My travels in Eastern Anatolia

During my travels to Eastern Anatolia I witnessed some interesting events and experienced some unforgettable moments. When I was there for a conference at a university, I was invited to a javelin match organized in my honor. An energetic, smart and knowledgeable primary school teacher in Erzurum was trying hard to keep this ancient sport alive by frequently organizing games. The game started in a grassy area. A little while later the teacher said to me, “Mr. Sabanci why don’t you hop on a horse and try joining the game?” I liked this suggestion…. The teacher is really smart, he is sharp witted. To be on the safe side he had picked an old horse and that was the horse brought to me. I was getting ready for the horse riding when an old Erzurumian came over and said to me, “Sabanci, you are rich, but you are one of us. This shitless horse is not the right horse for you. Here, take my horse.” His horse was a steed… couldn’t stay still even a moment. The teacher and my friends were worried. I hopped on the horse without hesitation. I used to ride horses and drive horse carriages in my youth. Thank God, I still remembered my horse riding skills from my youth. Hurriyet Newspaper reported this incident with a colored photo of me.
Then we traveled to Artvin from Erzurum. There we joined the groundbreaking ceremony of some facilities built by the Sabanci Foundation. They even named an avenue after me. It is such an honor for a businessman like me to see his name given to an avenue. I was informed that in Turkey I was the only businessman who had this honor. From Artvin we continued our travel on the Black Sea coast. I wanted to see the area up to Russian border. Along the way I ate very delicious local dishes whose names I had never heard of. I specifically remember the delicious taste of the stuffed fish known as a “bomb”.
As I was looking around on the Russian border, an old villager approached. She knew me from television. I was so surprised to be recognized by her. But the encounter left me with a memory that I can never forget. With a sharp movement she put her hand in her dress`s pocket. She was trying real hard to bring something out. I waited with curiosity wondering if it was a gun or a knife that she was trying to take out from her pocket. A very unexpected thing, a pear, was what she brought out of her pocket. “Take this, Sabanci. This is my gift to you. This is a pear from my heart.” I couldn’t help tearing up. This was the most precious gift I ever received in my life.
Then we went to Maras. Maras is one of the neglected, but beautiful cities of Eastern Anatolia. Previously we had started a fiber factory here. In 1984 we decided to expand the company, doubling its capacity. This factory which was functioning as a part of Bossa had revitalized Maras.
As one of the biggest complaints about the region was the lack of cultural and artistic activities, I made a decision with my brothers. Our foundation started building a cultural palace that included a theatre for 400 people, conference hall, library, seminar rooms, and exhibition halls.
One day, the managers of one of the local foundations in Maras came to visit me. They made me wear the traditional clothes of Maras; they awarded me with local rewards and the town certificate. They said, “Sabanci, these awards that we are presenting to you are symbolic. In order to invite those who grew up in Maras but didn’t do anything for their city to take you as an example, we ask you to wear the clothes of Maras. You provide services for Maras although you are from Kayseri and Adana while those living in Maras see it as a burden to spend even a qurush[coin].”
This incident and my photo in traditional clothes of Maras got published in the newspapers. During one of my visits to the Black Sea, I received traditional clothes of the Black Sea region as a gift. When I wore them and got my photos taken, this was also published in newspapers. When my pictures were published in traditional clothes of different regions, some of my acquaintances and family discussed whether such a thing was right or wrong.
Those who don’t know the circumstances and conditions under which those incidents occur can oversimplify what I’m saying. It is a different thing when a businessman has different traditional clothes in his wardrobe and takes them out and wears them to have his photos taken. And it is completely another thing when a businessman wears traditional clothes when he socializes with local people during his travels and becomes one of them. For those individuals who haven’t experienced such events and haven’t had the chance to get to know the Anatolian people, it can be a bit difficult to understand.

