INTERVIEW - ARMIN ŠETIĆ
"The fall of the Empire begins when the corrupt Pashas take control and when women are completely withdrawn from politics!"
AfW: Where did the interest in studying the period of Ottoman history, the Age of Transformation, with particular emphasis on the role of women in that period come from in such a young seventeen-year old?
Armin: Before I was inspired to write my first book, I did a lot of research and study on the history of the Ottoman Empire, and I was particularly interested in women's rule at a time when the empire was at its peak. I have always enjoyed reading about courageous, strong women who have made their place in the world and have forever written down their names in world history with their works. I was particularly interested in the life of imperial women, such as the mothers, women and sisters sultanas, their everyday life, the splendor and elegance in which they lived, and the wealth they possessed. While exploring the life of Mahpeyker Kosem Sultana, it was inconceivable form me to understand that a woman could be a regent, a sultanate governor to her minor son, that she convened meetings, made important and decisive decisions, or more precisely, that she ran the state very successfully.
AfW: Your first book is called "Gazia." What is it about and did you want to provoke a certain reaction by the title itself, since Gazia stands for the honorary title given to distinguished military leaders?
Armin: You are absolutely right, Gazia was the honorary title given to successful military leader, but ghazi also means conqueror, someone who fights for himself and his ideals, therefore, considering that the life of each sultana was a daily struggle for dominance and survival, I decided to emphasize endurance and fearlessness of such successful women who had to deal with all the prejudices and stereotypes carried by the patriarchal times in which they lived. Gazia tells a story of an Ottoman princess, Sarashahuban Hatidze Safiya Sultana, who was the daughter of Sultan Mehmed III and a Tuscan noblewoman. Her mother, outraged by her life in the harem and the fact that she was pregnant, fearing for the baby's life especially if she gave birth to a boy, decided to escape from the harem and return to her native Florence where she married and still gave birth to a daughter, Princess Elizabeth. After several years, the Sultan, finding out that he had a daughter with a runaway slave, sent an army to find her and bring her back to Istanbul. This is when the story of my Sultana, who converted to Islam from Catholicism, married Damat Ibrahim Pasha and decided to influence Ottoman politics begins.
AfW: You have already prepared us in the foreword of the Gazia for some interesting and unbelievable ideas. Did you want to tell us that it is inconceivable to imagine that the Ottoman Empire was more advanced than many European countries, or is it unimaginable that in our country there is a belief that women at that time did not enjoy their rights and they had less freedom, while you claim that in the Ottoman Empire, women had a lot of freedom?
Armin: Considering that Sultan Murat IV and Valide Kosem Sultana viewed from their balconies at Topkapi Palace the first intercontinental flight in 1631 by Hezafern Ahmet Celebi, while in Europe where the science was governed by the church, he would be imprisoned or burned like many scholars, we must then say that during the Ottoman Empire, scientists enjoyed the freedom of their creation. Of course in rural areas, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have to be self-critical and start from my own country, where in almost every family the last word belonged to that of a man, a woman did not have that much freedom. Although there were certain women who knew how to dominate a man, especially upper-class women such as wives of beys, pashas, or sultans. This freedom was expressed through the way they dressed, and they would emerge in front of their pashas wearing deep neckline-dresses, characteristic of the 17th century, covered with a transparent veil. Wearing such a luxurious clothes made of expensive materials they wanted their wardrobe to express their voice and the importance of their word in the diplomacy of the Ottoman Empire.
AfW: What do you think of the position of women in B&H society today?
Armin: That is a difficult question. Although women have exercised the same rights today as men, there are still prejudices and stereotypes that our society inherited from the past from some patriarchal time, about women's capabilities, especially in politics, without being aware that women are much better and more successful politicians than men. We need as many women as possible in politics, because I believe that women are much braver and more capable than men in this area.
AfW: Although Gazia has only recently been published, you have also been tirelessly working on your next novel. Can you tell us what it will be about and who it was written for?
Armin: My second book is a novel about our last Bosnian queen, Mara Tomasevic. I have been following Queen Mara's life since the fall of the Bosnian Kingdom until her death in the Ottoman Empire. Being amazed with the courage and sacrifice of this woman for a country she once ruled, I follow her life in Dubrovnik, her meetings with the most famous Croatian artists of the time, her ability to take care of her own financial situation, her life at a monastery near Split, her life at Budapest at the court of Matthias Corvinus and her final journey to Constantinople into the Ottoman Empire where she would spend the rest of her life.
AfW: Since both of your books are about women, the position and role of women in particular periods of history, how many of your books will reach those who should read them and who is Armin's target audience?
Armin: In my books, Armin addresses everyone, I want to inspire both women and men to believe in themselves, that the world is theirs, that they need to use their abilities to achieve certain goals, and I hope that in my books I manage to dispel prejudice about women and their freedom.
AfW: If you draw a parallel between women in the Ottoman Empire and today, what would you single out as an advantage, and what as a disadvantage; were women braver, more persistent than they are today, despite their lower levels of equality?
Armin: A very good question, I would say that in the patriarchal time when a man was the center of attention, women in the Ottoman Empire were persistent and wanted to be educated and read as much as possible, to build strong reputation within society. At the time, they were not in a position to express their opinions as publicly as many women today are able to, but unfortunately do not do as much as they should. We must dispel fears of our own opinion; no woman in the 21st century should be subordinate to a man, the time of the sultans with harems, where several hundred women lived and whose main task was to give birth to a male child is long gone. We need to work even more to educate women about their rights, first of all the right to choose, and to protect women in society.
AfW: Do you follow the socio-political developments in our country and in the world?
Armin: I follow sociopolitical developments especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I like to be informed and updated on what is happening in my social environment because that way I build an opinion on certain problems that we face.
AfW: Do you think everything would be much better if we had more women in decision-making positions?
Armin: Surely it would, I think, we are often on the verge of collapse precisely because for centuries men, who are prone to conflict and warfare, have ruled. Women are much more intelligent than men, which has been proven throughout history, and that is why, now and then, women, so to speak, were often portrayed as incompetent beings; if we had more women in decision-making places, I am sure we would live in a better society where everyone would exercise their rights.
AfW: Why aren't there more women in decision-making places? Who is to blame?
Armin: Unfortunately, our society is to blame. In Bosnia and Herzegovina we still live in patriarchal times where the man has an upper hand in the society and where people are still separated according to national and religious affiliations. Women are often told how to live and are judged by the community; the rate of violence against women is still very high in our country; these are just some of the problems we need to address and protect women from such things.
My name is Armin Setic, I was born on November 19, 2002. I am a student at Cetvrta gimnazija high school at Ilidža. Last year, I published my first novel, "Gazia," about the rule of women- sultanas, in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century. I am interested in the research, readings and writing about powerful and dominant women in the history who have successfully ruled the countries.