Between the axis of Kemalist nationalism and Communist internationalism: Yakup Kadri and Nazım Hikmet

Above: Yakup Kadri’s grave in Istanbul. He had a long life compared to Nazım Hikmet with 85 years. Nazım Hikmet’s grave (1902-1963) is situated in Moscow, Russia.

I wrote this small inquiry for TK 221 (Turkish) course this year. Even though I am not a literature student, literary works are necessary for understanding the mentality of the analyzed era by historians.

There are many important points in the study of literary texts. It can easily be said that one of these points is a space analysis in literary works. The place gives the reader information about the general characteristics of the work and gives important clues about the author’s mindset world. In this context, there may be some remarkable differences between the use of space and the boundaries between using a certain region and wide geography. Especially in the process of nation-state construction, many writers from all over the world have chosen regions from their own countries and they have worked on life in these regions. On the other hand, international and communist states such as the USSR emerged against nationalist states. Authors who embraced communism extended their geography as widely as possible to spread their ideas. As this literary polarization between nationalism and internationalism in many countries has also shown efficacy in Turkey. In this article, I will examine the use of space in the works of Nazım Hikmet Ran, who contributed to the communist idea with Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, who ideologically served the nation-state construction.

Yakup Kadri: Republican and nationalist intellectual on the road of Kemalism

yakup kadri karaosmanoğlu milli savaş hikayeleri ile ilgili görsel sonucuFirst, “National War Stories” written by Yakup Kadri based on his memoirs in the War of Independence is a work given with a national mindset, as the name of the work shows. During the stories, the struggle of the Turks with the “others” (especially the Greeks) is emphasized. In this respect, geographical elements are frequently mentioned in order to describe the destruction of places by the enemy. 20 of the story consists of 28 stories in the center of the plot in Anatolia, the remaining 8 in Istanbul. In the work, Paris, Rome (Given by the Land) and Cairo (Fortune) appear as shortly mentioned spaces. As for the Balkan geography, there is no detail here except for the story of Muhacir Kerim Aga. In the half of the stories that tell about Anatolia, the geography where the story passes is not presented to its interlocutor in a clear manner. In three of them, the actual existence of the mentioned villages (Garipler, Ortaklar, Gecik) is doubtful. In the remaining seven stories, the spaces appeared as farms (Teslim Teslim [Give Up, Give Up!], Güvercin Avı [Pigeon Hunt] and Düşman [Enemy}), hospital (Hastane Koğuşunda [In a Hospital Ward] and Katmerli Hıyanet [Heavy Betrayaç]), a coffee house and inn (Bir Şehid Mezadı [A Martyr’s Auction] and Hüseyin Çavuş). In Anatolia, the place of 10 stories is revealed in Western Anatolia. The eight stories mentioned in Istanbul focus on the psychological effects of the occupation of Istanbul on the people. No matter what people come from Europe or from the front, they cannot find peace here and prefer Anatolia.

Nazım Hikmet: Finding the last resort in the absolute victory of Communism

In Nazım Hikmet, it is seen that the place is diversified according to Yakup Kadri. Western Anatolia and Istanbul are not only among the places included in the poems, but the geography of poetry expands to many corners of the world. In his poems, Nazım Hikmet devotes considerable space to Anatolia and its beauty. This can be seen even when looking at several pages of “Kuva-yı Milliye” (National Forces). It is here that Akşehir (twice), Kocatepe (three times) and Afyon (five times) are places where the Great Offensive took place. In “the Epic of Sheikh Bedreddin”, Çarşamba, Ayasluğ explicitly mentions Anatolian cities and towns such as Çarşamba in the “Turkish Peasant”. In his poem “Four Prisons III” the geography of Anatolia is referred to as a whole. Edirne, Izmir, Ulukisla, Maras, Trabzon, Erzurum (twice), Toroslar, Bolu, Ankara, Giresun, and Amasya are the settlements mentioned in this poem. Istanbul, where it has spent its life, has a prominent place as a venue. Haydarpasa Train Station in “Human Landscapes from My Country” is mentioned as being the center of Gülhane Park in Walnut Tree. Unlike Yakup Kadri’s stories, N. Hikmet Ran does not experience any discomfort in living here. On the contrary, he expresses his longing for the city of Istanbul in “the Snowy Beech Forest”, “the Times of Prague” and “Varna Poems”.

From the hills of Anatolia to the issues of Cold War

nazım hikmet russia ile ilgili görsel sonucu
A stamp issued by the Soviet Union for commemorating Ran

   From this point on, Nazim Hikmet can be regarded as having an international mindset. In this context, Ran is a poet who works on the problems of the world geography. For example, he was deeply affected by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima during the WWII. He sharpens this drama of World War II in “the Girl Child”. The fact that since the place of the poem is France, he expresses her concern about the burning of Paris in one of his poems. Moscow, on the other hand, is a very critical crossroad in Nazim and his poems. For example, “the Snowy Beech Forest” is a poem in Moscow. Similarly, the cities of Varna and Sofia are important settlements in understanding the poetry universe of Nazım Hikmet. In the poems like Vapur [Stemboat], Bor Hotel, Münevverden Aldığım Mektup [The letter from Enlightened I received] Bulgaria is carefully portrayed. East Berlin and Leipzig are one of the cities Ran mentioned. In all these bets the poet’s devotion to Communism is seen, and his utter victory does not give up hope. In this context, Saman Sarısı [Straw’s Yellow] again shows Ran’s universal perspective and international world view. Throughout the poetry, the cities of Warsaw, Cracow, Prague, Brest, Paris, Moscow and Havana are considered together with their physical aspects (such as rivers) and their political situation (Castro’s revolution).


As a result, Yakup Kadri, who has a nationalist world view as mentioned above, reflected this in his works. He often depicts the war drama of the Aegean taking into consideration the concept of national state and Turkishness and otherness. Ran, however, contributes to the idea of communism, in which he defends for Anatolia as well as other geographies. Hence, many cities find their place in the shadow of his pen. The negative outlook that Karaosmanoğlu looks at in the lands outside the homeland is reversed in Nazım. As a result, the fact that two different writers lived in the same period had different mentalities and moralities deeply reflected in their works.


1-Karaosmanoglu, Yakup Kadri. National War Stories. The Ministry of Culture Publications [in Turkey] 1981.
2-Ran, Nazim Hikmet. Selected Poems. Yapı Kredi Publications. 2015.

Note: Both are written in Turkish and have not been completely translated into English yet.

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