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Koç, Sadberk

Koç, Sadberk (b. 1908, Ankara – d. November 23, 1973, Istanbul), née AKTAR, one of the founding partners of Koç Holding. She was married to Vehbi Koç, the founder of Koç Holding and Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV). They had four children: Semahat Arsel, Rahmi M. Koç, Sevgi Gönül and Suna Kıraç.

Sadberk Koç was the second of four children born to Sadullah from the distinguished Aktarzade family from Ankara, and Nadire, who was from another established Ankara family, the Kütükçüzades. She spent her childhood years in Ankara. In May 1918, she moved with her mother and siblings to be with her father Sadullah, who was involved in trade in Istanbul. Sadullah spent several years in the capital of the empire in order to send goods to a shop he had opened with his brothers in Ankara and to engage in the mohair (angora wool) trade, which they were also partners in. The family moved into a wooden mansion in the neighborhood of Yeldeğirmeni in Kadıköy, Istanbul.

 Despite the concerns of her mother, who was a very traditional woman, Sadberk Koç and her younger sister Melahat (Çubukçu) were enrolled at the neighborhood’s Sainte-Euphémie French Middle School for Girls (today’s Kemal Atatürk Anatolian High School) at the request of their father, who identified with a western lifestyle. Her elder brother Emin (Aktar) was enrolled at the French Saint-Joseph School in Şifa, Kadıköy (today’s Istanbul Saint-Joseph Private French High School).

 In 1925, a short time after her elder sister Adile (Mermerci) married, she was engaged to Vehbi Koç in accordance with the wishes of his parents, her aunt Fatma from the Kütükçüzade family and her uncle-in-law Mustafa Rahmi Efendi (Koç) of the Koçzades (see Koç family). The young couple got married at the start of 1926 and moved in to the house of Vehbi Koç’s parents in Ulus, Ankara. Sadberk’s mother, who had lost her husband a short time before, also moved to Ankara with her son and youngest daughter.

Vehbi Koç tells of his marriage...

The last days of 1925... I was 24 years old. As I had started work at 16 years old, an age when I could be called a child, my mind was only focused on working, making money, getting my name known among those doing the same work, and finding new areas of business. I had never thought of marrying.

I understood that as my age was approaching 25, my mother and father had decided to marry me off. At that time in Anatolia, there was a tradition: it was desirable for girls to marry aged 18-20 at the latest, and for men to marry at 25 years old, as soon as they had finished their military service. The reason for this was to establish a household, so that men and women not go astray and could have children in their youth. They would want their children to be boys and four children were expected. “One for the mother, one for the father, one for security and one spare,” they used to say. They knew from the start that one of the male children would die at war, so that was why they counted one as security. One day my mother said, “We’re going to marry you off”. I asked, “With whom?” and she replied, “With your aunt’s daughter.” They had decided to marry me to my mother’s younger sister’s daughter.

In Anatolia there was a tradition, that may not be necessarily good, to marry off young people to their relatives so that the family fortune would not be divided, so the couple would know each other well and get on well. Sometimes the continuation of these family lines caused the reappearance of diseases suffered by family ancestors.

I did not oppose the match at all. At that time it wasn’t like it is now, when the betrothed can get together, eat and drink and go wherever they choose. In those days, the engaged couple would avoid each other. A young person would only see their betrothed at the engagement and after the wedding.

They got me engaged. The tradition was to put on rings, and we did. It was clear that my father had decided to give me a good wedding because he had not given me a circumcision ceremony. I too was earning money. Our house in the Karaoğlan Market in Ankara was demolished due to a compulsory purchase order, and we had a three-story wooden house built opposite the Finance Ministry. Later Celal Sahir and after him Atıf Benderlioğlu lived there. There were storks’ nests on top of it. Later, the municipality purchased that house too and demolished it. After I got married we moved there as a family.

It was decided to hold our wedding in the first week of 1926. The marriage was solemnized by my father-in-law, Sadullah, in his house in Ulucanlar and the wedding was in our house. At the wedding, friends old and young, male and female, were invited to lunch. In the evening, we gave a dinner with alcohol, which in those days they called an alla franga feast. The week began on Fridays. Our wedding also began on Friday, and it continued day and night for a week. Over that week, my father, my mother and I got very tired, we were worn out.

