medeniyeti Ansiklopedisi (The Encyclopedia of Turkish Civilization, 1989), Malta Mektupları (Maltese Letters, 1931, Limni Mektupları (The Letters of Limni, 1965).
* Biographical information concerning Ziya Gökalp has been gathered from Tanzimat’tan Bugüne Edebiyatçılar Ansiklopedisi.
Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation.