The Nâzım Hikmet-Peyami Safa Polemics
Kemal Ahmet's Case
Against the Accusation That He Had Turned Bourgeois
Against Leftist Pretenders
Against the Accusation that He was a Nationalist
Debate of Old-New
After he began writing in the "Resimli Ay" periodical, Nâzım Hikmet became a poet who was followed with interest and admired by many, friend or foe alike.
Peyami Sefa (Safa), the Secretary General of the Union of Fine Arts, declared him to be the "great poet" to audiences at meetings held in the Alay Kiosk.
Their friendship had begun after an event at the "Cumhuriyet" newspaper. While Nâzım was imprisoned in Ankara, Peyami Sefa, who was responsible for the literature section of the newspaper, had published his poem entitled "Yanardağ," in three columns and with a border. The day after, there was an apology in the front page. There, it was stated that "the piece of verse which was written by a convict" was published without submission to the editor and thus the newspaper apologised of its readers for the publication of the poetry "which belonged to an author whose profession certainly does not accord with ours."
After Nâzım Hikmet came to Istanbul, he learned about this event and called Peyami Sefa who had had trouble with the management of the newspaper because of this event. They became friends. Nâzım Hikmet's friendship with Necip Fazıl (Kısakürek), with whom he held poetry readings at the Alay Kiosk continued, too. Their competitive friendship had begun when they were at the Naval School.
Nâzım Hikmet's book entitled "835 Satır," which was published by the Ahmet Halit Publishing House in May 1929, was received with great interest.
The series of praise that had been launched by the prominent critic Nurullah Ataç spanned the periodical "Bookman," published in New York. Intermediary here was Nermin Muvaffak's (Menemencioğlu) article, entitled "The Poet of the New Turkey."
In the Alay Kiosk, many poets, old and new, had been reading their poetry, but it was Nâzım Hikmet who received the greatest applause.
It was impossible for this kind of a brilliant rise not to cause jealousy among artists. The satirising speeches that were made indirectly began to be reflected in their writings and those who were positive at the beginning began to change their minds.
The atmosphere became tense.
Yakup Kadri (Karaosmanoğlu) asserted his views in series of articles in the daily "Milliyet," satirising both Nâzım Hikmet and the young generation of poets as a whole:
"The individualist poet versus the socialist poet... One of these lives in solitude both in nature and among people. He calls only upon his own sufferings, his own excitements, his own hopes, and his own happiness. The other, according to one of Victor Hugo's definitions, "is a buzzing echo in the middle of the cosmos." He reflects the manifestations of all life, both society's and nature's, through himself, and every phenomenon of humanity finds its most harmonic and most conscious expression in him. It might be claimed that poets of this kind are the conscience of humanity. But poets of this kind, because of this very reason, are vagabonds much as humanity is; they are as complicated as humanity is, and as clamorous, tactless, rude, brutish, and illogical. There is no trace of divine regularity and the antedating harmony of the classical art in their works; their aestheticism is anarchical like that of societies ruled by the people. As Nâzım Hikmet said, this kind of poetry reminds one never of Beethoven's sonatas but of a brass band, of a fanfare on a fair ground. Of course, this kind of music cannot be played anywhere other than the streets. That is why I think that Nâzım Hikmet's poetry is unfitting to Turkish society. Because we have not yet been able to raise the dark and fluctuating masses of human beings who could listen to the hellish outcry of this orchestra; nor do we see the opportunity of their raising in the near future." (Milliyet, 14 May 1929)
"There cannot emerge anything positive from denial. However, from Namık Kemal to the youngest Turkish poet of today, all of our innovators, began by denying the previous ones. That is why all of them remained bastards. There is no fatherless genius in literature." (Milliyet, 20 May 1929)
In his following article, Yakup Kadri went further in his criticism of the young generation:
"One should not feel hopeless by looking at the scene of degeneration and decadence that is displayed by those who are gathered under the name of the 'new generation' or the 'up-coming'. This poverty-stricken generation is reminiscent of a thousand troubles. [...] If their knees shake even at the first step, if their eyes become blurred, their ears ring, and their minds become stupefied, it is not their fault but is the result of various catastrophes of the period in which they have been bred. Think that these young people, among whom the eldest was under 20 years of age during the World War I, were nourished on dough fortified by hay rather than on bread, and read nothing but the made-to-order war literature of the daily publication of Babıâli rather than acquiring knowledge. (Milliyet, 30 May 1929)
The "Hareket" periodical, which belonged to Peyami Sefa and which was published bi-weekly along with the "Resimli Ay" periodical, decided jointly to respond to this attack. Yakup Kadri was situated closely to Ankara, and had a seat at the table of Mustafa Kemal. Thus he should behave carefully. After getting Zekeriya (Sertel) and Sabiha's (Sertel) approval, the two publications launched the quarrel.
