Anti-communist censorship on communist poet Nâzım Hikmet sparks reaction

Yapı Kredi Publications' censorship on Turkish communist poet Nâzım Hikmet’s works was harshly criticised by the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) stirring the reaction of the intellectuals and the public, forced the publisher to step back.

ICP, 28 November 2017

According to soL website, it has been revealed last week that Turkey’s Yapı Kredi Publications (YKY), directly affiliated with Yapı Kredi Bank and Koç Holding, which holds the copyrights of the works of Turkish communist Nâzım Hikmet, sustains the longstanding censorship on the world-renowned poet’s books.

Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Centre (NHKM), culture and art organisation of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP), wrote an open letter, addressed to the YKY’s Board of Management and Nâzım Hikmet’s heirs, announcing that the poet’s novel Life’s Good, Brother (in Turkish: Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim) is being published with 25 parts under censorship. Condemning the publisher, NHKM demanded an explanation of sustaining the enduring censorship and an immediate end to the ongoing censorial attitude.

"Although more than a quarter century has passed since the abrogation of Articles 141 and 142, which were designated in Turkey in the 1930s in order to inculpate the propaganda of communism with inspiration from the fascist and anti-communist laws of Mussolini's Italy, you still continue to publish a novel by Nâzım Hikmet, Life's Good, Brother, with censorship in 25 different parts in the year 2017. It is apparent that almost all the 25 censored parts in the novel are directly related to communism," the letter reads, explaining the historical basis of the censorship on Hikmet’s works.

"Being heirs or publishers of Nâzım Hikmet and holding his publication rights would never entitle any individual and any entity to insistently publish Nâzım Hikmet's work in a censored way. The entire world knows that Nâzım Hikmet, the honour of our country, our working people and humanity, was a communist 'to the hilt' and that he saw humanity's future and emancipation from capitalist society, exploitation and oppression in the communist society. No one could change this reality by censoring 'a communist line' in his poems or many passages directly related to communism; quite the contrary, such would only abase themselves before humanity and history," the letter continues, stressing the communist identity of the poet.


"Most of the censored parts are directly related to communism," said Ulvi İçil, NHKM representative, remarking that the YKY strives to cover up the political belonging of Hikmet, who was a member of the Communist Party of Turkey from 1923 until his death.

Speaking to soL HD, İçil explained their process of spotting the censorship: "We noticed the difference regarding Nâzım Hikmet’s novel in the middle of this year. We saw that there were differences between the poem at the end of YKY edition and that in the original Turkish version published in Sofia, Bulgaria. The line in the YKY edition is 'I am a worker' whereas, in the Sofia edition, it is 'I am a communist.' Then, we started studying on this by examining translation into other languages and as a result, we published a series of articles on the censorship. In the meantime, we obtained the original typewritten final copy in summer and the phrase was 'I am a communist.' After screening the translations, we examined the Turkish novel itself and we witnessed that many passages, some of half a page in length, had notably been censored. This may be an exceptional example of an extensive censorship of such scale; perhaps such a censorship hasn’t been seen even in the history of publishing in the world."

"We felt the need for ploughing on this matter because here comes a novel which is entirely different from the original, the one that Nâzım Hikmet wrote; readers read an almost disparate book when they get it and many of the novel’s characteristics – both artistically and contextually – were removed. Because we haven't heard from Yapı Kredi Publications and heirs of Nâzım Hikmet since July, we felt obliged to write a letter as the NHKM, for we believe that the novel must be published in the original version," told the NHKM representative, asserting their motives for the action.

In the YKY edition of the novel, the original line, "I'm a communist," which was published in many foreign translations as well the original Turkish edition, was replaced with the censored line, "I'm a worker." The reviews previously written by the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Centre documented all of the 25 censored passages in the novel. Among the censored parts are phrases such as Bolshevik, red, hammer and sickle, party, working class, comrades, proletarian and Red Army.

One of the long passages which were removed from the novel by the YKY but are present in the Sofia edition is as follows: "[They] can enter trade unions, become members of the Bolshevik Party. For example, I am of Turkish citizenship but if I can stand out, I can even be elected to the Presidency of the High Soviets. What an excellent thing, damn it, there is a huge land on the earth. There they don’t ask you: 'Which religion are you of? Which nationality are you of? Which citizenship are you of?' They ask you: 'Did you sponge off another man? Did you perform pastorate, imamate? Did you work for the bourgeois police, gendarmerie?' Once you say 'Oh,' nobody cares about your citizenship whatsoever, you become its native as if you were born and raised in that huge land," (1964, p. 82). In the YKY edition, this passage is given as an ellipsis (2017, p. 93).


