27 December 2006

Halide's ordeal


Halide Edip Adivar (1884-1964) was a Turkish writer, orator, university professor and feminist who was actively involved in the resistance against the British and Greek occupation forces after the First World War.

Halide first rose to fame early in 1919 when she gave several provocative outdoor speeches to large crowds in Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire under British occupation. During the same period, a small group of nationalist Ottoman officers, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), were organizing meetings in Anatolia—away from the British and the ever-weakening Sultan—with the immediate purpose of fighting the Greek forces that had recently entered western Turkey.

Halide had been educated at the American College for Girls in Istanbul and spoke English and personally knew some of the British officers. Soon, however, the British began to consider her a threat. Early in 1920, when there were increasing signs that they would soon be arrested, Halide and her husband, Adnan, who was a medical doctor, escaped Istanbul for Ankara, the nationalists’ headquarters. To safely pass thru the British checkpoints in Istanbul, they disguised themselves as a hoca (a religion teacher, pronounced hodja) and his wife with Halide covering her face and hiding away her manicured fingers. The story of their subsequent 2-week journey thru the countryside mostly on horseback, while being pursued by the British forces and the local Christian militia (Greeks and Armenians), has an almost epic proportion to it.

When it became clear that the nationalist movement in Ankara was a threat to both the British plans and the Ottoman Sultan’s sovereignty, an Ottoman court in Istanbul, undoubtedly under orders from higher powers, tried the nationalist leaders in absentia and sentenced to death 7 of them, including Mustafa Kemal, Halide and Adnan. Prizes were also offered for their heads. The nationalists saw this as a ploy to discourage the general populace, who may still have been loyal to the Sultan, from cooperating with them. But they went ahead with their plans and established their own government on 23 April 1920.


Mustafa Kemal (left) and Halide Edip Adivar. Picture from here.

During the following Turkish-Greek war when there was a shortage of nurses in military hospitals, Halide volunteered to serve and was admitted in the army. She worked not only as a nurse, but also prepared reports and translations from English and organized women's associations to collect money for the army, all the while popping quinine pills to lessen the severity of her malaria attacks.

In the final days of the war, she moved westward with the Turkish forces behind the retreating Greek army from one city to another and was always in the company of officers and soldiers who seemed to have accepted her as one of their own. She met and became friends with many interesting characters, including peasant women who, it seemed, were always ready to gossip about unfaithful husbands and unfaithful wives. One unusual person was a Madame Tadia, affectionately known as Mama Tadia, a Czech who ran a hotel in Eskişehir, in the middle of all the commotion within the war zone.

Halide was closely associated with Mustafa Kemal and was present during many historical moments, such as when the captured Greek generals Trikopis and Dionis were brought to meet Mustafa Kemal. She entered Izmir on the west coast on 9 September 1922 a few hours behind the Turkish cavalry that was chasing what was left of the Greek army. She was there when a catastrophic fire consumed most of the city and a week later at a dinner party in Mustafa Kemal's future wife's house.

Yet, at about that time, Halide heard a rumor that Mustafa Kemal was turning against her and her husband. In her memoirs, published more than 2 decades later, Halide does not elaborate on what may have been behind Mustafa Kemal’s change of heart. The most likely explanation is that Adnan, who had held top level positions in the nationalist government, was now leaning towards the political opposition to Mustafa Kemal that had arisen among the nationalist ranks. Four years later, Adnan was charged along with several ex-associates of Mustafa Kemal for plotting to assassinate him. Although he was eventually cleared, several other defendants were found guilty after a hasty trial and hanged quickly. Perhaps fearing for more reprisals, Halide and Adnan left Turkey the same year and stayed abroad in France, ironically, England, the U.S. and India until 1939, the year after Mustafa Kemal died.


Halide’s memoirs were first published in English in a magazine called Asia in 1928 during her self-imposed exile and later as The Turkish Ordeal. Subsequently, she rewrote her memoirs in Turkish, which were first serialized in a Turkish magazine in the late 1950s and later published as a book in 1962. The Turkish version is in a candid, conversation-like style, and because of that there are some loose sentences and occasional unclear statements. It was a very enjoyable read, though. There is a recent version of her memoirs in English.

Follow-up post: Halide Edip Adıvar and the Armenians


5 comments:

Johanna-Hypatia said...

Thank you for remembering one of the most remarkable women in Turkish history. In my estimation, the most remarkable of all. Strong, smart role models like her inspire me to use my strength and talents for the good of my people, to lead a good life and contribute to the world around me. She was brilliant at that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for remembering one of It is important to remember one of the most remarkable women in Turkish history. This is Biography, the subject of what human lives are, as well as their achievements.

Anonymous said...

HEA was a fascist manner neglecting the Armenocide
1915/16 with about one and
a half million victims,

sincerely, anon

AYDIN ÖRSTAN said...

You may read my response here.

yuvakuran said...

You can reach o "turksih ordeal" through gogle serch direct in pdf.