Following upon the first few articles, Nâzım Hikmet's articles were published in the June and July 1929 issues of "Resimli Ay" under the title of "Putları Yıkıyoruz" and with "no autograph." These were sufficient to start an all-out war. In these articles, Nâzım Hikmet first examined Abdülhak Hâmit (Tarhan), who was still called the "poet-laureate," and then he treated of the "national poet," Mehmet Emin (Yurdakul).
The starting point of these articles, which aroused excitement in the press, was the counter-article that had called literary circles to the defence and had been published in the "Cumhuriyet" newspaper after the following words that resounded in the review of the book, "Geceleyin Sokaklar" in "Resimli Ay": "We can translate Mahmut Yesari's works into other languages without any hesitation; his writing loses nothing. But, how many of our authors, including the 'poet-laureate (?!)' Abdülhak Hâmit, can pass such an examination? [...] when one translates the best and powerful work of the poet-laureate into any other language, you will see what a fiasco that work in fact is. The ingenuity of the genius disappears like soap bubble even when one translates it not into a foreign language but into modern Turkish."
In the article entitled "Putları Yıkıyoruz, No. 1, Abdülhak Hâmit," there was a description of those who could be designated "genius." The following was concluded: "Hâmit is a novel and powerful Ottoman poet for his era and that is all." The last sentence of the article was the following: "In order to find out the real genius, let us be iconoclasts and break down the idols that were forcefully implanted in our minds."
The article entitled "Putları Yıkıyoruz, No. 2, Mehmet Emin," contained a description of those who could be called "national poet." The following conclusion was drawn: while Mehmet Emin's poetship is an optical illusion, the title of national poet attributed to him is illusion by ignorance.
Hamdullah Suphi (Tanrıöver) replied these articles with an article full of expletives. It was published in the "İkdam" newspaper:
"Abdülhak Hâmit is a genius. These people try not to break down the icons but our national authors and geniuses. This is not a debate about literature; this is communist propaganda."
"Who are those against us?
The registered dogs of the Bolsheviks' gate.
These are the iconoclasts."
Hamdullah Suphi wanted to slide the subject matter from literature to politics and thus wanted to intimidate those who talked in the name of the new art. Since he was the Head of the Steering Committee of the Turkish Association, he incited young nationalists and made them take a number of decisions which were reflected in the press:
"We shall see, if ever there need be, that those loved by the Turkish fatherland are not so alone as to be raped by stateless people."
Thus they showed that they could go far and turn even to brute force. This implied like a threat. It was said that university students would attack the administration buildings of the journals and would beat the managers unless the government took preventive measures.
The "Hareket" periodical condemned the denunciation by publishing an article entitled "Biz Komünist Değiliz": "If you ask these wretched people what communism is, they will not even know it properly. Because those who have been given no share of sincerity, insight, and thought find pleasure in throwing unrestrained dirt on their co-citizens rather than studying these kinds of theories."
On the other hand, "Resimli Ay" approached the matter in the following way:
"The Resimli Ay periodical had made its pages available only to a literary debate. Those who display this as communism are engaged in disgusting demagoguery. What is the relation between communism and the statement that Abdülhak Hâmit is not a genius and Mehmet Emin is not a national poet? [...]
"If these claims are wrong, prove the opposite. In a democracy, any kind of thought can be defended and discussed. Drowning thought in showy uproar is an exceedingly reactionary action for the generations of the twentieth century. The young have respect for the past anywhere, but this respect does not obstruct the discussion of thoughts freely and the suggestion of new ones.
"There is no evidence of any trace of communism. This is the struggle of the old against the new."
Peyami Sefa defended the young generation in "Hareket," asserted his faith in Nâzım Hikmet as a poet, and replied to the attacks against the advocates of change in rather harsh terms:
"We are the generation who assert we exist; we are conscious of our power. The lines of our poets, who are not even thirty years old, circulate among an entire generation and excite the masses. We have novelists who know how to display both the ordinary people and the outstanding. We are a generation who can even make readers read our books even in the worst financial period. Empty talk, supported on four pairs of legs from a dusty floor, and by bubbles intermixed with hissing sounds coming from lips taut because of jealousy. But their voices are getting hoarse in the flood of applause.
"Masses revolt and cry, 'Long Live!'
Because a great literature is about to be born.
Get out of the way, let them pass!"
"Nâzım Hikmet came to be the creator of a 'new' in world literature, which was very much peculiar to itself. He is neither keen on fantasy, nor inclined to curiosities, nor is he a literature dandy addicted to latest fashion.
