Women in the Young Turks Movement

A NATION which the world believed to be decayed and ready for dismemberment; a nation in which the rich were ignorant, fanatical, and living only for sensual enjoyment, and the poor, downtrodden and miserable; a nation ruled by a depraved autocrat and a backsheeshloving, dishonest officialdom ; a nation in which the men were bloodthirsty warriors, and voluptuaries, the women mere instruments for the gratification of the baser desires of men. — such a nation has just passed through a revolution unmatched in history for restraint and orderliness.

And such a change, in such a manner, could not have occurred unless the women secluded in the harems, as well as the men outside, had grown and progressed in thought, in belief, in hopes. At the time of my last visit to Turkey, my native land, a few years ago, 1 could see the indications of this growth, and I heard prophecies of the coming change, although at the time I no more believed in its imminence than did the world at large.

Yet I had a high opinion of the Turks — of the men and of the women — which to most of the Americans to wrhom I have talked about them seemed ridiculous. I have met a few Americans who, having lived among them, knew them as I did: the men, as chivalrous and gentle; the women, as intelligent and generally contented.

“ A happy people has no history,” and 1 sometimes think that happy women have no aspirations. Happiness, like perfection in climate, takes away the desire for activity — “ mere existence becomes sufficient.” And Turkish women are happier than are the Greek, Italian, French, and American women I have known. Perhaps because they do not hitch their wagon to a star. To them, to be beautiful, to be good wives and good mothers, sums up their ambitions, and they succeed in them as do the women of no other race. I have written elsewhere of them in their domestic role. Let me now1 consider those of them in whom the seed of discontent is working ravage. Some call the discontent divine: it may be — who can tell ?

After several years’ sojourn here in America, where gynecocracy is at its zenith, it was quite an experience to visit my Constantinople friends again in their homes. It was the antithesis of all I had become accustomed to in tlie new world. Especially delightful was the repose these visits afforded me. Yet when I had been there a few days I became aware that there existed a change, not in the general air of the harems, but in the attitude of certain of the inmates. The manner of life was in most instances exactly as I remembered it: but there was an indefinable, unde dying sense of unrest, a social feeling akin to the physical feeling which precedes the advent of an earthquake. Among the households of happy, careless women, there would be one who was silent and thoughtful, and seemed always listening to something the others were unconscious of.

Some of these silent ones spoke to me of ideals formerly unknown in the harems. Others, not speaking, yet looked at me with wide-open lustrous eyes in which was a light such as might be in the eyes of beggar women when the queen passed by. For to them I was more than a queen, I was a free womac while they were in bondage. I could come and go as I pleased, and could live the life I chose. My privileges took on marvelous proportions, such as only the imagination can bestow.

It may sound heretical to say that the better class of Turkish women are the superiors of American women in cultivation. Well-educated and with more leisure, since they do not have to spend so much of their time as their “ civilized sisters in frivolous pursuits, they give their attention to reading and to thinking. The new movement took root in the minds of some of these thoughtful women, and, finding the soil virgin, flourished quickly. And, owing to the peculiar social conditions, they were able to render service to the movement which men were unable to. although often they had to sacrifice to it what is among a woman’s dearest possessions — her reputation.

I was fortunate enough to meet the daughter of Kiamal Pasha, a woman of perhaps fifty, and, if I am not mistaken, the first woman to be initiated into the Young Turks party. Porn rich, and the daughter of a powerful pasha, life might have held for her the fortunate lot of wifehood and motherhood, had she so desired. But at the age of eighteen the young hanoum announced to her father that, she would not marry, but would study and devote herself to helping to uplift the women of her race. Her aspiration might have remained unfulfilled had she not been the daughter of one of the Turks who was even then dreaming of the regeneration of his country.

For several years Refeka Hanoum studied under different masters, and then herself became a teacher in one of the most important girls’ schools in Stamboul. She did not find her desire to uplift her sex so easy of accomplishment as she had imagined it would he. In Turkey young girls are much the same thoughtless, selfcentred, and immature creatures they are everywhere. Little by little, however, Refeka Hanoum’s story became known, and the ever romantic mind of the young girl began to worship her.

