Sakıp Sabancı's own words

Chicken Liver-Seller Recep

The villagers would load the cotton into cars or onto tractor trailers that were rare at the time and come to Adana in the cool of the night. The cotton was sold during the first light of the day so that they could go back to their villages before the sun started burning the Earth. I would set my alarm clock and set on the road before sunrise. Sinan Bosna would accompany me on the cotton purchase. Because we didn`t have breakfast in the morning, we would get hungry when we were done buying cotton and on our way to Bossa Factory, back to our work. During this period we became friends with Recep who sold cooked chicken liver on the street..

Recep was a swarthy young man with a moustache and a tanned face, speaking in an Adana dialect and wearing shalvar-styled pants. He made a patchy stall using two wheels of an old horse carriage. Up on the stall, there was a glass case where he would display the bread, bean and onion salad, and cooked chicken livers. Flies would fill in this glass case, but Recep wouldn`t care about it. There was a charcoal burner in front of the stall, increasing the heat of Adana even more. There was always a queue in front of Recep who would cut the livers with a black handled knife on a piece of wood and then cook them on the charcoal burner.

It brightened up our lives to visit Recep and talk to him and other people in the queue while waiting for our food to be ready. We were following the day to day news about Recep`s village, wife, lover, kids, his problems with his father, the illness of his mother, his brother`s fight with the sergeant at the military. I can say that I hadn’t talked about such private matters with anyone during those three years of my life. It was more natural to talk about private matters like family with Recep rather than the problems at the factory or the price of cotton. Both Sinan and I started to take eating liver and our friend Recep very seriously. Thinking back now, I wonder how come our stomachs could survive liver sandwiched in a quarter loaf of bread along with onions so early in the morning. I wonder how my friend Sinan who spent years in the USA for his education and was fragile in nature could make his stomach accept such food.

One day after a morning I spent with Sinan buying and selling cotton, we went to Recep`s as always, but this time we couldn’t find him at his usual spot. For three years Recep was at the same corner without any exceptions, where he could be now? We were so used to seeing him that we could only now realize in his absence that in the past three years he had never gotten sick, gone to his village for a visit, or left his corner.

We thought maybe he was sick and would come the next day. But he didn’t. He didn’t come the following day, either. We asked about him to other people around, but we couldn’t learn about his whereabouts. Some said he was escaping because of a blood feud. Some said he ran away from his wife with his girlfriend. We lost our friend Recep. I haven’t eaten a liver sandwich since then.

Fotoğraf Sakıp Sabancı Arşivi
My Dear Friend Cemil Gozuyesil

Some people are lucky. God grants them luck from birth. And then there are others who don’t have what we call “kismet”. We can’t say that these people are lazy or not have no business know-how. A guy for example, decides to get involved with cotton trade and the cotton trade starts to go bad. He gets involved with textile and this time the textile business goes bad. There is this saying in Turkish, “Vermeyince Mabud, ne eylesin Mahmud”- meaning sometimes there is nothing we can do if God doesn’t give. In life I witnessed the truth of this saying, that some people would be unfortunate whatever they do.

Once I had this friend, Cemil Gozuyesil. When I was a student at Adana Boys High School with Mustafa Salihoglu known as the “Son of God”, Cemil Gozuyesil was a student at Adana Trade School with Kemal Ozgur. But we were all friends and used to hang out together although we didn’t go to the same school. Cemil Gozuyesil started to work in farming and trade while I was improving myself in industry. As I liked him a lot and I wanted him to make more money, I decided to help him. At the time cotton trade in Adana was profitable.

I borrowed some capital from Cemil Gozuyesil`s father. I added this money to the amount we allocated for cotton trade. So while buying and selling cotton, I knew that half of the profit or loss was Cemil`s. Whenever I did cotton trade on my own, I made profit, but whenever I traded with Cemil, we lost money. All my efforts were in vain. I had to accept the fact that God didn`t grant Cemil kismet. Whatever I did, I couldn’t make it possible for him to make more money. You may find this superstitious, but when God decides to give, He does. He did give me and I am very grateful for that. God`s treasures are so endless. My father would say “Son, ask from God. He has endless treasures. Instead of fighting over sums and calculations, work full heartedly and steadily. Instead of laying eyes on each other`s profit, ask from God. The treasury of God is full.

Fotoğraf Sakıp Sabancı Arşivi
The Frıendshıp Of Whıskered Ibrahım

In the days following the 1960 military intervention, a broadcast communique stopped banks from making payments. It was forbidden to take out money from deposit accounts or to access rented safe-deposit boxes. It lasted for only a day or two but a great many people were thrown into a panic.

I shall never forget an incident from those days. I was sitting with father in the office of the Bossa flour factory, drinking tea with İbrahim Aran, an old friend of the family known as Whiskered İbrahim. The door opened and in came two men, flushed and breathless. They were Rafet Milli and Hacı Yalcin, both from Adana, who used to sell us cotton. They had some of our bonds, not yet mature, from cotton sales, and had brought these bonds with them. ‘Hacı Agha,’ they said, ‘we need money urgently. I’m going to buy a house and he’s going to buy a field. These bonds haven’t yet matured but we’re in this tight spot, do whatever you like, but just pay these bonds.’ They had made up their story, which was full of far-fetched details. Their one idea was to turn the bonds into cash at this critical time.

Father said, “There’s no money in the safe; since you’re squeezed I’ll make the payment first thing when the banks open.” But they kept insisting until Whiskered İbrahim could stand it no longer. “Allow me, Hacı Agha,’” he said. “I’ve got TL 300.000 at home in cash. I’ll go and fetch it and you can get rid of these chaps.”

This incident made a deep impression on me. On the one side was the infinite trust in Hacı Omer; on the other, the panic of these untrustworthy men. It was a good lesson for me in estimating the value of people and of friendships.

Diesel Mehmet of Bossa Factory

During the days when cotton gins would be considered as an “industry” and flour mills were called “factories”, it was difficult to find technicians. Even finding the electricity was an issue. As there were frequent power cuts, there were generators in every facility; there were workmen who were in charge of these diesel generators. Those “diesel guys” were the most valuable technicians in Adana.

Usually those diesel guys were men who became mechanics after working as a co-driver for trucks or buses and developed some understanding for the way engines worked. These skilled people were difficult to find; therefore they would very quickly make a name for themselves. They were very important people for facilities that needed electricity to function. Because without power, the machines wouldn’t work and the workers would get money although they didn’t work. So the factory would be closed as long as the generator didn’t work. Especially when a piece from the generator broke and we needed to have the piece brought from Istanbul, the number of the days the factory would be closed would increase along with the loss. For these reasons, factories that needed electricity to function would run after those diesel guys.

The diesel guy Mehmet was one of those guys who had a good reputation. For this reason my father Haci Omer gave him a job at Bossa Factory and put him in charge of the generators. Mehmet was short and overweight. It was difficult to see his mouth and nose that remained under his beard and moustache. He would look around, rolling his beady eyes. His hands, crooked from husking cotton balls for many years, were always covered with fuel oil. Since he cleaned his face and hands with a towel that hung around his neck, his face and even his ears would be covered with fuel oil. It would look like his sweat was black.

It was the time when Bossa was just founded. The machines were brand new. There were technicians, engineers working inside. But for us the most important person in the factory was Mehmet the Diesel Guy, because we believed that if he weren’t at the factory, all the electric generators would stop working and when the generators stopped, the factory wouldn’t function. Thousands of workers, engineers, all the machines worth millions would be left useless. With this state of mind, as soon as we got inside the factory we would see Mehmet first, shake his hand and ask how he was doing. He was aware how important he was for us. He was running from one place to another in haste showing off how busy and important he was.

My father Haci Omer and my brothers wouldn’t step in the factory before asking him how he was doing–to some extent because we believed in the importance of the work he was doing and was afraid the entire factory would stop working if we offended him in some way, but to a very large extent because we loved his sympathetic manner. His friendship with me was different. When I asked him about the machines, he would always give me rough answers maybe because he was looking down at me for my ignorance or he didn’t know what some of those machines were for, either. He would say “Hmm that is a very important piece…” or “No, that one is actually useless.”

Then the electricity problem of Adana was resolved. The dams started to provide electricity. There was no need for the generators to work on a regular basis at the factories. Some kept the generators in case of an emergency. We were of course so happy about this, but Mehmet was devastated because he lost his importance for the factory.

