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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter II. Self-determination, democratization, and the homogenizing state

The Turkish ordeal

Halide Edib

Texte intégral

1Title: The Turkish ordeal

2Originally published: New York, The Century Co., 1928

3Language: English
The excerpts used are from the original edition, pp. i; 30–33, 407.

About the author

4Halide Edib (Adivar) [1882, Istanbul – 1964, Istanbul]: writer, journalist and political activist. Halide Edib was among the most prolific writers of the late Ottoman and early Republican periods, as well as being the most prominent female public figure of the Turkish independence struggle. Born in Istanbul to a well-to-do family, she was the first Muslim-Turkish woman to graduate from the American College for Girls in Uskudar (1901). Her career as a writer and social activist started amidst the optimism and euphoria of the Young Turk revolution, with the prospects of freedom and equality ushered in by the 1908 constitution. Close to the inner circle of the ruling party, the Committee of Union and Progress (hereafter the CUP), Halide Edib became a regular columnist in the newspaper Tanin (The voice), edited by the pro-revolutionary activist and ardent nationalist Hüseyin Cahid and the eminent poet Tevfik Fikret. She also published articles in several journals, addressing issues related to the advancement of the Ottoman nation, with particular emphasis on the emancipation of women. Heavily inspired by the nationalist ideas of Ziya Gökalp, Halide Edib defended the full participation of women in social and political life as part of a new period of national resurgence. She was also active in founding many women’s organizations, the most significant being the Teali-i Nisvan Cemiyeti (Society for the advancement of women). Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Halide Edib emerged as a major public figure, delivering fervent speeches in nationalistic gatherings that attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators in Istanbul. At this time, Edib was a vocal advocate of the American mandate, which, she believed, was the only benign alternative for countering the destructive effects of European imperialism and for preserving the long term autonomy and territorial integrity of the Empire. In 1920, convinced in the cause of armed resistance, Edib and her husband Dr. Adnan fled to Anatolia to join the independence movement led by Mustafa Kemal. An active member of the resistance’s inner circle in Ankara, Edib joined the war as a soldier (with the rank of corporal), a journalist (she was among the founders of the Anatolian News Agency) and writer (her nationalist novels on the independence war enjoyed wide popularity and were translated into several languages). Following the establishment of the Republic, Edib and her husband were increasingly alienated by the absolutist ruling apparatus of Mustafa Kemal. They left Turkey in 1925, and lived in self-imposed exile in London and Paris until the death of the Turkish leader in 1938. During her years in exile, the author published her memoirs in English, where she glorified the Turkish struggle for independence. Upon her return to Turkey, Halide Edib (assuming the surname Adi-var) started chairing the Department of English Language and Literature at Istanbul University. In 1942, her novel Sinekli bakkal (The fly-plagued grocer) won the Republican People’s Party novel award, indicative of her belated recognition by the ruling establishment. Although official historiography imparts a fairly ambivalent portrayal of Halide Edib, both as a hero and an outcast, her national romances have always been cherished as the most prominent literary narratives of the Turkish War of Independence.

5Main works: Yeni Turan [The new Turan] (1913); Atesten gomlek [Shirt of fire] (1922); Vurun kahpeye [Thrash the harlot] (1923); Memoirs of Halidé Edib (1926); The Turkish ordeal: Being the further memoirs of Halide Edib (1928); Sinekli bakkal [The fly-plagued grocer] (1936); Inside India (1937); Turk’un ateşle imtiham [The Turkish ordeal] (1962); Mor salkimh ev [The house in wisterias] (1963).


6Following the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Halide Edib maintained a critical distance from the authoritarian apparatus of Mustafa Kemal’s single party rule. Edib and her husband left Turkey in 1925, after Dr. Adnan’s involvement in the short lived opposition experiment initiated by the Turkish leader himself through the founding of the Terakkiperver Cumhuriyet Firkasi (Progressive Republican Party). In 1927, when Mustafa Kemal delivered his definitive account of the Turkish independence struggle in his momentous Nutuk (the Speech), he deliberately excluded Halide Edib from the authorized cast of national heroes and denounced her for being a pro-mandate conspirator.

