Ismail Bey Gaspirali and Women's Education*
Mübeyyin B. Altan
Among the causes championed by Ismail Bey Gaspirali, the issue of women's education occupies a special place, simply because he strongly believed that women held the key to the modernization of the Muslims of Russia. The status of women among Crimean Tatars and the rest of the Russian Muslim communities did, indeed, disturb Ismail Bey Gaspirali. He encouraged women to join his modernization crusade and stated: "...Women have a significant role to play in any nation's development.
Don't say 'how useful can we be? After all we are just women!' Don't forget that you constitute half the world's population, and in some fields you are better than men!" (quoted in Yildiz, No. 5, 1990, p. 95). Ismail Bey showed his
support for women's education by publishing the first Turkic-Muslim women's journal, Alem-i Nisvan (Women's World) in January 1906. The following passage, which appeared in the 23 February 1907 issue of the Alem-i Nisvan, illustrates Ismail Bey Gaspirali's deep concern for women's education:
I visited the city of Gence in the Caucasus for a few months last year. More than half of Gence's population is Muslim, and it is in ruins because of the Muslim-Armenian conflict. There are many schools and medreses in Gence, but they are all for boys. I had not seen or even heard of any girls' schools there. That is the reason why there are very few literate women in the area.
Therefore, they [women] have no idea what is happening in the world; they do not know what science or education is. I could not help but comment on this subject in order to draw attention to the sad status of these young Muslims of the Caucuses.
In the Caucasus boys are educated in all sorts of Muslim, Russian and vocational schools, and
universities. Likewise, in Gence boys attend the aforementioned schools while the poor girls are kept illiterate. It is very sad that parents, who allow their sons to attend these schools, let their daughters live as illiterates. Will it be harmful if these young ladies learn how to read and write? Will it be harmful if these girls open a religious book or a newspaper and understand what they read? Poor women! They suffer from the day they are born, until the day they are buried. What is really sad, however, is that these women are not even aware of their sad status.
In Gence the only Sanai Nefri (Fine Arts/Fine Crafts) school is run by the Russians. All the instructors are Russian women, and the curriculum is in Russian. A Muslim lady named Asiye hanim teaches the Islamic courses. We have learned later that another such school is opened. If these schools continue with their programs, maybe a handful of girls will succeed in learning how to read and write.... [Ismail Gasprinski]
* The copy of this page from Alem-i Nisvan was provided by Fikret Yurter, President of the Crimea Foundation and editor of Birlik, a journal published by the Crimea Foundation. Transliteration into the Latin alphabet by Hacı Cemil Ortalan and English translation by M.B. Altan.