Citation for Turkish Literature

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Atis, Sarah Moment . "Turkish Literature." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Apr 17, 2021. <>.


Atis, Sarah Moment . "Turkish Literature." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Apr 17, 2021).

Turkish Literature

The articulation of Islamic themes and values in Turkish literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries differs from that of the preceding era, for it occurs in the context of a struggle for survival and redefinition of selfhood and state. Turkish-speaking Muslims of a weakened and shrinking Ottoman Empire (ca. 1300–1918) undertook the westernizing restructurings of the Tanzimat reform period (1839–1876) only to witness the rise of nationalism among non-Turkish groups, whose relatively harmonious coexistence over five centuries came to a close in the debacle of the Balkan Wars (1911–1913) and the ultimate defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by the allied powers at the end of World War I. Out of the ruins of this multiethnic Islamic empire emerged a small Turkish nation-state established as a secular republic in 1923. This period of radical social transformation and devastating upheaval provoked profound changes in the function and forms of Turkish literature.

Prior to the westernizing innovations of the nineteenth century, Ottoman Turkish literature had been dominated by poetry as the favored means of artistic expression throughout all layers of society. Whether that of the erudite Ottoman court (divan) poets writing in the Arabo-Persian quantitative (aruz) meter or that of the illiterate folk minstrels (âşık) reciting extemporaneously in the traditional Turkish syllabic (hece) meter, this premodern poetry was suffused with the values of Islamic mysticism; the anguish of separation from the Beloved, whether divine or human, constituted one of its primary aesthetic impulses. Both the divan poetry of the Ottoman elite and the more humble poetry of the minstrel (âşık) and folk (halk) traditions are to be distinguished, however, from the religiously inspired devotional poetry of the tekke (dervish lodge) tradition, which reached out to all social classes.

Nineteenth-Century Influences.

When disruptive changes began to occur in Ottoman society during the period of the Tanzimat reforms, the emphasis in poetry began to shift away from inward probing of the human soul in philosophical-religious contexts toward a preoccupation with external social and political realities. Genres new to Ottoman literature began to appear and were used as effective vehicles for the expression of views on contemporary issues such as constitutionalism, slavery, patriotism, women's rights, tyranny, Islamic unity, individual liberty, arranged marriages, and the effects of westernizing cultural change on value systems and lifestyles in Ottoman Istanbul.

The first example of the novel available to readers of Ottoman Turkish, Yusuf Kâmil Paşa's1859 translation of Abbé Fénelon's didactic adventure story Télémaque, underwent numerous reprintings throughout the 1860s and 1870s, in part because of its political theme emphasizing that rulers exist for the sake of their subjects and not the reverse. The first actual Ottoman experimentation in European prose genres was undertaken not by individuals devoted primarily to the literary arts, but rather by influential journalists, political thinkers, and social educators, many of whom served in the Ottoman bureaucracy. Major figures of the Tanzimat era such as İbrahim Şinasi Efendi (1826–1871), Ziya Paşa (1825–1880), Namık Kemal (1840–1888), and Ahmet Mithat Efendi (1844–1912) saw in literature an effective means of communicating unfamiliar political concepts and social values in a convincing fashion to the widest possible audience.

The first play for the legitimate theatre written in Ottoman Turkish, şair evlenmesi (The Marriage of a Poet), a one-act farce mocking the corruptibility of clerics and criticizing marriage ceremonies performed in the absence of the bride, was serialized in 1860 by its author, I∙brahim Şinasi, in the newspaper he edited, Tercüman-ı ahval (Interpreter of Events). Literature and journalism were in fact close associates throughout the Tanzimat period in creating, expanding, and informing public opinion.

If authors and poets themselves tended to see the role of literature as one of reaching and instructing or swaying the people, literature in turn functioned as a forum for the ideological debates of the intelligentsia. As the noted historian of nineteenth-century Turkish literature, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (1901–1962), himself a poet and novelist, has pointed out, it is the struggle among various ideologies, each corresponding to a separate social reality, that in a real sense constitutes the fundamental history of modern Turkish literature. It is in the context of the emergence of these ideological struggles that Islamic themes came to be articulated as a matter of political and social concern, arising in concert with a host of new themes reflecting the outlooks of a diversity of intellectual-political literary movements. These conflicting aspects are usually summarized under four labels, each associated with one or more major literary figures: “Ottomanism” with Namık Kemal, “Westernism” with Tevfik Fikret (1867–1915), “Islamism” with Mehmet Âkif Ersoy (1873–1936), and “Turkism” with Ziya Gökalp (1876–1924).

İbrahim Şinasi.

In the works of the first generation of Tanzimatists, Islamic themes do not appear as a conspicuous feature, although Islamic values may of course occur as one of the givens of a text, and the religious subjects of traditional poetic genres are not abandoned abruptly. For example, the collected poems (Müntehabât-ı esʿarım) of İbrahim Şinasi—who with the founding in 1862 of his second newspaper, Tasvir-i Efkâr (The Depicter of Ideas), set the directions for the development of a modern press and a modern expository prose based on spoken Turkish—lacks a traditional naʿt (eulogy for the prophet Muḥammad) but does contain a münâcât (supplication to God). The content of the latter, however, reflects a stance new to Ottoman literature, with the poet seeking a reasoned proof of God's existence through contemplation of the order and beauty of the created universe before falling back on a more conventional expression of blind faith in God's power and mercy. Islamic themes are not, however, part of the primary thrust of Şinasi's life work, which anticipates the dual orientation, “toward the West” (batıya doğru) and “toward the people” (halka doğru), that came to undergird the ideology of the Turkish Republic and to serve as the initial mainspring of modern Turkish literature. Şinasi's Şair evlenmesi (The Marriage of a Poet) exemplifies this dual orientation in its affinity with Molière's comedy of manners, Le mariage forcé, and its skillful exploitation of indigenous comic techniques and language usage characteristic of the traditional shadow-puppet theater (karagöz), the popular theater in the round (orta oyunu), and the professional storyteller (meddah).

The importance of İbrahim Şinasi's role as harbinger of subsequent main directions in Turkish literature requires that attention be paid to the nature of his response to the racialist paradigms of French Orientalist thought, in which he was immersed during two sojourns in Paris in 1849–1854 and 1865–1870. Introduced into Orientalist circles, both literary and academic, by his friend Samuel de Sacy, the son of the famous Orientalist Silvestre de Sacy, Şinasi interacted with such prominent figures as Ernest Renan, Lamartine, Littré, and Pavet de Courteille, whose 1870Dictionnaire Turk-Oriental acknowledges the contribution of his learned teacher and friend Şinasi. At a time when more politically active Young Ottoman writers, including the famous novelist, playwright, journalist, and poet Namık Kemal, were thinking in terms of the union and progress of all Ottoman subjects under a constitutional monarchy with equal rights regardless of race, ethnicity, language, or religion, İbrahim Şinasi's interest was turned toward defining the characteristics of a specifically Turkish identity. This he attempted through the collection of proverbs Durub-u emsâl-i osmaniye, compiled in Paris in 1851 and published in Istanbul in 1863 as a source revealing “the wisdom of the common populace (avam)” and “the character of the thought of a people (millet),” as well as through the preparation of an ambitious etymological dictionary that aimed to cover the origins and development of the Turkic languages.