Being Cropsick in Taiwan

As a member of the Administrative Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, I travelled to Taipei in 1964 to participate in a USAID Program. The name and focus of the program was “Industrialization Processes in Industry Regions.” Upon entering my hotel in Taipei, the sight of the Turkish flag was exhilarating. It was also a great surprise to see those Turks who’d noticed our flag come to the hotel and see me. At that point I learned that individuals from other governmental agencies had also come to join another program of USAID in Taipei. 150-200 people were invited from various parts of the world. Their airfare and accommodation were provided. During the day, there were two or three meetings. Then there were trips… dining, drinking–very expensive hospitality. Initially, I was surprised and thought what kind of fantasy is this, it’s so expensive! However, after 2-3 days I changed my mind. The benefit gained is worth the expense. Individuals from various parts of the world were taught the meaning of organization, industrialization, substructure, tax free zones, and industry regions. They were taught industrial privilege. At those times these concepts were unknown in Turkey. I listened to everything very carefully and learned a lot with admiration. As soon as I came to Turkey, I went to see Süleyman Demirel in Ankara to discuss the substructure and significance of government privileges in the industrialization process and what other countries do in terms of fulfilling these. They give land free, for example. Roads, electricity, and running water as well. They connect free telephones, telexes. No customs for machine importation. Besides a long-term investment loan, once the investment is completed,industrialists can use it as a working capital loan. Behind all this, there’s a logic or reason.. Gains are greater than losses.
On the last day of the program during the Taiwan trip, all the participants were invited to an official dinner. At each round table in the dining hall, there was a smaller table in the center which rotated at the touch of your fingertip. A lot of food was placed on that smaller table, as we offer during the Ramadan meals. Everyone had a plate in front of them. A little bit further away from that plate was the rotating table. Once you touch the table, it turns and the food in front of you moves away, with new ones appearing. As a guest of honor, I was seated next to the Ministry of Industry of the Republic of China. Weighing 108 kilos, I ate very fast whatever I found and placed on my plate. The rotating of this table made me feel as if I were drunk. I cleaned my plate with whatever I could get my hands on. The Minister of Industry sitting next to me and watching me eat, was most probably worried about my health. He turned to me, warning me gently, “Mr. Sabancı, I am very happy to see that you loved our traditions and our food although some are very different from yours. Try not to overindulge, as they can upset your stomach.” However, I can’t control my appetite. I am 108 kg with a stomach growing rounder by day and I had eaten more than this on other occasions. I showed my belly to the Minister and said “Your Excellency, as you see, I do not eat for one. Think of me as a mother expecting twins. One bite for me, one bite for Jon, and one bite for Jon’s brother Jan. The Minister with his sincere and smiling face, who was already relaxed because of the hot Sake, laughed really hard for some time.
Upon return from Taiwan, I wanted to fly to Turkey over the USA. In those days, Pan AM airlines had two flights around the globe which stopped in Turkey every day. Pan AM was a very popular airline of the time. The airline would provide a ClipperClub card to those people who were prominent in their country. These card holders were given more attention on the plane. They would have the privilege to stay in the waiting lounge with air conditioning, for example. As a ClipperClub member, I wanted to purchase a ticket from Taiwan to Los Angeles. They told me to fly from Honolulu to Los Angles with United Airlines instead of Pan American. The next day after I made my reservation, the hotel concierge told me that United Airlines called to learn what type of meal I would like during the flight. I thought they were joking. I called the airlines. When the nice flight attendant told me that food orders were part of the service, I couldn’t recall any dish I’d like and therefore said “rice with lobster”. She asked how I’d like it. I said “well cooked.” When she responded, “I didn’t mean that. How’d you like the sauce?” I could not think of anything and so said whatever came to mind–“With curry.” When boarding, I saw everybody’s seat was reserved with name tags. Since these tags where fixed, each time a flight attendant passed, she’d address me by name. I saw a box of matches with my name printed in golden color. They offered me a kimono and slippers. This was my first time for such an experience. After eating the food I’d pre- ordered, they said it was time for a movie. The screen went up. I was so surprised to see the Turkish flag, the call to prayer, very blue Bosporus, mosques, and Istanbul. Tears started falling from my eyes. I called the flight attendant; “What is this?” I asked. She told me that there were 6 other passengers in the business class, five whom were Muslims from the Middle East. For these reasons, United Airlines chose a movie about Istanbul because they thought most people would enjoy it. From this experience, my appreciation grew even more for the organizational skills of other cultures.

