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Our Joan of Arc

April 2011

Our Joan of Arc

Naziq al-Abed was a pioneer for both national independence and women's rights.

By Nadia Muhanna
Photos Adel Samara

Naziq al-Abed (1898-1959)

It might be hard to imagine Damascene women in the 1920s – generally perceived as illiterate
and cloaked in traditional mlaye (a short skirt and veil) – as freedom fighters. Yet many of them
took up both pens and arms in the fight against foreign rule.

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Our Joan of Arc
April 2011

Naziq al-Abed, a robust woman with a round face and dark, curious eyes, was one of the
most controversial women to partake in the Syrian revolutions against the Ottomans and
French. Born in 1898 as the daughter of an aristocrat and an insider in the court of Ottoman
Sultan Abdulhamid II, Abed traded the French dance saloons, European tours and luxurious
lifestyle that her family maintained, for the battlefield. She was also a passionate feminist, often
infuriating the sensibilities of Damascus's conservative circles.

"She was not like any of her sisters," Burhan al-Abed, Naziq al-Abed's third
cousin, said. "She was very liberal with a strong character. She was a true rebel."

Burhan, an anesthesiologist in his nineties, recalled with nostalgia his visits to his cousin's
farm, where he usually found her working in the field or sitting on the floor eating with her fellow
workers.

"She was a humble person who loved sports and horseback riding. She used to
dress like middle-class Damascenes and avoided accessories and ornaments. She was the
only woman at that time who wore trousers and boots and carried a whip," he said.

Transition to politics
Following her student years, Abed became politically engaged. Although she originally
studied agriculture, she worked as a journalist and became a vocal critic of the Ottoman and
French policies in her country. In 1919, she led a women's delegation that discussed the French
mandate in Syria with the American King Crane Commission that was tasked with determining
the attitudes of Syrians and Palestinians towards the settlement of their territories.

Naziq held anti-colonial views despite her family's ties to the Ottomans. She came from a
prominent Damascene family whose members held important governmental positions during the
Ottoman empire. Her father, for example, was the wali (governor) of Mosul and her uncle,
Ahmad Izzat, was the aide-de-camp and private advisor to Sultan Abdulhamid.

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Our Joan of Arc
April 2011

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