Despite his adoption of the racialist bent of an incipient nationalism fostered by his Orientalist milieu, Şinasi included equivalent French and Arabic proverbs in his Durub-u emsâl-i osmaniye. This may indicate an attempt to rebuff what Edward Said has called “the notorious race prejudice directed against Semites (i.e., Muslims and Jews)” of Şinasi's close acquaintance, Ernest Renan. By presenting proverbial evidence of shared values inherent in the cultures of Europeans and Orientals alike, Şinasi could protest the putatively unbridgeable gap separating an unregenerate Muslim East from the Christian West; by emphasizing the non-Semitic origins of Turkish-speaking Muslims through his etymological work, Şinasi was able to provide an immediate escape hatch for himself and other native speakers of Turkish from the racist attitudes of his Parisian friends in a period when the term “Turk” was often used indiscriminately by Europeans for any Muslim subject of the Ottoman sultān.

Mehmet Namık Kemal.

Although Şinasi's encounter with the anti-Islamic sentiment of his European circle of acquaintances did not provoke the appearance of specifically Islamic themes in his literary output, the reverse would sometimes appear to be the case with the somewhat younger but equally important literary revolutionary of the Tanzimat period, Mehmet Namık Kemal, whose biographies of successful Muslim military leaders—Saladin (ca. 1137–1193), Mehmet the Conqueror (1429–1481), and Sultān Selim I (1467–1520)—appear to have been written expressly in response to his readings of French historians. In an 1872 article published in İbret (Admonition), the Young Ottoman newspaper established after his return to Istanbul from political exile in Paris and London, Namık Kemal criticized the bias he perceived in European scholarship under the headline “Avrupaş arkıbilmez” (Europe Does Not Know the East). In 1883, while in internal political exile, he wrote a refutation (Renan müdafaanamesi) of Renan's widely publicized lecture “Science and Islam,” which held Islam to be inherently incompatible with scientific progress.

This is not to say, however, that a reactive spirit underlies the Islamic themes running through major literary works of Namık Kemal, or that such themes form the primary focus of this fervent Muslim's literary output. Namık Kemal is perhaps best known for his Hürriyet kasidesi (Ode to Freedom), reflecting his dedication to the European Enlightenment ideal of individual liberty, and for his play Vatan yahut Silistre (Native Land or Silistre). The theme of this play, emphasizing patriotic love for an Ottoman homeland (vatan) rather than devotion to the Ottoman dynasty (Al-i Osman), proved such a popular success when performed in 1873 that it earned him exile at the hands of Sultān Abdülaziz (r. 1861–1876) and closure of both the play and his newspaper. The patriotic hero of Vatan may be named İslam Bey, but the term of group identity used by his volunteer soldiers at the siege of Silistre in the Balkans is Ottoman rather than “Muslim” or “Turk.” “We are Ottomans” is the refrain of their patriotic türkü (a genre of folksong) as they express their willingness to give up their lives for love of country and the glory of death in battle.

An indication that Namık Kemal was not simply offering his audience an intellectual's artificial Ottomanist ideology may be found in the existence of a grassroots equivalent idea of self-identity from the same period in the stirring ’93 Koçaklaması (Heroic Song of AH 1293/1877) by the minstrel poet âşık Ṣenlik (1854–1914) of Kars in northeastern Turkey. The poet-musician, utilizing the refrain “We shall not give up the homeland (yurt) to the enemy so long as we live,” calls on Muslims to bring greater glory to the Ottoman dynasty in their defense of the fortress of Kars and resistance to the Russian invasion of eastern Anatolia.

Others of Namık Kemal's major works do treat specifically Islamic subjects; for example, his fifteen-act drama Celalettin harzemsah, like his unfinished novel Cezmî, presents a theme of Islamic unity attained between Shīʿī and Sunnī Muslims through the royal marriage of the hero. Moreover, allusions to early Islamic history appear as some of the most dramatic imagery of Namık Kemal's poetry even as it presents new political and social content.

Like his close associate and fellow Young Ottoman, Ziya Paşa, Namık Kemal, even while advocating the use of Turkish folk meters and verse forms as the basis for a new poetry, remains dependent in his own work on the traditional aruz prosody and classical verse forms of divan poetry, particularly the kaside (eulogy), gazel (lyric poem), murabba (quatrain), şarkı (quatrain), tarih (chronogram), kıta (independent stanza), and terkib-i bend (long poem with refrain couplets rhyming among themselves). This dependence on the meters and forms of classical divan poetry did not, however, prevent Namık Kemal from writing a scathing criticism, Tahrib-i harabat (Destruction of the Ruins), when Ziya Paşa—perhaps inspired by the literary anthologies of Orientalist friends met during two years in London (1868–1870)—published Harabat (Wine Shop of the Poets, 1874), a three-volume anthology of Arabic, Persian, Chagatay, and Ottoman divan poetry. Namık Kemal considered his friend's presentation of Ottoman divan poetry in its classical Islamic context a betrayal of all their ideals as forgers of new directions for Ottoman Turkish literature. Yet as several scholars, including Ahmet Evin, have pointed out, Namık Kemal's best-known novel and one of the first to be written in Turkish, İntibah: Sergüzest-i Ali Bey (Awakening: The Misadventures of Ali Bey, 1876) bears the imprint of traditional conventions of Ottoman poetry and prose, even if its theme of romantic tragedy, highly popular in Turkish novels of the 1870s and 1880s, displays close similarities to La dame aux camélias of Alexandre Dumas fils. A moralizing work critical of the foppery of the half-Europeanized spendthrift sons of well-to-do Ottoman families, this novel, like much of Namık Kemal's work, does not reflect specifically Islamic themes.

Ahmet Mithat.

As a novelist Namık Kemal is overshadowed by his prolific contemporary Ahmet Mithat Efendi, most of whose journalistic essays and works of fiction, including twenty-nine novels, were published after the abrogation of the Young Ottomanist constitution of 1876 by Sultān Abdülhamid II and the imposition of a severely repressive system of censorship. This censorship did not prevent Ahmet Mithat from taking up the role of social critic or from aiming to educate his readers in all branches of contemporary European science and philosophy. A man of encyclopedic interests, Ahmet Mithat took on the role of fatherly teacher of the people in a period prior to the opening of the first modern Turkish university. Considered a conservative supporter of the Hamidian regime, he believed in accomplishing progressive change gradually though public education rather than through the imposition of revolutionary measures. He owned his own printing presses, and as the son of a small shop owner who had once worked as an apprentice in Istanbul's Spice Market, he knew how to captivate a far broader audience than any other writer of the period and thus became wealthy through his writing.

