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Modernism: Representations of National Culture

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Aesthetic modernism and collective identities

Haluk’s credo

Tevfik Fikret
Traduction de Walter G. Andrews

Texte intégral

1Title: Haluk’un Amentüsü (Haluk’s credo)

2Originally published: Haluk’un defteri (Haluk’s notebook), Istanbul, Tanin Matbaası, 1911

3Language: Ottoman Turkish

4The excerpts used are from Kemal Sılay’s An anthology of Turkish literature (Bloomington Indiana: Cem Publishing, 1996), pp. 259–260.

About the author

5Tevfik Fikret [1867, Istanbul – 1915, Istanbul]: poet and pivotal figure in the founding of modern Turkish literature. In 1888, Fikret graduated from the ‘Imperial School of Galatasaray,’ founded in 1867 on the model of the French lycée for the education of civil servants. In 1891, he was already a prize-winning poet and a prominent member of Istanbul’s literary circles. After briefly working as a Turkish literature teacher at Galatasaray, he resigned in protest of the government’s decision to pay wages in arrears. In 1896, he began to edit the journal Servet-i fünun (The merit of the sciences), which was to became the most significant journal during the reign of Abdülhamid II, a time marked by severe limitations on the freedom of expression. Under the direction of Fikret, Servet-i fünun became a stronghold of liberal, anti-establishment and progressive minds, and acted as a seedbed for the ‘New Literature’ movement that shattered the traditional canons of Ottoman literature. During the same period, Fikret began teaching at Robert College, a missionary-operated American high school that mostly catered to the non-Muslim members of the Empire. In 1908, he enthusiastically supported the Young Turk revolution, and joined the exuberant post-revolutionary press by founding the influential Tanin (The resounding) along with the most well-known pro-revolutionary literati of the day. Yet, when pressured to turn the newspaper into an organ of the Committee of Union and Progress (hereafter CUP), he boldly refused and quit the journal. Later, he was appointed headmaster of the ‘Imperial High School,’ but he resigned soon afterwards. Opposing the CUP’s coup d’état in 1912, he retreated to his house, where he would die three years later. He dedicated many of his poems (such as the one chosen here) to his son Haluk, his only hope for the future, who became a Presbyterian priest in his later years, long after Fikret’s death. That Haluk ‘rejected’ his original faith caused debate among the nationalist and conservative circles about the viability of Fikret’s optimism regarding the future of Turkish youth, and about his guiding role as a father. Tevfik Fikret’s naïve and fervent progressivism, and his unabashed contempt for the traditional constraints of daily life, religion and art, made him a recurrent target of conservatives and an enduring icon for generations of Republican modernizers.

6Main works: Rübab-ı şikeste [The broken violin] (1900); Haluk’un defteri [Haluk’s notebook] (1911); Rübabın cevabı [The response of the violin] (1911); Şermin (1914); Tarih-i kadim [Ancient history] (n.d., reprinted in 1928).


7Tevfik Fikret remains one of the most prominent figures of the Turkish literary canon, due no less to his formidable literary achievements as to his embodiment of the secular, materialist and progressive outlook which was later to constitute the governing ethos of the Republican state. It is important to note, however, that Tevfik Fikret was not a nationalist poet. On the contrary, the literary school to which he belonged, the Servet-i fünun, was to be criticized by the early Republican generation for remaining aloof from nationalist sentiment and for its use of high blown language whose only audience was the Ottoman cultural elite. Yet, of all the members of this school (which declared its motto to be ‘art for art’s sake’), it was Tevfik Fikret who both overtly expressed social concerns and also faced the most severe criticisms for his unabashed condemnation of tradition, authority and conformism.

8It should be also mentioned that in an earlier collection of poems he published under the title Tarih-i kadim (Ancient history), Fikret displayed an utter distaste for history, which, for him, was merely a pack of unfounded myths that only served the purposes of power-holders. His condemnation of the entire human past, which he claimed was characterized only by strife and raw violence among human beings, stood in stark contrast to the ‘historiophile’ mood of the time when nationalists were eagerly fetishizing the power and glory of the Ottoman Empire and of the Turkish states of yore.

