One of the early mod­ern sto­ry­writ­ers in Turk­ish lit­er­a­ture, Ömer Seyfettin wrote sto­ries with his­tor­i­cal back­grounds, rep­re­sent­ing the or­di­nary Turk­ish peo­ple as ro­man­tic he­roes

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Portrait -

WHEN Namık Ke­mal, the ini­tia­tor of New Turk­ish Lit­er­a­ture af­ter the Tanz­i­mat pe­riod, passed away the mem­bers of the Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture move­ment were in their early child­hood. Ke­mal died in 1888, which means Yahya Ke­mal, Ah­met Haşim and Ömer Seyfettin were all in their early child­hood then.

The Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture move­ment was the ra­tio­nal con­se­quence of the New Lit­er­a­ture ap­proach of the 19th cen­tury in some as­pects. Namık Ke­mal and his dis­ci­ples, such as Ab­dül­hak Hamid and Re­caizade Ekrem, ad­vo­cated sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the Turk­ish lan­guage and a sim­pler style of prose, un­like the elab­o­rate tra­di­tional Ot­toman prose, some­thing eas­ily com­pre­hen­si­ble for the masses. The Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture writ­ers used daily speech as their ma­jor stylis­tic com­po­nent.

How­ever, there is an ob­vi­ous dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween New Lit­er­a­ture and the Na­tional Lit­er­a­ture con­cern­ing the use of vo­cab­u­lary. Though the ini­tia­tors and sup­port­ers of New Lit­er­a­ture never un­der­stood sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the lan­guage by re­ject­ing words com­ing from other lan­guages in­clud­ing Ara­bic and Per­sian, the Na­tion­al­ists in­sisted on reach­ing a core lan­guage of the Turks, which would in­spire early Repub­li­can cul­tural poli­cies such as pro­hibit­ing the Ara­bic al­pha­bet for the sake of the Latin al­pha­bet and de­riv­ing words with Turk­ish roots to re­place those with an Ara­bic or Per­sian root.

Na­tion­al­ist pop­ulism of the Con­sti­tu­tional Era played a crit­i­cal role in Repub­li­can cul­tural re­forms, which were ini­ti­ated by sev­eral pub­li­ca­tions in the early 1910s. “Genç Kalem­ler” (“Young Authors”), pub­lished by two young friends, Ömer Seyfettin and Ali Ca­nip, has al­ways been pointed to as the starters of na­tion­al­ism in Con­sti­tu­tional lit­er­a­ture. Ca­nip pub­lished a let­ter from his fel­low friend, Seyfettin, in “Genç Kalem­ler” where he at­tacked New Lit­er­a­ture, show­cas­ing it as an alien­ated lit­er­ary move­ment for the Turk­ish pub­lic and of­fer­ing to re­ject the gram­mar and syn­tax of Ara­bic and Per­sian.

Ömer Seyfettin would fol­low up the ideas in his let­ter and ad­vo­cate folk­loric meter and rhyme, usage of daily speech, re­vok­ing Per­sian and Greek mythol­ogy and re­viv­ing Turk­ish mythol­ogy in the years to come and be­come very re­spon­si­ble for the New Lan­guage ap­proach.


Ömer Seyfettin was born on March 11, 1884, in Gö­nen, Balıke­sir in the Aegean re­gion as the son of an Ot­toman mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Maj. Ömer Şevki Bey. His mother Fatma Hanım was the daugh­ter of an­other of­fi­cer, Lt. Colonel Mehmet Bey. He was first schooled in Gö­nen be­fore he en­rolled at Eyüp Mil­i­tary Vet­eri­nary School in Is­tan­bul, where he moved to with his fam­ily, and Edirne Mil­i­tary High School, from where he grad­u­ated in 1900. He was ad­mit­ted at the “Har­biye Mek­tebi” (Mil­i­tary Col­lege) the same year. He was al­ready writ­ing po­etry and short sto­ries. His first pub­li­ca­tion was a small poem, “Lane-i Garam” (“Curse of Pas­sion”), which was heav­ily in­flu­enced by Tev­fik Fikret, the most prom­i­nent poet of that era.

