Istanbul ranks first among the oldest and most magnificent cities in both Turkish history and Islamic history and civilization -to which the former belonged- to have been established which still survives today. This city became representative of a great, rich and highly authoritative civilization through both the lifestyle established here, which was reflected and carried forward with the forms, values, acknowledgments, experiences and accumulation that had been built by the sensitivities that were used to establish this life style. Since its conquest, from generation to generation, from one period to another, this city, has become the subject of the work of intellectuals, artists, men of letters and thinkers with its aforementioned identity.
The formation of this subject has come to us today with an increase in its historical visage which the city had gained over time, as well as the civilization that had been created over the different eras and the traces of life and their manifestations. In fact, Istanbul is a very rich and popular thematic core in contemporary Turkish literature as well.
However, this picture is not exclusive to today. Even though its features, tones and proportions have changed, the colors used when depicting Istanbul as reflected in literature have manifested themselves since 1453 - or arguably even earlier. It is possible that this was true even from a date much earlier than that of the conquest, as demonstrated in works such as Stories of Dede Korkut, Epic of Battal Gazi and Saltuknâme. Istanbul has become the dominant color of classical Turkish literature; its hues have become more apparent from the time after the conquest. However, when we look at the accumulation of literary tastes today, it is natural to see that the Istanbul described by the poets of divan and folk literature differs from the perceptions of modern Turkish authors. Every artist is the child of their time, and every city reflects different characteristics and manifestations throughout its history.
For the divan poet, Istanbul was not only the center of the caliphate and the capital of the state, it was also a city adorned with beauty, riches and majestic and pompous lives. Poets enjoyed their adventures, loves and relationships thanks to the means this city provided; they breathed in the life of this city. This is why Istanbul often appears as natural and spontaneous, penetrating into their work like “the sap into the fruit.” In fact, when Nef’i states:
The stage of Kağıthane, as crowded as in the day of Last Judgment, is here
(The spectacle, with beauties resembling the Paradise, is here
or when Nedim writes:
Always the conducts of its inhabitants are appreciated and esteemed
They say that the beloved of this city is heartless and a bit disloyal
or when Enderunlu Vasıf says:
It is the season of the rose and the time to go to the rose garden
Come to the tulip garden. It is the time of illumination and merriment
This is the time of the melody of the nightingale
Come to the tulip garden. It is the time of illumination and merriment
All are speaking about nothing but Istanbul and the manifestations of life in this city. In addition to such texts that write about Istanbul “indirectly”, of course there are also works in divan literature which describe Istanbul more directly. However, most of the relationships of these works with Istanbul are based on praising or describing it, rather than providing information about it, commenting on it or comparing it to similar cities. This “descriptive” approach is sometimes expressed in words that either praise a person or a new architectural structure, or depict a person or place. It is for this reason that in the genres of divan literature, which ranging from şehrengizs (book of towns and townsmen) to kasides (eulogy), from masnavis to ghazals, or even from stories to songs, one can see Istanbul in scenes of daily life, such as being the place where love flourishes, or the means of praising architectural structures, such as places of worship, colleges, palaces, mansions, villas, kiosks, water fountains, etc., and the praises for their patrons; or Istanbul can be a place of sightseeing and a place of beauty, with its praises being sung. This type of display gains intensity for scenes of daily life and places of entertainment after the second half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, particularly in writings from this period, such as Enderunlu Fazıl, Yenişehirli Avni, Keçecizade İzzet Molla or Enderunlu Vasıf. This movement gained momentum in the work of Nedim in the earlier century, attaining great wealth, particularly in poetry that was written in the genre of şehrengiz, sevâhilnâme (the book of coasts), hûbânnâme (the book of beautiful boys) or zenânnâme (the book of beautiful girls).
However, the results of efforts that approach Istanbul with a different intention and from a different perspective started to appear due to a number of reasons after the second half of the nineteenth century. For example, at this time the Turkish literati started to take an interest in and strike up a relationship with Western literature, becoming familiar with Western works of literature that deal with location in a different manner. New genres, in particular those related to the idea of the novel, appeared, with an emphasis of “realism” appearing in Turkish literature. With such an intensification of themes and tendencies, it is possible to think about the role of the intellectual and literati in this period as those who had greater opportunities compared to those from earlier eras; these writers could now go abroad and see other cities, particularly European cities, and began to develop ideas about phenomena and identity with the “city”. As a consequence they were able to compare Istanbul with these other cities. Works written by ambassadors and embassy officials throughout the period, which begins in the eighteenth century and continues until the middle of the nineteenth century, consisted of travelogues and ambassador reports, ranging from Yirmisekiz Çelebi Mehmed’s Fransa Seyahatnâmesi [Book of travel in France], Mustafa Sami Efendi’s Avrupa Risâlesi [Treatise on Europe], and articles such as Namık Kemal’s “Londra”, Sadık Pasha’s “Şarlotenburg Sarayı” to novels like Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân [A wandering in Europe] and Ahmed İhsan’s Avrupa’da Ne Gördüm [What have I seen in Europe?]. These works placed a comparison of Istanbul with other cities in the mind of the Turkish people. An extension of such comparisons is that the writers and readers of the period turned towards Istanbul.
