By Heidi Trautmann
She is a feminist, many people in Cyprus say, she fights for women’s rights. She talks of things and does things only men should say and do. That is Neriman Cahit and more: A humanist in her thinking and doing, a fighter and strong believer in the rights of people, men and women alike. Not to be above the man, no, to be beside him, in unison.
These words I wrote when I first met her for an interview two years ago. Since then we have had many talks and we have realized that we are sisters in mind and heart. Her new book ‘Turkish Cypriot Women in Historical Perspective’ is No.14 in a row of works, mostly on women in the Turkish Cypriot community seen from different angles. With the present book Neriman Cahit has undertaken archaeological work to dig up data, recordings and writings, which often she found in writings of travelers visiting Cyprus or in archives, but also on the basis of her own experiences she has collected through her lifelong work and her travels. In the preface of the book she also states that written sources on the issues of women in the general world social history are scarce to non-existing. There she is right, women had to go a long way to arrive there where they are today.
In 19 chapters she clearly unrolls the history of Turkish Cypriot women with regard to education and social status over the centuries, their slow emergence in society, their fights and achievements; alongside with it she brings up the old traditions and self determined roles of men and society as masters over the destiny of women, their suppression to keep them in their shadows, their exploitation in families right down to selling young girls to Arabs. It is heartbreaking to read the destinies of so many young women who had no other choice than to become prostitutes if they wanted to stay alive when they were excluded from society for one or the other reason without their own fault. The only other choice would have been suicide.
I want to bring here one of Neriman Cahit’s poems:
I am a woman
Since the first fig-tree leaf fell down
My grandma lied to my mum
My mum lied to me
I lied to my daughter
We all told the same lie
Again and again
Thousands of lies, treachery, virginity and contempt…
Questions accumulated, accumulated for centuries…
No reply, no reply
Patience breaks the black rock
But it does not break the human heart…
Patience, patience, then it has stopped
A stone round my neck
It’s heavy, so heavy
Mirrors have been broken…mirrors broken
Abundant rain has fallen
My womanhood was my childhood
I will no longer be a shared commodity
I will be a human being seeking my rights
In the struggle of sharing that you have created…
I made a huge fire
I will set fire to all the taboos
All the prohibitions
And this system….
Then myself and you
In order to be born anew like Phoenix..
In order to be born again, equal, free and united…
To be a human being…
Let us walk together
Be beside me
Not in front of me…
Let us walk together.
Finally it gives us women hope to see – as I proceed through the 650 pages thick book – to learn from the slow but definite arrival of women in society, establishing first women associations fighting for their rights and interests, with education becoming more and more natural and normal. The respect for women grows with women being firsts in many disciplines; they will never be forgotten.
It is a thorough research work which leaves hardly any questions open if you are interested in the social structure in the Turkish Cypriot community; it is not only about women, it gives you clear answers to all general aspects of family and social life. The grip religion and traditions had and still have on family matters she deplores just as most of us women do worldwide, chains of shame.
A book, we should all read, especially young people when approaching the gates to social and political responsibilities in our world.
-Distress that is knotted (poetry) – 1988
-KTOS Struggle History (History of Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union - 1988-1991
-Our Children and Sexuality – 1990
-Subject Woman – 1990
-Ayseferi –A Journey to the Moon – 1995
-Ziya Rizki (Biography) – 1996
-A Journey to Death (Biography) 1996
-Walking for Independence (Trip articles) – 1998
-Anasu – Motherly Soul (Poetry) – 2000
-Guldamlasi – The Deep Side of Woman – 2000
-Old Nicosia Cafés and Coffee Culture
-Chariots of Cyprus
“In History – Female Poets and writers in Turkish Cypriot Literature”, 2008
-Turkish Cypriot Women in Historical Perspective – 2009