I asked her whv she had not married and had children of her own to bring up in the new thought.

“ I did not want to give my life to one set of children. I w’anted to give it to all the women of my nation. Our system I believe to be wrong; but it is a gigantic undertaking to try to overthrow it. The majority of our women are happy, and you cannot reform a happy person. I studied the dispositions of my pupils, and when I found one that was of the right kind I set to work on her heart and mind. Thus in time I had quite a following, and not a little influence.”

Knowing Refeka Hanoum to be an intimate friend of one of the Sultan’s sisters, I asked if there was any truth in the rumor that the latter belonged to the Young Turks party.

Refeka Hanoum hesitated. Then, facing me squarely, she demanded : —

“ You love Turkey, and above all Turkish women : why do you not help them ? ”

I laughed. “ I don’t believe in women’s emancipation, for one thing. I prefer them as they now’ are in Turkey.’

Unrepelled by my views on the subject, perhaps aw’are of my friendly feeling for her, personally, she plunged into a talk about her ideals, her hopes, and her work. And during that afternoon in her library I realized what it is to a woman to have a dream which embraces humanity. It was faith arid religion to her. In her eagerness to convince me, she spoke with the utmost freedom of the plans of her party, and I was amazed at the information she intrusted to me. A little of it was enough to hang her, as I remarked.

“ They don’t hang people any more in Turkey,” she replied.

“ No, but. they poison and drown them,” I retorted. “ They still manage to get them out of the way when they are troublesome.”

She smiled at my Tvarning, and in her smile lay her only beauty. Unlike most Turkish women, Refeka Hanoum was plain. Instead of the smooth skin and delightful complexion I always associate with the women of her nation, her face was covered with innumerable lines, traced less by time than by thought and aspiration. Yet she was not ugly. A light burned in her eyes that often made her better to look upon than many a superb specimen of Oriental beauty.

She was the friend of men high in the government of the state; for, although Turkish women seldom see men who are not their relatives, Ilefeka Hanoum received many of them in her own home. Once the Porte forbade her receiving men as she did. The ever suspicious gov ernment was afraid of such a coterie as was gathered around her.

In telling me her life as frankly as she did, and in inviting me to spend the afternoon with her, I have an idea she had strong hopes of enlisting me in the Young Turks’ cause. Her house wras in Scutari, where the glorious scenery of the Bosphorus stretched out in front of us. It was a lovely September day, and Refeka Hanoum in her loose yellow gown sat crosslegged by the window, through the lattices of which we looked out. As she talked, her tone was not that of a person in conversation with another. She spoke with the level cadence, and rather monotonous eUect, of a person reading. Thus in Turkey do we learn to converse on important topics; for reading aloud is a favorite pastime there, and if a spy should chance to be near, he would be less likely to pay attention to whut was said if he w7ere led to believe it only reading from a book.

“ We wrere once a great nation,” Refeka Hanoum said, “ and shall yet be a great nation. The sun never sets except to rise again. But the women must do their share in the struggle.”

“ Do you find that you can trust them ? ” I asked.

Refeka Hanoum looked at me with severe disapproval. “ You do not like women ? ”

“ I do not like them where they do not belong,” I answered.

“ But they belong wherever they can help, and they are capable of tremendous sacrifices for a cause in which they once embark.”

“ Refeka Hanoum, you have said that your women are happy. Why do you wish to upset them ? What have you to give them in exchange for their present contentment ? You do not know how refreshing it is to come to Turkey and find them as they are now.”

“ Thank x\Ilab Turkey does not exist for your selfish pleasure. A happiness which does not elevate ought not to be.”

I gave up trying to argue her out of her beliefs, and inquired, “ Have you really made any progress, and will the Young Turks party actually do anything beyond dreaming great things?”

With impressive faith she replied, “ You will live to see what they can do, and you will not be so very old, either.”

“ Tell me something the women have done.”

She clasped her capable hands together and looked searchingly at me from beneath her eyebrows without replying immediately.

“ I am not a spy,” I assured her.

She smiled in answer. “ I know that very well. Before I invited you here I knew all about you. A great many of us know about you. But you are very selfish. You freed yourself from the tyranny of your country’s prejudices, and now you refuse to help others.”

