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Week 5 - Turkey

Naciye Hanim giving her speech at the Congress of the Peoples of the East, September 1920, Baku.
suat dervis and neriman hikmet.jpg

Suat Dervis with Neriman Hikmet, another famous feminist poet and novelist. (Date unknown)

This week features a famous novel (first published biweekly as a serial soap opera on a popular newspaper) from one of the well-known dissident Turkish women novelists, Suat Dervis, along with some critical engagements with the history and historiography of the early feminist writing in modern Turkey. Given the tumultuous and violent history of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the modern Turkish state, the history of Turkish feminist writing is full of abruptly woven bifurcations and almost antinomic trends and focuses that preceded each other. The violent story of the repeated aggression over the Armenian population and the silenced story of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 inevitably reshaped Turkish women writing in the 1910s and 1920s by endowing it with an ultra-nationalist but progressive tune (see the works of Halide Edip Adivar, especially Atesten Gomlek) and erased the proliferating women writers among the Armenian population (see Halavut’s article on how this process reconfigured the literary scene in the early modern Turkey) and other minority groups, along with the international decolonial potentials harbored at the moment (see Naciye Hanim’s speech “To See the Dawn” in Baku Congress in 1920 –a proliferating internationalist socialist woman whose voice was rapidly silenced amidst the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923).  Through a nationalist interpretation of the question of independence and a visibly paternalistic attachment to modern nation-state building, these works often exceeded the close tie between nationalism and feminism, which has been present in the Middle Eastern and European feminist perspectives.

In the following decades, most of the well-known women novelists continued to focus on the themes of enlightenment, progress, and nationalist reconstruction. However, despite this  almost formalized trend of focusing on specific themes favoured by the recently established modern nation-state, a particular iteration of the Gothic genre unexpectedly became popular among dissident women writers. The primary text, In the Shadow of Yali, belongs to this vaguely described but commonly utilized genre of writing, which was often considered “inferior” and “not a proper literary work.” Dervis’ works are often associated with the emergence of a fantastic genre among women writers as a response to the strict enlightenment discourse of the early Turkish Republic, and she is widely described as representing “the dark underside of modernity” with this writing style, and, thus, considered outside nationalist-republican literature. In this sense, there is a sharp discrepancy between her literary writing style and her activist works; she was a member of the clandestine Turkish Communist Party; she interviewed prominent international communists, and moved to Germany for a few years after the intensification of political pressure over the leftist intellectuals and collaborated with European socialist groups. Although she also worked as a political journalist all these years, she continued to write popular novels focusing mainly on the themes of “love and alienation.”  In the Shadow of Yali, “Cilgin Gibiis one of the most famous serial novels she published in popular newspapers and her only work that was translated into English.


Primary text

Suat Dervis’s In the Shadow of Yali (Cilgin Gibi)

Secondary texts


Akyildiz, O. 2023. “Towards a Gynocritical Study of Turkish Fiction: Contemporary Turkish Women’s Literature (1950-1970)” in Routledge Handbook on Turkish Literature


Extra reading related to the text

Halavut, H. (2021). Loss, Lament and Lost Witnessing: Halide Edib on" Being a Member of the Party Who Killed" Armenians. Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, 8(2), 313-318.

Week 5 - Turkey