MEHMET AKIF ERSOY (1873-1936)
Mehmet Akif Ersoy, whosereal name was Mehmet Ragifwasborn in Istanbul, in 1873. He wasbornto a conservativefamily at a time whenallinstitutions of thestatewere in decline, andmajorcrisesandregimechangeswereunderway. As he wasabouttocomplete his education at the Fatih Merkez Rüştiyesi, his father’sdeathand a fire thatdestroyed his home, forced Ersoy tointerrupt his educationandto start workingtosupport his family. He wantedto start a professionalcareer as soon as possible, and he enteredthe Mülkiye Baytar Mektebi (VeterinarySchool), andgraduatedwithhonors in 1893. Inthesameyear, Mehmet Akif Ersoy joinedthecivil service andconductedresearch on contagiousdiseases in variouslocations in Anatolia. Duringtheseassignments, in linewith his religiousinclination, he gavesermons in mosques, andtriedtoeducatethepeopleandtoraisetheirawareness. Alongwithfellow men-of-lettersRecaizade Mahmut Ekrem, Abdülhak Hamit Tarhan and Cenap Şahabettin, which he had met in 1913, he workedforthepublicationbranch of the Müdafaa-i Milliye Heyeti. He soonresignedfrom his governmentpositionandotheroccupations, andwrotepoemsandarticlesforthepublicationSırat-ı Müstakim.
Mehmet Akif Ersoy is bestknownfor his workentitledSafahat. Thisvolume is a collection of 44 poems of variouslengthsby Mehmet Akif Ersoy. Theearliestworkthatappears in thisbook is dated 1904, but this is unattested, and it is highlylikelythatthepoet, whowas 32 on thatparticulardate, composedpoemspriortothatdate. He wastheforemostrepresentative of Islamism, whichwasone of themovementsthatfollowedthedeclaration of constitutionalmonarchy. Because of his dedicationto his principles, his honesty, andbecause he practicedwhat he preached, he wasdistinguishedamongtheintellectualsandpoets of his time. Justlike his contemporaries, he had abundantknowledgeconcerningtraditionaleasternliterature. Inaddition, duringtheyears he wasstudying at Veterinaryschool, he enjoyedreadingtheworks of authorssuch as Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine, Emile Zola, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Duringthecollapse of theOttomanEmpire, Mehmet Akif Ersoy was a ferventpatriot. He madeimportantcontributionstothestruggleforthedeclaration of theTurkishRepublic, andadvocatedpatriotismthoughspeechesthat he delivered in manymosques in Anatolia. On November 19, 1920, during a famousspeech he gave in Kastamonu’sNasrullahMosque, he condemnedtheTreaty of Sevres, andinvitedthepeopletousetheirfaithandgunstofightagainst Western colonialists. WhenthepublicationSebilürreşat, whichwasthenoperatingout of Ankara, publishedthisspeech, it spread alloverthecountryandwasevenmadeinto a pamphletdistributedtoTurkishsoldiers. However, Mehmet Akif Ersoy earnedhimself his significantplace in thehistory of theRepublic of Turkey as thecomposer of thelyrics of theTurkishNationalAnthem. Duringthesession of March 12, 1921, theTurkish Grand NationalAssemblyofficiallydesignated his ten-quatrainpoem as thelyrics of thenationalanthem. Mehmet Akif Ersoy is an importantnationalfigure in thehistory of modern Turkeyand has left an immortaltrace in itshistory. Duringtherepublicanperiod, Mehmet Akif Ersoy taughthistoryandliterature at variousuniversities. He caughtmalariaduring a visittoLebanonanddied on December 27, 1936 in Istanbul.