Hanim, Latife (1898–1975)

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Hanim, Latife (1898–1975)

Turkish feminist and wife of Kemal Atatürk. Name variations: Latife Muammer. Born Latife Hanim in 1898; died in 1975; daughter of a family in Izmir; married Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938, Turkish officer, son of Zübeyde Hanim and Ali Riza, who created the modern secular Turkish republic), in 1922; children: none.

Latife Hanim, born in 1898, was the well-educated daughter of a wealthy family in Izmir. When she married Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a Turkish officer, in 1922, the marriage was contracted in the modern manner, not in the tradition of Islam. From 1922 to 1938, her husband remade the Turkish state. The new government was a republic with Kemal as president, and with its capital at Ankara (formerly Angora). There followed over several years a massive program of secularization. The caliphate was abolished, and Islam ceased to be the official state religion. Men could no longer wear the fez, or women the Muslim veil. Women were also raised to legal equality with men; Turkey dropped the Arabic alphabet and replaced it with a Latin alphabet. The Grand National Assembly became the font of sovereignty, and both men and women could vote for, and be elected to, membership. Religious shrines were closed and even private religious organizations were outlawed. Hagia St. Sophia, the former Byzantine imperial cathedral in Istanbul which had become the Ottoman imperial mosque, now became a national museum which included exhibits containing pictorial representations of former Turkish leaders. Good Muslims had never allowed pictorial representations in places of worship because they believed it violated the injunctions against idolatry in the Koran and the Old Testament. All Turks were ordered to adopt surnames as in the Western world. Kemal chose Atatürk, which meant Father of the Turk.

The new secular Turkish republic faced two interrelated sources of opposition and turmoil. Devout Muslims led by conservative religious leaders fought secularization every step of the way. Non-Turkish ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Armenians, and Arabs often joined forces with the Muslim fundamentalist opposition. Kemal saw such alliances as the only serious threat which his new republic need fear, and he treated them accordingly. Martial law, drumhead court martials, and ruthless use of the Turkish army soon restored order. But these same methods and attitudes carried over into internal Turkish politics. Kemal always claimed he wanted to mold Turkey into a modern Western state. He also admitted that modern Western states were legislative democracies with a recognized and accepted opposition party. Despite Kemal's stated intentions, the Turkish republic became increasingly a one-party dictatorship led by a sometimes paranoiac and vengeful führer.

This ambiguity between the stated ideal and the real can also be seen in Kemal's private life. He often criticized the old oriental Turkish attitude towards women and deliberately pushed one of the most feminist legislative programs in the world. Yet his own lifestyle reflected the Turkish past. In the 1920s, he became involved with two women. The first served as a concubine during the years of national revolt and was then hustled out of the country when Kemal emerged as president of Turkey. The second, Latife Hanim, became his official wife. She was considered a modern woman, and they appeared publicly together as role models for the new Turkish family. However, when Latife tried to assert herself and control his drinking and his carousing, Kemal became resentful. He finally divorced her by the old Islamic method of repeating four times the phrase," I divorce thee," and had her removed from his house. This method became illegal in Turkey less than a year later when Kemal's new Western civil law code came into force. In the 1930s, he became more aggressive toward the wives and daughters which he met socially. He also started adopting numerous attractive teenage girls who came to live with him: Zehra, Rukiye, Sabiha, Afet, and Nebile.


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Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. 2nd ed. Oxford, 1968.

Nyrop, Richard F. Turkey. 3rd ed. Department of the Army, 1980.