Ziya Gökalp

Diyarbakir, Turkey

Ziya Gökalp was a Turkish sociologist, writer, and poet.  He is remembered as the ideologue of Turkish nationalism.   He was born in 1876 in Diyarbakir, a province in Southeastern Anatolia, that was, at the time, a major metropolitan center.  Gökalp moved to Istanbul in 1895 to attend a school for veterinary medicine where he became interested in the Young Turk movement and subsequently joined İttihat ve Terakki.  This was, at the time, a secret society, which eventually became the Committee for Union and Progress.  His political activities led to his arrest in 1897. Upon his release he was exiled to Diyarbakır in 1898.  In 1909 he travelled to Salonika as a delegate to the convention of the Union and Progress where he was elected to its central committee.  Gökalp was part of a group of young writers who published Genç Kalemler (Young Pens) and Yeni Felsefe Mecmuası (New Philosophical Review); he emerged as the leader of the idealistic and nationalist branch of this group. He returned to Istanbul in 1912 as a member of parliament. Here he joined the Turkish Hearths association and, in 1913, he became a professor of sociology at Darülfünun-u Osmani, or  Istanbul University.  Between 1912 and 1919 he developed his theories of Turkish nationalism, which were heavily influenced by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim.  Specifically, he articulated his synthesis of Turkism, Islamism and Modernism. Gökalp proposed that Turks of the dissolving Ottoman Empire had to foster a national consciousness. A basic tenet of his ideology was that “culture” and “civilization” were distinct. “Culture” could be defined as the values and institutions that distinguished one nation from others that existed under the umbrella of a common “civilization.” Gökalp was exiled by the British to Malta in 1919 together with several Turkish statesmen and intellectuals. Upon his release in 1921 he returned to Diyarbakir, but when he was elected to the Grand Parliament in 1923 he moved to Ankara. The Principles of Turkism, published that same year, presented the nationalist identity he had espoused in his lectures, articles and poetry. Here he argued that “a nation [that] is not a racial or ethnic or geographic or political or volitional group but one composed of individuals who share a common language, religion, morality, and aesthetics, that is to say, who have received the same education” (p. 15).  He died shortly after in 1924.

Gökalp was a prolific author whose works included letters, poetry, essays and sociological tracts. The poems below are from his collection entitled Yeni Hayat (New Life, 1918).  “Lisan” [Language], “Din” [Religion] and “Vatan” [Homeland] all touch upon important components of his ideology.  The two letters presented here are from the second volume of his collected works entitled Letters from Limni and Malta. Published by The Turkish History Association in 1989, the collection aimed to present Gökalp as a spouse and a father.

Biography by Roberta Micallef


Poems and Letters

Ziya Gökalp
Turkey (Original Language: Turkish)

POEMS (1918)   Language For us Turkish is a beautiful tongue, Another tongue, is like night to us. Istanbul speech is The purest, most refined for us.   In language the word everyone knows Is considered genuine The word whose meaning can be understood Without a glance at the dictionary.   We don’t invent artificial …

Further Reading

Works in Translation

Gökalp, Ziya. The Principles of Turkism, translated and annotated by Robert Devereux (Leiden: EJ Brill, 1968).

Gökalp, Ziya. Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization: Selected Essays of Ziya Gökalp, translated and edited by Niyazi Berkes (London and New York: Columbia University Press, 1959).


Additional Readings

Berkes, Niyazi. ‘Gökalp, Ziya’, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, ed. P. Bearman; , Th. Bianquis; , C.E. Bosworth; , E. van Donzel; and W.P. Heinrichs (Brill, 2012).

Heyd, Uriel. Foundations of Turkish Nationalism: The Life and Teachings of Ziya Gökalp (London, 1950).

—– Ziya Gökalp’s Life and Works (Istanbul: Sebil Printing House, 1980).

Parla, Taha. The Social and Political Thought of Ziya Gökalp: 1876 – 1924 (Leiden, 1985).

—– Ziya Gökalp, Kemalism and Corporatism in Turkey (Istanbul: İletişim Publications, 1989).

Yılmaz, Ensar, ‘Ziya Gökalp’s Political Sociology, International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 2:3 (2010), pp. 029-33.

‘Ziya Gökalp’, Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition (Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012).

Ziya Gökalp, Turkish Cultural Foundation: http://www.turkishculture.org/literature/literature/turkish-authors/ziya-gokalp-659.htm