The fact that Istanbul was where the publishing sector and publication technology developed more than anywhere else in Turkey meant that it became a city which was clearly a pioneer in the culture and literature of the nation. The environment of culture, art and literature in Istanbul attracted scholars, artists, and gifted young men keen on literature from Anatolia and Rumelia. Istanbul had an environment of culture, art and literature, and from time to time, established communities, gatherings and trends around the different generations and their preferences. Istanbul was ground zero for art and culture, and the place where all these ideas were reflected. Thus, it played a significant role in these fields.
It was mentioned above that Ottoman literati had become acquainted with Western literature; as a consequence of the widening popularity of new genres of literature, such as the novel, Istanbul became a central theme in the literature. We can add to this two more genres - the modern short story and plays -, which are plot-centered. The need that these genres had for putting an emphasis on a particular location inevitably increased the popularity of Istanbul as a setting. In other words, districts such as Beyoğlu, Galata, Şişli, Çamlıca, Boğaziçi and the Prince’s Islands, as well as various promenades and summer resorts, became places that were popular in these Western genres; as a result they became popular in Ottoman daily life, bringing them even more to the fore.
Moreover, it should not be forgotten that newspapers and magazines were instruments of the media and had a direct effect on changing many aspects of literature. Particularly from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, newspapers increased public interest and attention to Istanbul via reports on daily life and with their written and visual materials, thus providing an opportunity for Istanbul to find its place in literature to an even greater degree. We should not forget that the first Ottoman newspapers and magazines were for the most part published in Istanbul. The columns of domestic news [havadis-i dahiliyye] in the newspapers reported incidents which took place throughout the country; Ahmed İhsan’s (Tokgöz) column, Istanbul Postası, published in Servet-i Fünûn, and Ahmed Rasim’s Şehir Mektupları [City letters], published for the most part in Mâlûmât, as well as visual materials about Istanbul that were published in newspapers and magazines known as musavver (illustrated) not only informed the literati of the period about the details of daily life, but also were effective in shaping readers’ expectations and interests.
Up to the period of the Republic Istanbul existed in the works of Ottoman literati via its historical buildings in old districts and neighborhoods such as Aksaray, Fatih, Üsküdar, Eyüp and Yedikule, while on the other hand, it was also depicted in the lives of its newer districts, which were formed under Western influence, such as Şişli, Nişantaşı and Yeşilköy, as well as the districts around the Bosphorus, the area in which Ottoman modernization was most clearly manifested. This two-dimensional appearance, which exhibited all aspects of Ottoman life, is also apparent in literature that was shaped around the center of Istanbul. Overtime, the choice between these dimensions became a reflection of the writer’s worldview as well as the lifestyle preferences of a multi-faceted Istanbul. The outlines become clear, and can be seen most distinctly in the work of the members of the Servet-i Fünun movement, appearing at the end of the century.
The twentieth-century Ottoman Istanbul depicted in Ottoman literature was quite complicated as far as its dimensions and hues were concerned. On the one hand, there were the groups who were in pursuit of the false glittering Western life, which made itself felt more after the Tanzimat era, pursuing it with affectionate admiration; on the other hand, there were groups that formed as a result of migrant movements into the old and poor Istanbul. These movements were created by wars, defeats and loss of territory, particularly in the Balkans. Thus, an Istanbul where poverty and debauchery, patriotism and betrayal existed side by side with the opulent Istanbul existed during the years of invasions by European powers, starting with the invasion of the city on November 13, 1918.
These are the main themes concerning Istanbul that can be found in Turkish literature from the nineteenth century until the Republican era.
The declaration of Ankara as the capital of the new state on October 13, 1923 ended Istanbul’s aspiration to be the seat of the government. However, the loss of this title did not lead to a decrease in its significance or esteem, nor in the interest paid to the city. On the contrary, from the promulgation of the Republic to the present, Istanbul has continued to be a center with increasing attraction and popularity by means of its growing identity, not only in economic and political fields but also in cultural and literature fields.