The directors at the factory gave him another job as a headworker in one of the departments. All of a sudden, Mehmet, who thought the factory wouldn’t work without him, started to feel useless. He lost weight and became unhappy. He said he wanted to go back to his village. We insisted that he stay but couldn’t convince him. He left the factory and we didn’t see him again. Technology and developments in the country rendered a once indispensable guy useless.

Father’s Friend Crazy Mithat

One of my father`s frequent visitors was a friend of his from Emirgan, a retired navy captain. This old, sociable, worldly-wise soldier whom my father would call “Crazy Mithat” was loved a lot by the people of Emirgan. One day he said to my father “Haci Agha, if I were as rich as you I would enjoy life with music and food and beautiful women every day.” My dad replied “My dear Crazy Mithat, huge houses and beautiful objects and other richness are not important. If property was valuable enough on its own, we wouldn’t have any deserted or demolished mansions. What is important is the wheel behind all that property. If you can work the wheel properly, you will always have property. In Istanbul there are so many big and beautiful mansions and antiques. Why do state officials, presidents and ministers, and mayors come here to visit me instead of going to those other places? Is it because I am very handsome? Or is it because this building is really big? What is big is my business. My financial power and my contribution to the economy of Turkey. Material richness is useless as long as you are a useless man. For how many days will you be able to find the money for the music and the drinks and entertainment, anyway?

Like my entire family, I liked this tall, brave, happy faced man who would sometimes go too far in drinking. When he drank too much, he didn’t harm anyone but would lose control of his words for the sake of making funny jokes and he would spend lots of time in our house. He was my father`s friend, but we admired him too.

I have never forgotten two incidents in which Mithat was involved. One day while my dad and Mithat were having nargile, my dad was informed that there was someone at the gate from his village wishing to see him. My dad asked the gate keepers to let him in. The man was a very strange guy. He said, “Haci Agha, you don’t know about me. I will tell you about the reason I am visiting you, but first please bring me a prayer rug and let me pray.” Then he made a small prayer before the puzzled expressions of my dad and Mithat. When he was finished with his prayer, he said “Haci Agha, I am in a difficulty. They say Khidr doesn’t come along unless a man is in difficulty. While I was contemplating sleepless last night, Prophet Muhammed came along. He said “go, visit Haci Omer. Do a little prayer in his house. He will provide you with the necessary help.”

My dad realized the weirdness of the situation but couldn’t decide how to react. If he had given some money to the guy, then he would have told the others and my father would have more and more visitors. If he hadn’t given any money and sent the guy away, then he would tell everyone that my dad was too stingy. While my father was struggling with those thoughts, Crazy Mithat put his hookah down, straightened himself up, and asked the visitor “Do you speak Arabic, my Friend?” The puzzled guy replied no. “You are a deceitful man then,” said Mithat, “You don’t speak Arabic and Prophet Muhammed doesn’t speak Turkish. How come he told you this address and advised you to come here? Are you trying to deceive us?” The other guy was left speechless and he left our house.

On a day before the 1960s when the Democrat Party was putting lots of importance on the “Homeland Front,” Carzy Mithat drank a lot and spoke against Celal Bayar and the supporters of Democrat Party in the Emirgan Cinaralti Coffee House. The supporters of the DP in the coffee house made an official complain about Mithat. When the police started to look for him for insulting the President of the Republic, Celal Bayar, my dad hid him in the Horse Mansion. My dad expected the event to be forgotten in a short while and he would be able to let Crazy Mithat go. The days passed, but the police didn’t give up looking for Mithat. Looking for a solution, my dad asked for an appointment to visit Celal Bayar who was spending the summer in Istanbul in his Florya mansion. Celal Bayar thought my dad was visiting for business purposes. “Mr. Celal, I am asking for a really important favor from you,” said my dad. “There is this guy in Emirgan that we call Crazy Mithat. He said some stupid things when he was drunk. The police have been looking now for him for a month. He will be sent to prison if he gets caught. He is my friend. I am hiding him in my house. I was planning to let him go in a short time. But because of the police I cannot let him go. The guy is eating, drinking, and living his life in my house. If he stays any longer I will go bankrupt feeding him. Please forgive this guy so that I can let him go and will not have to feed him anymore.” Celal Bayar smiled, revealing his kindness. “Okay” he said, “I will do as you say.” This was how Crazy Mithat was forgiven and set free.