Saylan, Türkan (b. December 13, 1935, Istanbul – d. May 18, 2009, Istanbul), physician and civil society leader, winner of the 2009 Vehbi Koç Award in education. Notable for her work in leprosy as well as her advocacy of the modernization of Turkish society and the principle of secularism.
Prof. Saylan finished the Kandilli Girls’ High School in 1953 and the Istanbul University (IU) Faculty of Medicine in 1963. She completed her residency on dermatological and venereal diseases at the SSK Nişantaşı Hospital (1963-1965), and continued working there until 1968. Having joined the IU Faculty of Medicine as assistant lecturer in 1968, she rose to associate professor in 1972 and professor in 1977. She headed the IU Faculty of Medicine Department of Dermatology from 1982 to 1987. In February 2001, she was elected to the Higher Education Council (YÖK) as a council of universities member. Her tenure at YÖK ended in December 2002 on her retirement from the university position, but she was re-elected from the Cabinet quota in March 2003 and served until March 2007. In addition to her positions as lecturer at the IU Faculty of Medicine and director of the Lepra Center, Prof. Saylan also served as the voluntary medical director of Istanbul Lepra Hospital (1981-2002).
Prof. Saylan started work on leprosy in 1976 and founded the Battle Against Leprosy Association (Cüzzamla Savaş Derneği). She served the World Health Organization as a consultant on leprosy, the International Leprosy Union (ILU) as founding member and vice president, and was a member of the European Dermatological and Venereology Academy and the International Leprosy Association. In the meantime, she took a keen interest in the modernization of Turkish society. In 1989, she founded the Association for Supporting Contemporary Life (ÇYDD). She was a founding member and part of the management of the Lecturers Association and Istanbul University Women’s Issues Research and Practice Center (1990), the Kandilli Girls’ High School Culture and Education Foundation (Kandilli Kız Lisesi Kültür and Eğitim Vakfı; KANKEV) and the Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Life, Turkey (Türkiye Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Vakfı; TÜRKÇAĞ) (1995). She received the International Gandhi Award in 1986, the IU Atatürk’s Principles and Reforms Award in 1996, and the Rıfat Ilgaz Cultural Center Honorary Award in 2000. Her contribution to education merited the Vehbi Koç Award in 2009. Shortly before her death of cancer, on April 13, 2009, under the Ergenekon Operation, police searches took place at her home along with several offices of the ÇYDD, whose president she was at the time, causing widespread controversy.
Saylan, who was the author of numerous scientific articles and books on medicine, also contributed social articles to the newspaper, Cumhuriyet. These are compiled into two titles: Cumhuriyet’in Bireyi Olmak (An Individual in the Republic, 1998) and Cumhuriyet’in Bireyi Olmak II (An Individual in the Republic, 2003). Her childhood memories were published as At Kız-Bir Yaşamdan Kesitler (Horse Girl-Scenes from a Life, 2000). The 2004 title Güneş Umuttan Şimdi Doğar, Türkan Saylan Kitabı (The Sun is Born of Hope, the Book of Türkan Saylan), consists of biographical interviews. Türkan, Tek ve Tek Başına (Türkan, Alone and on Her Own, 2009). Ayşe Kulin’s novel on Saylan’s life, was later adapted to the screen and a TV series Türkan (2010-2011).