"He is simply an architect of the mind who does not weep but cry, and who, despite the fact that he obtains his material from traditional humanism, establishes the framework with a new technique and attributes it with the colour of future worlds. The stones that are used in the newest buildings are as old as this world. Nâzım knows this."
Peyami Sefa replied to Yakup Kadri's denigration of the young who, he had claimed, had been nourished by "dough fortified by hay." Peyami Sefa wrote in response that "Biz Sizden Değiliz": "We are not made of the same stuff as you":
"They are now proud of the buttered bread they were eating during the Great War. [...]
"They are belching, with their stinking mouths agape, into the face of these young who drove out occupying armies through the gates of the land in the Great War and in Sakarya, and they calumniate at the heroic youth, enchanted by the longing for the caviar they stuffed themselves with and the champagne on which they gorged at the tables of plunder. [...]
"If they have put on weight at least 14 kilograms, nourished under the fresh air of the Alps while hundreds of thousands of young people were growing pale, nourished on hay, during the Great War, they should have remained bent double until they died of shame by this self-sacrifice of the young."
Upon this, Yakup Kadri felt the need to make an explanation in the daily "Milliyet" on 16 June 1929:
"Any individual who knows Turkish would have understood at first sight that there cannot be any relation between the young I had in mind in my article and the young who are now attending the university. [...]
"A strange, terrifying and buzzing air of insanity is circulating around these vagabonds. The howl they caused makes people unwilling to listen; they attack here and there, high on their bamboo-horses and with their spears made of reed. They kick up dust in the poor and solitary, vacant lot of literature; no one is able to see his hand in front of his face.
"Too often these cries of 'Look out these, draw back, here we come!'
"You are most welcome. The lot of literature is so vacant that, most certainly, there can be found a corner to maintain the insane and the weird.
"There is no one coming or going!
"There again, these cries of 'Look out there, draw back, here we come!'. The imagination of those wretched is so impoverished and ill that they imagine there is a vast army against them and it is not lending them passage.
"Now, think: what may be the relation between these and the university students? Put the university youth - to whom we have entrusted our hopes for the future - aside, there should be no relation to be found between them and Turkish youth regardless of which class they belong to."
Eleven days later, on 27 June 1929, an interview with Yakup Kadri was published in the newspaper "İkdam." There was a direct attack on Nâzım Hikmet's personality:
"A number of them are hardened criminals, previous offenders. There are those among them who spent a good time in prison even before they were twenty-five. Others have turned into career prostrating before the communist bandits and kissing hands stained by the blood of Turkish kin and singing their poetic praises.
"One of the two stateless individuals who shirked joining the resistance during the Anatolian War, and with money embezzled from the Ministry of Education, crossed the Black Sea to join the Bolsheviks, is now engaged in trying to make people laugh in the columns of the daily "Akşam," using an odalisque's name and speaking in an odalisque's accents. [...]
"What I understand from such attacks that derive their force from shamelessness and jealousy is this:
"An ordinary man, going about his business, is suddenly attacked by a pack of starving mangy dogs in the shabby parts of old Istanbul. With his walking stick, he strikes out again and again at the creatures of dirty skin and broken bone. But the dogs continue to attack because they are driven by the fire of hunger and madness, which has numbed even animal sensation in them."
In response, Nâzım Hikmet published his poem "Cevap" ("Reply") in the July 1929 issue of "Resimli Ay." This satirical poem, soon became inscribed in every memory and was recited by every tongue.
With its language, diction, rhyme scheme, and its satire resting on simile, this poem introduced a new dimension to the debate and entirely outraged the defenders of the old literature. But the excess widening of the circle of love and admiration that surrounded Nâzım Hikmet had begun to irritate middle-aged, even young poets who had previously sided with him. Yusuf Ziya, for example, now claimed that Nâzım was marking gaffes as he purported to cast icons aside, that he had become barbarous, as Necip Fazıl had begun to denigrate Nâzım's poetry.
Hamdullah Suphi, on the other hand, insisted on not approaching the issue as a literary debate: "The persons we are dealing with here are communists, Bolsheviks!" He spoke in agitating terms and succeeded stirring up the youthful members of the Turkish Association to break into the offices of "Resimli Ay," shaking down its editors and thus sending fear Nâzım Hikmet's way.
On Sunday the 7th July, 1929, about thirty young people among whom most likely two undercover officers, arrived at the printing house that also housed the editorial offices of "Resimli Ay." A Sunday had been deliberately picked. No one would be around to witness the destruction of the press and the beating of the editors; people and police would thus not be involved.
