Posted by: bluesyemre | March 19, 2018

7 important women in Istanbul’s history


Zabel Yesayan

Istanbul’s history is full of women who challenged stereotypes and rose above the confines of their society’s limitations to achieve greatness. The same is as true now as it was in Ottoman and Byzantine times and we’re proud of the Istanbullite women who paved the way in so many different areas. We asked Meral Akkent, Curator of the Women’s Museum Istanbul to provide her Top 7 Important Women from the city’s history. (In no particular order.)

Anna Comnena (1083 – 1153) 


World’s first woman historian and woman memoir writer

“My grandmother ascended the imperial throne at the moment when her mental powers were at their most vigorous.”

Anna Comnena was educated as if she was going to reign over the land from Italy to Armenia as the Byzantine Empress, but that did not happen after her brother was born. Byzantine women had few social rights at that time, yet despite these limitations, Anna Comnena was still able to document the lives of successful women.

Zabel Yesayan (1878 – 1943) 


First Ottoman-Armenian socialist-feminist pacifist female writer 

“We are very aware that we are in the middle of a war. But we are still continuing our calm and monotonous lives.”

Born in Üsküdar, she was an Armenian novelist, poet, writer, and teacher who dealt with the social inequality between the sexes and analyzed the discrepancy between individual freedom and the traditional expectations of society.

Nuriye Ulviye Mevlan Civelek (1893 – 1964) 

Founder of the first Muslim feminist magazine of the Ottoman Empire 

“The purpose of feminism is to make sure that women and men alike live happier lives.”

Not only did she found Kadınlar Dünyası (Women’s World) with her own means in 1913 but she also founded the Ottoman women’s rights association with the purpose of achieving reform in women’s attire; employment of women; and improvements in women’s education

Halet Çambel (1916 – 2014 ) First female archaeologist to have developed the ‘on-site conservation’ model by establishing Turkey’s first outdoor museum 


“Nobody can accomplish a job on his/her own.”

Not only was she fundamental in the preservation of Turkey’s cultural heritage and the first Hittite scholar of Turkey, but she was also the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics in 1936 and the first Turkish female fencer. Although invited by a female German official to meet Hitler, she refused on political grounds.

Tülay German (1935 – ) First female representative of Anatolian Pop 


“Rebellion pours from my veins, not blood.”

Although she began singing jazz songs, she later turned to Turkish folk songs for influence, admiring the political consciousness instinctively contained within them. She made a record in honor of the Turkish poet Nazım Hikmet, did radio and television programs, and gave numerous international  performances before her last concert in 1987.

Karen Şarhon (1958 -) 

First female Jewish academic who founded the first Sephardic music group of Turkey 

“Music creates a bridge between people and communities.”

She founded the first Sephardic music group of Turkey, Los Pasharos Sefaradis, in 1978 with the aim of doing research on Judeo-Spanish folk songs and creating new compositions to revive Turkish-Sephardic culture. Today they have an archive of over 400 pieces and have given over 300 concerts both in Turkey and abroad.

Evrim Alataş (1976 – 2010) 


First Kurdish female script-writer in Turkey  

“From now on I want to do everything faster.”

She wrote the first Kurdish political film ‘Min Dit – The Children of Diyarbakir’ with her cousin by sharing and combining their experiences. The result tells the story of two children who lose their parents during the fighting in Diyabakır, and the film won the Behül Dal special jury award at the 46th Altın Portakal Film Festival.

Of course, in limiting ourselves to seven, many other inspiring and courageous women could not get a mention here. Thankfully, you can find the details of Istanbul’s other heroines on the Women’s Museum website, including: Theodore I, the founder of the first home for female artists in need; Mevdude Refik, the first Muslim woman to act in a theater, as an amateur in the Ottoman Empire; and Esma İbret Hanım, the first female calligrapher, along with many other worthy women.

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