The interest in and affection for Istanbul grew, increased and diversified. Over time, the city gained new meanings, importance, appearances and qualities. Along with such gains, the way those who viewed the city perceived it also changed – that is, their understanding and interpretations of the city. Moreover, those eyes started to see Istanbul from different perspectives and angles due to changing worldviews and mentalities, which turned the perception of Istanbul more into a multi-layered, multi-meaning and multi-commented characteristic. The Istanbul of intellectuals and literati which had existed from the past to the present no longer existed; now it was the “residents of Istanbul,” and the multivalent appearance which Istanbul had taken on that would primarily be focused on and understood from this point.
The details of this appearance can be examined under the following main points:
- Even though Istanbul had lost its identity as the political capital of the country with the beginning of Republic, it never lost the feature of being the cultural capital (which it had been since its foundation). Today, Istanbul is still the cultural and artistic capital of the country. This is why it is a city that both produces literature and acts as a subject for the same. It is also the city which has best been reflected in literature. Istanbul is one of the most important themes in almost all genres of modern literature.
- Istanbul was the capital of Ottoman State. This identity was accepted by some literati and intellectuals in the period of Republic, while others denied it or shunned it. In the literature of the Republic, particularly in the first few decades, when the winds of excitement, a new approach and the regulations of the new regime blew strong, Istanbul, a representative of the values and lives of being an Ottoman, took on differing meanings and importance in the work of intellectuals.
Based on the perspective expressed in Tevfik Fikret’s poem Sis [fog], one faction regarded Istanbul as the heir to Ottoman State that they regarded with disfavor, and it criticized the city by emphasizing its corrupted, decaying, and declining nature. Like an inscription in the old cemetery, or the values belonging to a past era, Istanbul lagged behind the “new” regime and the new social order that was trying to emerge out.
Some literati, on the other hand, were inspired by the breeze of Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, regarding Istanbul as aziz (precious); they followed the traces of the city from its glorious, magnificent days, and saw and wrote of its remaining beauty.
In some works, Istanbul is a beauty from olden times that had consumed, or left behind, all of its beauty in the past; thus it was possible to write eulogies about it. The way these writers, whom will be represented by Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar here, perceive Istanbul can be defined as one of deep sighs of nostalgia and expressions of “Ah! Good old Istanbul!”
What attracts attention at the center of all the three categories is the evaluation of Istanbul within the historical context. In these approaches, the attitude of Yahya Kemal and his followers was to approach the city through a perspective of “national” civilization. Throughout history, the best crystallization of this nationally, even ethnicity, manifested itself in Istanbul. According to this “praise” and respect-centered approach, over the centuries “our ancestors” embroidered this city like a canvas, creating a beautiful integral depiction.
The connection between city and civilization, and the relationship between Istanbul with civilization within the context of this connection, manifests itself as the most unique and remarkable interpretation of Istanbul in Republican literature in the work of another writer, i.e. Sezai Karakoç. Karakoç does not fit into the above-mentioned approaches. However, according to Sezai Karakoç as well, Istanbul is a “city of civilization”. However, his definition of civilization does not carry an ethnic identity. He knows and defines Istanbul as the most excellent and greatest entity brought about by the Islamic civilization at any time in history. The Istanbul described in his poems is the pearl of Muslim cities, constructed over Muslim geography. In this context, Istanbul is “the capital of the capitals”, and a candidate to be the capital for “the revival of humanity.” In this respect, Sezai Karakoç’s perception of Istanbul displays the characteristic of looking towards the future rather than focusing on the past. Istanbul will become the center and the focus of the “revival” of Islamic civilization and Muslim geography, a geography which has become a “banished country” due to the invasion of Western modernization today.
Modern literature – let’s use “urban” to mean modern city – is an “urban” literature. It breathes in the city, grows in the city and finds wealth in meaning when it speaks of the city. From this perspective, the most excellent identity and reality of the “modern city” in Turkish society embodies itself in Istanbul. It is obvious that modern Turkish literature has reached a level of expertise that can compete with Western literature, finding a fertile and suitable grounds in Istanbul, a city that has both the negative and positive aspects of a modern city. It is for this reason that it can be said that the literature of the period of the Republic became a new perception of Istanbul; the city had taken on new characteristics after the 1950s, and Istanbul started to be reevaluated and seen through new perspectives. This took place at the same time as the period of modernization that permeated through the social layers of society.