Although Islamic themes cannot be said to constitute a major aspect of his work, Ahmet Mithat was a dedicated Muslim of strong convictions who did undertake an explicit defense of Islam (Müdafaa, 1882) against European assertions that it fostered an intractable resistance to social change and scientific progress. Ahmet Mithat even went so far as to attempt to reconcile Lamarck's data from the fossil record with the Qurʿānic account of creation. Aware that the allegedly degraded status of Muslim women was used by Europeans to denigrate Islamic cultural values, he raised his voice in defense of the rights of women, arguing especially for equal rights in education. He even anticipated the day when women would enter all professions. However, it is difficult to count him among early Muslim feminists, as his fiction often reflects implicit values and attitudes that contradict the explicitly feminist themes of his essays—for example, his well-known novel of 1875, Felâtun Beyle Rakım Efendi. This work, which contrasts Felâtun Bey's frivolous and foolish infatuation with all things European with the more measured European interests of the studious and industrious Rakım Efendi, presents the latter as an exemplary type, even though he becomes a father by his French mistress just as he marries the docile and devoted slave he has educated since childhood.

Fatma Aliye Hanım.

The first prominent Ottoman Muslim female feminist was the novelist Fatma Aliye Hanım (1864–1936), who presented her views on women's issues not only through her novels Muhazarat (Disputations, 1892), Refet (Clemency, 1897), and Udî (The Lutist, 1899), but also through the new medium of magazines and women's periodicals. In segments from Nisvan-ı İslam (Women of Islam, 1891), she argues effectively as a devout Muslim against the position taken by some Islamist intellectuals and members of the ulema (Ar., ʿulamāʿ) on the controversial subject of polygamy.

Social Criticism.

Although women's issues were taken up by virtually all Ottoman male novelists of the last three decades of the nineteenth century, their fiction tended to focus on matters of equal consequence for the condition of men, such as the custom of arranged marriage and the institution of slavery. The egregious transgression of the values underlying the arrangement of marriages by parents for the benefit of their children became one of the most prominent themes of the period. Taaşşuk-i Talât ve Fitnat (The Love of Talat and Fitnat, 1872) by Şemseddin Sami (1850–1904), which some regard as the first Ottoman novel despite its similarities to the romance (hikâye) of the Turkish minstrel-tale tradition, ends in the tragic death of the two young lovers because the heroine has been married off against her will to a wealthy man. Refusing to consummate the marriage, she commits suicide, her beloved follows suit, and the husband, upon learning from a note discovered in his young wife's locket that she was actually his own long-lost daughter, suffers a nervous breakdown and dies of grief.

A second major topic for social condemnation was the institution of slavery. Although it had already been declared illegal, it continued to receive sharp criticism in the novels of the last quarter of the century, as in Sergüzeşt (Misadventure, 1889) by Samipaşazade Sezai (1858–1936). In this work the tension between romantic love and financial security and social status, played out in the conflict between two generations of a wealthy Ottoman household, may contribute to the death of the young gentleman and the tragic suicide of the beloved slave heroine, but the tragedy is at root attributed to the abomination of slavery.

A third prominent theme of the Ottoman novel is exemplified in Araba Sevdası (Carriage Crazy) by Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem (1847–1915), one of the best-known novels of the 1880s. Like Namık Kemal's İntibah: Sergüzest-i Ali Bey and Ahmet Mithat's Felâtun Beyle Rakım Efendi, this novel mocks the behavior of a generation awash in European fads and fashions. The adventures of the spendthrift hero of Araba Sevdasi, however, are presented as amusing rather than tragic. Bihruz Bey may lose his fancy carriage to his creditors and suffer a ridiculous disillusionment in love, but in the end he is able to return home to the comfort of his mother's unfashionable mansion in a respectable old neighborhood of Istanbul.


Just as Recaizade's novel epitomizes a main theme of the fiction of this period, his poetry reflects in intensified form the sentimentality often said to mar literary production during the thirty-three-year reign of Sultān Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1908). In Tahassür (Grievous Loss), Recaizade grieves for a daughter who died at birth and laments his inability to locate the exact site of her grave after the passage of fifteen years. In Ah Nejad! the poet mourns the death of a son, his anguish quickened by the sight of a child's small footprints along a garden path. Both these melancholy Kindertotenlieder dwell in dismay on the physical decay of mortal remains and signal a spiritual disquietude in the face of scientific materialism. This must be distinguished from earlier poetic expressions of spiritual anguish over separation from the beloved or metaphysical complaint over the transitory nature of all things mortal.

European Influences.

In its Ottoman Turkish context, the metaphysical anxiety that Alfred North Whitehead considered characteristic of the nineteenth century finds its most compelling example in the works of the prolific poet and dramatist Abülhak Hamid Tarhan (1852–1937). Like many of his generation, he had been raised on the literary classics of two civilizations and thus was as conversant in the traditions of French and British Romanticism as in those of Persian and Turkish mysticism. In one of the most famous poems of the period, Makber (The Tomb, 1885), he departs from the classical Ottoman elegiac (mersiye) tradition to frame his own private agony over the death of his wife in terms of an anguished questioning of the metaphysical foundations of human existence. The participation of Tarhan and an entire segment of the Ottoman literary elite in European Romanticism remained, however, entirely one-sided: although Ottoman novelists and poets read widely in French and to a lesser degree in English, as the literary influences spawned by German Romanticism and French Symbolism crossed continents, European men and women of letters had little opportunity and no inclination to avail themselves of the Ottoman Turkish manifestations of an otherwise truly cross-cultural phenomenon, despite the fact that a fascination with the Orient constituted an important element of the Romantic movement in France.

The incorporation of European thought and literary practice into the Ottoman Turkish context during the latter part of the nineteenth century was no doubt facilitated by the fact that the metaphysical orientations of Romanticism and Symbolism were, like the scientific interests of Ahmet Mithat Efendi, safe directions for literature in a period of severe political repression, as the last powerful Ottoman sultān strove to maintain the territorial integrity of an empire that had already lost effective control of its financial system and customs regulation. As the eminent scholar of Turkish literature Mehmet Kaplan has pointed out, Abdülhak Hamid'sMakber marked not only the death of the poet's beloved Fatma Hanım, but also the death of the literature of social idealism and political commitment initiated during the Tanzimat era by Şinasi and Namık Kemal. It ushered in the profound pessimism and melancholy of the Edebiyat-ı Cedide (New Literature) movement. The movement's illustrated literary magazine Servet-i fünun (Treasury of Arts and Science) was published under the direction of the leading experimenter in modern European verse forms, Tevfik Fikret (1867–1915), from 1896 until it was closed by the Sultan's censors in 1901 for mentioning the year of the French Revolution.

