“Ever in Need of Safeguarding”: Gender and Violence in Ottoman Anatolia, 1914-1918

By Stefan Hock
Submitted to Session P4747 (Negotiating Gender and Morality in the Ottoman First World War, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries; Gender/Women's Studies; Ottoman Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
A telegraph dated December 5, 1916 from the Ottoman Ministry of the Interior to Sivas Province announced that an investigation regarding a report from the Third Army that someone had raped and taken the virginity of a migrant girl working as a servant and afterwards raped another woman, who committed suicide after the attack. If events happened as reported, proceedings against the perpetrator would be carried out “with haste.” The Ottoman Archive documents many such cases of victimized women and children during the First World War, often in rural areas of the empire. The wives and daughters of conscripted soldiers were, in particular, frequently the victims of sexual assaults by enemy soldiers, deserted Ottomans, brigands, or fellow men in their communities. My paper explores how both the wartime Ottoman government attempted to manage the problem of sexual violence as well as how local actors communicated with the Ottoman state to seek its assistance in protecting themselves.

I examine documents from a number of apparatuses of the wartime Ottoman government, including the Ministry of Public Order (Asayis Kalemi); the Ministry of War (Harbiye); the Cypher Office (Sifre); and imperial edicts (Iradeler) and argue that the Committee of Union and Progress viewed wartime as a suitable, even ideal, setting to actualize its vision of a modern, centralized “nation in arms.” The Ottoman government’s actions during the First World War thus reflect its assumptions about sexuality, gender, morality, and the role of the state as a “surrogate” husband and father. The wartime government passed a number of measures that granted military courts increased power over prosecution of crimes committed against a deployed soldier’s household, including rape, zina, abduction, and false imprisonment. In this way, the expansion of the expansion and transformation of the state and the military’s functions caused the development of a new, broader relationship between the state and Ottoman women. I suggest that it was, in part, the experience of the First World War that paved the way for later Turkish Republican policies that similarly privileged the Turkish state in women’s lives.