By: Doğa Nur Yılmaz
With a plethora of significant and influential women whose voices are never heard, I’m here to shed a small amount of light to reveal two wonderful yet unknown women from where I’m from, Turkey. At this present day, where the Western ideals and culture has spread more than ever, representation is crucial. I’m here to shed some light on a rather more unknown area of Asia, Turkey. Let me introduce you to Halide Edib Adıvar and Sabiha Gökçen.
Sabiha Gökçen, quite well known due to one of Istanbul’s largest airports being named after her (Sabiha Gökçen International Airport). Born on the 21st of March in 1913, Gökçen was the world’s first female fighter pilots at the age of 23. When Atatürk (the founder of the Republic of Turkey) visited the city of Bursa in 1925, Gökçen, at the age of only 12, requested to talk to Atatürk to express her wish of studying at a boarding school. Atatürk decided to adopt both Sabiha Gökçen and her brother after learning about their awful living conditions in the orphanage shortly after 1923.
It was when Atatürk brought her to the Turkish Aeronautical Association’s airshow of gliders and parachute that she felt the spark which would lead her to earn her pilot’s licence and flight patents. She then trained to become a war pilot for six months. After having gained some experience, she took part in the military operations at the Dersim rebellion and became the first Turkish female air force combat pilot.
She was awarded a letter of appreciation along with the Turkish Aeronautical Association’s first “Murassa Medal” for her performance. In 1938, Gökçen was appointed the chief trainer of the Türkkuşu Flight School of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, serving as a flight instructor for 16 years and trained four female aviators. Later, Gökçen flew around the world for 28 years. Throughout her career in the Turkish Air Force, she flew 22 differents types of aircrafts for over 8,000 hours, 32 of which were active combat and bombardment missions.
Thankfully, Sabiha Gökçen’s legacy still lives on. An airport was named after her, she was selected as the only female pilot for the poster of “The 20 Greatest Aviators in History” published by the United States Air Force in 1996, and she was honored at the Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles at Maxwell Air Force Base. She is also recognized as the first female combat pilot by The Guinness Book of World Records.
Another trailblazing Turkish woman, Halide Edib Adıvar, was not only a novelist but also a political leader for women’s rights who actively fought for the emancipation of women. She’s best known for her novels criticizing the low social status of Turkish women and what she saw as the lack of interest of most women in changing their situation. She was a Pan-Turkist, (Pan-Turkism was a movement that emerged during the 1880s among Turkic intellectuals of the Ottoman Empire, Republic of Azerbaijan and a part of the Russian Empire which aimed to unify Turkic peoples culturally and politically), and ran an orphanage during World War I.
Born in Constantinople in 1884, in an elite and upper-class family, Halide Edib Adıvar’s career as a writer and social activist started amidst the optimism and euphoria of the Young Turk revolution, with the prospects of freedom and equality. In her early life, she was educated at home by private tutors and learned Greek from her neighbours. In 1897, she translated Mother by Jacob Abbott, which led to the sultan awarding her the Order of Charity. After graduating, she continued her intellectual activities, writing articles on education and on the status of women for newspapers and women’s journals. By 1909, she published her very first novel, Seviye Telip.
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the first World War, she gained a reputation in Istanbul as a “firebrand and a dangerous agitator” and was one of the main figures to give speeches to thousands protesting the Occupation of Izmir by Greece. The British tried to exile her and Adıvar escaped to Anatolia with her husband to join the Turkish National Resistance. There, they established a news agency, “Anadolu Ajansi”. Adıvar and many associates were accused of treason. Adıvar and her husband escaped to Europe to France and to the United Kingdom from 1926 to 1939.
Doğa, born in Turkey, is an IB student in an international school who wishes to become a scientist in the future. She values cultural diversity and hence is part of her school’s Diversity Committee. One her many guilty pleasures is eating unhealthy amounts of salt and vinegar chips.
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