History with Hindsight: A Feminine Perspective in
The Other Side of the Mountain
Cumhur Yılmaz MADRAN
When we open a history book, we encounter with certain people in a certain place living through time-. There is a sequence of events, a sense of chronology, a sense of change. The historian makes choices among a multiplicity of events and personalities. The practitioners of the traditional histories insist on their objectivity as scholars. They describe themselves as neutral and objective. They declare their version of events as complete and accurate. History is taught as a rational, logical discipline employing obviously significant questions and answers based on meticulously researched and carefully described in a coherent and self analytical narrative. But the established historical writing is completely based on male writing. The gender of the historian is of great importance in writing history.
Women have been omitted from the historical record and also from the writing of history. History has traditionally relied upon written records: diaries, memoirs, account books, and the like. In the first place women are less likely to be the authors of written documents. The feminine events are those that involve the body and the family life: births, marriages and deaths, repetitive events which have long been considered as too individual and too unchanging to become the subject of history. Women change their focus from public and political to more family oriented experience. They rely on family history techniques. They utilise new categories of analysis, new kinds of sources and new methods of research. In historical analysis one significant contribution of women's writing to the discipline of history has been to challenge the form and emphasis of traditional history. A new perception of history by women alters the topics studied, the methodologies employed and the conclusions reached by male historians. The impact of events upon women and their place in their community alter their perception and their perspective of history. The circumstances of their own time influence their views of the past. The question is whether the national events traditionally used to organise historical data have the same relevance in women's writing as they have in men's. Is there a feminine perspective in the writing of history?
Women's perception of history pinpoints the essence of feminist historical narratology, the context of how stories are told. Women claim a specific method for the feminine writing of history. Women's writing of history is an expression of their bodies. This article on The Other Side of the Mountain explores and exposes gender's effect on the level of historical discourse and the alliance of feminism and feminist narratology.
The Other Side of the Mountain by Erendiz Atasü displays a multi-layered fictional world in which the narrator struggles to understand herself, her past and Turkey's social, political and ideological adventures during and after The War of Independence. In the story of the novel the real and fictional world, history and biography are tightly interwoven like a ball of wool. The narrator is the daughter of Vicdan and Raik who are from the first republican generation and the story of the novel is based on her family history as expressed by herself.
"What a vast contradiction exists between myself and my suffering, bleeding, miserable and merciless country! But I am made up of that contradiction. I, who am of the offspring of the wounded children of a people felled in the short, spiraling interval between the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, of those children who became the creators of their people's miraculous resurrection, I am the change."(274-275)
The narrator narrates the family histories of Vicdan and Raik, the story of the Kemalist generation during the Balkan War, the First World War, or the years of occupation. The historical and social events of the young nation during and after the Republican period are narrated by a woman narrator in the nineties.
Until the end of the twentieth century the narrator as an intellectual and as a woman who is very sensitive to the events of the period in which she has lived begins to view her past retrospectively and to appreciate the social and political events of that period. While narrating, she does not use chronological order and there is not a sequence of events in her narration. The characters of the novel are her mother, father, and uncles. The events are narrated sometimes from the perspective of the characters, sometimes from the narrator's perspective who knows all the details and who has a complete power over the characters. The narrator sometimes sets her characters free and she does not interfere with her characters and she does not make any comment on the events in the first chapters of the novel. But in the other parts of the novel the narrator cannot help interfering with the events, she makes judgements and she directs her characters as she likes. The narrator's way of looking at the events is connected with the period in which the novel was written. The narrator is a very sensitive woman about the social, political and ideological events of her own period, especially the events of the coup of 1980 and afterwards until the book was written. The narrator cannot help being influenced by the events of the nineties and looks back under the effect of her own perspective in the nineties. The narrator's retrospective glance at the Kemalist generation is from a distant point, from the end of the twentieth century. It is possible to see the traces of her own period in her narration by having a complete power over her characters' consciousness. The narrator who is omniscient knows everything about her characters and dominates her characters' consciousness. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator gives some clues about her technique or her way of looking at the events:
"My parents used to dance the tango and the waltz at the balls to mark the anniversaries of the Republic. Look at them... can you pick them out among the images of the past? Can you spot the men, with their feet encased in patent-leather shoes, sweating in their tails, dancing with the utmost earnestness, those provincial Kemalists? They used to look absurd seen through the eyes of the Seventies, but now seem so tragic..." (11)
She sees the events through the eyes of the nineties.