This approach is reflected in literature, particularly in novels and stories, but more specifically in the form of the crises and dilemmas that people who lived in the cities faced, such as problems caused by metropolitan life, the pains people experienced due to migration from rural areas to Istanbul and their attempts to adapt to urban life, as well as problems that many faced due to modern city life (such as isolation, alienation, materialization), and the conflict between the apparent and hidden codes of tradition and the impositions of modernization. The setting for all was modern Istanbul, where, with all of its dimensions and manifestations, these themes flourished.
The clear, sharp and solid ideological polarizations was based on praising the new and vilifying the old, embracing Istanbul as the honorable representative and the heir of “ageless” values and accumulations of the past which needed to be transmitted to the present. The city was portrayed as a cosmopolitan world city – carrying with it a perception of a colorful city. The people had, on the one hand, few worries, an undemanding daily routine; however, on the other hand, there were also those who lived bohemian lives. Thus, there existed the possibility of finding suitable ground, examples and areas in which the old and the new could be compared, where the traditional was juxtaposed with the modern, the Orient with the Occident, the Ottoman with the Republic and historical nostalgia with feelings of postmodern egotism. The extent of this nostalgia went beyond the Ottoman Empire, reaching as far back as Byzantium and Eastern Rome. The city occupied various social layers, was home to peoples of diverse cultures and was a cosmopolitan display of various and intricate life styles which had emerged due to the increase in migrations during the last fifty to sixty years. This also resulted in overcrowding, rapid transformations and changes; yet, despite all these, the historical roots and actual manifestations, the identity of being the most important, greatest and oldest city with its own “language”, where this language is a “value” joins the quality of being one of the most beautiful cities on earth due to the geographical location.
Istanbul not only had all these features, but many more; as such it constitutes one of the most important and prolific subjects in Turkish literature. From past to present, the prolific dealings with this city in literature came to the fore in some of the works of men of letters, such as Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, Ruşen Eşref Ünaydın, Ahmed Rasim, Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Samiha Ayverdi, Osman Cemal Kaygılı, Sermet Muhtar Alus, etc. This is true to such an extent that these writers have been categorized separately from other writers, being given the title: “writers of Istanbul.”
From the nineteenth century to the present day, Istanbul has been especially celebrated in certain genres of literature, acting as a lasting and intense theme of a modern period Turkish literature. Poetry comes at the top of the list of genres. However, the novel and short story compete with poetry in their narrations of Istanbul. Although they lag slightly behind poetry, such works mention Istanbul as a central subject in the literature at a much later time (as compared to poetry). The main reason for novels and short stories being set so prominently in Istanbul was because these fictional genres needed a place to narrate incidents. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that because of being a modern genre, the love for tragedy, the intricate plot structure, the ability to be freely and enthusiastically developed in the middle of chaotic lives and, in Kemal Tahir’s words, in the middle of lives “which have reached a deadlock,” a novel can find inspiration in the metropolis of Istanbul.
In addition to these genres, the rich memoirs which focus on Istanbul and the events that took place in Istanbul should be mentioned.
Even though Istanbul felt itself hidden or reflected in the texts within the framework of small excerpts from daily life, as in divan poetry, or the real life adventures that took place in the new Turkish poetry of the nineteenth century, it was only much later that Istanbul can be seen as an emphasized theme with separate and real places or incidents. Yet novels seem to localize themselves in Istanbul, even after their first examples, such as Şemseddin Sami’s Taaşşuk-ı Tal‘at ve Fıtnat [Love of Talat and Fitnat], Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s Felâtun Bey’le Râkım Efendi, and Namık Kemal’s İntibâh [Revival].
In this context, certain names should be mentioned, such as Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem, Abdülhak Hamid, Nabizade Nâzım, Mehmed Celâl and Muallim Naci; these are the poets of the period. We can mention Recaizade in connection with districts such as İstinye, Yakacık, Boğaz and Küçüksu, all used as settings for his poems. Nabizade speaks of the Anadoluhisarı district; Mehmed Celâl about the Prince’s Islands; Muallim Naci has an Istanbul that permeates all of his poems, and has an Epicurean life that is centered round Istanbul, just as in divan poetry. Another poet worth mentioning is Abdülhak Hamid, whose highly acclaimed poem “Merkad-i Fatih’i Ziyaret” [Visiting the mausoleum of the Conqueror] was about Sultan Mehmed II and the conquest of Istanbul.
We should also mention that the historical dimension of the theme of Istanbul which is used in Turkish literature often coincides with Sultan Mehmed II, thus forming an interlaced theme between the two.
Even though the glimpses of Istanbul in the poems of the Servet-i Fünun group, presented in the form of small sections, scenes and descriptions of nature can be perceived as merely a backdrop, we should not forget Tevfik Fikret, with his famous poem Sis, which was published in the Second Constitutional Period. This poem constitutes an example for the followers by being the first text that contains sharp anger towards and criticism of Istanbul in Turkish poetry.
