21 April 2008

Halide Edip Adıvar and the Armenians

Ever since Wikipedia linked to it, my review of the memoirs of the Turkish writer Halide Edip Adıvar (henceforth, Halide) has become one of my most often read posts. Yesterday, a reader left this comment at the said post: "HEA was a fascist manner [sic] neglecting the Armenocide 1915/16 with about one and a half million victims".

I will ignore the reader's absurd rhetoric that Halide was a fascist. Instead, I will respond to the claim that she neglected the Ottoman Armenians. First, I don't know what she was expected to have done with respect to the Armenians. She was primarily a writer and teacher and consequently, the positions she held in the Ottoman Government were along the lines of education and humanitarian work. Second, and quite contrary to the reader's claim, Halide was painfully aware of the happenings in Anatolia and wrote about them at every suitable occasion.

Let us read some passages from the 1st volume of her memoirs in Turkish, Mor Salkımlı Ev ("House with purple wisteria"; 1996 edition). In 1916 Halide was sent to Palestine and Lebanon to establish schools. At that time, the world was at war and the Ottomans were desperately trying to retain their rapidly weakening control over the Middle East. At Beersheba, she ran into an extraordinary nurse at a hospital. (All translations mine.)

Her round white face, despite the suffering and pain surrounding her, hadn't lost its freshness; her light brown eyes were radiating strongly and she was speaking a dialect of Turkish not unfamiliar to us. Her name was nurse Anna. She was a daughter of a Protestant Armenian family. The natural anger on both sides* arising from the mutual spilling of blood did not exist in her. In those days, it was not possible to come across an Armenian citizen who could see the deeper causes behind these catastrophies as much as she did.

*Presumably the Turks and the Armenians.
Later on, she worked at Ayin Tura, an orphanage (in Jerusalem?) where Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish children stayed. Apparently, Ayin Tura was in the habit of giving the Armenian children Moslem names so that they could be taken into the orphanage, which was otherwise strictly for Moslems.
I had long and difficult arguments with the late Cemal Pasha concerning the orphanage. I opposed to the practice of giving Turkish or Moslem names to the Armenian children.
Eventually, Halide appears to have been satisfied with the assurance given by Cemal Pasha, the Ottoman administrator, that no religious education was given in the orphanage and that the Armenian children were not being forced to become Moslem.

One day, 2 Kurdish children with bandages on their heads came to see her.
-We want permission to go to Damascus.
-Why do you want to go there?
-We will kill the Armenians.
-Armenians killed our parents. The Armenian kids here are beating us everyday.
-Those who killed your parents were not the kids here. Besides, someone else killed their parents. Now tell me how you got injured on your heads.

They wouldn’t tell me. I sent them to the hospital. Two months later, the same children were working together and being friends with the Armenian kids at the weaving looms.
Halide wrote that only a few other incidents in her life had satisfied her as much as the work she had done at Ayin Tura.
After an especially favorite meal, the kids would sometimes break into singing a longing Anatolian song...The Armenian kids were especially talented in music and the band that they formed the majority of was a success story of which the orphanage was proud.
Halide also had Armenian friends. In Istanbul, one of them was the musician priest Komitas Vartabet (or Vartapet) (1869-1935). He used to give concerts at a cultural organization called the Türk Ocağı (Turkish Hearth).
...Komitas was a product of our country. For years, he had collected not only tunes of the old Gregorian music, but also Anatolian folk songs...Komitas would also come to my house and play and sing for hours. These visits continued even during the period when the Armenians and Turks were at each other's throats.
Halide notes that it was the Türk Ocağı that saved Komitas from getting exiled in 1915.

Obviously, my commenter has not read any of Halide's writings and is mostly ignorant of history. So now, let me give him/her a piece of my mind. If you want to criticize Halide Edip Adıvar, or anyone else, do it by all means. But, first, learn the facts and stick to them. And don’t come to this blog to spread half-baked ideas and hatred.


Ardent said...

Aydin, a lot of research has gone into this post.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Halide. She obviously was a very special person with clear, humane morals!

Anonymous said...

Not a word of what is written here suggests that Halide was anything but complicit in the Genocide committed against the Armenians and other Christians of Anatolia. She makes it sound like Armenians and Turks were engaged in an equal civil war of sorts, which is, of course, nothing short of fantasy. If this is what you call a Turkish humanitarian, then I'd hate to meet a Turkish criminal.

Anonymous said...

"Komitas would also come to my house and play and sing for hours."

Well, in late March 1915 Komitas - the founder of Armenian classical music and music-ethnologist of Anatolia - was invited to give a concert.

Komitas was invited to entertain Turkish Government officials, the people who were going to betray him and his colleagues.

On 24 April 1915 Komitas was deported to the concentration camp of Cankiri (near Ankara).

Only about 8 persons of a couple of hundreds of the imprisoned elite of Armenian notables were to be freed after some time.

But that was already enough for Komitas to loose his mind and get mad. For the rest of his life he spent in a psychiatric asylum near Paris (-1935).

His ethno-musicologist archive was destroyed. It contained not only Armenian but also Kurdish and Turkish folk songs he noted during his journey through the countryside.


Asım Kutluay said...

Now the problem with you is "anon", apart from the fact that you just don't have the courage to share your name, that you just don't have the skill to write a serious and well referenced comment.

As you can see, the autor of the above text is "at least" quoting from a source and shares it with us, whereas you just wrote some bad structured sentences containing some claims without anything to support them but your seemingly fanatical devotion to the "so-called" genocide.

And dear "Anon", you are right about that equal civil war thing. It was not equal. the armenian guerillas wreaked havoc on turks, and mass murdered innocent people, all over the eastern anatolia, for which shamefully i will give no references, and leave it to the author, in case he would like to write something about it in the future including the place of the word "armenian" in the language and art of the east anatolia. No "anon"...it was not equal...

However, be it the truth or not; there is no point in disussing anything with people like you: it is just a waste of time; and that is why until the goverments of both countries learn the meaning of "dialogue", and i mean both, "anons" like you will continue to spread their ideological "bullshit" throughout the "anonymous" playgrounds of the internet, without having the heart to reveal their names.

Random Armenian said...

Dear Asım Kutluay,

If you'd like references, you can start with the following


Also feel free to pick up and read such books as "A Shameful Act" by Taner Akcham. Or talk to the Kurds in Eastern Turkey or other Turkish intellectuals who have come to the understanding that the official Turkish history does not hold up.