The narrator makes her existence felt throughout the novel especially in the sections titled 'An Honourable Officer', 'The Veteran', 'You have Forgotten Salonika' and "Time in Bursa". In the first sections of the novel she conceals herself better and her characters are free. But in the following sections she wanders about the consciousness of her characters and makes them speak in a way as if they knew everything in depth. At the same time the narrator cannot keep her distance to some of the characters and their ideologies, especially Vicdan's and Raik's and she feels herself close to them. The Other Side of the Mountain is "the book of an ideology."(Ecevit,) It is the book of Kemalist ideology.
The protagonist of the novel and the mother of the narrator, Vicdan Hayreddin is the representative of the new generation, and the story begins with her dying. The narrator who finds the pictures and letters belonging to her mother, follows the history of the family and the Turkish Republic backwards. In order to raise an educated generation, some students are sent abroad, as the country was in dire need of trained personnel. The narrator's mother Vicdan and her friend Nefise are in a group sent to Cambridge to be educated. The narrator narrates the events without interfering or judging. Vicdan's education in England plays an important part in the book and takes place in Cambridge. The narrator's mother's correspondence with Nefise and her friends helps the narrator to capture the spirit of their struggles in England and their return to homeland to educate Turkish youth. Then Vicdan marries Raik, who is a mathematics teacher. The most important thing for the narrator about Vicdan and Nefise's education in England is the essence of things that happens, the reasons for them and the results, and the impact they have on Vicdan and Nefise. The narrator using the letters of her mother narrates the events as they were without interfering with their consciousness. Their struggles in Cambridge to graduate, the responsibility on their shoulders and their Berlin adventure are seen through the character's own eyes.
The events in the section titled 'At the Summit' are again narrated or seen through the eyes of the characters. In this section of the novel, the narrator narrates Vicdan's admiration for Mustafa Kemal, her meeting with Mustafa Kemal and her ascent of Uludağ with her brothers, their enthusiasm, their self-confidence and their challenge to the whole world. The narrator's mother is summoned by Mustafa Kemal, who takes a personal interest in the students sent abroad on state funding and talks with her about an hour. The president speaks to her about impressions of England and also makes mentions his views on world politics. The narrator's mother is utterly fascinated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk being the great hero he is and also a very impressive person. Vicdan is also sent back to England on a mission to give a talk on BBC about the women's rights movement in Turkey.
While Vicdan is climbing Uludağ with her brothers, Raik sits under the shade of a four hundred-year-old plane tree, in an open air cafe. Raik's cousin is imprisoned for his Bolshevism. Nobody knows about his cousin except Vicdan. Raik is a sensitive person and he is upset by his visits to his cousin. While Raik and his cousin were studying, they used to talk about the problems of their homeland. Raik is an ardent admirer of the international proletariat movement. But he has some suspicions about "the humanitarian beauty of communism." (218) Raik's and his cousin's thoughts about communism begin to differ in time. Raik's and his cousin's arguments are the clear indication of the existence of an omnipotent narrator who has a wide perspective and who appreciates the events of the period from different perspectives and from a distant point. The narrator makes her existence felt:
"Stalin is struggling to ensure the survival of the first workers' state. That's exactly what I mean! The dream of international communism is over. History isforcing the first workers' state to fight for its life. The defence has to be labelled 'nationalism', whether you like it or not." (219)
We cannot expect Raik to have such kind of judgement while he is living in the midst of events. He has a wide perspective. His thoughts about the direction of communism and its historical developments are the result of imperialism of capitalism which will emerge in the future: "Gazi is trying to create a national bourgeoisie. Raik defended the idea that in a country where industry was non-existent, a working class could not possibly be created, and that the ideology of the proletariat must constitute a further step in the life of Turkish society. (222). These are the subjects Raik cannot comment on. In order to utter something about such themes one must have lived in the forefront of history.
