by Erendiz Atasü

Throughout silent ages, the creativeness of womanhood remained submerged in the communal expressions of folk art.  For the "Anatolian woman", this meant ballads, lullabies, the intricate designs of the "kilims" she wove, and those of the embroideries of "oyas" through the colourful threads of which she poured out her heart.

One can always come across exceptional cases, such as Mihri (16th century), the poetess of the Ottoman period, whose very existence was denied, and whose name was claimed to be a mere pseudonym for a poet!  Why?  Mihri dared to compose semi erotic verses.  And the literary authorities of the period could not verify the existence of a woman who committed such sheer atrocity!

During the last 150 years of the Ottoman Empire, one comes across poetesses such as Fitnat Hanım (?-1780), Nigar Hanım (1862-1918), Leyla Saz Hanım (1850-1936) who was also a composer, and of course the celebrated novelist Halide Edip Adıvar (1884-1964) who lived through the Republican period, all daughters of eminent families, who could gain access to cultural creativity in a country where the vast majority of women were illiterate.

And we should not forget the women troubadours especially of the Alevi community (a sect of Islam exceptional for Anatolia, which has spread through all ethnical origins and social classes, and covers one third of the population of present day Turkey, and has a lenient approach towards the social positions of women), who were known and respected in their close environments.

Still, to witness the wide spreading of creative writing among women, one has to wait for the Republican reforms to settle.  In fact "reform" is a weak word to express the grand upheaval Turkey went through during the late 1910s and the 1920s.  It was a painful process in which the people of Anatolia, as victims of defeat and the succeeding invasion of the Allied Forces, had to face and settle their accounts with the world imperialism embodied in the allied occupiers, and with their own technological and social backwardness, with the imperialistic, feudal and theocratic characteristics of their own state and social order that brought about the final tragic collapse.  It was a period of rebellion, civil war and the War of Independence against the occupation – especially the Greek – forces.  It was a period, like all painful turning points of history when women emerged from oblivion, and took active roles in all aspects of life.

The changes in social structure the young Republic introduced can only be fully expressed by using the word "revolution".  Yes, true, it was a "revolution from above" as Alan Palmer puts it; a revolution that a vast portion of the society, for at least seven decades, waited for, with potential expectation, that is the Alevi sect, and the population in touch with the ideals of the French Revolution, the European Turks that had been expelled from their homeland after the Balkan War.

Radical improvement of women's social condition was among the chief aims of the revolutionary state.  Education of women were by no means introduced by the Republic.  But establishment of legal equality, the encouragement of women from all social environments to education, to economical and social productivity, even to the political arena were indispensable governmental politics the state identified with, during the first decades of the Republic.

Literary history shows, for many languages, there comes a time when a wave of woman writers break away from the silence of ages.  Think of Jane Austen (1775-1817), Mrs. Gaskell (1810-1865), the Brönte sisters (Charlotte, 1816-1855; Emily 1818-1948), George Eliot (1819-1880), all of whom were of relatively humble origins.  Could they have appeared on the stage of literature, if the middle classes of British society had not gained power in every respect, after the Cromwell experience?

The ideals of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the architect of the Turkish revolution, such as secular society; free education for every citizen, liberated from religious bias; scientific and critical method of thinking, women's liberation, social justice, freedom of the individual from the oppression of the religionist, feudal community, and national identity based not on ethnic origin but on the consciousness of being the citizen of the Republic infiltrated, naturally enough, the social layers in urban areas, and in western regions speedier than in rural areas, and in eastern regions where the potent feudal system was uncompromising.

The wave of Turkish women writers, which began rising during the 1960s, flowed forward from those social layers that absorbed the Kemalist movement.  They were no longer daughters of the elite, but those of ordinary middle class families of towns or townships.  They, Nazli Meriç (1925-), Adalet Ağaoğlu (1929-), Leyla Erbil (1931-), Sevgi Soysal (1936-1976), Ayla Kutlu (1938-), Tomris Uyar (1941-), Pınar Kür (1943), etc., who, though quite aware of being the daughters of the Republic, never refrained from criticising the order whenever they found it necessary, appeared as an indication of the truly democratic spirit of the outwardly authoritarian regime.  Democracy, by no means, can be reduced to the existence of various rivalling political parties, and is in fact related to how material and intellectual wealth are shared among individuals, and also among social layers.  Freedom of thought and of expression, freedom of gaining access to culture, and cultural creativity are among the intellectual wealth of a country, and also major aspects of democratic society.

Turkey, unfortunately, while turning from authoritarian regime to multi-party democracy in mid-century, made the grave mistake of emphasising only industrial and technological development, hoping that would be sufficient basis for democratic society, and lost the mission of the Republican spirit, neglected the quality of educational illumination among the feudal masses.  Turkey was allured by the attractions of capitalism, and neglected the justifiable contribution of wealth among geographic regions, and among social classes.

On the seventy fifth year of our Republic, the people of Turkey are confronting various problems and conflicts that have risen from the above mentioned mistakes.  One of the results is that women's freedom has not been enlarged, and men's role in the family and the society has not changed according to the trends the world has been taken over the last fifty years.

This is one of the main reasons why women of Turkey with high intellects find themselves trapped between career and family life; trapped among their free and imaginative minds, sensual bodies and the outer (social) pressure rising from religionist-feudal tradition and the inner resistance rising from the internalisation of the above mentioned traditions within the individual.

Probably being a woman writer on the seventy fifth anniversary is related to having a problematic about the above mentioned conflict and being aware of it.

It is no wonder that some young female university students choose to be imprisoned in the recently rising potent reactionary movements; so dazzling, and frightening are the wild lights of the capitalist metropole, full of relentless rivalry!  Once you are locked up in the cell of fate and obedience, you are free from the responsibility of struggling and of crucial decisions!

As women writers of a country with a history full of contradictions, of a glorious, merciless and painful imperial past; of a nation of beaten and ruined people who during early 1920s underwent the unique experience of rising from the dead and changing their destiny with their war of independence and their endeavour of establishing an anti-imperialistic republic, we have to be aware that neither democracy nor artistic creativity can exist without personal freedom.  And personal freedom cannot flourish where ignorance and poverty prevail; neither can it breath in the stuffy atmosphere of closed communities ruled by religious and ethnical tradition and bias.

Whatever our aspirations are, they have to be built upon the basis of Republican principles.