Although the Servet-i fünun group was effectively silenced as a public forum, literary discussion continued at the Tuesday salons of the poet Nigâr Hanım (1856–1918), whose pensive love poetry had appeared in Servet-i fünun under her pen name Uryan Kalb (Bare Heart). Major works by Tevfik Fikret, reflecting a vehement cultural self-hatred and a newly found social concern, were circulated widely without publication. His style is exemplified in Sis (Mist, 1901), a loathing depiction of Istanbul as a veiled whore in a tyrant's grip, and Tarih-i kadim (Ancient History, 1905), a contemptuous castigation of the bloody role of religion in human history. The elitist and cosmopolitan European orientation of the Servet-i fünun circle is particularly evident in the works of the master novelist Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil (1866–1945), whose Mai ve siyah (The Blue and the Black, 1897) depicts a young poet's intellectual and aesthetic struggles. Aşk-ı memnu (Forbidden Love, 1901), a triumph in the literary techniques of realism, paints a detailed portrait of the psychological causes and emotional consequences of adultery set in the lavish world of Ottoman villas on the Bosporus. The prominence of the short-lived Servet-i fünun school and its successor, the Fecr-i âti (Dawn of the Future) literary group (1909–1911), augurs the importance of a recurrent, fundamental tension in the history of Turkish literature of the twentieth century between the literature of social commitment and that of aestheticism.

Political Revival.

The Young Turk Revolution and the opening of the second constitutional period (1908–1918) made room for the resurgence in literature of political themes, with debates over issues of cultural identity and social organization now crystallizing around the positions identified as Westernist, Islamist, and Turkist. The Ottomanist position of the Tanzimat idealist Namık Kemal, who had called for the union of all Ottoman subjects under a constitutional monarchy, had been rendered nonviable by the emergence of nationalist separatist movements among the non-Muslim groups (millets) of the empire. Moreover, the territorial loss and atrocities inflicted on the civilian Muslim population of the Balkans in 1911 and 1912 lent urgency to the debate over the possibilities remaining for the survival of Turkish-speaking Muslims as a political or even social entity.

It is this context that explains the sudden emergence of politically motivated Islamic themes in literature and the vehemence of the dispute that arose between the most prominent of the Westernist poets, Tevfik Fikret, and the leading Islamist poet, Mehmet Âkif. Fikret, an Anglophile idealist, appeared ready to jettison the entire religious and cultural heritage of his forebears, the better to embrace his vision of Western civilization as the embodiment of the high moral values of liberty and individual freedom of conscience from institutional restraints, whether governmental or religious. The more pragmatic Mehmet Âkif pointed to the colonialist designs and unprincipled behavior of the European powers in the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa, and India. In his view, only the scientific and technological aspects of Western civilization were worthy of emulation. Material progress for the Muslim peoples of the world would be attained not through the inculcation of a Western mentality, but rather by a return to the originally progressive values of an authentic Islam, which could blossom again only by maintaining its roots and evolving from them.

The didactic tenor of the poetry in which such arguments were cast is well illustrated by Mehmet Âkif'sSüleymaniye Kürsüsünde (Address from the Pulpit of the Süleymaniye Mosque), a singularly important Islamist narrative of one thousand and two lines in rhyming couplets, employing the classical aruz meter yet maintaining a cadence close to that of everyday speech and a vocabulary accessible to the general populace. First published in 1912, this passionate exhortation to Ottoman Muslims to come to their senses is worth close consideration; not only does it provide vivid insights into the Islamist point of view at this critical juncture, it also sets forth the essentials of an argument that reappears decades later in social-scientific critiques of modernization theories based on a Western model of development. The highlights of Âkif's argument will be paraphrased in some detail.

The setting for the address is established as the poet invites his reader to enter the massive sixteenth-century mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent and points out the structural features that make it an awe-inspiring testament to God's glory and to the engineering genius of its architect. Fortified by this reminder of past technological and artistic accomplishment, the poet and reader join a congregation of three thousand in hearing the prominent Muslim Tatar intellectual Abdürreşid İbrahim (1853–1943) deliver a blistering account of the conditions he had observed during travels throughout the Muslim world following the suppression of his underground printing press by Russian authorities. Degradation, stagnation, superstition, reactionary fanaticism, and brutal subjugation by foreign powers were to be matched only by the irresponsibility and incompetence of the Muslims’ own educated elites, the Russified thinkers of Central Asia, and the Westernist intellectuals of Ottoman Istanbul. In Central Asia he found that the once great Islamic centers of scientific learning and discovery—Bukhara, home to the physician and philosopher Ibn Sīnā (980–1037), and Samarkand, site of the famous astronomical observatory of Uluğ Bey (1394–1449)—were now mired in such superstitious ignorance that an eclipse of the moon had brought forth thousands beating on drums in an effort to drive the devil away. More appalling still was the buffoonery and bigotry of local religious fanatics: whatever one might say would be damaging to religion; whatever one might think for the good of the people would be heretical innovation. Among the Muslims of China and Manchuria the speaker found that religion had been reduced to the sterile repetition of superstitious custom; surely the Qurʿān had not been revealed by God for use in the telling of fortunes! His travels offered several points of hope, however. Japan presented a model of successful adaptation of the technology of the West without compromise of cultural integrity. And in India, although his travels had been curtailed by colonial authorities, he was able to see that Muslim youth sent abroad to England received a fine education yet returned with their original values intact; such people would certainly regain their freedom one day.

Islamists and Westernists.

It is important to note that the criticism of religious fanaticism and backwardness presented by Mehmet Âkif from an Islamist perspective coincides with the criticisms of Islamic practice characteristic of the Westernist stance championed by Tevfik Fikret. For the Islamists, however, instances of present degradation called for reform and recovery, whereas for the Westernists they rationalized rejection of religion as a mainstay of social life. It should also be noted that although both Mehmet Âkif and Abdürreşid İbrahim are regarded as major exponents of the Pan-Islamist movement, this monumental poem makes no call for the political union of Muslims worldwide. The emphasis is on Islamic unity within an Ottoman context, with the poet vehemently rejecting the newly emergent politics of national and ethnic division among the Ottoman Albanians, Arabs, and Turks: Muslims were members of the same family, and ethnic and nationalist divisions would undermine the very foundations of Islam. Weakened by internal division, they would lose their lands to foreign occupation and domination just as had Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and even Iran. The civilized West had closed its eyes to the brutal oppression of Muslim peoples and the persecution of Muslim intellectuals in Russia; would it hesitate to move in and swallow up the Ottoman lands in three bites?

This Islamist survey of conditions in Central, South, and East Asia is presented as an admonition, then, to Ottoman Muslims to remedy their own social ills before the last remaining independent Islamic homeland, their own, is trampled underfoot. These ills are laid out for examination in the second half of the poem, which opens with an adage that would appear to reflect the poet's own background in veterinary medicine: “Get the diagnosis right and the remedy is easy!” Maintaining the guise of an outside expert in Islamic affairs speaking from the pulpit of the Süleymaniye Mosque, the poet asserts that the paralysis of the body politic has been caused by an estrangement between the intellectuals and the common people. The intellectuals think there is only one path of development, that of the West, which must be followed exactly: the West must be imitated in all social affairs and literary matters, or all is in vain. As for religion, it is the main obstacle to progress, and its fetters must be broken.

