Kemal, Namek (1840–1888)

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KEMAL, NAMEK (1840–1888)

Namek Kemal, a writer and journalist belonging to the group of the Young Ottomans, attempted to introduce political liberalism into the bureaucratic despotism of the Tanzimat reform era. Kemal came from an aristocratic background, and after learning French he began his career in the Translation Office of the Ottoman government in Istanbul in 1857. He published a journal and wrote essays on reform in a simple but powerful Turkish style. In 1865 he helped found a secret political society and was dismissed from his government position when this became known. In exile in Europe (1867–1870), he discovered European civilization and French revolutionary thought, which he found compatible with certain Islamic political ideas. He popularized the concepts of fatherland and freedom, and started the newspaper Hurriyet (Freedom) to develop public opinion (1868). On returning from exile he became a journalist and political essayist, advocating liberal political rights founded on Islamic principles, constitutional separation of powers, and halting of European economic penetration. His controversial 1873 patriotic play, Vatan (Fatherland), resulted in renewed imprisonment and exile. In 1876 he returned to join state service under the constitutional regime. He criticized Ottoman modernization as insufficiently liberal, destroying old safeguards against absolutism, notably the shari˓a and the Janissaries (elite corps of Turkish troops) without providing new ones. Suspected of plotting to depose Sultan Abdulhamit after the 1878 abrogation of the constitution, he was again exiled and his writings were banned. He died in exile, but his works, read secretly, fired the imagination of the Young Turks, who took up the cause of liberalism during the autocratic regime of ˓Abdulhamit.

See alsoYoung Ottomans .


Mardin, Serif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas. 1962. Reprint, Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000.

Linda T. Darling