The narrator's comment about the Anatolian revolution sheds light on Raik's thoughts:
"Mustafa Kemal intervened in this late birth, like a surgeon performing a caesarean operation. He saved and gave life. He did not force an infertile womb into producing."(224)
Instead of being indulged in Bolshevism, Raik is deeply affected by Mustafa Kemal's Anatolian revolution which transforms his disbelief in humanity into optimism. In the arguments between Raik and his cousin, there is an all pervading perspective which stems from the depths of future history proving the narrator's distant existence and having control over their thoughts and their inner conflicts. Raik is anxious about the future of the Turkish Republic:
"Betrayal runs in both directions, like foul currents, far below the surface. The path of the Turkish Bolshevists following comrade Stalin has deviated from that of the Anatolian Revolution. But their being sentenced to heavy terms of imprisonment, for an exorbitant number of years, smells of betrayal too! Betrayal of the humanitarian ideal! At the turbulent spot where two undercurrents meet like gales roaring in opposite direction, Raik feels an appealing weariness." (225)
Here again a wide perspective about the events is observed. We cannot expect Raik to havesuch kind of a wide perspective at that point. The problem in the eastern provinces will lead to a fresh uprising in Raik's opinion:
"The breakdown in the east sprang from differences in lifestyles ratherthan a dispute about authority. Would a tribal chieftain ever willingly exchange the boundless freedom of the mountains for the settled,restricted life of a citizen of the Republic? The nomadic tribes lived in a different age. Another uprising seemed inevitable to Raik."(229)
At the end of the summit section the narrator concludes by saying: "We have not heard the groans coming from the east."(99)
In the section titled "An Honourable Officer", the stories about 'The Dersim rebellion' are told. In the spring of 1935 lieutenant Burhan, his brother Reha and first lieutenant İzzet are at the headquarters near Dersim. Dersim events are narrated from the different perspectives of Reha, Burhan and İzzet. They express their thoughts about events. İzzet and Reha are aware of the psychological wounds of that experience they will carry throughout their lives:
"First Lieutenant İzzet said, 'Nothing will be the same. We've lived through an unforgettable experience here. The rebels and government troops have inflicted wounds on each other which will never heal.' Lieutenant Burhan said, 'No, everything will be exactly the same, it must be. We are not the first army that has ever fought. Our fathers and brothers fought for their fatherland and fell. Now it is our turn. We have our duty. There is no need for anyone's conscience to carry a burden of guilt. What happened was an emergency situation.'Perhaps,' said İzzet. His fastidious face was thoughtful. His wire-rimmed spectacles rested on his pointed nose, accentuating the sad, yet sardonic expression he wore. 'Still, how justifiable is it, from the point of view of history and the individual as well, to dismiss what's happened?'
'You can't live looking back at the past,...As soon as we leave Dersim, the experience will be consigned to the past. We are officers of a young state. The foundations of our nation and our country are still not complete..." (102-103)
Reha has a different personality and he thinks that İzzet and Burhan are complete strangers to the preoccupation of his soul. Their ability to devote themselves to a cause is a quality Reha cannot identify with. Reha is not devoted to a cause. His mind is completely engaged with his neighbour's daughter, Yıldız.
The brothers' closest friend is İzzet. For İzzet neither soldiering nor the fair sex had any real importance, he is engrossed in books and ideas:
"İzzet suspected that many things that had happened had been consigned to decay and oblivion, and did not consider this secrecy to be justified. He suspected that what they had experienced in Dersim would be consigned to oblivion under the weight of a deafening silence, and did not think this justifiable either." (110)
In order to understand their way of looking at events, in Dersim, their attack on a cave in which the survivors of the rebel force have taken refuge has vital importance:
"Burhan struck for the motherland; İzzet struck, feeling the bitterness, the absurdity, and the compulsion of that moment when history reduces the individual to the point of nothingness. Reha could not..." (122)
In the section titled "The Veteran" the narrator's young uncle Cumhur's Korea adventures are told. The stories of the Korean War are based on documentary evidence such as letters, which Cumhur wrote from the front to his sister, Vicdan's reports , articles and newspaper cuttings.
