CASI Literature Week: “An Ottoman Poet’s Struggle between Nationalism and Communism: Nazim Hikmet and Modernity”

CASI Literature Week: “An Ottoman Poet’s Struggle between Nationalism and Communism: Nazim Hikmet and Modernity”

November 29, 2017

Literature Week is a part of CASI’s Workshop on Literature and History. Supported by a generous contribution from Matthew Nimetz, the aim of the workshop is to create a community of junior scholars and advanced graduate students committed to studying literature and to applying literary tools and methodologies to the study of literary art in the Central Asian past.

SPEAKER: Ali İğmen, California State University

Abstract: Nazim Hikmet became an iconic figure in his homeland Turkey only decades after his death in 1965. As a son of an Ottoman civil servant father and a painter mother, Hikmet is reflective of a generation of young Ottoman subjects who learned about and struggled with modernity, nationalism, and communism. Born in Salonika in 1902, Hikmet studied in elite schools of Istanbul who became one of the first and the most well-known intellectuals and political agitators of late Ottoman, early Republican Turkey. Hikmet became a member of the Turkish Communist Party in 1920 and made his way to Moscow, ostensibly to study between 1921 and 1928 but mainly to observe the Bolshevik cultural landscape. He quickly became a wanted man in Turkey for his communist activities. He wrote poems, essays, novels and plays and directed films, all of which challenged the modern Turkish nation-state project. Consequently, he spent seventeen years in prison in Turkey and lived in exile once free. He died in Moscow in 1965.

Hikmet’s writings present historians with a wealth of information about how an Ottoman subject matured into a socialist while remaining a humanist and how his generation challenged both the nationalist and communist states, which were works in progress. Scholars have explored Hikmet’s works predominantly from a literary lens. My talk examines his works and the writings about him from a historian’s point of view in an attempt to place his life and works against the historical backdrop of the post-imperial era in Turkey and Russia/Soviet Union. It situates him in the context of the struggle between nationalists and communists competing to establish themselves as true representatives of progress and modernity.

Bio: Ali İğmen is Associate Professor of Central Asian History, the Director of the Oral History Program at the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), and President-elect of Central Eurasian Studies Society.  His book Speaking Soviet with an Accent: Culture and Power in Kyrgyzstan has been published by the “Central Asia in Context Series” of the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2012, and was a finalist for the Best Book Prize of the Central Eurasian Studies Society.  He works on the history of Soviet culture and gender politics in Central Eurasia, currently writing his second book on four Kyrgyz actresses whose lives and work reflect Soviet gender and cultural policies of the 1950s to 1980s. He received his doctorate from the University of Washington in Seattle, and taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Kyrgyz National University in Bishkek, Osh State University in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.  A significant number of awards such as Fulbright-Hays, SSRC, Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Grant and FLAS helped him support his research on Kyrgyzstan.


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