Âkif's recapitulation of the Westernist position, however blunt and angry, does capture an essential truth in indicating the degree to which Western-oriented Turkish intellectuals of the day had embraced the notion that a total transformation of their society on a Western model was in order, and that Islam was a primary obstacle to progress. This represents a significant departure from the stance of earlier Western-oriented Ottoman reformers such as Namık Kemal, who had refuted European characterizations of their religion as an inherently retrograde force in society. That Mehmet Âkif placed great value on education in the sciences and did not suffer the anguished sense of conflict between reason and faith, science and religion, that plagued so many of his contemporaries becomes clear as the poem continues. The speaker in the mosque pulpit asserts that the masses have become as reactionary as the intellectuals are rootless. “What is more,” he declares, “the excesses of these would-be intellectuals have given the study of science and technology a bad name! They have provoked public opinion against it, and no real scientists are being produced! The few that have emerged are either feeble imitators who try to advance their careers with sophomoric attacks on religion or vague thinkers who get lost in theoretical speculation when it is the practical application of scientific knowledge that is urgently needed!”

The speaker's harshest criticism, however, is reserved for the cosmopolitan poets and novelists of the Servet-i fünun and Fecr-i âti circles, whom he finds unsuitable to lead and guide the people. Had he the strength, he would kick them all out of the country and import Russian authors under contract—despite his enmity toward them—to write for the sake of society. Mehmet Âkif singles out Tevfik Fikret for a particularly nasty swipe, deriding him, though without mentioning his name, as a poet who “denounces God yet takes money as sexton for the Protestants.” The gibe refers to the fact that Fikret lived in the Presbyterian missionary milieu of Robert College (the present Bosporus University), where he had a position teaching Turkish and a comfortable residence close to campus. It reflects Âkif's estimation of Fikret as a hypocrite who could denounce religion in Tarih-i kadim (Ancient History) and scorn the need for religious dogma and ritual in Halûkʿun amentüsü (Credo for My Son), yet accept a position at an educational institution run by men of the cloth. In calling Fikret a sexton, he implies that this genteel poet, whose condescension toward the poor is discernible in works such as Ramazan sadakası (Alms in the Month of Fasting), was himself looked down on by the foreigners whose society he kept and whose civilization he so admired.

Fikret's retort to this Islamist attack came in a poem of 1914, Tarih-i kadimʿe zeyl (Addendum to Ancient History). In it he sets out the tenets of his own deist spirituality, casting aspersions on Âkif's orthodoxy but not providing a substantive rejoinder to the societal issues he raised in the Address from the Pulpit, the concluding sections of which reiterate that the path of progress must take different forms in different societies, and that the secret to a people's advancement lies within themselves. Just as Islam had fostered progressive change for the betterment of society in ages past, Âkif argues, so too could it now evolve in step with the attainments of the present century, though not without attending to the health of its roots. Fikret's failure to respond to the essential points of Âkif's argument is perhaps indicative of the fact that the Westernist-Islamist debate could end only in polarized deadlock as long as progress was taken to mean remaking society in the image of the Christian West.

Islam and Turkish Identity.

It was left to the advocates of the Turkist position to bring the debate toward constructive resolution by forging the kinds of syntheses that were proposed by the social theoretician and poet Ziya Gökalp, in Türkleşmek, İslamlaşmak, muasırlaşmak (Turkification, Islamization, Modernization, 1918) and in Türkçülüğün esasları (The Principles of Turkism), published in 1923, the year the Turkish Republic was founded. In the latter work Gökalp addresses the issues of technological progress, cultural authenticity, and the alienation of social classes that had been raised from an Islamist perspective by Mehmet Âkif. He proposes their resolution through the concept of a reciprocal motion “toward the West” and “toward the people” within the framework of a dichotomy posited between civilization and culture, whereby a Western-educated elite would transmit modern civilization to the people and in turn draw from them its own distinctively Turkish culture. In this formulation of a new Turkish social identity Islam takes its place as an element in the social fabric of a westernizing society. Religious knowledge, as an important ingredient of culture, was to be made directly accessible to all citizens through the translation of the Qurʿān into Turkish. This undertaking was accepted by Mehmet Âkif, but it was not brought to fruition.

The importance attached to the use of Turkish rather than Arabic in religious contexts was underscored by Gökalp in the opening lines of his poem Vatan (Homeland), which expresses longing for a country in which the call to prayer is made from the minaret in Turkish and in which the words of the daily ritual prayers can be understood by every villager. Gökalp's interest in encouraging the sense of a distinctively Turkish Islam finds expression in the poem Din (Religion), in which the basis of his own religious faith is declared in terms of the values of traditional Turkish mysticism as exemplified in the works of such tekke poets as Yunus Emre (d. 1320), who emphasized a search for God as love within the human heart. In seeking a Turkish grounding for Islam, Gökalp pointed to the central importance in Turkish religious culture of the great fifteenth-century poem, the Mevlid-i şerif (Nativity Poem) by Süleyman çelebi, a work exalting the birth and life of the Prophet Muḥammad. Its performance (mevlût) in great mosques and ordinary homes has been shared by women and men over the centuries both at major holidays and in memory of the deceased, making it one of the most familiar and best-loved artistic expressions of Islamic faith in the Turkish language. The poem is of special significance for women because of the importance of the role played by Emine, the mother of the prophet Muḥammad, who describes in her own words the miracle of childbirth. It is possible that this inspirational poem, which includes Eve among those holy figures whose forehead is touched by the light of prophetic succession, both reflects and reinforces the profound respect for women and women's own sense of self-worth that many find characteristic of Turkish culture, despite the constraints of the gender subordination that the major monotheisms have legitimized.

Gökalp's interest in interpretations of Islam as a religion stressing love of God rather than fear of divine retribution was shared by the prominent novelist, patriot, and feminist Halide Edib Adıvar (1884–1964); it both colored her speeches at the massive street demonstrations before the Mosques of Sultan Ahmet and Fatih during the Allied occupation of Istanbul and informed her novel Sinekli bakkal (The Clown and His Daughter, 1935–1936). The novel's main character, the granddaughter of an intolerant fire-and-brimstone imam, develops under the tutelage of a gentle dervish of the Mevlevî order from a talented reciter of the Qurʿān into an inspired and well-paid reciter of the Mevlid-i şerif.

The Rise of Secularism.

Halide Edib's positive view of the values embodied in the Turkish traditions of Islamic mysticism was not, however, taken up by subsequent authors of major consequence. They instead followed the example set by Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (1889–1974) in his novel, Nur Baba (Father Divine, 1922), which depicts an urban Bektaşi (Ar., Bektāshī) dervish lodge as the site of unmitigated debauchery. Karaosmanoğlu's powerful image of Bektaşi decadence was in consonance with the secularist ideology of Turkey's charismatic leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1880–1938), which resulted in the abolition of the caliphate (1924), the suppression of religious orders (1925), and the rejection of Islam as a state religion (1928). Karaosmanoğlu's negative characterization of an urban Bektaşi dervish was followed by equally forceful and repugnant depictions of religious figures in the rural context of his landmark novel Yaban (The Stranger, 1932), a work that signaled the emergence of anti-Islamic themes as a prominent feature of twentieth-century fiction and poetry, as the competing ideologies of Kemalism and Marxism took control of a Turkish literary scene at odds politically, but at heart united in a value that is profoundly Islamic—a commitment to social justice.

