Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Without the veil

As I've noted previously, there are a lot of odd and interesting things that historical research unintentionally turns up.

I've found that this is particularly the case in researching newspapers, which I've been doing rather a lot over the last couple of years as part of a project on crime in interwar Britain.

It has been a while since I've presented any of this historical by-catch; however, I thought the article below 'Turkey Without the Veil' would be of interest. (I have not bothered to transcribe the last quarter or so of the piece, as it ceased to be interesting at about that point...)

It appeared in the Daily Express on 10 July 1928 (p. 11), and was the second in a series of articles by H. J. Greenwall (Daily Express 'special correspondent') on Turkish life under the rule of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

In Greenwall's report (filed from 'Constantinople'), 'he deals', as the Express noted, 'especially with the position of women under the new regime.’

It was highlighted on the page by a bold line of type above it proclaiming 'How Turkish Women Use Their New Freedom'.

It is perhaps of interest not only for what it says about the position of women in Turkish society in the late 1920s--particularly when some appear to be re-discovering the headscarf--but also to that English outsider's perspective on 'Eastern' women.

Without further ado...

'Turkey Without the Veil'

Paris Fashions Copied By All

Divorce Equality


By H. J. Greenwall
Daily Express Special Correspondent


How is the modern woman of Turkey reacting to the liberty which became hers when Mustapha Kemal swept away the age-long customs of the East and turned the face of Turkey to the West?

In the mosques I notice there are more women praying than there used to be before Kemal came, but the women one sees praying are not the modern women. They are rather the older ones, lost and quite bewildered by the new laws, and it is certain that they do not approve of what has happened.

The blow which emptied the imperial harem also made Turkish women discard the veil, shingle their hair, shorten their skirts, drink cocktails in night clubs, in fact, do all the things—except, perhaps, drive motor-cars and play games—that women in Paris and London do. The one thing they have not yet adopted is the ‘make-up’ of the West. Old Mother Asia causes them to retain the kohl-blacked eyes.
This freedom which as come to the women of Turkey has, I think, made them happier than they were of old, when they were jewelled toys behind latticed windows. The majority of the younger women accept what Kemal has given them, and are thankful for it. They approve the new laws of marriage and divorce.

'Beauty unveiled and veiled. Typical Turkish women of the present and past.'


Now that religion has been separated from the State, it is only the civil marriage which counts, but if the contracting parties so desire they may have a ceremony in the mosque as well. No longer may the Turk take unto himself four wives, as the Koran allowed him to do. The law to-day is: One Turk, one wife.

Divorce law in Turkey is based on the Swiss laws. No longer can a Turk divorce his wife by just making a statement before a witness. Now he must file a suit, alleging desertion or infidelity. In the eyes of the law the sexes are equal, and a Turkish wife can divorce her husband just as a woman of London can, but, in point of fact, the Turkish woman has scored heavily, because the new divorce laws have made her emancipation complete.

Turkish women, who always admired French culture above every other, have modelled themselves completely on the French women, and they try to reach as close to French chic as they can.


Hats, their dresses, their stockings, and their shoes are copied from Parisian styles, and the women copy so accurately that were it not for the Oriental ‘make-up’ it would be impossible to tell a woman of Constantinople from a woman of Paris. Removal of the veil, however, and all that this gesture implies, has removed all the mystery which used to make the Turkish woman such a romantic figure. A pair of black eyes flashing through a veil as the owner of the eyes stepped rapidly across the pavement, and beneath the jealous glances of the accompanying eunuch entered her carriage, is a far different thing from seeing a face topped with a Paris hat stroll from shop to waiting motor-car, driven, most probably, by a Russian refugee who was formerly an officer of the Czar’s Guard.

If the Turkish women have achieved freedom, they have achieved it only at the price of losing the adoration of the European admirers.

...and, yes, I'm sure, Mr. Greenwall, that was very painful for them indeed.

The remainder is concerned with the apparently awe-inspiring collection of ‘Osman jewels’ that could be viewed and which would make ‘Hatton Garden faint collectively’.


R. Sherman said...

There's always nostalgia -- things were much better when there were eunuchs strolling about.


J. Carter Wood said...

Yes, I really do miss the eunuchs.

Good times.