A special collection: Nazım Hikmet

Nazım Hikmet, 1950 100th birthday
In 2002 the 100th birthday of Nazım Hikmet (Ran), one of the greatest Turkish poets of the twentieth century was celebrated. His birthday was not only celebrated in his native Turkey with many radio and TV programmes, documentaries, exhibitions, poetry readings, plays, lectures, seminars, publications, and other events. In addition, however, the birthday was also an occasion for the UNESCO and many institutions outside Turkey to organise several activities.
The IISH, which holds many collections on communist and revolutionary movements, also has several documents relating to the turbulent life of Nazım Hikmet. These pages contain an overview of all the documents as well as several images, letters and sound files.

Who was Nazım Hikmet? Hikmet was born as Mehmet Nazım on January 15, 190ı in Thessaloniki, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire. He grew up in a well-to-do family. His grandfather, Nazım Pasha, also wrote poetry. Hikmet bey, his father, was a government official, and his mother, Cemile hanım, a painter of Polish and Huguenot descent.
The family went to Istanbul, where Hikmet briefly studied at the French language Lycée of Galatasaray. Afterwards he attended the Naval War School, but poor health forced him to leave.
During the war of independence he went to Anatolia to join the troops of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) and taught at a school in Bolu in Nationalist territory. He was soon disillusioned and went on to Batum in 1921. The following year he left for Moscow, together with Ahmed Vâlâ Nûreddin (Vâ-Nû), who later became a journalist and writer. He wrote Bu dünyadan Nazım geçti, his reminiscences of Nazım Hikmet.
Upon Hikmet's arrival in Moscow he was accepted at the Department of Economic and Social Studies of the KUTV (Communist University of the Workers of the East), and soon came under the influence of the futurist poet Mayakowski. In the same years he joined Turkish Communist Party.

After his return to Turkey, in 1924, Hikmet started writing for the Aydınlık and Orak Cekiç newspapers under a pseudonym. He was soon arrested for being involved in illegal publications and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He escaped again to Russia.
A general amnesty in 1928 allowed him to return to Turkey, and the next ten years were fertile ones in which he published nine books of poetry and wrote articles for periodicals, film scripts and plays. In 1938 he was again sentenced to twenty-eight years' imprisonment on trumped-up charges of organizing a revolt in the armed forces. He became a prisoner in Çankırı and Bursa. In 1949 an international campaign was started for his release, led by Tristan Tzara and Louis Aragon. A year later he was awarded a peace prize in absentia in Warsaw, which he shared with Paul Robeson and Pablo Neruda.
The following year the Democratic Party came into power as a result of the country's first democratic elections, and finally a general amnesty was declared. After serving twelve years of his sentence Hikmet was released. But the Turkish state did not want to simply let him go, so, at the age of 49, he was called up for military service! He again fled by ship to the Soviet Union in secret, and was to stay in that country until his death.
Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow on the morning of 3 June in 1963. He was buried in Moscow. His poetry has been translated into more than 50 languages, but it was neither published nor publicly sold in his home country between 1938 and 1965. Only after his death, Hikmet's books began to reappear in Turkey.

Now available on CD: the recordings of Nazim Hikmet for Budapest Radio (1955)