ON A DAY THIS WEEK IN JUNE 1963
On a day this week, the 3rd June, 1963, at 6.30am, the Turkish poet and communist Nazim Hikmet Ran died in Moscow after over a decade in exile from his native Turkey. In his ‘Last Will and Testament’ he wrote:
Comrades, if I don’t live to see the day
– I mean, if I die before freedom comes –
take me away
and bury me in a village cemetery in Anatolia.
The worker Osman whom Hassan Bey ordered shot
can lie on one side of me, and on the other side
the martyr Aysha, who gave birth in the rye
and died inside of forty days.
Tractors and songs can pass below the cemetery –
in the dawn light, new people, the smell of burnt gasoline,
fields held in common, water in canals,
no drought or fear of the police.
Of course, we won’t hear those songs:
the dead lie stretched out underground
and rot like black branches,
deaf, dumb, and blind under the earth.
But, I sang those songs
before they were written,
I smelled the burnt gasoline
before the blueprints for the tractors were drawn.
As for my neighbors,
the worker Osman and the martyr Aysha,
they felt the great longing while alive,
maybe without even knowing it.
Comrades, if I die before that day, I mean
– and it’s looking more and more likely –
bury me in a village cemetery in Anatolia,
and if there’s one handy,
a plane tree could stand at my head,
I wouldn’t need a stone or anything.
Last Will and Testament
27 April 1953, Moscow,
Born on 15 January, 2002 in Salonica, at that time part of an Ottoman empire then entering a period of political upheaval. By 1922, having participated in the Turkish War of Independence in Anatolia, he was in Moscow radicalised by the Russian Revolution and the struggle for social justice. There, between 1922 and 1924, he studied Economics and Sociology at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. And it was also there, at that early stage of the communist revolution, that he was influenced by the artistic experiments of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold, as well as the ideological vision of Lenin. Returning to Turkey now as a Marxist and a communist party member and while working on a leftist magazine he was arrested in 1924. As a result of his articles and poems in the communist periodical “Aydinlik” he was sentenced to prison for 15 years but escaped to Russia again returning after the amnesty of 1928.
Between 1928 and 1938 he spent 5 of these 10 years imprisoned on various charges connected with his leftist activities, in the same period publishing 9 books, many of which, through their exploration of free verse, revolutionised modern Turkish poetry. In 1938, following the discovery of his literary work in the War School he was finally sentenced to 28 years and 4 months in prison for “agitation in army”, allegedly inciting the Turkish military cadets who were reading his poems to revolt; included in these works was ‘The epic of Sheik Bedriddin’, about a 15th-century revolutionary religious leader in Anatolia and the last of his poems to be published in Turkey. He was imprisoned in Cankiri and Bursa.
If instead of being hanged by the neck
you’re thrown inside
for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, your people,
if you do ten or fifteen years
apart from the time you have left,
you won’t say,
“Better I had swung from the end of a rope
like a flag” –
You’ll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it’s your solemn duty
to live one more day
to spite the enemy.
‘Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison’
Between 1941 and 1945 he wrote his epic, the 17,000 line poem ‘Human Landscapes from my Country’ in prison. Following an international campaign for his release and his own hunger strike, (despite his weak heart and failing health), in 1950 Nazim was released in an amnesty. However within a year, still considered an enemy of the Turkish state, he was forced to escape to Moscow to save his life.
Can Dündar, the Turkish journalist who recently survived an assassination attempt on his life in Istanbul, in his documentary Nazim Hikmet (2002):
“…shows Hikmet during the years of exile in Russia. He openly confronted Stalin and the Writer’s Union on the subject of social realist art: he decried socialist realism was “neither ‘socialist’ nor ‘realism’, rather it was a form of ‘petit bourgeois’ art.” He was disillusioned in the Stalinist downfall of the Soviet experiment, “they had become fascists in the end.” 
Between 1952 (and his second heart attack) and his death he travelled widely as many of his poem vividly describe. In 1959, the Turkish Government stripped him of his citizenship. His work remained banned in Turkey from 1938 to 1965.
In this week, on this day, June 3rd 1963, in his summer house in Peredelkino, in Moscow, his heart finally gave out.
He is buried in Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery.
Of his short 61 years alive Nazim Hikmet had spent over 13 Years in Prison and 13 in Exile.
Covering the opening night of the Nazim Hikmet Festival last October in Amsterdam, El. Arte. Magazine said, despite Hikmet’s widespread popularity among ordinary people :
“Hikmet was declared a “national traitor” by the Erdo?an government, whose officials disliked his socialist and internationalist message, his eroticism, and his popularity among the youth.”
“If it is true, as Bertolt Brecht believed that ‘The world’s one hope’ lies in ‘the compassion of the oppressed for the oppressed’, then Hikmet serves as an exemplar of that hope.”
The Great Humanity
The great humanity is the deck-passenger on the ship
third class on the train
on foot on the causeway
the great humanity.
The great humanity goes to work at eight
marries at twenty
dies at forty
the great humanity.
There is enough bread for all except the great humanity
it is the same for rice
there is enough for all except the great humanity.
The great humanity has no shade on his soil
no lamp on his road
no glass on his window
but the great humanity has hope
you can’t live without hope.
Wikipedia has a partial bibliography of some of his works, now estimated to have been translated into more than 50 languages.
There is much to be learnt from the life and work of this poet and social activist. Not least that the revolution is made up of real people of flesh and blood, with dreams, longing, love, and insecurities. And likewise, we ourselves have a responsibility to work tirelessly for an end to injustice and oppression. In ‘Last Letter to my Son’ he wrote:
Don’t live in the world as if you were renting
or here only for the summer,
but act as if it was your father’s house…
Believe in seeds, Earth and the sea,
but people above all.
Love clouds, machines and books,
but people above all.
 Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-14809-0004 / Sturm, Horst / CC-BY-SA [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
 Persea Books, 1994, 2002
 ‘Last Letter to my Son’, Poems of Nazim Hikmet, Persea Books, 1994, 2002