Necip Fazıl Kısakürek.

Although the positive articulation of Islamic themes in modern literary genres was eclipsed by the anti-Islamic polemic of the new Turkish Republic, its kernel survived the struggle for redefinition of selfhood and state in the voice of Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1905–1983), an important poet and successful playwright and the only figure of the Istanbul-centered literary elite born just prior to the 1908 Young Turk Revolution whose outspoken vehemence in defense of Islam matched that of Mehmet Âkif. Since Kısakürek represented an Islamist Turkish position throughout much of the twentieth century, it is worth examining the development of his thought in order to differentiate his outlook from that of Mehmet Âkif, with whom he is often associated. Kısakürek explicitly disparages Mehmet Âkif, although not as harshly as he castigates Westernist poet Tevfik Fikret, in an imaginative, and at times humorous, literary interrogation of poets by their peers, Edebiyat Mahakemeleri (Judicial Hearings on Literature), published in 1970 and based on the notes of a series of private literary gatherings. Mehmet Âkif's shortcomings are found to be twofold. Although an upright, moral man, he is an inferior poet enslaved to the “clattering” of his aruz metrical patterns and unable to grasp the spiritual key to true poetry and to the inner dimensions of Islam, its true essence. He is also found to be an inadequate thinker, one who unfortunately followed the dead-end path of Şeyh Abduh and Cemaleddin Efgani in an age of rising nationalisms.

Kısakürek himself had come to embrace Islam through the Ṣūfī dimensions he finds lacking in the thought of Mehmet Âkif, but only after leading the dissolute life of a bohemian philosopher-poet and not until 1934, when he met the Nakşibendi Şeyh Abdülhakim Arvasi (1865–1943), who had settled in Istanbul after having taken up arms in eastern Anatolia in resistance to the Russian and Armenian devastations of the Muslim population in the vicinity of his home town, Van. It was under the spiritual guidance of Arvasi that Kısakürek was delivered from the existential angst of his youth reflected in early poems such as Kaldırımlar (Pavements, 1927). In 1943, the year of Arvasi's death, he began to publish the controversial Islamist literary and political journal, Büyük Doğu (The Great East). Kısakürek makes explicit the degree of his spiritual debt to Arvasi in the poem çile (Tribulation, 1939) and in his monograph Batı Tefekkürü ve İslam Tasavvufu (Western Thought and Islamic Mysticism), a work published in 1982 but based on a series of addresses given twenty years earlier during the nights of Ramadan. In the latter work, Kısakürek mentions the şeyh as his “guide and savior,” the person whose teaching had rescued him from the brink of a great moral and intellectual crisis of a kind he likens to that experienced by al-Ghazālī, Pascal, Goethe, and Nietzsche. Apparently, Arvasi held the answer to Kısakürek's anguished cry for spiritual help, registered as early as 1929 in a poem addressed to the well-known Ṣūfī poet, as indicated by its title, Yunus Emre.

It may be the conviction of the convert that underlies Kısakürek's tenacity in publishing his Islamist journal as a singular beacon for a younger generation of Islamic-oriented intellectuals across four decades, despite repeated closures and imprisonment for his scathing objections not only to the anti-Islamic measures of Kemalist secularism but to the entire westernizing project inaugurated by the Tanzimat reformers in 1839. The radical intensity of Kısakürek's anti-Westernist, anti-Kemalist polemic is well documented in his monographs of the 1970s, Sahte Kahramanlar (False Heroes) and Son Devrin Din Mazlumları (Victims of Religious Persecution in Recent History).

Kısakürek's anti-Kemalist views, however, did not subject his entire literary oeuvre to suppression, as happened in the case of his internationally famous contemporary, the communist poet and playwright Nazım Hikmet (1902–1963), who, like Kısakürek, was subjected to imprisonment. Indeed, Kısakürek's play, Sabır Taşı (The Patience Stone), titled after a familiar Turkish folk tale, won first place in the 1947 Republican People's Party play competition, and Pavements entered the literary canon and has remained a standard inclusion for anthologies. On the other hand, his Sakarya Türküsü (Song of the Sakarya, 1939), a poem that embodies the passion of his allegiance to a Turkish Islamic past and projects his sense of alienation in the present, has not attained comparable recognition. Rather than celebrating the battle of the War of Independence that bears the river Sakarya's name, the poem exults the Sakarya as bearer of the weight of a glorious Turkish-Islamic civilization and laments the mutual displacement of poet and river, both outcasts in the land of their own history. The poem refers to the Ṣūfī poet Yunus Emre and concludes, when the Last Prophet is called upon as guide and the despair of exile from history is transformed into outrage: “You’ve groveled face down on the ground long enough! Stand up, Sakarya!”

Kısakürek articulates his Ṣūfī-oriented Turkish patriotism in works for the theater as well, as is evident in his first play, Tohum (The Seed) and in a later work, Kanlı Sarık (Bloodied Turban, 1970), both of which focus on the national struggle as it emerged in eastern Anatolia during World War I and its aftermath. Tohum (The Seed) depicts the resistance of the people of Maraş, the region of Kısakürek's ancestry, against the onslaughts of Armenian forces under the auspices of the French. As pointed out by eminent literary scholar İnci Enginün, Kısakürek imbues his main character with a Ṣūfī perspective emphasizing moral strength gained through a struggle for comprehension of inner self and soul. Written in 1935 and performed by the Istanbul City Theater that year, the Ṣūfī theme of Tohum (The Seed) and its setting in the context of Turkish national resistance in eastern Anatolia was probably prompted by Kısakürek's conversations with Arvasi, whom he had met just the year before. In Bloodied Turban, Kısakürek again takes up the topic of Turkish national resistance in eastern Anatolia, this time treating the struggles of the people of Kars against Russian and Armenian forces, a struggle documented for an earlier period by the Ottoman minstrel poet, Aşık Şenlik, referred to earlier.

For Kısakürek, however, despite his prolific output as playwright, essayist, fiction writer, and publisher, poetry remained the supreme endeavor. Not only could poetry bridge the apparent gaps between positive science and religion, but as Kısakürek sets forth in his Poetics, a treatise published as an appendix to his 1962 poetry collection Çile (Tribulation), the creative quest of poetry itself is a quest for the absolute, abstract reality that is God. Poetry is the broom at the threshold of divine presence and the poet is the humble sweeper. In his view of aesthetics, Kısakürek draws close to his contemporary Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, a poet and novelist likewise steeped in European philosophical and literary traditions and deeply appreciative of his Ottoman heritage, who sought in aesthetics a solution to his own metaphysical anguish of selfhood but without crossing the threshold into the embrace of faith. Although approaching the issue of historical authenticity from different positions, Kısakürek and Tanpınar shared a stance contrary to the mainstream orientations of twentieth-century Turkish literature in their advocacy of what Tanpınar termed a “return to ourselves.” By this term he meant a return of literary elites back from immersion in European philosophical and literary traditions and back from cultural idealization of the folk as embodiment of pre-Islamic Central Asian Turkic traditions, back to their own civilizational heritage as molded over the course of centuries by the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks. It was, however, the secularist Tanpınar who ultimately became a central focus in Turkish literary and intellectual discourse at the start of the twenty-first century as attention to Kısakürek's literary output diminished, partly because of the emergence of younger generations of fervent Muslim poets and thinkers.

