The Diary, Year of the Locust, As One of the Purest Forms of Personal Narrative

The diary of Ihsan Salih Turjman (1893–1917), the Ottoman Arab soldier, who served as a deputy clerk at the Commissariat of the Fourth Imperial Army—the Manzil in Jerusalem— can be regarded as one of the most appealing personal narratives reflecting the city of Jerusalem, the situation on the Middle Eastern front, and his own life as well as the troubles of the people of the region during the bloodiest days of the First World War. [1] The fundamental reason for this, of course, is the fact that it deviates from other types of personal narrative due to its diary form. Samuel Hynes explains this distinction as follows: “Diaries and journals get that strangeness best because [the] experience there is not filtered and mediated by time, or by an audience beyond the self.” [2] This peculiar characteristic may also be considered valid for military narratives, but as Yuval Noah Harari points out, the fact that soldiers write their memoirs later in life leads to the following proposition: “. . . lived experience is as culturally constructed as remembered experience.”3 Nevertheless, diaries and letters, by and large, departs from military narratives in terms of the so-called immediacy, which implies bringing someone together with something directly and instantly—that is to say, insinuating the matter of urgency. [4]

That being the case, even a soldier would now have to define by himself the fundamental concepts of his existence, as an individual alone. He would no longer seek social approval, and he was not there to approve anything. The diary is a shift with regard to personal narrative as a literary form. This shift manifests itself in the emancipation of personal narrative form, in its world, and, most significantly, in a marked departure from the ideologised discourse. Therefore, in his diary, Ihsan can fearlessly articulate that he does not have a desire for going to the front by saying, “I am Ottoman by name only, for my country is the whole of humanity.” [5] He states further that a drop of his blood is more valuable than the throne of the Ottoman sultans. [6] Furthermore, he even records in his diary a case of harassment that he cannot tell anyone, when an Albanian officer molested him. [7] In line with Salim Tamari, who prepared the diary for publication, Ihsan used an encryption system, perhaps because he was afraid of the possibility of his diary being read by others. [8] At the end of the day, thanks to his connections, Ihsan, who survived the war on the Suez Canal front at the very last moment, brings about an absorbing soldier narrative with his sincere and infuriated ideas about the war and the Ottoman rule together with his conflicts in his daily life.

In the diary, Ihsan establishes his view of war beyond the mentality of a patriot who is ready to die for his homeland and elaborates on this point of view as follows: “We need peace badly. The economic crisis is deepening, and it will not allow us to pursue this war further. Not much is left.” [9] He even calls Cemal Paşa, from time to time, as “[t]he idiot Cemal . . .” and says that his name will be cursed forever by also adding, “[h]is ignorance is limitless.” [10] The utmost gravity of moral issues and social justice can be recognized for Ihsan due to the frequent repetition of relevant issues. [11] It can be inferred that Ihsan was concerned about himself, his family, and the city in his narrative. In a part of the diary, he makes it clear: “I love life and enjoy its offerings. Please God, I am still very young, do not take me away.” [12] Among the sentences of a man who has been created out of sheer anxiety, readers witness the historical transformation in Palestine and Arab geography. Last but not least, the perspective of Arab communities, which still predominates, towards the Ottoman administration can be seen in Ihsan’s reaction to Sharif Hussein’s rebellion: “Every Arab should be pleased about this news. [13]

  • [1] Ihsan Salih Turjman, Year of the Locust: A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past, ed. Salim Tamari (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 2011), 4.
  • [2] Samuel Hynes, “Personal Narratives and Commemoration,” in War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century, ed. Jay Winter and Emmanuel Sivan (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 211.
  • [3] Yuval Noah Harari, “Military Memoirs: A Historical Overview of the Genre from the Middle Ages to the Late Modern Era,” War in History 14, no. 3 (July 1, 2007): 306, https://doi.org/10.1177/0968344507078375.
  • [4] Hynes, 208.
  • [5] Turjman, 133.
  • [6] Ibid., 138.
  • [7] Ibid., 156-157.
  • [8] Ibid., 20.
  • [9] Ibid., 105.
  • [10] Ibid., 116.
  • [11] Ibid., 124.
  • [12] Ibid., 129.
  • [13] Ibid., 155.

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