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Hazal Havulut

Absence is a ‘Shirt of Fire’:
Literary Encounters with Zabel Yesayan and Halide Edib


Who is the subject of absence? Is it the one that is absent? Or is it the one that feels/acknowledges the absence? These are the main questions of my paper.

Zabel Yesayan was born in Istanbul, in 1878. Halide Edib was born in Istanbul in 1884. Zabel published her first novel in 1907. Halide’s first novel came out two years later, in 1909. The year 1909 was also marking the indisputable separation in these two Ottoman women writers’ lives which followed a quite parallel path up until then. 6 years after the Adana Massacre, Catastrophe came. In 1915 Zabel Yesayan managed to escape to Tbilisi. Meanwhile Halide Edib’s fame was raising as a “national” heroine, parallel with the rise of the Armenian –free new nation.

Zabel Yesayan and Halide Edib continued to write. They wrote novels, testimonies and articles. Ironically they chose the same title for a novel: Shirt of Fire. Halide Edib’s novel became one of the foundational novels of the young Turkish Republic. But we have never heard of Zabel Yesayan’s Shirt of Fire. In fact we have never heard Zabel Yesayan’s name. In my presentation, I will trace Yesayan’s “absence” in Turkish literature through Halide Edib’s Shirt of Fire. What does this “absence” mean in terms of literature? What does the “absence” of this Armenian woman writer, who was born and who lived in Istanbul, tell us in terms of testimony and women’s writing? While trying to answer these questions I will also discuss the concepts of “absence” and “encounter” and the possibilities they create in terms of the “others” of Literature.

Ask, September 2012

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