FATIMA ALIYA HANIM (TOPUZ)
"I had a separate room as well as a desk, even a bookcase."
Fatima Aliye Hanim is held to be the first female Muslim novelist of the Ottoman Empire.
Her first novel, ‘Hayal ve Hakikat’ (Dreams and Reality) which was penned together with the author Ahmed Mithat Efendi was published under the names ‘Bir Kadin (A Woman) and Ahmet Mithat.’ She published her first book, Muhazarat (Useful Information) under her own name in 1892.
Topuz was highly concerned with the rights of women and she addressed this in her works. She wrote for the magazine ‘Hanimlara Mahsus Gazete’ (Newspaper for Women) without reportedly giving up her conservative views and founded the Society for supporting Ottoman Women (Nisvan-ı Osmaniye İmdat Cemiyeti) in 1897. In her 1896 book Nisvan-ı İslam ("Women of Islam"), she aimed to shed light on the experiences of Muslim women and address criticisms leveled at them or misconceptions about Muslim women in Europe and beyond. She suggested that Ottoman women could solve many of their problems if they took the example of the lives of women in early Islam.
She developed her ideas for women’s rights within an Islamic framework and spoke up against Ataturk’s ‘modernizing’ reforms with regard to women. At the same time she also spoke out against practices such as polygamy.
Despite all her work, Topuz has been overlooked often in Turkish history. Some suggest this may be because she was always in the shadow of her father, Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, who was a prominent scholar and historian. Indeed her gravestone made no reference to her literary works or achievements but instead was inscribed only with the fact that she was the daughter of Ahmet Cevdet Pasha.In recent years however, Fatima Aliye’s legacy has been in some senses revived. In 2009 she was chosen as the first Turkish woman in history to have her portrait featured on a bank note.
This decision was criticized by secularists who argued that a figure such as Halide Edip Adivar, who fought alongside Ataturk and championed his views, would have been a more appropriate choice. Mustafa Ozyurek, an MP for the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) described Aliye as a “dubious personality” who most Turks had never heard of.
Refreshingly however, the Istanbul Modern Museum organized an exhibition named after her first work ‘Hayal ve Hakikat’ in September 2011. This exhibition showcased the works of 72 Turkish women artists from different generations and reflected how they transformed their dreams into reality. The legacy of Fatima Aliye, who was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in and strived to better the lives of women while remaining true to her own values and heritage, lives on.
"… I am not writing these lines in order to defend women. For in matters of humanity, there is no difference between women and men. We are all human beings." Fatma Aliye, Çok Eşlilik Taaddüd-i Zevcat, (Polygamy), Ankara, 2007, p. 66