“ Because 1 found out that what I had clamored for was not worth while.”

“Then help others to find that out, too. The best safeguard for human character is to let it know the truth. Help us to become free to act as we may choose — as we think best.”

“ I don’t believe that women are capable of deciding for themselves.”

“ There are men who cannot choose wisely, but you would not deprive all men of the liberty of choice. But in asking your help I am asking it for the regeneration of the whole country, not forwomen’s privileges especially —although you must know that in every great country women are considered the equals of men. In ours alone they are not.”

“ Please don’t discuss women with me,” I said. “ I am afraid I am hopeless. Tell me something of your work, of what you have accomplished; for at least I appreciate what a privilege it is to know a woman like yourself.”

“ But you would not help make women like me.”

“ They are not made by human effort: they are born by divine right.”

She resigned herself to the impossibility of converting me by direct argument, and proceeded to tell me of the w’ork, in the even, colorless voice I have already mentioned. From her tone one would not have guessed that she spoke of anything in which she took a great interest.

The Young Turks party, having made way with Sultan Aziz, and having deposed Sultan Murad, brought to the throne Sultan Abdul Hamid, believing him to be favorable to reform — as at first he was. He accepted the Constitution, but never gave it a chance to live; and from a liberal ruler changed into a wicked autocrat, apparently conceiving his power to be based on the ignorance and superstition of his subjects.

Sultan Abdul Hamid was neither old and feeble, as had been Sultan Aziz, nor weak-minded, like his brother Murad. He was a man of great intelligence and tremendous will-power. It was no easy matter to depose him and place another man on his throne. Besides, he was a wonderful statesman — if he could only be made a good ruler.

The men who formed the Young Turks party were men of vast experience and great political knowledge. They knew’ that, in order to force the Sultan to give back the Constitution, and to permit progress and freedom of thought, he must be absolutely cornered and see no other way of retaining his own position. For this it was necessary to enlist in their cause the heads of all the departments, and to gain the adherence of the army. Time and money ’were necessary: they could give both, and what they have accomplished since 1878 we have seen a few weeks ago.

Their work was done under the greatest difficulty. The Sultan is the son of an Armenian slave, and he inherited from his mother the most characteristic Armenian trait—cowardice; and being a coward he suspects everybody. The Young Turks soon learned that much of their propaganda could better be carried on by women than by men. Thus it was that Eefeka Hanoum was approached: she was a dreamer of women’s emancipation, they were dreamers of their country’s regeneration. The pact between them was this: she was to prepare women to help on the great cause, and they, when the cause should be won, were to help her to ameliorate the lot of women in the newborn country. This bargain came easier to them since many of them lived abroad and had thus become imbued with modern ideas about women.

“ And they did well to get us to help them,” Refeka Hanoum exclaimed, her eyes flashing, and her voice losing its sing-song quality, “ for only then can a nation be really great — when the women are raised to a level with the men. So long as women consider men their lords and masters, — so long as they believe that happiness only comes through serving them, — so long as women accept the love of men as an honor bestowed by a superior on an inferior, — so long will a nation remain degraded, no matter how happy its inhabitants may be.”

With growing vehemence, my friend continued, “ Woman is man’s equal, although each has his sphere. If the man fights for his country, the woman cares for the sick and the wounded. Each has his work, and neither must be over-rated. I want our women to feel that, if it is an honor to receive man’s love, it is also an honor to bestow her love on him. Only when the woman shall meet man on the same level will Allah bless the world.”

She stopped and regarded me somewhat whimsically after her warmth.

“ You do not care for this part of my talk, do you? You would rather hear of deeds than listen to my theories. Very well! You asked if it was true that one of the Sultan’s sisters was of our party. She is. She was my pupil for several years and is a person who loves to study and to think. I knew that she hated her brother, whom she always calls ‘ the usurper.’ She does not believe that herother brother, Murad, has ever been insane. When she first joined us it was solely out of hate for Abdul Hamid, but now it is different. Now she realizes what our success would mean to the country, and she belongs to us because our cause has become the dream of her life. She has forgotten that she is the Sultan’s sister, and remembers only that she is an Osmanli woman and a patriot.