7Halide Edib wrote her memoirs in English during her exile years in London. The first volume of her autobiography, entitled the Memoirs of Halidé Edib, was published in 1926, and recounts the author’s ‘Ottoman years,’ concluding with the dissolution of the empire after the First World War. The second volume, published two years later with the title The Turkish ordeal: Being the further memoirs of Halide Edib, incorporates the author’s personal account of the Turkish War of Independence. Based on notes taken while on the front, The Turkish ordeal evinces the sentiments of a self-justifying revolutionary-in-exile, ostracized by the new regime, yet still impassioned by the gripping memories of its moment of birth. Providing an alternative account of the Turkish revolution, the memoir is clearly intended as a response to the official founding narrative propounded in Mustafa Kemal’s ‘Speech.’ Here, sedulously avoiding any reference to her earlier pro-mandate leanings, Halide Edib portrays herself as an outstanding epic hero, formed in the hotbed of a breath-taking national struggle.

8Halide Edib’s autobiography demonstrates a marked effort to convey the inner conflicts of a perceptive intellectual enmeshed in the traumas, disillusions and eruptive passions of a time of tumultuous and violent change. In the case of the war in which she wholeheartedly participated, Edib’s personal sentiments are often mired between the elative mood prompted by the martial glory of national struggle as well as a deep sense of grief and revulsion felt in the face of collective human suffering inflicted by military aggression. Her declared final position on war is that of an outright pacifist, praising “universal brotherhood” and condemning military violence as an intolerable defect of human nature (except in the case of national self-defense). As for the Republican revolution, although she was a sincere admirer of Mustafa Kemal as an anti-imperialist hero and national savior, Edib was, still, disconcerted by his sheer will to control, his uncompromising curtness and undue use of violence, questioning whether “all changes [were] smeared with so much blood in history.” She was also quite wary of the official tendency to generate an overbearing leader cult around the image of Mustafa Kemal. In the end, the memoirs reveal an often subdued yet tangible and acrid critique of the oppressive and antidemocratic measures enforced by the nationalist leader. In the final section of the book, Edib states that the ‘second ordeal’ that the Turkish nation had to contend with was the struggle to promote personal freedom and establish democracy in the new Republic.

9It is Halide Edib’s contention that her memoirs constitute an honest and ‘faithful record’ of the war years, providing a full ‘human documentary’ of the independence struggle. Thus, in order to maintain the effect of objective reportage, Edib employs several strategies of distancing, such as choosing to write in English, or, at times, switching to the third person singular in the midst of the autobiographical narrative. The change in person occurs most notably in the context of outstanding and liminal experiences recounted by the author, as in the case of her much celebrated public speech in Sultanah-met square she delivered in May 1919 in the wake of the Greek occupation of Izmir to a crowd of hundreds of thousands. The use of the third person narrative, in its evident self-glorifying tone, is nevertheless portrayed by the author as the manifestation of a state of personal self-effacement demanded by her commitment to the national cause. In associating the birth of her own mature self (amidst the collective, self-annihilating activism of the national struggle) with the birth of the Turkish nation, Halide Edib stands as a perfect representative of a new generation of female patriots and professionals in Turkey whose identities and feminist demands were fully circumscribed by the broader agenda of national solidarity and development. In fact, since the establishment of the Young Turk regime following the 1908 revolution, the image of the ‘new woman’ (modern, urbane, patriotic and proper) had played a crucial symbolic role in the definition of a progressive Turkish nationhood. In this conjuncture, the new public role and identity of the Turkish woman remained firmly linked to the overarching project of nation building and secularization—the development of an autonomous women’s movement, thereby, being impeded by the patriarchal weight of a collectively endorsed ‘state feminism.’ Thus, although she was highly critical of the early Republican regime as a liberal and a democrat, Halide Edib was still eager to assume the role of the ‘model woman’ whose public persona (as soldier, nurse, journalist, writer and mother) was fully dedicated to the supreme cause of the nation state.

10Halide Edib was recognized as the most prominent chronicler of the Turkish national struggle by a wide English-speaking readership around the world, her memoirs constituting a major authoritative source on the emergence of modern Turkey. In Turkey, despite her personal conflicts with the Republican establishment, she remained a popularly acclaimed author, although she did not attempt to publish her memoirs in Turkish until the 1960s. Even when she translated The Turkish ordeal into Turkish in 1962, Edib chose to edit out most of the critical remarks on the policies and personality of Mustafa Kemal, thereby, of her own accord, assimilating her autobiography into the standard template of Republican nationalism. Halide Edib’s critique of the Kemalist foundation narrative remains embedded only in the English version of her memoirs, while to this day, Mustafa Kemal’s ‘Speech’ serves as an unassailable model for official Turkish historiography of the Independence War.


