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KEMAL, MEHMET NAMIK (1840-1888), Ottoman Turkish poet, prose writer, and libertarian theoretician. Namik Kemal was born in 1840 in the small town of Tekirdak, but his life was shaped by more exalted influences, including his family’s tradition of state service, immersing him in Ottoman culture at an early age. His own career in the Ottoman bureaucracy brought him into contact with Western culture, especially through the medium of works in French. He was born in the year after the proclamation of the Tanzimat rescript of 1839, which inaugurated an era of Westerninspired political, social, and economic reform in the Ottoman Empire. The Tanzimat also promoted a new diplomatic policy built on concerns for the stability of the Ottoman state felt by officials who were architects of the reform movement, among them the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Grand Vizier Mustafa Resid Pasa and his successors Ali and Fuad Pasa Through their control of reform, this new westernizing political elite established control over the formation of all state policy. Namik Kemal was primarily involved in formal criticism that these policies had relegated the sultan to the background, but the substance of his criticism was an attempt to show that government by an elite was illegitimate according to both Islamic and Western principles.


Nanuk Kemal received his education from private tutors and assumed a position in the bureaucracy in 1859. Between 1861 and 1867 he was employed in the Translation Bureau of the Ottoman Porte. Kemal also took over the editing of Tasvir-i efkar, a newspaper that had initiated sociopolitical commentary about the empire. Its former editor Sinasi Efendi fled Turkey in 1865, and Kemal’s stance became more clearly political. Kemal was also among the founders of a conspiratorial antigovernment group organized in Istanbul with the aim of bringing modern constitutional and parliamentary institutions into the empire.

In 1867 the government became uneasy with Kemal’s criticism in Tasvir of its conduct of foreign affairs that urged a more forceful defense of Ottoman interests against the European powers. Kemal was appointed assistant governor for the province of Erzurum. Instead of accepting the appointment he left Turkey for Paris and London with his friend Ziya Bey (later Pasa and began the publication of a newspaper, the Hurriyet. Hurriyet continued the tradition set by Tasvir, outspokenly criticizing the Ottoman government for its lack of direction and its autocratic policies. The ideas he proclaimed were known in the West as those of the Jeune Turquie; the group, however, referred to itself as the New (or Young) Ottoman Society. Its members had been helped to flee Turkey and to establish the newspaper by an Ottoman Egyptian, Prince Mustafa Fazil Pasa who had independently warned the sultan of the necessity for democratic reforms.

Dissension soon arose among the editors and Kemal returned to Istanbul in 1870. His writings thereafter appeared in Ibret, another newspaper with a political slant, but one much more focused on questions of culture and Ottoman identity. Shortly after his return he was appointed to an administrative post in Gelibolu (1872) in order to deflect the criticism that his natural journalistic ability made so effective. He returned to Istanbul shortly thereafter to resume his publishing activities and was once more exiled to Cyprus in 1876. He returned under amnesty but was again exiled to Mytilene, purportedly for the disturbance created by his play The Fatherland or Silistre. He died in 1888 while serving as an administrator in Mytilene.

Kemal’s political ideas are a mixture of traditional Islamic concepts and the libertarian theories common in Europe of his time, reflecting the influence both of the eighteenth century Philosophes and also of France’s evolution toward a “liberal empire” in the 186os. The association of prodemocratic Ottoman Turkish intellectuals, the Young Ottoman Society, however, was a heterogeneous group. Another of its leaders was Ziya Pasa a somewhat older bureaucrat and poet who generally shared Kemal’s political opinions and also his theories concerning language. The latter stated that the Turkish used by the cultural and political elite had to be shorn of its flowery embellishments derived from Arabic and

Persian roots, which were little used by most people. The new approach of Kemal and Ziya was aimed primarily at communicating with the “man in the street,” but it also implies pursuit of a cultural identity more clearly Turkish than Arabic. Ziya Pasa’s poetry and political ideas were much more conservative that Kemal’s, although he was a constitutionalist; his verse also showed the influence of more traditional models. Other members of the Young Ottomans such as the autodidact Ali Suavi also constructed divergent theories for their own times.

It is through his impassioned patriotic poetry that Namik Kemal is best remembered by the current generation of Turks. Part of this was due to an image created in modern times. The Turkish Republic (established 1923) made a somewhat biased use of Namik Kemal, highlighting those aspects of his thought that focused on the defense of the fatherland. In fact, this use of patriotism was more in tune with the Turkish nation-state that emerged after World War I than with the multiethnic Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Republic completely ignored in its praise Kemal’s concern that ideas of constitutionalism should be harmonized with Islam.

[See also Tanzimat; Young Ottomans; and the biography of Suavi. ]


Kemal, Nanuk. Kuliyat-i Kemal: Makalat, Siyasiye ve edebiye. Edited by Ali Ekrem. [Bulayir] Istanbul, igio.

Kemal, Namik. Namik Kemal’in mektuplan. 3 vols. Edited by Fevziye Abdullah Tansel. Ankara, 1967-1973.

Mardin, Serif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought. Princeton, 1962.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/kemal-mehmet-namik/

  • writerPosted On: July 20, 2014
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