Kısakürek's Contemporaries.

Other religiously oriented literary figures of Kısakürek's generation, though often overlooked, did maintain a positive, if more measured, stance towards Turkish traditions of Islamic mysticism. Among them are the poet and novelist Halide Nusret Zorlatuna (1901–1984), and the members of the circle of Istanbul Ṣūfī Şeyh Kenan Rifai (1867–1950), who had accepted the Kemalist closure of dervish lodges as necessary. These devout Ṣūfī advocates include novelists Safiye Erol (1902–1964) and Samiha Ayverdi (1905–1993), and the somewhat younger journalist, poet, novelist, and folklore researcher Nezihe Araz (1922–). These three novelists, together with Sofi Huri, English translator of Leyla and Mejnun, the celebrated mystical romance by Fuzuli (1495–1556), published an expository treatise in 1951, Kenan Rifai ve Yirminci Asrın Işığnda Müslümanlık (Kenan Rifai and Being Muslim in the Light of the Twentieth Century). Samiha Ayverdi spearheaded the refutation of a novel published in 1956 that denigrated women dervishes, Kadınlar Tekkesi (Dervish Lodge of Women) by Refik Halit Karay (1888–1965). Ayverdi also served as a mentor and friend of the renowned scholar of Islamic mysticism, Annemarie Schimmel, and was an occasional contributor to Kısakürek's journal The Great East.

Increasing Islamist Influence in the Late Twentieth Century.

It is important to note that in everyday life of the secular republic, the majority of Turks continued to identify themselves as Muslim in varying degrees of devoutness or lack thereof. Mehmet Âkif's powerful poem of resistance to Western imperialism, İstiklal Marşı (The Independence March), composed in 1921, remained the lyrics of the national anthem throughout the Kemalist decades, even though its patriotism is cast in Islamic terms. Nevertheless, the Islamist position of Âkif, who had argued in 1912 that achievement for Muslim Turks would not be brought about by remaking society in the image of the West but rather by reviving authentic values of Islam, did not regain center stage until the proliferation of new media and publishing houses in the 1980s and 1990s and the concurrent emergence to prominence of “new Muslim intellectuals.” The most significant of these figures in the literary realm include poets Sezai Karakoç (1933–), Cahit Zarifoğlu (1940–1987), and İsmet özel (1944–) and fiction writers Rasim özdenören (1940–) and Cihan Aktaş (1960–). The contributions of these poets and novelists to Turkish literature appeared against the backdrop of a proliferation of Islamic popular fiction of little literary merit, such as the melodramatic novel Minyeli Abdullah (Abdullah of Minye, 1967) by American-trained engineer Hekimoğlu İsmail (1932–), or the less well-known 1989 novella by Şerife Katırcı, Müslüman Kadının Adı Var (The Muslim Woman Has a Name), written as a response to Duygu Asena's1987 manifesto novel of the new women's movement, Kadının Adı Yok (Woman Has No Name).

Sezai Karakoç.

Many of the new Muslim or new Islamic literary figures came to the intellectual and artistic centers of Istanbul and Ankara from eastern regions of Turkey, including Sezai Karakoç, whose significance and originality as a poet was recognized early on in Turkish literary circles. Sezai Karakoç is of singular importance, both as a poet and as the founder of Diriliş (“Revival,” “Resurrection,” or “Awakening”), the most influential Islamist journal, publishing house, and intellectual movement to emerge since The Great East of his mentor, Necip Fazıl Kısakürek. In addition to his prominence as poet and essayist and his success as publisher, Karakoç founded a political party, Diriliş (1990–1997), and in 2007 established Yüce Diriliş Partisi (The Sublime Revival Party). Like Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar and Necip Fazıl Kısakürek before him, Karakoç's fluency in European philosophical and literary traditions was through French.

Karakoç was born in Ergani in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır between the Tigris and the Euphrates. His upbringing in this region of Turkey became an important source of inspiration and imagery in his poetic reflections on the manifold civilizational heritage of his country, as exemplified in the trio of poems, Hızırla Kırk Gün (Forty Days with Hızır), Tahaʿnın Kitabı (Taha's Book), and Gül Muştusu (Glad Tidings of the Rose), first published in 1967, 1968, and 1969 respectively. This trio, if not trilogy, of narrative poems can be considered Karakoç's masterwork and deserve close consideration for the insight they provide into his thought.

The three titles set an atmosphere of legend, individual experience, and religious optimism: Hızır is the name of a Qurʿānic figure and exemplary mystical guide who in Turkish oral and literary traditions accompanied Moses in search of the water of eternal life and gained the ability to appear anywhere at any time to assist those in dire straits; Ta Ha is the title of sūrah 20 of the Qurʿān, used as a male Muslim name; and the rose is a metaphor for the beauty of the Beloved in classical Islamic literatures both oral and written. As in much of his poetry, Karakoç uses the free verse and elusive imagery characteristic of his contemporaries abroad and of the Second New generation of poets in Turkey. He also engages, upon occasion, in the playful figures of speech and Ṣūfī passion of Ottoman lyric poetry, with explicit allusions to major poets of the past such as Şeyh Galip (1757–1799). Karakoç compresses into the three narratives powerful imagery from Biblical and Qurʿānic traditions, especially from sūrahs 19 (Mary) and 20 (Ta Ha), making mention of Islamic civilization in Córdoba, Konya, Basra, Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem, Egypt, and Mecca, with fleeting appearances by early Ṣūfīs and Muslim philosophers such as al-Hallaç, Ibn Rushd (Averroës), Ibn al-ʿArabī, and Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī. Seeming to move effortlessly through time, space, and tone, the poet-narrator alludes to the misery and atrocities of World Wars I and II and of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, mentioning with respect the “real (  gerçek) Jew” and the “real Christian” of synagogue and monastery who read the Old Testament in the original and perceive the essential voice of the New. Karakoç may be referring to Yakubi and Nestorian Assyrians, Gregorian Armenians, and Jewish descendants of Abraham, who had lived in relative harmony in the region of his birth prior to the divisive impacts of conversions to Protestantism and to the ideologies of nationalism and Zionism.

