Conference: The intellectual history of women in Turkey, İstanbul Şehir University y
Last December saw the Turkish Language and Literature Department of İstanbul Şehir University -- in collaboration with the Kubbealtı Academy organize -the first conference in a series on the history of women’s writing in Turkey. This inaugural conference focused on Sâmiha Ayverdi.
The series intends to contribute to the developing field of the intellectual history of women in Turkey. Since the 1990s, growing research on women intellectuals from the Ottoman past to the republican era has not only started adding missing pieces to the puzzle of the history of ideas and writing in this geography, but also contributed to new perspectives on the study of history, literature and culture from the margins. In comparison with male writers, women intellectuals have always been marginal -- in almost every language and culture. Growing research on gender and cultural history sheds but little light on the question of the rare participation of women in the intellectual world. Suggestions of answers vary from common ones, such as unequal access to education, and other less common ones, such as the incompatibility of the expected “shyness” or “morality” of women and the intimate nature of writing. Besides these invaluable studies -- which are either compilations of biographical details of women writers over a period of several centuries or works focusing on one writer for a literary analysis -- we still do not know why some women wrote.
By selecting one representative figure for each conference, the series will not only allow close readings to unravel the unique characteristics of each writer, but also offer comparative cases from the relevant period. Overall, the goal is to display the multiplicity and diversity of women’s voices in Turkey. Although the conference focuses on their gender identity as a way of entrance to the discussion, the conference tries to challenge the category of “women writers” as a homogeneous critical apparatus.
SÂMİHA AYVERDİ WAS SELECTED AS A MAJOR INTELLECTUAL FIGURE IN THE EARLY REPUBLICAN ERA
For the first conference of the series Ayverdi was selected as a major intellectual figure in the early republican era; one who influenced not only a number of writers in her time but is also followed by contemporary readers today. The papers presented at the conference discussed Ayverdi’s literary writings and opinion pieces from various perspectives and through interdisciplinary methodologies.
The first group of papers discussed the historical aspect of Ayverdi’s writings through the city and space. Asst. Prof. Esra Almas (Doğuş University) discussed Ayverdi’s “Boğaziçi’nde Tarih” (history on the Bosporus) and “İstanbul Geceleri” (İstanbul nights) in terms of time and place. Almas pointed out the close connection between the city of İstanbul and Ayverdi’s ideas of esthetics, homeland and creativity. Contextualizing her work in a specific time period, she compared Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar and Ayverdi in the way they described the city, convincingly suggesting that Ayverdi’s İstanbul had feminine characteristics. In the same vein, but from a different angle, Assoc. Prof. Salim Çonoğlu analyzed “İbrahim Efendi Konağı,” suggesting İstanbul itself is a major character in Ayverdi’s works. Apart from these literary analyses, Prof. Arzu Öztürkmen (Boğaziçi University) discussed the ways in which “İbrahim Efendi Konağı” represents a document for historical ethnography, with its rich descriptions of daily life in a household during the transition from the imperial to the republican era. According to Öztürkmen, Ayverdi offers a unique perspective with her detailed descriptions of every section of the house, the role of each member of the family or the servants, and the way visitors were accepted and treated, as she was a child who could enter every corner of the house at any time, observe relationships and talk to everybody.
The second group of papers focused on Ayverdi’s ideas of religion and their influence on her writing. Dr. Azize Boşnak (Fatih University) compared Ayverdi to Doris Lessing in terms of the influence of Sufism in their writings. Dr. Emine Gözde Özgürel (Ankara University) proposed a way of reading Ayverdi’s novels through a Sufi esthetic system, and suggested that each metaphor can be evaluated in Ayverdi’s understanding of Sufism, specifically
the Rifai order. Fulya İbanoğlu (Marmara University), on the other hand, pointed out the clear impact of Ayverdi’s religious ideas on the way she developed as a modern but also devout Muslim woman. She further argued that Ayverdi’s writing and lifestyle showed that a woman could be both modern and religious.
The last group of papers discussed the relationship between the identity of a woman and the idea of the family. Selami Alan (Abant İzzet Baysal University) suggested the idea of an hybrid identity of an Ottoman Turkish, traditional and modern woman can be traced in Ayverdi’s works. Along the same lines, Asst. Prof. Zeynep Çağlayan İçener (Bursa Orhangazi University) investigated the identity of “woman” in Ayverdi’s works as a social science issue and suggested it is only meaningful to discuss the question from the perspective of the family. Ferda Zambak (Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University) also tackled the identity of “woman” in Ayverdi’s writings in the context of family and the ideal of motherhood. She examined Ayverdi’s nuanced approach to motherhood and family with regard to the republican ideal.
The conference concluded with a discussion and evaluation session by author Beşir Ayvazoğlu and Prof. Sadettin Ökten. Both Ayvazoğlu and Ökten agreed on the importance of Ayverdi as a central figure for traditional and devout groups in Turkey, both during her lifetime and today. They also addressed the perspective of the conference in terms of its approach to Ayverdi as a woman writer. Ayvazoğlu ultimately suggested that Ayverdi’s perspective must have been affected by her gender identity.
The conference papers will be published in the form of articles in an edited volume.
What: Conference on The History of Women’s Writing in Turkey I: Sâmiha
Ayverdi Who: İstanbul Şehir University’s Turkish Language and
Literature Department and Kubbealtı Academy When: Dec. 15,
2013 Where: İstanbul Şehir University