Today marks the birthday of the legendary Turkish poet and communist Nazım Hikmet Ran. He spent 12 years in prisons for his revolutionary activities. Known around the world as one of the greatest international poets of the twentieth century, his poetry has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Born in 1902 in Salonika, Hikmet grew up in Istanbul. His mother was an artist, and his grandfather wrote poetry; through their circle of friends Hikmet was introduced to poetry early; publishing first poems at seventeen. In 1922, he went to Moscow, attracted by the Russian Revolution and its promise of social justice. At Moscow University he got to know students and artists from all over the world. Hikmet returned to Turkey in 1924, after the Turkish War of Independence, but was soon arrested for working on a leftist magazine. In 1926 he managed to escape to the Soviet Union, where he continued writing poetry and plays. A general amnesty allowed him to return to Turkey in 1928.
Since the Communist Party had been outlawed by then, he found himself under constant surveillance by the secret police and spent five of the next ten years in prison on a variety of trumped-up charges. Meanwhile, between 1929 and 1936 he published nine books - five collections and four long poems- that revolutionized Turkish poetry.
Then, in January 1938 he was arrested for inciting the Turkish armed forces to revolt and sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison on the grounds that military cadets were reading his poems,. In 1949 an international committee, including Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, and Jean Paul Sartre, was formed in Paris to campaign for Hikmet's release, and in 1950 he was awarded the World Peace Prize. The same year, he went on an eighteen-day hunger strike, despite a recent heart attack, and when Turkey's first democratically elected government came to power, he was released in a general amnesty.
Hikmet deeply believed that socialism was the only way out for humanity and dedicated his talent to pave the road for a better world.