Nâzim Hikmet in the Soviet Archives

By James Howard Meyer
Submitted to Session P4990 (Knowledge Exchange and Production across Borders, 2017 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector without Audio;
Nâzim Hikmet is without question one of the best-known literary figures in Turkish history. He is also quite well-known in the successor states to the Soviet Union, where Nâzim lived for approximately seven years in the 1920s, and again for the last twelve years of his life in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

While numerous biographies have been written about Nâzim from the perspective of his literary production and the recollection of his friends—all of whom seem to have written a memoir about their experiences with him—these works tend to tell us relatively little about Nâzim’s activities in the Soviet Union. None of the existing studies on Nâzim draw upon the Soviet archives, and indeed most of the biographies of Nâzim tend to draw upon the same sets of memoirs—written by Vâlâ Nureddin, Sevket Süreyya Aydemir, and Zekeriya Sertel. While these memoirs are without question useful, even essential, to the production of biographies about Nâzim, their centrality to the narratives of Nâzim-related biographies leads to a certain amount of repetitiveness in these works.

For seven months during the 2016-2017 academic year, I researched in two state archives in Moscow, where I worked extensively with the personal files and other documents pertaining to Nâzim Hikmet, Vâlâ Nureddin, Sevket Süreyya, and other Turkish communists. The documents that I researched began in the early twenties, and for this decade related to his studies at Communist University (where figures like Ho Chi Minh and Deng Xiao-Peng would later study), while later documents from the late 1920s and 1930s discuss Nâzim’s underground work in Turkey and his eventual expulsion from the Turkish Communist Party. Later documents from the 1950s until the 1960s relate to Nâzim’s escape from Turkey to the Soviet Union, Soviet doubts relating to Nâzim’s loyalty due to his earlier expulsion from the party, and Nâz?m’s undertakings as a Soviet “peace ambassador” in the late 1950s. The materials I have researched also provide insights into what it meant to be a Soviet cultural luminary in the late Stalin and early post-Stalin years.

As I am currently working on a biography of Nâzim which draws upon these and other (including Ottoman and Turkish) materials, I would like to present my findings within the context of what we know about Nâzim’s life otherwise. To what extent does this new material—which exists nowhere in published form—change our understanding of Nâzim?