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x0x Two Turkish women in Paris in 1922

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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    [Article written in 2002] x0x Two Turkish women in Paris in 1922 By Taha Toros Exactly 80 years ago Nuriye Hanim and Mufide Ferit Hanim became the first
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 24, 2004
      [Article written in 2002]

      x0x Two Turkish women in Paris in 1922

      By Taha Toros

      Exactly 80 years ago Nuriye Hanim and Mufide Ferit Hanim became the
      first Turkish women to act as ambassadors for Turkish culture abroad,
      giving lectures in Paris in 1922. Both women were acclaimed by Paris
      society. Nuriye Hanim, who had married a Polish count, gave a lecture
      at a gathering entitled Poetry Hour, held by Madame Aurel, whose
      salons were then famous in literary circles. The full text of this
      long lecture was published in the Echos de l'Islam magazine. In the
      introduction Nuriye Hanim said, 'The Austrian Von Hammer and
      Englishman Gibbs have endeavoured to introduce their countrymen to the
      beauties of Eastern literature, but not a single line has been written
      to acquaint the French with Turkish literature. Since you have heard
      of the adventures of Cem Sultan and A Thousand and One Nights, you
      have an initial idea of the subject on which I will speak.

      I wish to introduce you to the Turkish world, and the Arab and Persian
      worlds, always remembering that they are characterised by fundamental
      philosophical and mystic differences of outlook. I will concentrate on
      Turkish literature, because this is closest to the spirit of the
      West.' After summarising the movement of the Turkish people from
      Central Asia to the Mediterranean, Nuriye Hanim spoke of Mevlana and
      the messages of this mystic philosopher. She described the poetry of
      the 18th century poet Nedim, cultural relations between Turkey and the
      West from the time of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror to that of the 18th
      century Sultan Ahmed III and his grand vezir Damat Ibrahim Pasa of
      Nevsehir, and the introduction of the printing press to Turkey. She
      spoke of the role of the 19th century poet Sinasi in the
      westernisation of Turkish literature at this time, and of the close
      stylistic affinity between Turkish and French poetry. She concluded,
      'You will love the Turkish world of poetry, its emotions which are by
      no means strange to you, and its voices.'

      Countess Nuriye was a descendant of Pierre Antoine de Castagnery,
      Marquis of Chateauneuf, who served as ambassador to Turkey for ten
      years in 1689-1699, a period during which three sultans reigned
      (Suleyman II, Ahmed II and Mustafa II). Her grandfather Resat Bey
      became a Muslim and settled in Turkey, where he worked for the first
      railway company. Her father Nuri Bey was a diplomat whose industry and
      intelligence won him the trust of Sultan Abdulhamid (1876-1909). He
      led a westernised lifestyle, and his children were taught by foreign

      In the early 1900s, when the French writer Pierre Loti wrote a novel
      reflecting the drama of Turkish women kept in seclusion from society,
      his heroines were Nuri Bey's two daughters Nuriye and Zinnur and their
      French governesses.

      In this novel, entitled Desenchantées, Nuriye and Zinnur are the
      characters Melek and Zeynep respectively. When it was published in
      Paris the novel exploded like a bomb in Istanbul, and the two sisters
      were ostracised by Istanbul society. The scandal grew to such
      proportions that finally Nuriye and Zinnur fled to Paris in disguise
      in 1905. Their father Nuri Bey, consumed by anxiety that the sultan
      might hear of the affair, suffered such serious depression that it led
      to his premature death. Zinnur Hanim became homesick and returned to
      Turkey two years later, but Nuriye Hanim married Count Rohozinski of
      Poland. The couple settled in Paris, where Countess Nuriye became one
      of the eminent figures of Paris society and made close friends with
      the sculptor Rodin and painter Rousseau. Her four children, one a
      famous doctor and another a famous musician, also became well-known in
      Paris society. She adopted her sister Zinnur's daughter, who was born
      in Paris. Nuriye Hanim lived in Paris for the rest of her life, dying
      in an old peoplser home in 1967.

      Following the successful lecture by Countess Nuriye, another Turkish
      woman, Mufide Ferit Hanim, who had been educated abroad and whose
      childhood had passed among the Young Turks in exile, gave a lecture
      about Turkey on 16 June 1922. This, too, became the talk of Paris. At
      the request of the Lyceum Women's League she spoke on the
      participation of Turkish women in national affairs. At the end of her
      hour-long lecture her select audience of famous political and literary
      figures were tearful with emotion. After describing how village women
      with bleeding feet dragged carts of supplies during the Turkish War of
      Independence, Mufide Ferit declared, 'What was the object of these
      sufferings, this blood, this mourning, these deaths, these orphans,
      these widows and these tears? Was it to seize territory? No! Was it to
      create colonies? No! It was for one thing only, for the right to live
      and the future of Turkey.

      ' And she concluded, 'Our enemies who begrudged even this, imputed
      abominations to us the moment they saw opinion turning in our favour.

      As they are still doing today. But the truth can never be concealed.

      Justice will prevail. Enmities will turn into friendships... Europeans
      do not want to recognise us... Every day we are subjected to the
      oppression and enmity of Europe. I call upon the women in my audience.

      When politics is bankrupted, it may be replaced by the justice and
      compassion of women.' The lecture was printed in full in the French
      press, and Mufide Ferit won the hearts of French women. Mufide Ferit
      was born in 1892, and as a young woman wrote two novels which were
      widely acclaimed. She studied at Versailles Lycée, and became the
      first Turkish woman to graduate in political science. She worked as a
      journalist, writing in support of the activities of the Young Turks in
      Paris. She married Ahmet Ferit Bey, who served as minister in both the
      Ottoman and Ankara governments, and for many years as a diploma.

      Mufide Ferit therefore served as ambassadress in Paris, London,
      Warsaw, and Tokyo for a total of 22 years, and also founded the
      Turkish branch of the International Soroptimist Society. Towards the
      end of the War of Liberation, she had acted as mediator in the
      correspondence between Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the French novelist
      Pierre Loti. She died in 1971.

      * Taha Toros is a historian.
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