In 2002, publication rights of works of Nâzım Hikmet were divested from Adam Publications by the poet’s son Memet Nâzım and given to Yapı Kredi Publications. The Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) published a selection of Hikmet's works as a TKP publication afterwards with the motto that "We reject the seizure of Nâzım Hikmet's works by a capitalist monopolist." On behalf of the TKP, Mehmet Kuzulugil, member of the TKP's Central Committee, shared his opinions on the sustainment of the censorship on Hikmet’s works by the YKY.

"In 2002, when the Communist Party of Turkey brought the copyrights of Nâzım Hikmet into question, there were two main principles it mentioned. First, there was a contradiction between Hikmet's own lifestyle, art, struggle and a bank owning the copyrights of Hikmet, which we were also considering a confrontation. Second, we expressed that among the inevitable consequences of such a contradiction were Hikmet’s works being pledged and partly censored. As a matter of fact, there were examples of these in that period too. Another point was that, as publishing Hikmet, this bank was employing a certain group of consultants and culture people for sure but it was explicitly making political preferences. We have very clearly seen the payoff of these political preferences recently," said Kuzulugil, highlighting the contradiction between the poet's political belonging and the publisher’s class identity.

"In 2002, the TKP assertively suggested the idea that Hikmet’s works are now public domain, working class domain and it is enough for publishing these works to stay loyal to the original, not to distort, not to attempt fabricating different syntheses. Therefore, it published a selection of poems without getting any permission from the YKY. While doing so, some thought that we were acting with reference to Nâzım Hikmet's testament about his poems. In other words, it was thought that Hikmet devised the copyrights of his poems to the TKP as well, reserved a share to it and we were acting with reference to this. No, the Communist Party of Turkey had no monetary, pecuniary anticipation from the copyrights of Hikmet’s works. Besides, as an organisation, the TKP wasn’t claiming any rights on its own behalf. This was a liberation initiative on behalf of the peoples, on behalf of the working class and workers, on behalf of Nâzım Hikmet’s struggle. Recent developments have shown that this liberation initiative wasn’t really just about the property issues but also the liberation of the poet’s words," Kuzulugil continued, declaring his party’s consideration of the censorship.


After the censorship on Nâzım Hikmet’s Life's Good, Brother had thoroughly been revealed, many of Turkey’s significant intellectuals responded in relation to the issue. A joint declaration was signed by 54 intellectuals, among them poets, writers, musicians, singers, composer, painters, photographers, actors, directors, translators, journalists, columnists, historians and academicians.

"We find it disgraceful that one of the most significant artists of our country has been censored without justification for years after legal constraints had been lifted from his work and that a profit has been gained over this work. We reject Nâzım Hikmet’s work being treated as a trade material,” reads the intellectuals’ declaration titled “We will be followers of Nâzım Hikmet’s work."

"What has been declared to the public consists of a notification that the necessary corrections will be made in the book’s new edition and this is not satisfactory," said the intellectuals, criticising the press release of the YKY and questioning the contents of the prospective amendments. In addition, they demanded "censored, distorted editions to be immediately pulled from retail to be replaced with letter-perfect, true copies” and “those who are responsible for a reliable publication not being conducted to be brought to light to apologise to the public."


On the other hand, YKY spokesperson Derya Soğuk told soL News that they won’t make a separate statement but the novel will be republished in several weeks with the necessary corrections. "I don't have knowledge of the contents of the prospective amendments," answered Soğuk on whether or not the censorship will be lifted.

Following the reactions, Yapı Kredi Publications stepped back announcing that the book will be republished and that they formed a committee to review the poet’s entire corpus. "All the works of Nâzım Hikmet published by Yapı Kredi Publications are the same as the editions in the 1990s by the previous publisher Adam Publications," said the censor publisher in an attempt to whitewash itself. However, it is known that Articles 141 and 142 of the Penal Code, which were long been used to sentence communists of Turkey and established the historical basis of censorship on Hikmet's works, were abrogated as recently as the 1990ss.

In response, "We see that the addressees beat around the bush and can't adopt an open attitude. If those who have been fooling the public suppose that they will go on the same line, they are wrong. Holding owners should stop beating around the bush," said the Nâzım Hikmet Cultural Centre in a statement criticising the YKY’s attitude. "When did forming a 'committee' occur to the YKY which holds the publishing monopoly on Nâzım Hikmet for years? Haven’t you heard of Hikmet being censored due to the anti-communist legislation and oppression in our country before?" asked the NHKM, condemning the commodification of the poet and demanded a "modest, bare apology to the public without excuses."

Yapı Kredi Publications seems persistent in not identifying the current state as censorship. However, can the YKY carry the legacy of Nâzım Hikmet? Communists argue that this is not possible. It is a big courage to curtain the communist identity of a communist poet. Especially, as Hikmet shouts it out every time:

I'm a communist,

            love from head to toe:

            love sees, thinks, and understands,
            love is a new-born advancing light,
            love hitches a swing to the stars,
            love casts steel in a sweat.

I’m a communist,

            love from head to toe.