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Portrait of A Lady as a non-conformist

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/21/2009 12:00:00 AM | Işıl Eğrikavuk

The name Eyüboğlu will sound familiar to many Turkish people as Mualla Eyüboğlu’s two brothers are a famous writer and artist. Yet there is much more to say about her than just her family. An “atypical” character among her generation, Eyüboğlu perhaps symbolizes the construction of the modern Turkish woman, but with her devotion to folk songs, traditions and religious mysticism, and with her almost childish asexuality, she was far from stereotypical.

Mualla Eyüboğlu was 90 when she passed away this week. Born in 1919 in Trabzon, a city on the northeast coast of Turkey, she grew up in a traditional family and was raised differently to her bourgeois peers in Istanbul. When the family moved to Istanbul, Eyüboğluwas sent to a regular high school instead of a girls college. “We grew up with the revolutions of Atatürk,” she says in a book written about her. “That was what Atatürk had indoctrinated in us. That we would finish school and serve our country.”

After high school, she enrolled at a fine arts college and became an architect. With her strong passion to serve her country, Mualla Eyüboğlufirst started working in Ankara’s Hasanoğlan village, and planned the construction of the village institute there.

“Village institutes were an education project that targeted the whole of Anatolia. When the Turkish Republic was founded, 90 percent of the country lived in villages and only 3 percent of the population was literate. It was a must to educate people. So the country was divided into 21 parts and in each was built an institute that not only taught people how to read and write but also crafts like carpentry and planting,” she says.

During the 1940s, Eyüboğlutraveled all around all the village institutes and mae the plans for school buildings. They built the schools from nothing together with the villagers. “She was not a typical intellectual like the academics of today,” said Ilber Ortaylı, academic and director of Topkapı Palace Museum. “Today’s academics are mostly educated in the U.S. They are detached from their own country. They just write without getting to know things on site. Mualla had her hands on many things; she knew folk songs and literature. But that was the way to be then,” he continued. “All leftist academics were like that. They all knew religious songs, too, because that is also part of folk music.”

Hitite Sun

Fortunately, there is a book about Mualla Eyüboğlulife. Named “Hittite Sun,” referring to an ancient civilization in Anatolia, the book is made of a long interview with Eyüboğlu. Writer Tuba çandar describes her as a “very different Republic Woman.” “She has dedicated herself to enlighten her country, but she was not an Istanbul bourgeois. She was both a defender of secularism but also a devout Sufi. She was both traditional and modern. In today’s dichotomized Turkey we really need people like her,” she says.

The book also comments on Eyüboğlu’slove life. Although Eyüboğlualways talked about work when asked about her past and almost described herself as sexless, her admirers seem to be plenty. “I grew up in a family with a lot of males, with my brothers and relatives,” she says. “Perhaps that’s why I always thought of everyone as a sibling. I realize only now that if I had such desires at that age I wouldn’t work with so many men in those isolated villages,” she said. “I was working on the restoration of a palace in Kars (a city on the east of Turkey). One day I was traveling with the director and we stopped at a hotel. They told us there was just one empty room. So we had to share it, but I realized that the director felt very awkward. I was just laughing and telling him that I wouldn’t hurt him.”

“She was always childish when she talked about her relationships with men,” çandar says. Yet, Eyüboğluseems to have had many admirers, among whom were intellectuals of the time including Turkey’s famous novelist Yaşar Kemal. The book also shows Kemal’s love letters in which he calls her “My Kurdish Bride.” Eyüboğlusays she never gave him hope, but the letters’ intimate language hints at an untitled flirtation between the two.

In 1947, malaria forced her departure from Anatolia and her father took her back to Istanbul. It was during this time that the village institutes were also closed down by the government and Istanbul became “home” again for a few years. After her recovery, she started working in Istanbul Fine Arts Academy but soon started traveling again as an excavation architect. It is during those years she meets Robert Anhegger, a German Turcologist whom she would marry 10 years later.

“We got married in 1958, in the 10th year of our friendship. He proposed to me with a ring that was from the fourth century A.D. After my father’s death I was feeling lonely and I couldn’t resist his insistence anymore,” Eyüboğlu said. She even resisted sharing his bed for a while.

After the marriage Eyüboğlustarted working as a restorer in Istanbul. She then restored many of Istanbul’s tourist attractions, including Topkapı Palace’s Harem and Rumeli Fortress.

In 1964 she and Anhegger bought an apartment in Taksim’s Pera district and start living there. They also collected objects from their travels all around Anatolia and effectively turned their house into a museum.

In 2001 Anhegger died. “I couldn’t accept his will to be cremated,” said Eyüboğlu in çandar’s book. “After his cremation, I lived with his ashes in the house for a week.”

After Anhegger’s death Eyüboğlucontinued living in the same apartment but said she really wanted to donate her collection to a modest museum. “We weren’t professional collectors but we collected whatever we found,” she says. “Such as Iznik tiles and doorknobs, or things we found in bazaars in Europe. We even have a Samurai sword. I would love to donate them to a museum before I die. But I am too old to go and talk to them.”

After Eyüboğludeath, it seems unclear what will happen to the collection. “She had told me that she wished to find a sponsor from Anatolia to help donate her collection,” says Tuba çandar. “After my book was published, a gentlemen called me and I directed him to Mualla’s family. But I don’t know what happened afterward that.”

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Village Institutes

Village Institutes were a group of co-ed schools that was run between 1940 and 1954 in Turkey. Established for rural development during a time when there was no education in villages, they provided both practical (agriculture, construction, arts and crafts) and classical (mathematics, science, literature, history) courses. In most of the institutes students and teachers together build the school buildings and farmed their own food. Their daily routine included morning gymnastics, reading hours and farming. However, the anti-communist movements of the time targeted these schools and the government (Democrat Party) closed them down.

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