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Arsel, (Sevim) Semahat

Arsel, (Sevim) Semahat

Arsel, (Sevim) Semahat

Arsel, (Sevim) Semahat (b. September 8, 1928, Keçiören, Ankara), née KOÇ, businesswoman and philanthropist. Among her other roles, she is the chair of the Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV) Executive Committee and Board of Directors, member of the Koç Holding Board of Directors and Koç University (KU) Board of Overseers.

The eldest child of Vehbi Koç and Sadberk Koç, she was born in the family Orchard House in Keçiören, Ankara, which is today used as VEKAM operational center. Along with her brother Rahmi M. Koç, she grew up under the care of Australian and German nannies. After completing elementary education at the TED Ankara College, she went to board at the Arnavutköy American College for Girls (see Robert College[*]), graduating in 1949. She moved to Ankara after marrying Dr. Nusret Arsel on January 5, 1956. Her husband was at the time working as an assistant to Hulki Alisbah at Koç Holding. She lived in Germany in 1959–60, together with her husband who was doing an internship there, and attended the Goethe Institute in order to improve her German.

Joining the Koç Holding Board of Directors in 1964 and the VKV Board of Directors in 1969, Arsel made a valuable contribution to Koç Holding with her work in the tourism and service sectors. In 1972, she took a keen interest in renovation work at the Divan Hotel in the Elmadağ district of Istanbul and from then on took part in the management. She was a key figure in building and transforming the “Divan” name into an internationally renowned, luxury brand and is currently chair of the board of directors of Divan Group. Arsel was also one of the founders of the Tourism Development and Education Foundation (TUGEV), a body set up to develop tourism in Turkey, help provide training, and create more qualified employees for the sector. In 1996, she became chair of the board of directors at SETUR, a travel and tourism company connected to Koç Holding.

From an early age, she underwent a large number of operations and witnessed firsthand the important role played by the nursing profession. She subsequently became involved in numerous initiatives in the field. Following the establishment of the Nursing Fund in 1974, under the auspices of VKV, she became chair of the Nursing Committee. The Nursing Fund provided grants for thousands of nursing students, compiled and published much-needed nursing books, and organized numerous academic meetings and conferences. Semahat Arsel was a leading figure in setting up Turkey’s first and only postgraduate nursing training center, which aimed to raise health sector standards and expand service coverage. It was founded in 1992 as part of the American Hospital, and named in her honor (see SANERC). The nursing school on the site of the old Güzelbahçe Hospital in Nişantaşı, Istanbul, was built with donations from Semahat Arsel and her husband, Dr. Nusret Arsel. The building, finished in 2002, was named after the couple. She also served as the second chair of the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing Foundation, and in 2012 she received the accolade of honorary doctor from Istanbul University Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing for her contribution to advancement in the nursing profession. Along with her husband, Semahat Arsel created a one million dollar fund for the establishment of NASAMER, a center that deals with matters of international trade law. The center opened in 2007 as part of the Koç University School of Law. In the same year, the Semahat – Dr. Nusret Arsel Education Park opened in association with the Foundation of Educational Volunteers (TEGV). The park is situated in Etimesgut, the district with Ankara’s highest population of children and young people. The sports hall on the KU Rumelifeneri Campus bears the name of Semahat Arsel and the Science and Technology Building is named after both her and her husband. In 2010, she played a leading role in the setting up of KOÇ-KAM, a research and application center for gender and women’s studies operating as part of Koç University. In 2015, KOÇ-KAM introduced the Semahat Arsel Honorary Award, to be awarded to “women of high international standing and those working in gender and women’s studies” (see KOÇ-KAM).

In the words of Semahat Arsel...

I finished the American College for Girls. Then, as I was preparing for the university exams, I caught a serious illness. It was an illness caused by parasites and spread by dogs. I had to have nine operations. I stayed in many different places and saw very different hospitals in Japan, America, Switzerland, Germany and Turkey. Because of that experience, I knew how important the nursing profession was. That means God gave me an ideal, a duty, saying, “You [should] advocate for nurses.” In 1974, with the enthusiastic support of Mr. Koç, I set up a fund at the Vehbi Koç Foundation and from that day onwards, I devoted a lot of attention to the nursing profession. It became my ideal.
Of course, the eldest child in any family takes on different responsibilities by necessity. Right from my childhood, I was raised with responsibilities within the family. After my mother’s death, I tried wholeheartedly to fill her place, to keep my father from feeling lonely and longing for her. In actual fact, my father and I both thought along similar lines. Afterwards, I tried hard to be a grown-up for my siblings and to maintain family unity.
As she grew older, she took priority place in joining her father on his business trips: “Sometimes my mother couldn’t keep up with my father’s fast pace. When that happened, it was over to me. As my father’s foreign trips were always related to business, I became part of a group with a good knowledge of both the business and foreign languages... Kenan İnal was his constant companion in English-speaking countries and Adnan Berkay fulfilled the same role in the Germanic nations.”

Can Kıraç, Anılarımla Patronum Vehbi Koç (Memories of My Boss, Vehbi Koç), Milliyet Yayınları, Istanbul, 1995, p. 162
Ms. Arsel! As Vehbi Koç’s inseparable friend, how do you manage the “cash” when you’re travelling?
“My father doesn't like carrying money on him. He thinks it’s dirty and worries about losing it! When we travel, he gives all the money to me, never forgetting to add the caveat, ‘You manage it for us and then give me the accounts!’ He asks the price of everything... I don’t tell him the real hotel room prices any more. He doesn’t know about giving tips, he wouldn’t like it… He used to say, ‘Look how cheap our country is, it’s great,’ every time we returned from a trip.”
Kıraç, Anılarımla Patronum Vehbi Koç, p. 376
The Family Committee that I set up in 1972 should carry on.

My eldest child, Semahat Arsel, should be the committee’s chair. Pay heed to the advice of Semahat Arsel and rally round her. It is her action up until this day that has maintained your unity, and I trust her opinions. Argue matters, and keep disagreements between yourselves. Try to make decisions by consent. When that isn’t possible, go with the majority and make sure you all comply with it. Try to prevent any of your issues becoming public.
Suna Kıraç, Ömrümden Uzun İdeallerim Var (My Ideals, Longer than My Lifetime), Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 2006, p. 294
Abadan Unat, Nermin

Political scientist who received the Vehbi Koç Award for education in 2012.