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NOTABLE LADIES
Halide Edip Adivar

Leader of the women's emancipation movement in Turkey, Halide Edib Adivar was also a novelist, university lecturer and politician. During Turkey's War of Independence she was a close associate of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the nationalist movement, and was given the honorary rank of corporal.

After the war she gave a series of lectures in England as the country's unofficial spokesman, expounding the establishment of the new Turkish Republic and its modernisation efforts to the western public. During her years in England she wrote and published her memoirs of her childhood and the War of Independence in English ("Memoirs of Halide Edib"1926 and "The Turkish Ordeal" 1928). At the time when Mustafa Kemal was relating the story of the War of Independence to the Turkish parliament she was addressing British audiences with an account of the same events from her own point of view, describing Turkey's war for national liberation as "one of the greatest epics of modern Europe". As she herself put it, she wished to leave an account of the men and women of her time for her children, so that they would understand why she and her contemporaries had joined in the liberation struggle, and why she had been prepared to leave her own children behind in order to do so. Halide Edib's memoirs remain a primary source for students of twentieth century Turkish history, and the only testimony to the historic events of that period written by a Turkish woman. The first part of her memoirs about her childhood in a wealthy Istanbul household concerns daily life and the customs of the time, vividly depicted. Halide Edib's mother died when she was a very young child, and at home in the care of her grandmother she received a traditional Islamic upbringing. However, her father was a man of modern outlook, and determined that she should receive a western education, so after attending nursery school run by a Greek woman, Kyria Eleni, she was sent to the American College for Girls in Üsküdar, and became the first Muslim girl to graduate from this school in 1901. Despite her western education, she remained deeply moved by the mysticism of the Islamic faith, as embodied by mosques, tombs and religious observance at home. She conveys this emotion in her memoirs, when she says, "I believe that a child who recites a sura from the Koran in her own language every night will inevitably be convinced that Islam expresses a spirit which encompasses all humanity."

Straight after graduating from the American College, Halide Edib married her teacher, the famous mathematics professor Salih Zeki Bey. She was distraught when, nine years later, he married a second wife, and she divorced him in 1910. The reverberations of this distressing experience can be seen in her novels, which frequently treat the emotional and social conflict arising from traditional attitudes to women. Halide Edib went on to devote herself to education, first as a teacher at the Teacher Training College and Girls Secondary School, and then as inspector for the Girls Schools Trust. She was later sent to Syria by Cemal Pasa to found schools and orphanages for girls, and it was there that she met her second husband, Dr. Adnan Adivar at meetings of the Committee for Union and Progress. The couple married in 1917.

Halide Edib was active in the women's movement prior to the War of Independence, establishing the Society for the elevation of Women in 1908. She dedicated herself to the improvement of education for Turkish women and to furthering relations between them and European women. She was also involved in relief efforts for women and their families left hungry and homeless by war. But it was her fiery address to the women of Istanbul at the famous Sultanahmet meeting of 1919 following the occupation of Izmir which left the strongest mark on people's minds. From that point on she no longer lived as a private individual:

"I believe that the Halide at Sultanahmet was not the ordinary Halide. I was convinced that sometimes the humblest and most anonymous individual could represent the high ideal of a great nation. The heart of the Halide of that day was beating in response to all Turkish hearts, warning her of approaching disaster… I was but a part of this sublime national madness. Until we recovered Izmir in 1922 nothing else mattered for me in life at all."

Halide Edib had two sons from her first marriage, and with the help of American friends arranged for them to attend school in the United States. Following the occupation of Istanbul by the Allies her life was in danger, and together with her husband Adnan Adivar she fled to Ankara to join Mustafa Kemal and the other nationalists. In Ankara Adnan Adivar became deputy speaker of the nationalist parliament established in 1920, while Halide Edib served on the western front, first as a nurse and later as interpreter, press advisor and secretary to Mustafa Kemal. Her experiences of the War of Independence became the subject of her autobiographical novel "The Shirt of Flame! first published in 1924. The heroines of all her novels - in this case a nurse - are women with strong personalities, capable of defending their moral values against the weaknesses of the male characters, and combining the traits of both western and Turkish women. Her many faceted examination of women, their roles, rights and dilemmas, maintains its validity today.

Halide Edib and Adnan Adivar returned to Turkey in 1939, a year after Atatürk's death. Halide Edib became head of the English Language and Literature Department at Istanbul University, and translated her memoirs and other books into Turkish. She abandoned politics after a brief and unremarkable spell as member of parliament, and devoted herself entirely to writing until her death on 9 January 1964. Above all she would have wanted to be remembered for her writing, which was of central importance in her life: "I began to write when my children were very young. They would continually ask me questions, and I would answer, but without lifting my pen from the paper. The ideas were so forcefully impressed in my mind that no external sound could distract me. But now I long for solitude and silence. I write my novels in a place where there is no one else around, and I am extremely fussy and tensed up. I must have a plentiful supply of coffee and cigarettes. Unless there are several packets of cigarettes piled up I cannot concentrate. My writing paper must all be exactly the same size. I always write on long, narrow sheets. I can only write in the place to which I am accustomed, with my table, my inkwell, my pen and so on."

 

Sources:

Distinguished Women-
http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/index.html

Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs-
http://www.mfa.gov.tr/default.htm

Xrefer-
http://www.xrefer.com/