Between East and West: Selections from Peyami Safa (II)

Arab Letters

Cumhuriyet, 24 January 1940

Peyami Safa was known as a highly-motivated thinker to write their works. In the picture above he is sitting in his chair and working on the issues of Yedigün Magazine in the 1930s. (Source:

While Yakup Kadri was saying “You brought us a wording”, Yahya Kemal, then with humor repeated for others, told, “The most beautiful work of Ismail Safa (the father of Peyami) is Peyami.”

Peyami Safa was telling how gained a pivotal role in Republican Turkey’s literature in that reportage to Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı in 1940.


Note: Initially, I want to emphasize that these translations will last and I will share them in order once a month. The need for translations from the products of Turkish literature to other languages is substantial. While the translation of foreign classics to Turkish is going on despite many deficiencies, it cannot be said for its opposite. Unfortunately, this kind of activities must be widespread to present Turkish culture and civilization in the world-scale. After that, as I underlined in my first translation that this sort of translation might include mistakes since that piece of writing is a literary one. It is easy to accept that literary translations are always debatable due to many factors. I would be happy if you see any mistake. Enjoy reading again…



One of my readers is asking:

“My younger son is 11 years old. He doesn’t know Arabic. I want to teach him that privately. What do you say? I see that today those who well read and write Arab letters other than Latin letters are preferred in commercial places and even in state institutions. Can I learn what you think of?”

Yes, knowing Arab letters is going on to be a strong reason for choosing in both state’s works and private institutions because it is necessary to know Arabic letters for reading old documents, fields, and news. It cannot be guessed to what extent this will proceed. Each father who wants to equip his child can teach her Arab letters for the reason that the law bans writing Arabic, not reading.

That is the simple and practical aspect of the work.

Besides, there is the cultural aspect. It is impossible for a young who does not know Arab letters to scrutinize Turkish history and Turkish literature to the intermediate level. This young cannot read Naima, Peçevî, and Cevdet Pasha. Like this, he cannot read any of hand-written, stone press, or printed 45 thousand works. For him, Great Divan Literature is just a couple of poems that is taken to a school book or an anthology.  All the books of Tanzimat, like the opposite of a flea, who walks on white paper with military and regular steps, appear as thin spots: from Ziya Pasha to Abdülhak Hamid, he will not be able to emphasize any personality and work of contemporary literature. And neither will Edebiyat-ı Cedide (New Literature). There are no copies of Rübab-ı Şikeste, Haluk’un Defteri, Eylül, and others printed in new letters. In fact, all the works of Yakup Kadri, Falih Rifki, Halide Edib, and even the authors of our age are not published in new letters. If we go out of the history and literature staff, we can say that what is necessary to read for a medium culture is not used with new letters. A young person who does not know the Arabic letters cannot reach the full level of the daily newspaper or weekly magazine reader as he has not read any of these books. To understand the writers there, they must have come from the cultural tradition that raised them.

Publishing Congress was held nine, ten months ago. Fifty, maybe ten of the minimum 50 thousand books which are required to be translated into new letters have not been selected. Make sure you don’t get the answer, as many questions as you can ask: What will the youth who don’t know the Arabic letter read? My answer is that no matter how old he is, he will read the Latin alphabet and especially the Arabic alphabet. That’s the only solution. Those who want to say conservative“, I accept, without understanding a word of what I have written. The conservative is a much more advanced man than an ignorant man of his history and literature. Because bigotry and reaction is not the knowledge, but the brother of ignorance and the worst of the reaction is to believe on the contrary of this.

***This is taken from Safa’s “Objective I: Ottoman Turkish, Turkish, and Fabrication” published by Ötüken Publications. 

The book’s link:–objektif-1/28519.html

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