At the beginning of the section we have a wide panorama of world policy. The world is split into two camps, on the one hand communist block and on the other hand the capitalist block. It is the cold war period in which the two poles of the world struggle fiercely with each other. The fear of communism created by the capitalist block is the key to the cold war ideology. Before narrating the events of the Korean War, we are given a panorama of world by the narrator. It seems that an omnipotent narrator who knows everything dominates this section and the narrator sees through the events of the period from her vantage point in the future:
"...in May, 1953... Severe wintry conditions prevail over the thirty-eight parallel. Darkness and voices are all there is... Voices advancing in waves through earth and sky join those already echoing there. Joining the voices of the Yalta Conference, the voices of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin... joining the sounds of dread, distrust, and foreboding." (131)
There is a great struggle with Russia directed by the Capitalist block and the fear of communism is spread in Turkey. Turkey has to be in favour of one side and she makes her choice by accepting America as a friend against communism danger, and the result is cultural degeneration with the coming of Americans. The minds are confused. Raik's inquiring question of "What do they want from us?" is answered by Burhan indicating the difference of their way of looking:
"From now on, no country can possibly stand alone and make progress! We must enter NATO! NATO!" (132)
The narrator's judging sound is heard:
Into NATO! Into NATO! How? Where is the road to NATO? Reparation is necessary! Reparation? Reparation for what? Compensation for the War of Independence must be paid to the west!"(132)
Cumhur is one of the Turkish soldiers who fight against the North Korean and Chinese communists. Vicdan cannot understand how Cumhur can harbour such hatred for the North Koreans who are struggling to unite their divided countries. But Vicdan, who is a sensitive person, is not satisfied with the situation and she tries to capture the reality which is hidden under the surface. She collects the poems and the newspaper cuttings and articles on the Korean affair. She knows that reality is concealed in the writings and she searches through poems on Korea in newspapers and journals, and she analyses them. While reading them, she takes some critical notes. In the poems she reads, she follows the traces of chauvinistic feelings and she remembers "our national oath which promised no further movement of our borders after World War I." (142) Vicdan sees the writings from different perspectives and grasps that the Korean war and the posting of the Turkish soldiers to Korea are supported by the existing government by exploiting the feelings of the people in the country. She underlines the anti-Communist propaganda and exploitation of religious and racist feelings. Vicdan's mind is continuously preoccupied with the Korean affair and with the politicians who sent Cumhur to this unjust and unnecessary war. While arguing about this problem with Burhan, Vicdan asks:
"Wasn't our motto 'peace at home, peace in the world,' Burhan? Certainly, dear sister. And our soldiers are members of a United Nations force striving for the preservation of the world peace. No, Burhan, they are there because the USA insists on a government under her control for the whole of Korea. This isn't our cause, it's the Americans'" (173-174)
Vicdan cannot accept relying on another country, being under another state's control. All of the events seem dishonourable to Vicdan. She protests Burhan's speech by saying "we have become the buddies of American sergeants." (175) While Vicdan and Raik are speaking, Raik utters his thoughts about the policy of the existing government and Vicdan responds:
"They don't have secure roots, they lack historical and cultural background. Yesterday's cowboys have gained control of almost the whole world. They don't possess the cultural wealth to shore up the power their government has laid hands on.''Would I seem paranoid if I confessed to the impression that our government has granted them certain rights, such as permission to search for oil and minerals?'
'Certainly not. It's as obvious as a geometric shape in black ink on white paper that our government is handing them some of our sovereign rights." (181)
If the period in which the novel was written is examined carefully, everything becomes much clearer. There is a wide retrospective glance at the events and the narrator makes Vicdan and Raik speak as she wishes. In 1990s, during the Gulf War Özal's Motherland Party in power, despite the Turkish people's opposition to the war, allowed the attacks against Iraq to be launched from Turkish soil. Özal's cabinet attempted to post the Turkish soldiers to Iraq by relying on allied forces led by the United States of America. The narrator who is under the influence of this affair looks back at the Korean affair and evaluates it from the perspective of the 1990s. Özal's cabinet supported America's invasion of Iraq in order to have some financial help. Vicdan's note is a clear indication of this:
"Who could have looked down on us during the Gazi's life time? Would Atatürk's country beg for alms from the west at the cost of her citizens' lives?" (143)
Then Vicdan asks the vital question:
"should the aim of a commander-in-chief of military forces be victory at whatever cost, for the sole purpose of supporting the allied armies? Without the slightest consideration for the lives of his men? Did not this particular habit of mind destroy the Ottoman armies on the Galician front, in the Yemen, and in the Caucasus, during the First World War? If so, are the military forces of the Republic of Turkey Ottomasied?" (144)
This is a historical truth coming from the 1990s. It is the cry of the narrator commenting on the events of that period and Vicdan hears the echoes of the narrator's cries coming from a distant point, from the future.