In fact, the period of the Second Constitutional Period, along with the wars that followed, brought about a different viewpoint – one could say a “psychology of collapse”. There were increasingly critical views accompanying this feeling of loss and exhaustion, manifesting themselves in the tragic, deteriorated, spoilt and distorted aspects of the lives in Istanbul through the writings of some of the poets of the period. These poets were sometimes ironic, sometimes humorous and sometimes satirical. Fazıl Ahmet Aykaç is the first poet who comes to mind in this context. Nazım Hikmet can also be included among them for his poem Ağa Camii.
Mehmed Âkif Ersoy’s Safahat [phases] is a work that sometimes praises the historical and architectural beauties of Istanbul (as in his poems Süleymaniye Kürsüsünde [At the pulpit of Süleymaniye] and Fatih Kürsüsünde), but mostly criticizes the neglected, devastated, and spoilt lives (such as in the poems Küfe [Basket], Mahalle Kahvesi [Neighborhood coffeehouse], Seyfi Baba, Meyhane [Winehouse], Hasır [Mat]).
In the years before and after the Republic, Yahya Kemal Beyatlı was of course the poet who wrote about Istanbul the most, writing about not only its historical and national identity, but also its natural and architectural beauties. Istanbul is one of the main themes in his poems. The subjects of the Bosphorus, Prince’s Islands, Göksu, Kanlıca, Süleymaniye and Çubuklu, as well as the city’s conquest and Sultan Mehmed II find their most effective existence in his poems. This beauty is reiterated by the prose in Aziz İstanbul [Precious Istanbul]. In fact, many famous and less famous poets and writers followed, writing about and interpreting Istanbul from the perspective that was opened by Yahya Kemal. Among them, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar is the first one that comes to mind. In addition to his poem Birgün İcadiye’de [Once upon a day in Icadiye], the name Tanpınar smiles at us through the section about Istanbul in his book Beş Şehir (Five Cities), along with his essays which were compiled under the title Yaşadığım Gibi [As I live], particularly İstanbul’un Mevsimleri ve Sanatlarımız [Seasons of Istanbul and our arts] and Lodosa, Sise ve Lüfere Dair [About sou’wester, fog and the bluefish].
We should remember Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, one of the famous poets from the generation of Tanpınar, for his folk song Canım Istanbul [Istanbul, my dear] and his poem Karacaahmet; the latter was important for examining one of the districts of Istanbul from a spiritual and metaphysical window. Istanbul is also the setting for some of Necip Fazil plays, such as Bir Adam Yaratmak [Creating a man].
Among the poets of the period of the Republic until the 1950s, we can mention a large group of poets, such as Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel, Şükufe Nihal Başar, Midhat Cemal Kuntay, Cahit Sıtkı Tarancı, Ziya Osman Saba, Ümit Yaşar Oğuzcan, Orhan Veli Kanık, Behçet Necatigil, Ahmet Muhip Dıranas, etc.. These poets examined Istanbul through its natural beauties and love stories, associating their infatuations with the districts of Istanbul, and sometimes depicting Istanbul as the reflector of positive and negative aspects of life. Orhan Veli, Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu, and from the following generation, Attila İlhan, were among those poets. Istanbul, and in particular, some of its districts, were seen as free places where Bohemian life styles flourished.
The year 1953 is a turning point for the theme of Istanbul in Turkish poetry. After that year, there was a significant increase in poems related to the conquest of Constantinople, in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the conquest. Among those poets who regarded Istanbul in a primarily nationalist perspective we can mention Yahya Kemal, Faruk Nafiz, Arif Nihat Asya, Orhan Seyfi Orhon, Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca, Cahit Tanyol and Niyazi Yıldırım Gençosmanoğlu. In fact after 1953, long epics began to be written about the conquest. The most famous of which was Fazıl Hüsnü’s İstanbul Fethi Destanı [The saga of the conquest of Istanbul], written in 1953. There were also other epics written by İbrahim Minnetoğlu, Vehbi Cem Aşkun, Mehmed Çavuşoğlu, Cahit Tanyol and Gökhan Evliyaoğlu.
Another approach and interpretation of Istanbul that began shortly before 1950, increasingly gaining prominence, was to see the city from a Marxist ideological perspective, and to confront the negative aspects of poverty and the labor-capital relationship. This approach regarded this great and cosmopolite metropolis as the platform of the wheel of exploitation, and examined the city from a critical and pessimistic point of view. In this movement, known as “Socialist Realism poetry,” we can attribute the poetry of Melih Cevdet Anday, Necati Cumalı, A. Kadir, Ataol Behramoğlu, Attila İlhan, Nihat Behram, Arif Damar, and, until a certain date, İsmet Özel.
