We are celebrating IWD 2017 (International Women’s Day) by looking in detail at two of Turkey’s remarkable women from the last century; during a time when the country underwent a violent and dramatic change, but one that resulted in the beginning of a new era for Turkish nationhood and Turkish women.
IWD 2017 – International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). Since IWD first begun – back in the early 1900’s – it has become an opportunity for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But those were also times of political turbulence and war in many parts of the world and Turkey was no exception.
This year, Fethiye Times is celebrating IWD by introducing our readers to some shining examples from the rich seam of Turkey’s remarkable and courageous women, who lived in the early decades of the 20th century. Even so, these heroic women remain unknown outside the country.
As much as we would like to, it would be impossible for us to chronicle all of Turkey’s intrepid women in one article. This is just another way for us to show what an amazing history Turkey has, especially in terms of its heroic women.
Turkey’s female folk heroes
Kara Fatma (Fatma Seher Erden – 1888 – 2nd July 1955) was a decorated Turkish war hero. She was a militia leader and soldier during the Turkish War of Independence.
Kara means “black” in Turkish and sometimes describes a person who is “brunette” but for warriors it has a very special meaning – courageous. Kara Fatma was certainly courageous.
Born in Erzurum, her father was Yusuf Ağa. Her husband died during the Caucasus Campaign in the First World War. In 1919, she travelled to Sivas where Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk) was holding a congress. She asked if she could enlist in the army. After Mustafa Kemal Pasha – who later became Atatürk of course – agreed, she formed a militia group. Under her command she had 43 women, as well as 700 men. Taken prisoner twice by the Greek Army, on both occasions she somehow managed to escape.
A military career
Although female soldiers were unheard of until 1919, Kara Fatma was officially appointed as a soldier, as were many others under Mustafa Kemal Pasha. She began her military career as a corporal and ended as a first lieutenant. She then retired and donated her pension to the Turkish Red Crescent.
Nothing was known of her whereabouts until 1933, when a journalist found her living in penury in Istanbul with her grandchild. In 1944, she published her memoirs. She was given work and honoured by displaying her medal on military parades in national days.
Kara Fatma died on 2 July 1955 in a home for the elderly poor, run by the Municipality of Istanbul. She was decorated with a Medal of Independence, a medal reserved to those people who made significant contributions to the Turkish War of Independence.
Martyr Şerife Bacı has become a symbol of the heroic Turkish women in the War of Independence. Unfortunately, there are no photographs of this remarkable women.
Şerife Bacı (Sister Şerife), also known as Şerife Kadın or “Mrs. Şerife”, died in December 1921 but remains a heroine of the Turkish people. She took part in the Turkish War of Independence and due to the way she lost her life, was declared a martyr.
Born in a village in the Seydiler district of Kastamonu Vilayet, her date of birth was not recorded. However, she was sixteen years old when she got married. Two months after her wedding, World War I broke out, and her husband was conscripted. Six months later, she learnt he had died in the Gallipoli Campaign (1915–16).
The villagers found her a new husband; a wounded war veteran named Topal Yusuf (Yusuf the Lame), who had lost his left leg and an eye in an explosion on the battle front. After three years, Şerife gave birth to a daughter named Elif.
The harshest winter
In the winter of 1921, the harshest seen for many years, an urgent request for ammunition came from the Turkish front. The villagers came to the rescue and using whatever transport they had to deliver it. Şerife Bacı has a ox-driven cart, which she loaded with munitions. She started on the journey, together with her child and some other women, who were actually carrying the heavy shells, from İnebolu to Ankara. Her body was found not far from the Kastamonu Barracks. She had died from the cold.
Various memorials commemorate this courageous woman. One in particular, Martyr Şerife Bacı, is in a public park by the sea in İnebolu. The General Commander of the Gendarmerie at the time, Aytaç Yalman, commissioned the sculptor, Metin Yurdanur, to make it. The unveiling took place in December, 2001.
Many schools and hospitals in Kastamonu and other cities in Turkey have her name.
Other remarkable women of the time
Halide Edib Adıvar
A Turkish novelist, nationalist, and political leader for women’s rights, Halide Edib Adıvar was born in 1884 and died on 9th January 1964. In her writing she explored the low social status of Turkish women and what she saw as their lack of interest in changing their situation.
Safiye Ali (1891–1952) was the first Turkish woman to become a medical doctor. She was a graduate of Robert College in Istanbul. This pioneering woman treated the soldiers in the Turkish War of Independence, the Balkan Wars, and in World War 1. In 1916 she went to Germany to study medicine and in 1922 she opened a surgery in Istanbul. A family health center in Istanbul is named after her.
Çete Emir Ayşe (1894-1967) – A young women from near Aydın who fought in the War of Independence alongside Yörük Ali Efe. She remains a hero to this day.
IWD 2017 Fethiye
There will be a commemorative tribute to Atatürk, in the main square at 11am. Amongst other events to mark IWD 2017 that may be of interest to non-Turkish speakers, Fethiye’s Women’s Committee, part of the town’s municipality will be holding an exhibition of paintings “Efe Kadınlar” (Efe Women) by the artist, Mustafa Ali Kasap.
This will be in the FBKM salon, along with a display of work by local women’s arts groups. There will also be ann opportunity to taste traditional Turkish keşkek (a kind of savoury porridge) at the Yörük Çadırı in Çalış. This event is courtesy of the Fethiye Yörük and Türkman Association.
IWD 2017 Concert – FBKM 9th March
Marking IWD 2017 just a day late, there will be a concert at the Fethiye Culture Centre.