When an argument about the royal blood of the narrator's uncle's wife emerges, the narrator says:
"It's like a fairy tale...Like the five-hundredth anniversary of Mehmet's conquest of İstanbul-you know, we shall celebrate it in our school very soon. My parents don't approve of this business either. 'Imagine a country which, instead of priding herself on the level of civilisation she' attained, needs to boast about a military conquest that happened five centuries ago so as to boost her self esteem!' says father. 'Ah, Atatürk,' says my mother." (170)
Here again the narrator's strict judgement about the policy of the government from the 1990s clashes with the policy of the Democratic Party. During the coalition government composed of Mr. Erbakan's the Welfare Party (Refah in Turkish), an Islamic fundamentalist party and Mrs. Ciller's True Path Party, the anniversaries of Mehmet's conquest were celebrated magnificently. The preparations for the celebrations were completed a few months ago and during the week of the celebration, the schools were involved in the activities. Vicdan is shocked when she hears the racist poem called 'Altay Mountains' read by the narrator, she complains to her husband:
"They don't teach our children to love our Anatolian land and those who live in it. If they're going to justify involvement in the Korean war, an imaginary homeland and imaginary borders are exactly what our government needs nowadays,' replied my father." (171)
The period of the coalition government led by Mr. Erbakan witnessed the inclusion of the racist and religious fanatic poets' poems in the Turkish books and the exclusion of Darwin's theory of Evolution from science books. The narrator's sensitivity to the events of the coalition government led by Mr. Erbakan leads her to look back at the affairs of the Democratic party government from the future.
Burhan's insensitivity about the Korean war annoys Vicdan and she questions him about his relationship with the Democratic party which has sent Cumhur to Korea. The narrator combines her anger against the coalition government composed of the Welfare party and True Path Party in power with Vicdan's anger against the Democratic party:
"They have compromised Atatürk's principles! They are having the call to prayer, the ezan, in Arabic again! They don't give anywhere near enough importance to women's rights!" (178)
Vicdan reads the letters by Cumhur and tries to grasp the truth about Cumhur's feelings in Korea. In the Turkish version of the novel in a letter dated 2 December 52, Cumhur writes he is very busy and the narrator interferes and asks: "What was your job, uncle Cumhur? What's the soldier's Job? To fight!." (161) The narrator makes her existence felt again and she questions her uncle clearly. In the letters by Cumhur Vicdan sees his efforts to conceal his real feelings about the war. The letters of Korea are full of humour:
"Cumhur has the ability to view his circumstances and experiences objectively; and he starts to reflect on them whenever his sense of humour prompts him. But there are matters an officer should never question, such as foreign policy, government decisions, and so on. Cumhur the joker sometimes wonders whether or not the government should have found some other way of inducing the west to accept Turkey than by partaking in the war." (162)
Cumhur is wounded by a mortar shell exploding close to his bunker and he loses his leg and writes a letter to Raik which is hidden from Vicdan. Raik goes to meet Cumhur at the port of İzmir. The celebration for the survivors, the crowd, and the atmosphere at the port make Raik dizzy and he has his first heart attack:
"Raik looks at the heroes in American-style uniforms. Who are these men? Their chewing-gum is missing. Are the ones coming back the same people as the ones who left? What festival is being celebrated? Turkey has donned make-up and finery, adorned herself with cheap jewellery, and is dancing the mambo after all these grim postwar years, oppressed by silence and poverty; but her mambo still resembles belly-dancing" (151)
If the posting of the Turkish soldiers to Bosnia and the celebrations of their going and return in the period the book was written are taken into consideration, the narrator's ironic glance retrospectively sheds light on the affairs at the port. The narrator's inquisitive mind questions the meaning of the words such as motherland: "The motherland is our life, we would willingly shed our blood for her. We would sacrifice our lives for other motherland." (151) The words are devoid of their meanings now. But nobody can question the foreign policy of the government decisions. The despotism and tyranny of the existing government on the intellectuals and their silence against this policy are associated with the despotism during the Gulf War in the 1990s. Silence seeps in between Raik and Vicdan. "They feel they have been betrayed and they are left alone" (Menteşe, 70). The narrator comments:
