We hear a lot of questions about today’s unsettled world.
One of them is whether a democratic republic can successfully be sustained within the Islamic environment, even though there is already such a one that has existed for ninety years.
Vitally on the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, the democratic Turkish Republic remains a curiosity. Once the seat of the Islamic Ottoman Caliph, modern Turkey has a secular constitution based on separation of religion and state. Ninety percent of Turkey’s citizens profess liberal, moderate, or conservative Islam. The republic that grew from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire following the Great War created a new constitution, a secular state, a Latin alphabet, educational reforms, marital equality, women’s rights to vote and to hold political office and positions of judgeships on the federal courts. These radical changes, and many more, came about within the first eight years under the leadership of President Kemal Ataturk.
I am an educator and author from Roanoke, Virginia who has written extensively about my husband’s native homeland of Anatolia and Thrace. My tenth book, Forty Thorns, is an epic novel with an overriding theme of triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity and loss. Its characters are framed by ten years of wars, followed by nation building, as seen through the sharp vision of the courageous heroine, Adalet.
Forty Thorns began at a kitchen table in Istanbul where my mother-in-law, Adalet, enticed me to come and spend the summer recording her oral memoirs. She was a sparkling storyteller, insisting, “I’m not important, but my story is.” She died at age 92 the following year. I had known the graceful Adalet since her early sixties. How had she survived with those qualities, considering the turmoil and tragedy through which she had lived? To write an epic tale based on her life, I would have to discover her fortitude, and why her story was important.
The dynamic changes following the ten years of continuous wars in Adalet’s early life engulfed, molded, and moved her, with her husband and seven children, all across Anatolia and Thrace. Gradually, I began to realize how her own trials, beginnings, deaths, and betrayals paralleled those of her republic.
Ataturk believed that women were the backbone of his new nation—rising up children to carry forth the guiding principals of it. To survive great struggle and loss is remarkable, but survival alone is never enough. There must be hope, love, and enlightenment.
Turkey’s effort to sustain a secular democracy through the years is indeed scarred by battles between justice, freedom, and power. And, here in America, do we not daily hear heated discussions of individual rights versus control? Even as the global community struggles for freedom, it is vital that we continue to share our inspiring stories of surviving well.
Released by Remzi Book House, an Istanbul press established around the same time that Turkish women became parliamentarians; Forty Thorns has been available for distribution in the U. S. since the summer of 2012.