Seyfettin’s class grad­u­ated ear­lier than ex­pected in or­der to serve in a mil­i­tary cam­paign against a re­volt in Mace­do­nia. They were awarded medals for their ser­vice af­ter help­ing the Ot­toman Em­pire quell the re­volt.

Seyfettin served in a num­ber of Aegean towns, in­clud­ing Thes­sa­lonica, where he would start the New Lan­guage move­ment in 1911, be­sides his tem­po­rary post­ings at the bor­ders against Balkan re­volts. He was a sol­dier and a teacher at the same time. He gave phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and re­li­gion classes.


Ömer Seyfettin joined the Union and Progress Com­mit­tee in 1909 in Thes­sa­lonica. The Aegean town of the Ot­toman state was a spring of new ideas and move­ments in pol­i­tics as well as cul­ture. Seyfettin started the New Lan­guage move­ment in “Genç Kalem­ler” pub­lished by the mon­e­tary help of the Union and Progress Com­mit­tee.

Seyfettin left the army in or­der to con­tinue his ca­reer as a man of cul­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, he was called once again to par­tic­i­pate in the mil­i­tary cam­paign in the Balkan Wars. He, how­ever, wrote let­ters to Ali Ca­nip and did not aban­don the move­ment he started. Seyfettin fought against the Ser­bians and the Greeks on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. He was cap­tured dur­ing the Jan­ina siege. He stayed at a fa­cil­ity near Athens for 10 months as a pris­oner of war be­fore he re­turned to Is­tan­bul.

Mean­while, Seyfettin’s mother passed away and his fa­ther re­mar­ried and left Is­tan­bul. Seyfettin felt very lonely and des­per­ate. He re­signed from the army for the sec­ond time in Fe­bru­ary 1914 and be­came a teacher.

Though Seyfettin mar­ried in 1915, he re­mained mar­ried for only three years. Af­ter that, he lived alone in a sea­side cot­tage, which he called “Mün­ferit Yalı” (Cot­tage of the Loner). Ömer Seyfettin lived in soli­tude un­til his sud­den death on March 6, 1920. His body was buried in Kadıköy first but was later moved to Zin­cir­likuyu in 1939.


Ömer Seyfettin was not only an ad­vo­cate of the new lan­guage ap­proach but he was one of the early mod­ern story writ­ers in Turkey. Af­ter 1911, he left the old el­e­gant style of the New Lit­er­a­ture and adopted a much more pop­ulist ap­proach in his lan­guage and nar­ra­tion.

Seyfettin wrote sto­ries with his­tor­i­cal back­grounds in or­der to praise the or­di­nary Turk­ish peo­ple as ro­man­tic he­roes. In one of his mas­ter­pieces, namely “Pembe İn­cili Kaf­tan” (“Kaf­tan with Pink Pearls”), he tells the story of an Ot­toman diplo­mat, who shows great­ness and dig­nity against the tyrant of Iran.

Seyfettin’s sec­ond track in sto­ry­telling was the chaotic en­vi­ron­ment and bloody events of the Balkan wars. He wrote tragic and thrilling sto­ries about the op­pressed but brave Turk­ish peo­ple against the blood­thirsty Balkan gangs. Some­times, he gives such de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about the op­pres­sion, cru­elty and rapes that you may think that the story de­vi­ates from its pur­pose.

The third type of Ömer Seyfettin’s fic­tion in­cludes touch­ing sto­ries of chil­dren. He is suc­cess­ful in guess­ing their feel­ings and ac­cu­rate in por­tray­ing the be­hav­iors of his lit­tle he­roes that gen­er­a­tions of Turks have been touched by these un­for­tu­nate but strug­gling char­ac­ters. Though he lived a very short and dark life, Ömer Seyfettin lives on in the imag­i­na­tion of his read­ers.

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