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The Changing Iconography of Nâzım Hikmet: From a Communist Traitor to a Patriotic Poet
Nâzım Hikmet Ran (1902-1963) became a powerful symbol that Turkish people collectively reinterpreted over time. His decades-long affiliation with the Communist Party of Turkey and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) made this globally-known poet an international face of communism and a focus of public outrage in Turkey. His image resonated more profoundly than most other local socialist icons both in the early republican period and the Cold War. To many anticommunists in Turkey, he remained symbolic of a fifth column of a foreign power even after his death in 1963. The end of the Cold War and the partition of the USSR, however, triggered the transformation of his image from a communist traitor and public enemy to a patriotic intellectual, a symbol of freedom, and a voice of dissident and political opposition. Even public figures who were categorically against Nâzım’s ideology began to portray him in a positive light and recited his poems in their public speeches. His popular image has been partially emptied of its communist content though he remained a subversive figure to the present day. This presentation uses the astonishing spectrum of his iconography as a prism to explore the historical development of anticommunism in Republican Turkey. It explains domestic and external factors that made possible the radical change in his public image. It consults a rich trove of primary sources: Official documents detail how various governments followed his activities abroad and the reception of his ideas, actions, and literary works among local and foreign audiences, as well as press accounts, parliamentary speeches, and memoirs to unpack the emergence of Nâzım Hikmet’s multiple, often contradictory, images in the public imagination. An analysis of these sources illustrates the dynamic nature of anticommunism, as evidenced by the shifting and overlapping images of Nâzım Hikmet.
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