Married to It: World War I as Seen by the Wife of an Ottoman Special Organization Officer

By Benjamin Carr Fortna
Submitted to Session P3348 (Towards the Centennial-WWI in the Middle East--The Gender Politics of WWI: Ottoman Women Embodying the Great War, 2013 Annual Meeting
Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper offers a rare female perspective on the inner workings of the Ottoman war effort and its personal toll. Drawing on a previously unknown memoir and correspondence found among the personal papers of Ku?çuba?? E?ref, an officer in the Te?kilât-? Mahsusa (Special Organization) formed by Enver Pa?a, this research reveals some of the many ways in which the Great War affected domestic life. The writings of E?ref’s wife Pervin Han?m provide a remarkably candid account of life during wartime.

An analysis of Pervin Han?m’s writings reveals the several levels on which the war was experienced and internalized on the home front. An intelligent, educated woman, Pervin’s insights can be grouped into three broad and occasionally overlapping categories. First, on a basic, narrative level, Pervin records the comings and going of her husband and his associates as they undertook a variety of missions on behalf of Enver and the Ministry of War. Secondly, her account reveals the ways in which the political and the personal aspects of the war were intertwined. Whether entertaining officers at their home or putting up with the long, often unexplained absences caused by her husband’s secret missions, Pervin’s story demonstrates the connections between official duty and personal sacrifice, between patriotism and the personal cost behind the scenes. Thirdly, Pervin’s account provides ample evidence for considering the emotional history of the war. From the interruption of their honeymoon to the nearly constant anxiety caused by her husband’s numerous clandestine missions and his capture and internment as a British POW to her relief on his return, Pervin’s war was an emotional roller-coaster. Through a combination of loneliness, prayer, humor, pride, resentment, tears and worry, Pervin exhibited a wide range of affects even though she was mostly far from physical harm.

Pervin’s narrative of external comings-and-goings and interal torment suggests that the personal cost of the war was far larger than we might expect. Pervin and her family cannot be considered to be “victims” of the war in the traditional sense and certainly not in comparison to the much more horrific crimes perpetrated during the war and, of course, by the Te?kilât-? Mahsusa itself. But Pervin’s case reminds us, perhaps, that war adversely affects almost all who live through it in some way.