By Meliné Karakashian, PhD
MORGANVILLE, N.J. – I first heard the name of Halidé Edibe in Turkey, in 1997, while on a tour when the tour guide referred to the Genocide of Armenians as “The dark days of our country’s history…” and stated that she had read Halidé Edibe’s writings. I then read a passage in a newspaper, on a meeting of Edib with Komitas [Gomidas] Vartabed after the latter’s return from exile, in 1915. I kept this article and read it again when writing my book on Komitas’s mental state [see Komitas: Victim of the Great Crime, Yerevan: Zangak, 2014]. I subsequently bought Edib’s Memoirs (Memoirs of Halide Edibe. A. Pankoff, editor, 2005/1926) where Edib not only writes about her encounter with Komitas, but about becoming the principal of the orphanage in Antoura [Lebanon, then Syria] on the invitation of Cemal Pasha; I knew about the Antoura orphanage, having read my teacher’s, Karnig Panian’s memoirs of his childhood, from Gurun to the orphanage and more. Needless to say, both subjects interested me, Komitas’s mental state and happenings at the orphanage in Antoura, since I explore the psychological consequences of the Genocide.
Halidé Edib was the daughter of Sultan Abdul Hamid’s secretary, Edibe Bey. She attended a Christian Greek school and was raised appreciating tolerance, according to the introduction to her Memoirs. Halidé Edib was a highly respected writer, novelist; in the introduction, H. Dak states, “Although not the first, Halide Edib (1882-1964) is the most prolific Ottoman-Turkish woman writer, with 21 novels, four short story collections, two dramas, four scholarly works and a two-volume autobiography.” [p. v]
Reading her Memoirs, the reader learns about the Turk Ojak [Turkish Hearth] where Komitas was invited to perform a few weeks before his imprisonment. Edib writes: “It is in that hall that I came to know Goumitas /sic./ Vartabet, the Armenian priest, musician, and composer. He was one of those musicians, actors, and lecturers of fame whom the Ojak invited to address its weekly audiences.
“Goumitas had become very famous with the Anatolian songs and the music of the old Gregorian chants which he had collected during years of patient labor in Constantinople and Anatolia. He had trained a choir of the Armenian youth and was considered a great leader among the Armenians.”
Edibe is correct in that Komitas knew Turkish well; however, she is incorrect in stating that Komitas had collected his music in Constantinople. By the time Komitas moved to Constantinople in 1910, he had already collected rustic songs in Armenia and Western Armenia or Anatolia. Edibe continues: “As he appeared in the long black coat of the priest, his dark face as naïve as any simple Anatolian’s, and his eyes full of the pathos and longing which his voice expressed in its pure strong notes, I felt him an embodiment of Anatolian folk-lore and music.