“ After gaining her, we began to have more adherents in the Patissah’s very harem. We have been able to outwit him and his suspicions. He only smiles when he hears that a man of his entourage spends the night in a woman’s boudoir, where the consorting together of men would put him at once on his guard. And our women have need of all their intelligence in their proselyting. It is no simple task to probe a man’s political leanings, when he knows he is surrounded by spies and may lose his life by an incautious word. Before our women are ready to begin work they are taught political ecoomy, the natural resources of our country, the history of other nations as well as of our own, and what it would mean to have a constitution and a free press.

“ Besides their good heads, they have big hearts. They throw themselves into the work with fervor. The world at large thinks Turkish women contented to be what they are; but at least a part of them have begun to want to be elevated from a mere pleasure-doll to the rank of companion. They have been given to understand, however, that they must move without haste and without noise, and that the emancipation of women will not at once follow the regeneration of the country. They understand that they may not be striving for themselves, but only for those who are to follow them. And here is where women are superior to men: when they espouse a cause they wrill labor for it unselfishly — not for their personal gain, as men do.”

I could not help laughing, as I interrupted : “ Befeka Hanoum, you have one thing in common with all women’s rights women. While you are urging me to help you to make woman the equal of man. you convince me that what we both ought to be doing is to strive to elevate poor men to the superior plane of women.”

Refeka Hanoum laughed too. “There’s something in that,” she admitted. “ But what I said is true nevertheless. When women rise, it is to heights untouched by men. And that is another reason why woman should be uplifted: because she alone can help man to reach perfection.”

This thought is by no means original with Refeka Hanoum. It is held by the ma jority of the thinkers among the Osmanli women, though they may not be in favor of “women’s rights.” I know one, the first of four wives, and a fervent believer in the old regime, who told me that it is the woman’s forbearance, her sweetness and forgiving disposition, which will ultimately help to make men one with their God. It is rather a prevailing thought among them that to them is entrusted the uplifting of the human race.

“ There is in the palace a Circassian of extraordinary beauty,” Refeka Hanoum continued, “ whose charm is so great that every one feels it. She has the reputation of a Borgia, although I know that there is not a woman living purer than she. She had to sacrifice her reputation to the cause, and if we had saints in our religion she would be canonized after her death. All the difficult tasks inside the palace are entrusted to her, and thxis she is supposed to change lovers as the year changes months. If we had chosen a woman less charming, the usurper might have become suspicious; but a woman with her beauty can easily be supposed to entrap men; and thus he only smiles when he hears that another has fallen a victim to her charms. Perhaps some day he will find out the truth. Then, if he still has the power, she will die suddenly. But what of that ? She has given her reputation — she can easily give her life.”

“ But since she is so beautiful and wonderful, why does she not try to convert the Sultan ? Then the rest would be easy.”

“You think we have not tried ? But the Sultan dreads the power of women. That is why he has the smallest harem of any sultan, and why he passes so little time in it. No woman has ever had any friendship with him. Even his first wife seldom sees him; and, as for favorites, he has none. He is the worst tyrant in the world, because there is no softness for women in his heart.”

“ How do you manage to send women into the different harems to carry on your work ? ” I asked.

“ We sell them as slaves. When their work is done, we buy them back again. Sometimes these slaves are the wives and daughters of rich and powerful men, who are no longer in their youth. I will give you an instance. There was one of the heads of the army who seemed unapproachable. He considered the Sultan sacred. We wanted him to learn that the good of the country was above that of the ruler. One of our clever women was sold into his harem. She studied all the inmates and reported that he worshiped his youngest daughter. It took us a year to win her; two years more to fit her for our work; and not until five years had passed had she won her father to our cause.

“ This is the work women have done for the Young Turks. When they shall be strong enough to act, Turkey will astonish the world. I do not say that the emancipation of women will immediately follow. We can wait. It is better to take time. But come back to see us again. If you find our women going about without being veiled, it will be because our men have learned that we can be trusted; and if you find us looking out of the window without lattices, it will be because men have learned that we can look upon the world unharmed. And women will have all these privileges because they have worked side by side with men and have proved to be their equals.”