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Fatih district creates 'memory bank' for women

ISTANBUL - Anatolia News Agency | 1/20/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The history of women in Turkey is being collected at the Kadın Eserleri Kütüphanesi and Bilgi Merkezi Vakfı (Women's Artifacts Library and Information Center Foundation) in Istanbul's Fatih district. The 20-year-old library is the first in Turkey to document the history of women. It supports itself with members' donations and revenues from the distribution of annual agendas and postcards

The Women’s Artifacts Library and Information Center Foundation, located in the Balat neighborhood of Istanbul’s Fatih district, has been an invaluable resource on the history of women for 20 years.

The library catalogs the history of women with more than 10,000 books, 500 periodical publications, 3,000 articles, thousands of newspaper clippings and many other documents collected over the past two decades.

The library was established by five women volunteers so that they could learn about women’s history, present the collected information to researchers and bequeath today’s written documents to future generations, Aslı Davaz, one of the institution’s founders and its current executive board chair, told the Anatolia news agency.

According to Davaz, similar facilities were founded throughout the world at the end of the 1930s as a result of the burgeoning feminist movement.

“We decided to open this library because our country did not have a similar institution, because the women’s movement has a century-long history and because these documents were not collected anywhere,” Davaz said. “No other institutes systematically collected documents produced by women’s associations, women’s private archives and very rare magazines and bulletins. Now we are doing this.”

The library building was provided by the Istanbul municipality, the co-founder noted. “There are works from the 19th century to the present in the library... But we are far behind what we should have,” she said. “After all, no libraries throughout the world particularly progressed when faced with impossibilities.”

Donations from members, along with revenue from the sales of postcards, publications and agenda books, are crucial to the continued existence of the library, Davaz added.

The library has prepared a different theme every year since its establishment. “This year’s theme is ‘Women’s Magazines from the Ottoman [Era] to the Republic,’” Davaz said. “At the same time, we make women visible with our agendas, which are like a bedside book.”

Davaz said that the library and the archives function as a “memory bank” for women and women’s movements and that many conferences, panel discussions, festivities, concerts, exhibitions and international symposiums on women have been organized at the facility over the years.

The executive board chair said the library’s goal is to collect works on women, written by both women and men. “Twenty years ago, we used to collect works written by women on every issue,” she added. “But because of narrow space, now we collect ones about women only.”

Complaining that similar organizations in France, England, the Netherlands, the United States and Italy receive more funds, Davaz said: “All of them are big institutes that have a budget. They receive money from municipalities, support from universities and funds from culture ministries. In the past 20 years, we have not been able to reach this point.”

[HH] A ‘National Library of women’

The library has a large audience including students, businesswomen, politicians and visitors from foreign countries, Davaz said. “Our library is open to everyone. [But] this is not a library that gives books out for people to read. This is a research library,” she added. “Our aim is to continue to collect documents and keep them. This is a kind of National Library of women.”

The library includes private archives from Turkey’s first female lawyer, Süreyya Ağaoğlu, the country’s first female mayor, Müfide İlhan, and its first female sculptor, Zerrin Bölükbaşı.

With the aid of the Finnish Embassy in Ankara, women’s magazines from the Ottoman era were transliterated into Latin script as part of the library’s 20th anniversary. Davaz said the project would be launched at a press conference March 8, International Women’s Day, with the attendance of embassy officials.

“This is a very extensive project. There were more than 40 periodicals released before the founding of the Republic. Since we don’t know the Ottoman language, we did not know about our own history,” she said. “They have been transliterated into the Latin alphabet but we failed to find financial support to print them. What is important, though, is finding new editions for all texts.”

The project aims to translate periodicals printed between 1913 and 1924 and bring them to readers under the title “Kadınların Belleği Dizisi” (Memory of Women Series), Davaz said, adding, “This project will be an important step in forming women’s memory in Turkey.”

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