In addition to these poets, there are other poets as well. Some of them saw Istanbul from a historical perspective and thought, like Yahya Kemal. Others commemorate the city by regretting its lost beauties, while others who go back to the archaic and exotic past of the years of Byzantium. There were even some who dealt with the city within the context of the pains of a modern individual, or as a city where those individuals tried to know themselves; finally there were also those who narrated the city by following the traces of personal love. Gülten Akın, Orhon Murat Arıburnu, İlhan Berk, Cemal Süreya, Ece Ayhan, Özdemir Asaf, Yavuz Bülent Bakiler, Mustafa Necati Karaer, Metin Eloğlu, Turgut Uyar, Ülkü Tamer, Can Yücel, İlhan Geçer, Hüseyin Hatemi, Hüsrev Hatemi and Hilmi Yavuz can be listed among these poets.
As mentioned above, one of the most significant manifestations of the perception of Istanbul after 1950 was that produced by Sezai Karakoç. With the poems of Sezai Karakoç (particularly his poems Sürgün Ülkeden Başkentler Başkentine [From the banished country to the capital of the capitals], Şehirlerim [My cities], Birgün Şehzadebaşında [Once upon a day at Şehzadebaşı], Kızkulesine Gazel [Ghazal for the Maiden’s Tower] and Denizin Kentini Yaktım [I have set the city of the sea on fire), a different and more comprehensive understanding of Istanbul started to manifest itself; this is unlike the narrations and interpretations that we have dealt with thus far. This Istanbul was regarded as “the capital” city of Islamic history and geography, and was the representative of a civilization that transmitted the beauties and values of the past to the present; indeed, it was expected to carry these beauties and values to the future. From the 1960s to the present day, such a comprehension of Istanbul has been adopted and continued by poets such as Nuri Pakdil, Erdem Bayazıt, Cahit Zarifoğlu, Akif İnan, Cahit Koytak, Arif Ay, Hüseyin Atlansoy and İhsan Deniz - all of who were influenced by Sezai Karakoç, and consequently followed the ideological and aesthetic path that he had embarked upon.
As mentioned before, the Turkish novel and the modern story also adopted and narrated Istanbul as a lasting and comprehensive theme from their first appearance in the nineteenth century. These genres have as much interest in Istanbul as does Turkish poetry.
The setting of Şemseddin Sami’s Taaşşuk-ı Tal‘at ve Fıtnat takes place around the Aksaray and Üsküdar districts, while Namık Kemal’s İntibâh is centered around an incident that took place in the Çamlıca district. Likewise, Recaizade Mahmud Ekrem’s Araba Sevdası develops around a broken love story that transpired in Çamlıca. In the stories of Samipaşazade Sezai and in his novel Sergüzeşt, different districts of Istanbul can be observed. However, the places in most of the novels of this period can be seen as routine backgrounds. The routineness was partially overcome in Araba Sevdası [Passion for the coach], but essentially and more clearly, though not completely, it became clearer in Ahmed Midhat Efendi’s Istanbul-centered novels. This is why Ahmed Midhat Efendi, despite his pedantic talkative character, succeeded in describing the faces and lives of Istanbul, and more real and detailed districts and neighborhoods in Istanbul. In his many novels, such as Felâtun Bey’le Râkım Efendi, Yeryüzünde Bir Melek [An angel on the earth], Dürdane Hanım, Karnaval, Hüseyin Fellah, Esrâr-ı Cinâyât [Secrets of murders], Müşâhedat [Observations], Henüz Onyedi Yaşında [Only seventeen years old], Vah [Woe], Hayret [Astonishment], etc., real lives from real districts of Istanbul such as Beyoğlu, Üsküdar, Çamlıca, Galata, Tophane, Fatih and Yedikule were described. For this reason, it is possible to call Ahmet Midhat the novelist of Istanbul, at least in relation to the circumstances of his time and the requirements of literature of the era.