The Turkish ordeal

Dedicated to the youth of the nations represented in the Turkish ordeal

12My story is simple. It does not aim at a moral. But I pray that the future Youth who will read it may tear away the Veil behind which they slew each other and were slain… recognize their likeness in the eyes of their brothers… grip each other’s hands… and on the old Ruins of Hatred and Desolation erect a New World of Brotherhood and Peace. […]

13These months [following the First World War] were months of almost continuous public speaking for me. But the meeting of the revolution was to be in Sultan Ahmed [square], the Friday after. And whenever people speak in Turkey about the Meeting they mean the one at Sultan Ahmed on June 6, 1919. […]

14As I set foot on the tribune I knew that one of the rare, one of the very rare, moments of my life had come to me. I was galvanized in every atom of my being by a force which at any other time would have killed me, but which at that crisis gave me the power to experience—to know—the quintessence of the suffering and desire of those two hundred thousand souls.

15I believe that the Halidé of Sultan Ahmed is not the ordinary, everyday Halidé. The humblest sometimes can be the incarnation of some great ideal and of some great nation. That particular Halidé was very much alive, palpitating with the message of Turkish hearts, a message which prophesied the great tragedy of the coming years. […] Halidé’s voice could not have been heard beyond a certain area, I am sure. She must have seemed a mere speck to those human bunches above and to the human sea below. But there was a profound and almost uncanny silence as she began to speak. Each one seemed to listen to his own internal voice. And Halidé was perhaps nothing more than a sensitive medium which was articulating the wordless message of the Day.

16She began by pointing out that years of glory and beauty looked down from the minarets, and when she said this she was appealing to their sense of continuity in history […].

17[The rest of the speech, as reconstructed by the author with reference to newspaper reports on the event, is included as a footnote to the main text:]

  • 1 Woman is included in the word brethren in Turkish.

18Brethren, Sons, Countrymen!1

19From the tops of the minarets nigh against the heaven, seven hundred years of glory are watching this new tragedy of Ottoman history. I invoke the souls of our great ancestors who had so often passed in precession in this very square. I raise my head before the just wrath of those invincible hearts and say:

20I am an unfortunate daughter of Islam and an unfortunate mother of the equally heroic but more ill-fated generation of my own day. I bow to the spirits of our ancestors and declare, in the name of the new Turkish nation present here, that the disarmed Turkish nation of to-day still possesses your invincible hearts; We trust in Allah and in our rights.

21Listen, brethren and sons, hear the sentence the world has passed on you.

22The aggressive policy of the allied powers of Europe has been applied during the last generation to the land of Turkey always unjustly, sometimes even treacherously. The European powers would have found a way to send armies of conquest to the stars and the moon had they known that Moslems and Turks inhabited those heavenly bodies. [..,]

23But the day will come when a greater court of justice will try those who have deprived the nations of their natural rights. That court will be composed of the very same nations whose governments are now against us. Those peoples will condemn their own governments then for having been unjust to other nations in their name, for there is an eternal sense of what is right in the heart of every individual, and nations are made up of individuals. […] Governments are our enemies, peoples are our friends, and the just revolt of our hearts our strength.

24The day is not far off when all nations will get their rights. When that day comes, take your banners and come and visit the graves of your brethren who have fought and have fallen for the glorious end.

25Now swear and repeat with me:

26“The sublime emotion which we cherish in our hearts will last till the proclamation of the rights of the peoples!” […]

27When she repeated the sentence—which became afterward something like a national slogan—“The peoples are our friends, the governments our enemies,” she was expressing the proper sentiment of a Moslem nation, highly conscious of its democratic principles. When she was asking them to take the sacred oath, which they were to swear three times, that they would be true to the principles of justice and humanity, and that they would not bow down to brute force on any condition, she was formulating that moral characteristic without which no people can survive in the human family of the new world which is to come. […]


28My nation has earned her independence by an ordeal which will stand out as one of the hardest and noblest in the world’s history. But she has another ordeal to pass through before she can attain an ideal now a half century old: for the realization of this ideal lonely individuals have given their lives on the scaffolds; died in chains; have pined in exile, carrying ever in their hearts the vision of a blessed land… Theirs is a lonely fight and it is called the Ordeal for Freedom.

29All through the ordeal for independence the Turkish people itself has been the supreme hero—the Turkish people has honored Mustafa Kemal Pasha as its symbol. For this reason Mustafa Kemal Pasha will have a pedestal in the heart of every true Turk, even among those who have been irretrievably wronged by him.

30Yet in the unending struggle for freedom there can be no real individual symbol, no dictator. There will only be the sum total of a people’s sacrifice to bear witness to the guarding of their liberties. The independent Turkish nation will share its ordeal with many independent nations of the world.


1 Woman is included in the word brethren in Turkish.


© Central European University Press, 2010

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