Recurrent imagery pertaining to women is a conspicuous feature throughout the three poems. Since the status of women serves as a flashpoint in the Kemalist-Islamist debate, the prominence of Karakoç's references to them requires attention. The poet's childhood memories of women's centrality in hardworking farming families spring repeatedly to the forefront. So do images of Mary and the date palm from sūrah 19 of the Qurʿān, which includes a description of how God spoke to Mary as she cried out in childbirth, comforting her and providing fresh dates and water to sustain her. Karakoç's imagery alludes as well to God's imposition of a vow of silence upon Mary and to the miraculous ability of the infant Jesus to speak in defense of her chastity, revealing himself to be a prophet of God who has blessed him and made him dutiful to his mother. Karakoç's recurring allusions to a divinely ordained significance for women as mothers emphasize not only childbirth but also nurture at the breast of kinship and culture.

The prominence of Qurʿānic imagery highlighting the indebtedness of sons to mothers for life, nurture, and culture, and the duty of sons to obey their mothers, may be rooted in Karakoç's appreciation of his own mother's nurturing, not only through maternal tenderness and domestic talent, but also through her knowledge of oral poetic traditions, including the devotional poetry (nefes) of Yunus Emre. That Karakoç intends his use of Qurʿānic imagery as a strong admonition to men is indicated by the third poem's depiction of the pain and anguish inflicted upon mothers, wives, and sisters through the murder in blood revenge of men by men. The admonition is intensified by the poet's insertion of lines sung by women composed in paraphrased form of two traditional genres of oral poetry. The first is a joyous, three-stanza poem giving fresh vividness to the classic image of rose and nightingale, sung by women engaged in the richly depicted “women's art” of summer preparation of provisions for winter; the second is a lament of twelve stanzas sung in anguish by a mother grieving for her son shot dead in blood revenge. Karakoç's insistent allusions to childbirth, breastfeeding, and maternal compassion are intensified by recurrent imagery suffusing the entire distaff side of life with a hallowed air, to the extent that even the toil of washing laundry at river's edge is elevated to an art of purification. This sanctification of women's domestic role renders all the more conspicuous the absence of a woman of the stature of the early and influential Ṣūfī ascetic poet, Rabiʿa of Basra (c. 717–801), from Karakoç's roster of important male Muslim mystics.

Karakoç's nostalgic regard for women in the landscape of his childhood is countered just once in this trio of poems, when the narrative voice of Hızır makes passing mention of being present in a time when women are superior and unable to be happy. In other poems, however, Karakoç's idealization of woman as compassionate mother or chaste beloved and embodiment of authentic Turkish culture occurs in conjunction with the demonization of woman as a sexual being, identified with foreignness. Karakoç's conceptual division of woman into positive and negative archetypes, associated with cultural authenticity and purity versus foreignness and explicit sexuality, is evident in the abstruse imagery of his short poem Kapalı çarşı (The Covered Bazaar) and openly emphasized in his ötesini söylemiyeceğim (The Rest I Will Not Tell) and other poems in the collection Şah Damar (Jugular Vein). Similar imagery is seen in Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar's short stories Abdullah Efendiʿnin Rüyaları (The Dreams of Abdullah Efendi) and Geçmiş Zaman Elbiseleri (Old-Fashioned Clothes). This dichotomy is not limited to Islamist men of letters or to secularist Turks, but is pervasive in the nineteenth-century French literary traditions in which both Karakoç and Tanpınar were immersed, as well as in nineteenth-century British and American literature. Thus, the Turkish Islamist Sezai Karakoç does not stand alone in the literary deployment of extreme bipolar images of women, a standard feature of the melodramatic popular fiction of writers such as Hekimoğlu İsmail and Şerife Katırcı as well.

İsmet özel and Rasim özdenören.

Despite his stature as poet and Islamic intellectual, Sezai Karakoç has remained virtually invisible to the English-speaking world. His younger contemporaries, poet İsmet özel and fiction writer Rasim özdenören, both prolific essayists and influential Islamist thinkers, have attracted the attention of social scientists writing in English. özel's poetry reflects an ideological shift from the strident Marxist slant of his 1967 collection, Evet, İşyan (Yes, Revolt), to the Islamic orientation of his subsequent, more complex and opaque, poetic output as collected in Erbain: Kırk Yılın Şiirleri (The Poems of Forty Years) of 1987, preceded in 1980 by the poet's tutorial for the reader of poetry such as his own, Şiir Okuma Kılavuzu (Guide to Reading Poetry). Fiction writer Rasim özdenören is best known for his 1979 novel, Gül Yetiştiren Adam (The Rose Grower). The book looks back to the generation of Mehmet Âkif in its depiction of a member of the ulema intellectual elite who, emotionally and politically disestablished by radical Kemalist institutional change, withdraws from society to tend his rose garden in silence.

Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries.

The last decade of the twentieth century was marked by a shift to fiction writing by the prominent younger Islamist essayist, Cihan Aktaş. In the tradition of Fatma Aliye Hanım, she argues for the rights of women to define their own identity as women and as Muslims, independent of pressures from both secularist and Islamist men, who do not differ in their inclination to protect the patriarchal privilege granted them by custom. Aktaş's earliest two short stories in üç İhtilal çocuğu (The Child of Three Revolutions, 1991) reflect this position, as does her subsequent fiction in more subtle and complex ways. In the title story of the collection Azizeʿnin Son Günu (The Last Day of Azize, 1997), the narrator reflects on a life affected by customary gender expectations despite the egalitarian pretensions of contemporary ideology. Although Aktaş sets her narrator's reminiscences in the Soviet period of Azerbaijan, the story's broader relevance is made clear. With the appearance of her novels Bana Uzun Mektup Yaz in 2002 and Seni Dinleyen Biri in 2007, depicting the social and political experience of female students in Turkey in the 1970s and the 1980s respectively, Cihan Aktaş has emerged as an important figure in Turkish literature of the early twenty-first century.

Modern Turkish literature in the nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries has reflected the ideological and political tensions that appear to divide society. Nonetheless, appreciation for the poetry of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century sūfī Yunus Emre, whether read, recited or sung, and of the twentieth-century exemplar of the aˆşık (minstrel) tradition, Veysel Şatırogoverbrevelu (1894–1973), shared across social strata and the ideological spectrum, attests to a deep-rooted resilience springing from the cultural fabric of Turkey.



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  • Meeker, Michael E.“The Muslim Intellectual and His Audience: A New Configuration of Writer and Reader among Believers in the Republic of Turkey.” In Cultural Transitions in the Middle East, edited by Şerif Mardin, pp. 153–188. Leiden, Netherlands, 1994. Expansion of 1991 article below with extended focus on İsmet özel as essayist.
  • Meeker, Michael E.“The New Muslim Intellectuals in the Republic of Turkey.” In Islam in Modern Turkey: Religion, Politics, and Literature in a Secular State, edited by Richard Tapper, pp. 189–219. London, 1991. Insightful discussion of three Islamist newspaper columnists and essayists.
  • Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York, 1978.
  • Silay, Kemal, ed.An Anthology of Turkish Literature. Bloomington, Ind., 1996. Substantial anthology of Turkish literature, including Ottoman poetry and a selection of scholarly articles.
  • Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi. XIX. Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi. Istanbul, 1976. Remains the most substantial analytic survey of nineteenth-century Turkish literature.

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