Stories about USSR
We broke with decorum
Turgut Özal made several overseas trips with Turkish CEO’s. I couldn’t join all of them. However, before going to the USSR, Özal called me personally and insisted on my coming. It was 1985. Russia hadn’t yet shaken off the communist regime… Communism ideology was now a bit less strict but still had held on tight to the economy. Before the trip, I remembered the words of Muammer Karaca, may he rest in peace. Muammer Karaca performed live on stage as a comedian. His one-liners would first make you laugh, however, then make you think. In one of his plays, one actor says, “Oh my God, communism will soon come to Turkey.” The other replies, “It’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about.” He continues, “Why wouldn’t I be worried?” “Let it come! It would regret it came because we definitely would Turkify it to be like us”.
May Muammer Karaca rest in peace but maybe what happened to us was not exactly what his punchline, but during our trip we built leeway’s in “their strict discipline” by making little loopholes. Travelling with a group of people, I’ve found, creates a different psychology. Away from the daily stresses, people transgress accepted boundaries. They look to do things they normally wouldn’t and find ways to laugh. One has to look at my story from this perspective. After visiting Lenin’s mausoleum, we went as a group to see the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. Based on the daily program, President Özal was to leave the group and visit the USSR Higher Presidium, President Gromiko. Journalists and reporters were allowed to take pictures. Suddenly I wanted to go to Gromiko with the journalists. I joined them and went through the building of the USSR Higher Presidium. There is a Kayseri saying, “While the smart person is thinking, the crazy one climbs into the brook and walks to the other side.” Of course, some would drown, but that is another story! I noticed that the newspapermen had blue press cards. I, however, had nothing of the sort. At the entrance of the gate, there was a barrier where security was checking press cards very carefully; they were comparing faces with pictures on the press card. Russian newspapermen, Turkish newspapermen, newspapermen all over the world, with me, waiting towards the end of the queue. After an initial strict screening, security got tired and decided that all of us were newspapermen and carried out checking the press cards less carefully. When it was my turn, I put my hand in my pocket and went through the barricade without showing anything. The uniformed men did not say anything to me, either. It turned out that there was another security check right before we entered the rooms of the two leaders. I was just about to be caught when I noticed my friend Olay Tan, a journalist. I realized that he was carrying two cameras around his neck. I took one, hanging it around mine. I was one of the first people to get into the room with Olay, bypassing the uniformed security, giving off an attitude of someone very busy and important. This experience was a revelation. If these kinds of entrances are possible even in a very controlling country like Russia, then all our precautions for our security can sometimes be worthless. When a Diplomat and a Woman say “Maybe” At a dinner in Leningrad a Russian sat next to me. I never forgot him as his name was the same as the famous vodka: Smirnoff. His surname also sounded like the word Anatolia: Anatoiy…. I joked with him, saying “Your name means Anatolian Vodka in Turkish.” While enjoying the after dinner ice cream, I asked this Smirnoff Anatoiy fellow: Which is better, the ice cream of Moscow or the ice cream of Leningrad? He answered, “I live in Leningrad; I cannot be objective in my answer.” So I continued, “Then I guess you mean the ice cream of Moscow is better?” “Maybe,” he cautiously replied. When his wife responded to the same question by saying “Maybe,” Smirnoff said, “Notice, Mr. Sabanci, how my wife and I mean different things when we say “maybe”. And then he told this story: If a diplomat says yes, it means maybe. If he says maybe, it means no. Because a diplomat never says no. When a woman says no, it means maybe. When she says maybe, it means yes. Because a woman never says yes. After he was done, Smirnoff said to me “Mr. Sabanci”, “When I said ‘maybe’ to your question, I meant no, but my wife meant ‘yes’–if you know what I mean.”

Almond Paste at a Moscow Wedding

Being an official witness to a Moscow wedding was unforgettable.Coincidentally, I had just been wishing I could merely observe a Russian wedding ceremony–one of the important traditions for Russians. There was a huge crowd in front of the marriage office. Along with Russians waiting in line, I noticed prospective brides and grooms from other nations. A 20 year old university student, Cavina Tuzicobev, and a young man, Dova, were marrying classmates of the same age. A Turkish speaking friend of theirs, Sacide Seyida, and another friend of theirs, Khallaf Alla, were very friendly toward us. They put on the traditional groomsman girdle and asked me to be their witness. I was very moved. I joined the ceremony and congratulated the bride and the groom afterwards. We had our photos taken together. While going to the marriage office, I took a box of a traditional Turkish dessert, Bebek Almond Paste, along with me. We opened the box and served it to the bride and the groom with the other guests. While some immediately accepted my offer, others were hesitant. But I didn’t leave those hesitant guests out. With gestures and a translator’s help, I myself served the almond paste to everyone. They sampled this dessert, enjoying it very much.

Concorde Penalty Payment Due to Delay

On our way back from the USA with friends we were supposed to fly the Concorde to London through Washington. Because one of my friends, Erdogan Demiroren, had a ticket from New York to London, he needed to pay the difference to come to Washington. And so I went over to the attendants to help him get a new ticket deal. They said, “Wait in the Concorde lounge; we’ll bring your ticket.” We sat down in the lounge for some coffee. An announcement came on, saying the flight was delayed for two hours. In the meanwhile, the representative returned with the ticket. She changed Demiroren`s ticket and asked for $149 more for the new ticket. Since I was Erdogan’s translator, I said to the girl, “A moment ago you announced the flight was delayed for two hours. Why are we flying with Concorde? To have three more hours. But now we’re delayed for two hours. What will you pay us as a penalty? We are not paying this extra $149.” She said, “I cannot do anything about this. I just changed your ticket.” So Erdogan paid the $149. We laughed about this and the girl left. Just as we were about to board, our names were called: My wife Turkan and I got paid $200 each in recognition for the delay. A one-way ticket with the Concorde is $1500. We each got $200 back. I can use this money to get a ticket from any English carrier or pay for my luggage. I am not sure if everyone was paid as a penalty for delay or those who asked for it, like in the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” But one joke of ours worked — we gained $400 out of the thin air!