The Servet-i Fünun novel also relied on Istanbul. However, it would be pointless to look for real people from the street who speak with the same frequency; this was an approach that extended from the current state of the city to its past. The depth and comprehensiveness of perspective in the novels and stories of the followers of Servet-i Fünun can be seen in Ahmed Midhat’s novels. Their Istanbul is mostly in Beyoğlu, and in its environs. As in Halid Ziya’s Kırık Hayatlar [Shattered lives], their Istanbul extends to the new districts of European style lives, such as Şişli, Erenköy, Moda, Tarabya, Bebek and Büyükada, and is limited to the seaside mansions and cottages of Bosphorus. As has been often said, Ahmed Cemil, the main character of Mai ve Siyah [Blue and black], lived in Süleymaniye, but Süleymaniye was a district chosen merely to express his poverty and desperate situation. That is, Halid Ziya does not give a detailed description of the district. Ahmed Cemil, the main character, does not even raise his head and look at Süleymaniye Mosque. It is appropriate to say that his other novel, Aşk-ı Memnû [Illicit love], is mostly set on the Bosphorus.
This is the same for Mehmed Rauf’s famous novel Eylül [September]. The setting of the novel was restricted to the Bosphorus, Yeniköy and Erenköy.
Hüseyin Rahmi (Gürpınar) was one of the writers who stayed outside this group during the Servet-i Fünun period in literature, continuing to write until the Turkish Republic. He persistently chose his characters for his novels and stories from the poor people who lived in less glamorous districts of Istanbul. He preferred to go into the details of their lives, and found humorous topics from their traditions, customs, beliefs, ignorance and bigotry, narrating them in a critical way. Satire and humor were the essence of his novels centered in houses and streets.
A similar approach can be seen Ahmed Rasim’s short newspaper articles, which have since been composed into book form under the titles Eşkâl-i Zaman [Shapes of the time], Muharrir Bu Ya [As the author would say], Şehir Mektupları, Gülüp Ağladıklarım [Things make me laugh or cry] and Cidd ü Mizah [Seriousness and humor], as well as in his memoirs Falaka [Falaka], Gecelerim [My nights], Fuhş-ı Atîk [Fornication in the past] and Muharrir Şair Edib [Author, poet, literati], as well as in some of his novels. However, love and feelings occupy a significant place in Ahmed Rasim’s novels. Leyâl-i Izdırab [Nights of agony], Güzel Eleni [Beautiful Eleni], Meşâkk-ı Hayat [Hardship of life], Mehâlik-i Hayat [Dangers of life] and Afife are amongst his several novels.
After those two authors, the negative aspects of Istanbul, poverty, extravagant lives and depictions of lives filled with political and social abuses began to be written about during the period of the Second Constitutional Period. This can be attributed to the effects of social pessimism experienced during the years after the collapse of the Ottoman State.
Osman Cemal Kaygılı was one of the writers in this period who followed Hüseyin Rahmi’s footsteps. He also chose his subjects from among the public, and goes into details about their lives.
From the Second Constitutional Period to the Republic writers who dealt with subjects such as the extravagance and treacheries of Istanbul during the years of the invasion, the pains of modernization that developed around the polarization of Western and Turkish styles, identity searches, dilemmas caused by imitation of the West, criticism of ridiculous situations that came about as a consequence of said imitation, families which were destroyed on this path and mental conflicts. Among these, we should mention in particular Halide Edip Adıvar (Sinekli Bakkal [The Clown and His Daughter], Tatarcık, Sonsuz Panayır [Everlasting fair] etc.), Refik Halid Karay (İstanbul’un İç Yüzü [The true colors of Istanbul], Bu Bizim Hayatımız [This is our life]), Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu (Kiralık Konak [Mansion on rent], Hüküm Gecesi [The night of the verdict], Nur Baba, Hep O Şarkı [Always the same song], Sodom ve Gomore), Midhat Cemal Kuntay (Üç İstanbul [Three Istanbuls]), Münevver Ayaşlı (Pertev Bey’in Kızları [Daughters of Perteve Beg) and Peyami Safa (Sözde Kızlar [So-called Girls], Canan, Mahşer [The day of judgment], Biz İnsanlar [We, the humanbeings], Fatih Harbiye [Fatih-Harbiye], Bir Tereddüdün Romanı [The novel of a hesitation etc.).
Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar holds a distinguished place as a novelist in the Republican period, particularly through his books Huzur [Peace of mind] and Sahnenin Dışındakiler [Those out of the stage]. He deals with the years of the Second World War in the second of these novels, and follows the footsteps of Yahya Kemal in his novel Huzur- at least in the respect that it is set in the districts of Istanbul - first the Bosphorus and then Üsküdar and Koca Mustafa Paşa. Thus, he added an aesthetic and intellectual interpretation and depth of view to the historical perspective. In this respect, Huzur is a complete novel of Istanbul.
