Kemal H. Karpat: “My Own Life Become Interesting To Me From Time To Time”

Kemal Hasim Karpat, a veteran academician of the Turkish social sciences and historiography world, who was born in 1923 in Babadag town of Dobruca, Romania, died on February 20,2019 in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

“I’m Not Rich, I’m Not High-Ranked, But I Got Something: A Mind, An Opinion… And I Do Not Change It With Anything.”*

Karpat was a multi-directional social scientist and intellectual who lived his life in difficulties and had an outstanding academic career in Turkey and the United States during the most difficult period of the Cold War. One of the most brilliant researchers of his generation, Karpat conducted a science with strong connections between the profession of historiography and the social sciences. He has published dozens of volumes in the fields of historical demography, migrations and settlements history, political history of late Ottoman and Republic, the history of urbanization, the history of foreign policy, and the history of the Middle East and Central Asia. He guided young researchers by conducting pioneering studies on the importance of migration and resettlement policies and population development in state formation and nation building. Karpat’s education life was respectively shaped by Haydarpasa High School, bachelor’s degree from Istanbul University Faculty of Law (1948), a master’s degree in Political Science from the University of Washington  in Seattle, and a PhD in Political Science from New York University (1957). Karpat’s doctoral dissertation, a study on the history of Turkish democracy, which was later published and still taught at many universities. He worked throughout his life at the Montana State University (1957-1962), Middle East Technical University (1958-59 and 1969-71), The New York University (1962-71), the University of Wisconsin-Madison as distinguished service professor (1967-2003) and Istanbul City University (after 2011). Karpat also worked as a visiting lecturer at many universities such as Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Robert College, EHESS, Bilkent, Yıldız Technical during various periods of his academic life. He founded the Turkish Research Center at UW-Madison and the International Journal of Turkish Studies in 1979 and conducted it until his death. In the years between 1970-1988, Karpat directed UW-Madison’s Middle East Studies Program and established and chaired the Association of Central Asian Studies Program in 1985-1995. From 1966 to 1986, he was one of the founders of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and was president for a term. In 1971-74, he became the founding president of the Turkish Studies Association in the USA. Engin Deniz Akarlı, Huricihan F. Islamoglu, Uner A. Turgay, S. Hakan Kırımlı, Robert W. Zens, Ilan Karmi, A. Deniz Balgamis, Akile Zorlu- Durukan, Kaan Durukan, Adeeb Khalid, Keiko Kyotaki, M. Vedat Gurbuz are the first students of him to come to the mind.

Grand National Assembly Of Turkey Honorary Award
Karpat was an honorary member of the Turkish Historical Society and the Turkish Academy of Sciences, and a member of several academies, including the Romanian Studies Association, the American Historical Association, the American Political Science Association and the Royal Asiatic Society. In 2009, he received the Grand National Assembly of Turkey Honorary Award and in 2016 he received the Presidential Grand Prize in Culture and Arts. His works were published mainly in English at the beginning and afterwards many of them were translated into Turkish. Apart from Turkish, some of the world languages in which his works have been translated to are Romanian, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Chinese and Albanian. He donated his library consisting of approximately 5,500 books and his personal archive (documents, book preparation notes, correspondence, reports, photographs, etc.) for the period from 1950 to his death to Istanbul Sehir University for the use of researchers and students.

Nearly 80 Years Of Academic Life
During the period 1950-1970, he wrote many books and articles on Turkish political history, comparative politics, Middle Eastern politics and social change. In 1970-80, he continued his publications in the fields of social change in Turkey and Ottoman and Turkish History. Many work such as The Ottoman State and Its Place in World History or Turkish-Soviet Relations in addition to The Gecekondu: Rural Migration and Urbanization are the works of this period. After 1980, the number of publications on Ottoman history, Central Asian history and Turkish politics history increased. Kemal Karpat published extensive historical synthesis trials and significant edition work with the 1990s after the end of the cold war. His independent and editorial works in the field of  Ottoman, Middle East history and politics and Central Asian history and culture continued. His works on migration and population movements, nationalism movements and their development dynamics and effects in the Ottoman and today, Turkey and near geographies have determined the main trajectory of his works in these years. Urbanization, social change, formation of the middle classes, developments in the dynamics of the historical population, migration and settlement history theses and narrations on the basis of empirical studies have emerged with his historical synthesis studies. Kemal Karpat’s upcoming full 80 years of academic life is a dedicated life to science that developed with the love of knowledge and research, full of struggles for the development of social sciences and historiography disciplines in Turkey. Rest in peace.


“The ‘River That Pierces The Mountain”
“People are like rivers flowing towards the sea. They walk, live like a river in a certain line and reach to endless seas at some point. Some people, on the other hand, look for new ways without knowing what lies in their hearts, minds, but by submitting to their power. If do not find, they walk by making their own way. Until they reach the sea. Just like the ‘river that pierces the mountain.’’*

“I Have A History”
I am a person who is open to any idea, respects every idea, accepts technology, wants brotherhood among the people defending democracy and defends tolerance. However, on the other hand, I have an origin, I have a history, I have a belief. I would like to keep them too. By preserving the foundations, it is possible to build new buildings on it.”

* It is taken from Emin Tanrıyar’s “River that Pierces the Mountain”: Kemal H. Karpat book and interviews of Karpat gave about his own life.

Yazan: Alim Arlı

*This article was  published in the  July– August issue of Marmara Life. 

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