"According to my parent's shared opinion, the republic had deviated from its destined path; they were truly unhappy, I knew, they felt wounded. Their common hurts bound them more closely together. They both withdrew into their shared shell of passive resistance, which could only be penetrated by means of emotions. Their seclusion was not a sanctuary in which they had taken refuge, but their mutual resolve not to deign to play a part in a sordid world." (211)
The intellectuals who question the policy of the government are either killed or sentenced as it was in the years following the coup of 1980 and up to 1999. To question the words which have lost their meanings is forbidden by the police. The narrator's parents' expectations are shattered. The horizon is foggy for them and it is impossible to see the future. Raik's hopes are shattered with the emergence of the nationalist wolves. Raik sees them as monsters who shed blood. The existence of the nationalist wolves starts affecting more and more people and Raik's horizon is obliterated. If the so-called nationalist wolves of the 1990s are taken into consideration, the narrator's comments on wolves can be better grasped.
The problem of regionalism which started to show itself under the Democratic party government is in line with the domestic political activities of the Özal's government. Burhan means to take advantage of this situation for his own political and financial ends. The categorisations of the Turkish citizens as easterners and westerners during the Özal's government were like the categorisations of the Democratic party government. Instead of absorbing the differences, to support them will lead to the fragmentation of the country:
"Raik and Vicdan are convinced that supporting what has risen to the surface, trying to keep it there, and strengthening it-such tactics are pushing a nation on the verge of coalescence back into the miseries of fragmentation." (193)
The Other Side of the Mountain concerns itself with the retrospective glance cast by a woman over her family history. An obvious characteristic of The Other Side of the Mountain is the absence of chronological sequence in the narrative. It is a montage of situations. The circumstances of the narrator's own time influence her views of the past and enrich her perception of history. The narrator's perception of history with hindsight is a clear indication of her feminist narration. Throughout the novel, in some way or other, the narrator has a complete power over his characters. Though the characters speak freely, there is an omnipotent narrator who directs them and influences their utterances. In the first chapters of the novel, she conceals herself but in the following chapters, it is evident where the narrator stands. Vicdan's daughter, the narrator, is in the 1990s and her retrospective glance at the time of the Republican period is far from being objective. The narrator cannot keep her objectivity. The book is full of the traces of the period in which it was written. The narrator, Erendiz Atasü, sees with the eyes of 1990s. This is a new way of looking at history, a feminine perspective which is quite interesting, and meaningful. "The prevailing perspective belongs to a woman who has lived in the twentieth century of Turkey, and who has a feminine sensitivity of the first person narrator living in Today's Turkey." (Yüksel, 233) The feminist implications inherent in the relationship between history and narrative are striking. Erendiz Atasü poses a feminist challenge to the hidden assumptions within conventional historiography by focusing on the relationship between subjectivity and history. The Other Side of the Mountain is a writing of history from a feminist standpoint.
Atasü, Erendiz. 2000. The Other Side of the Mountain. Great Britain, Milet Publishing Limited.
Atasü, Erendiz. 1999. Dağın Öteki Yüzü. Ankara, Bilgi Yayınevi.
Ecevit, Yıldız, In Cumhuriyet Kitap. 21 December 1995
Menteşe, Oya. 1999. In H. Ü. Edebiyat Fak. Der., Cumhuriyetimizin 75. Yılı Özel Sayısı.
Yüksel, Ayşegül. 1997. In Berna Moran'a armağan: Türk Edebiyatına Eleştirel Bir Bakış. Edited by Nazan Bülent Aksoy. İstanbul, İletişim Yayınları.