It is necessary to mention Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar with Tanpınar. Fahim Bey ve Biz [Fahim Beg and us], Çamlıca’daki Eniştemiz [Our uncle-in-law at Çamlıca] and Ali Nizami Bey’in Alafrangalığı ve Şeyhliği [Ali Nizami Beg, the Frankish and the Sheikh], establish that his works switch between the genre of novel and memoir, and thus can be called a novel-memoir; these are books that can be accepted as compositions written about the life of Istanbul in the past.
Tanpınar’s identity as the novelist of Istanbul in the Republican era coincides with Sait Faik Abasıyanık. However, one can see that Sait Faik’s Istanbul reflects actual lives instead of history, cultural or literal traces of the past. In addition to his poems, Abasıyanık’s short stories really create a rich perspective, narrating the lives of the simple, lonely, destitute and undemanding people - sometimes through sudden sparkles, and sometimes within places that occupy subjects such as the old, poor and solitary districts and bars, coffeehouses, fisherman’s huts, docks, theaters, shanty houses, spaces under bridges and sidewalks.
There are many writers after Tanpınar who wrote about Istanbul or set their novels in Istanbul. Some in particular are Samiha Ayverdi and her novel Mesihpaşa İmamı, Orhan Kemal, who selects the scenes of his novels from the poor lives of people living in shanty towns, Selim İleri and his novels and stories which take their scenes from the sections of Istanbul’s Byzantium, 19th-century Ottomans and the Republic, up to the present day, Orhan Pamuk, who writes of different eras in Istanbul and aspects of lives in his novels Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları [Cevdet Bey And His Sons], Kara Kitap [The Black Book], Sessiz Ev [The House of Silence], Beyaz Kale [The White Castle] and Masumiyet Müzesi [Museum of Innocence]. İhsan Oktay Anar, who also described Istanbul in his novels within the context of history, Ahmet Ümit, who depicted an Istanbul within the framework of detective adventures (Beyoğlu Rapsodisi [The Rhapsody of Beyoglu], Kar Kokusu [The Smell of the snow], İstanbul Hatırası [A memorabilia from Istanbul], İstanbul’un En Güzel Abisi [The coolest bro’ of Istanbul], etc.), İskender Pala, who deals with Istanbul using its historic past, cultural background, literary and spiritual world (Babil’de Ölüm İstanbul’da Aşk [Death in Babylon, love in Istanbul], Mihmandar (The host] and Şah Sultan etc.), Murat Gülsoy (İstanbul’da Bir Merhamet Haftası [A week of mercy in Istanbul]) and Buket Uzuner (İstanbullular [The Istanbulites]).
At the beginning, we mentioned that Istanbul has been the setting for poetry, novels and short stories, with memoirs being added to these genres. We believe that the rich historical past of Istanbul, its cultural diversity, the beauty and feelings of satisfaction it provides for its residents, as well as the great, rapid and shocking aspects, even traumatic changes, that it has experienced in its recent history, have played a role for the reasons why Istanbul is central in so many literary memoirs. We can say that every generation experiences many things of their era, aspects which later slip and vanish back in history; after a certain point these aspects can only live on through memoirs.
In this regard, there are many writers in Turkish literature who speak about “life in old Istanbul,” that is, authors who wrote memoirs. We have already mentioned Ahmed Rasim. To Ahmed Rasim’s work, one can add many writers and hundreds of memoirs about Istanbul, such as Abdülhak Şinasi Hisar (Boğaziçi Mehtapları [Moonshines of the Bosphorus], Geçmiş Zaman Köşkleri [Mansions of a past age] and Boğaziçi Yalıları [The Bosphorus sea-mansions), Sermet Muhtar Alus (İstanbul Kazan Ben Kepçe [Strolling in Istanbul] and Masal Olanlar [Those becoming fairy tales]), Ruşen Eşref Ünaydın (Boğaziçi Yakından [Bosphorus from close-shot), Salah Birsel (Ah Beyoğlu Vah Beyoğlu [Woe to Beyoglu], Kahveler Kitabı [Book of coffeehouses] and Boğaziçi Şıngır Mıngır [Bosphorus, joyful and lively]), Samiha Ayverdi (İstanbul Geceleri [Istanbul nights], Geçmiş Zaman Olur ki [Once upon a time in the past] and İbrahim Efendi Konağı [The Ibrahim Efendi mansion]) etc.
In addition to those genres, Istanbul has been the subject of many essays, monographs, research papers and surveys. Maybe hundreds of anthologies about the books written on Istanbul, special journal issues, picture and photograph albums have been published about the city.
All of these publications present a rich accumulation of Istanbul in Turkish literature, demonstrating that Istanbul continues to be the focus of increasing attention and the subject of production, not only in various other fields, but also in literature.
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