The next day, the daily "İkdam" reported that "Noble Turkish Youth [had] Risen," and university students has crashed "Resimli Ay" and "given its owners what they deserved." Thereafter they have allegedly gone to "İkdam" and expressed their loving enthusiasm. But facts were otherwise.
According to Zekeriya Sertel's report, when Nâzım saw, from his office on street-level, a crowd of young people approaching, he rushed up to inform him and Sabiha Sertel. Afterwards, one heard noise and yelling from downstairs and the stairwell. Suddenly the door opened and the young men stormed in.
They were showing their fists and saying things like, "You are killing our great, desacralising our sanctified."
"Who are you, boys, and for whom are you speaking," Mr. Sertel asked them. "We are speaking for all university students."
"Then think not with your feet but with your head. Quit the street-gang style. If you can persuade us we are doing wrong, we shall cease this campaign."
This halted their clamouring; their leaders sat and calmly articulated their argument. The rest were standing, silently listening. Then Mr. Sertel bid speak Nâzım, who had been standing on the side. According to Mrs. Sertel's account, Nâzım so eloquently explained that the debate was a literary debate, that art acquired news characteristics as the times changed that the students listened to him with great interest, not to say great embarrassment. Then they quietly left.
This event caused discussions in the Turkish Association. Some members of the Student Union felt resentful about the turn of the phase, "generation fed on hay." Yakup Kadri felt compelled to come to the Turkish Association and explain himself. In "İkdam" he published articles headed, "Address to Youth." He did not want to lose the support of university students on account of his heavy-handedness against innovative youth in the field of literature.
Meanwhile, "Resimli Ay" and Nâzım Hikmet were coming under attack from other directions. On 18 September 1929, Managing Editor Behçet and his attorney İrfan Emin (Kösemihaloğlu) faced charges in the Third Criminal Court in Istanbul on account of the poem "Sesini Kaybeden Şehir" signed by "Nameless," published in "Resimli Ay." They were sentenced to 10 days in prison and a fine of 10 liras; the sentence was deferred.
But the editor and attorney did not surrender. They appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the sentence, which, however, the Third Criminal Court in Istanbul did not implement. They appealed again. It was only six months later, in March of 1930 when the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision for the second time thus compelling implementation of the reversal, that they were cleared.
Ahmet Haşim too, who had formerly spoken of Nâzım Hikmet in positive terms, began to publish articles that sided with the old and was critical, even blaming, of the new generation. For some reason, he felt taken by the phrase of his invention, "the proletarian's poet."
Nâzım Hikmet touched upon this too, in his satire "Cevap No. 2" (Reply No. 2), directed at Ahmet Haşim.
"Cevap No. 3/Bir Komik Âdem" ("Reply No. 3/One Funny Adam"), on the other hand, was directed at Hamdullah Suphi, head of the Steering Committee of the Turkish Association and prime mover and provocateur of attacks against Nâzım Hikmet, and thereby against "Resimli Ay."
While leaning toward the political, this satirical poem nevertheless proceeded in ruled metre and rhyme, thus ultimately becoming a new application of free verse even as it marked a new step in the polemical debate between the old and the new. Later, especially against Nâzım Hikmet, the same technique was used by Peyami Safa, Behçet Kemal (Çağlar), Abdülbâki Gölpınarlı.
Peyami Sefa found that the new had won the battle:
"The period they had for responding to the proofs and documents we have shown is up. They are silent. There resounds in our ears only the faint buzzing of the diminishing echoes of cries swiftly left behind by our caravan forging ahead. We deem these cries in fact a silence as they are unable to disprove our proofs."
Against the Cadre Movement
"Gece Gelen Telgraf" contained two satires concerning Nâzım Hikmet's former friends who had turned away from communism. The one entitled "Cevap No. 4" ("Reply No. 4") was most likely written against members of the Cadre Movement, specially Şevket Süreyya.
A note was added to the poem:
"This writing is for those who refrain from acknowledging it even though they are engaged in a kind of Neo-Fascist ideology which they have raised to the level of a crypto-religion. Those who can say that that is not what they are doing are free not to feel addressed here."
Against Vâlâ Nureddin Vâ-Nû
The satire entitled "Sen" in "Gece Gelen Telgraf" had been written against the unforgettable friend of his days of youth, Vâlâ Nureddin.
Beginning with the lines "There are three damned friends of my most beautiful days.One of them is thou ",this poem was ending by declaring that the other two were his enemies now,"but you"...
You and I,we arre not even enemies now!
Thus he was severing every tie of friendship to Vâlâ Nureddin who acted as the intermediary ruling groups who were pressuring him to distance himself from his communist friends.