9In the poem chosen here, Tevfik Fikret characteristically reveals himself as a figure with a profound dedication for universal human morality but, with no need for a higher source of reference such as religion or the nation. What perhaps made him such a highly controversial figure was the power of his poems for those who were able to penetrate their convoluted language, with which, without taking recourse with any mobilizing topos, Fikret nonetheless was able to express an overt yearning for radical change, a sentiment shared by many segments of society at the time. In a poem on Istanbul written before 1908, he depicted the age-old capital as a ‘beautiful prostitute,’ demanding that she covered herself in shame—thus, perhaps giving the first indication of a process of revolution that would in due course topple Istanbul and the political and moral worldview that she represented. That poem is said to have been a favorite of Mustafa Kemal himself, whose secularism was inspired no less by the kind of non-religious, universal morality that Tevfik Fikret personified.

10The poem in question is a polemic against the Muslim daily prayer (the Amentü). Taught to each child, it includes a statement of belief in God as the source of all good and evil, in his holy books, his prophets and angels, in the day of judgment, in fate and in resurrection after death. Fikret does acknowledge the existence of God, but only as a divine and sublime power, and regards the Quran as a product of the eternal evolution of nature and humanity. Placing man at the center of the universe, he harshly denounces a belief in the sublime powers of the angels or the devil. In place of the traditional tenets and protocols of religion, he proposes the establishment of novel and earthly values (each of which is expounded in a couplet), such as the power of Man, the unity of all humankind, progress, freedom and science. By cherishing these values, Fikret contends that humanity breeds the potential “to create heaven on this earth.” As such, he challenges the Islamic notion that real happiness lies in the afterlife, and hence urges men to strive for it in this world, even if, he acknowledges, this might only remain a dream. For him, the entire human past represents a vast and ruthless bloodbath. In order to make the future different, he argues that one needs to ‘believe’ that all men are brothers, that one’s fatherland is the world (here evoking the fêted verses of İbrahim Şinasi), and that one’s ‘nation’ comprises the entire humankind.

11Haluk’un Amentüsü was written at a time when Tevfik Fikret was highly disillusioned with the outcomes of the Young Turk revolution. Withdrawn from everyday political life and refusing to entertain a particular political agenda, he produced his poems only to express his overall faith in progress, freedom, social equality and human brotherhood. Overtaken by intense pessimism, he hoped that a better future would be shaped by the new generation. Personified in the image of his son Haluk, the next generation would be the first to overcome age-old traditional constraints of power and authority. Throughout the Republican era, the poems dedicated to Haluk remained the focus of discussion regarding Turkish culture and identity. Fikret’s liberal, anti-establishment perspective, as well as his uncompromising universalism made him the primary target of the conservatives and the hard-core nationalists, who regarded him a ‘non-national’ and decadent mouthpiece of the Christian missionaries and the cosmopolitan Ottoman elite.


Haluk’s credo

There is a universal power, supreme and limitless
Holy and sublime, with all my heart, so
do I believe
The earth is my homeland, my nation all humankind;
A person becomes human only by knowing this, so
do I believe
We are Satan, and jinn, there’s no devil, no angels
Human beings will turn this world into paradise, so
do I believe
The perfect is immanent in creation, in that perfection
By way of the Torah, of the Gospels, of the Quran
do I believe
The children of humanity are each other’s siblings…a dream?
Then so be it, for in that dream, with all my heart and soul,
do I believe
No one eats human flesh; deep down, in this solace
– Forgetting my ancient ancestors for a moment–
do I believe
Blood nourishes violence and violence blood; this enmity
Is a flame in the blood that blood never quenches, so
do I believe
Surely this graveyard-existence will be followed
By refulgent resurrection, with utter certainty, so
do I believe
Before the miracle of that great sorcerer, reason,
Superstition will sink frustrated, into the earth, so
do I believe

13Translated by Walter G. Andrews in Kemal Silay ed., An anthology of Turkish literature (Bloomington Indiana, Cem Publishing, 1996), pp. 259–260.


Walter G. Andrews (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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