At that time the distinguished people of Ankara were the president and members of the İstiklal (Independence) Court: Ali Çetinkaya, Kılıç Ali, Necip Ali and Dr. Reşit Galip. They all came to the wedding. Münir Nurettin was on the Presidential Music Board, and he came and sang beautiful songs. On Thursday afternoon, the bride would go from her house to the man’s house and the groom would uncover her face in a ceremony.

I was so tired that I forgot to open up the bride’s face. But they reminded me, and we uncovered her face. I saw the face of the woman I had married, Sadberk Hanım, my aunt’s daughter, from close quarters for the first time. She played a huge role in the success of our married life and our family harmony as well as my business life.
 At that time, there was no tradition of couples going on honeymoon. The bride would come to the house, and the next day she would set to work. In the first weeks, guest after guest would come, the mother-in-law and father-in-law would get up early and the bride would serve them. At that time, working hard in the house was the tradition. Women both served and raised the children, nevertheless they were healthy and hearty.

While on the subject of marriage, I want to fulfill an important obligation.

I married in 1926. Right up until today, Mrs. Koç has had a huge influence on my success; there were seemingly endless and irresolvable problems in business life. It is very important for a man who starts work early, and comes home in the evening with a frowning face, to be met by his appeasing wife saying, “Are you upset, are you tired?” and that she adapts to her man’s life devoid of enjoyment or entertainment. Children reflect the example of their parents as sensitively as a camera. That’s why when raising children, great sacrifices are required. Mrs. Koç, for all these years, has paid maximum attention to these issues and as I have been very busy, she has taken on her shoulders the biggest weight of raising our children. I am grateful to her.
Can Dündar, Özel Arşivinden Belgeler ve Anılarıyla Vehbi Koç (Vehbi Koç through Documents and Memories from his Private Archive), 5th Edition, Doğan Kitap, Istanbul, 2007, pp. 64-68

Sadberk Koç gave birth to her daughter Semahat in 1928 and her son Rahmi Mustafa in 1930 in the family’s orchard house in Keçiören, Ankara (today’s VEKAM[*] operational center). As she wanted her children to learn a foreign language, she raised them with the support of foreign nannies. In 1938, she bore her third child, Sevgi, and in 1941 her youngest daughter, Suna. Sadberk Koç was a traditional, affectionate mother; she took full responsibility for all domestic affairs, and most of all raising the children, allowing Vehbi Koç to devote all his strength and concentration to his work. In 1951, the family moved to their Çankaya Apartment at Halaskârgazi Avenue in Şişli, Istanbul, both for the sake of the children’s education and because Vehbi Koç wanted to pursue his business there.

 Sadberk Koç’s biggest passions were handicrafts, gardening and medicinal herbs. Her interests in Turkish-Ottoman fabrics, embroidery and garment manufacture led her over time to become a collector. Her pieces, collected with the rent from a piece of Koçtaş land allocated to her, were placed in suitcases and chests at the top floor of her house. At one stage, she had hoped to display the works, which had become an outstanding collection, in a museum of her name. But at that time Vehbi Koç did not agree with the idea, and as Sadberk’s personal income was not enough to carry through, she did not fulfil this dream in her lifetime. In a will prepared after a bout of illness in 1967, Sadberk Koç must have presumed that no museum would be opened in her own name, but asked that “the few things she had collected” be displayed in a pavilion attached to a museum in Ankara or Istanbul and that this pavilion be given her name.

 In 1971, Sadberk Koç was diagnosed with cancer, and despite two operations in London she could not be saved. She died on November 23, 1973 and was buried in the family plot at Zincirlikuyu.

 After his wife’s death, Vehbi Koç made her wish come true. As a result of the family’s campaigning, the law prohibiting individuals from establishing museums was changed, and in 1977 Vehbi Koç donated the Azaryan Residence he owned at Büyükdere to the VKV to be turned into a museum in his wife’s honor. The building was renovated and opened in 1980 as the Sadberk Hanım Museum, Turkey’s first private museum, displaying objects from the Sadberk Koç collection.

Sevgi Gönül: “I miss you, mom...”

For as long as I can remember, I wandered the flea markets and curiosity shops with my late mother, who was interested in old knick-knacks.

In these types of shops—and you’d need a thousand witnesses to say they were shops—all the things thought to be old and things that really were old were piled up in a heap, displayed in dust and grime.

 In order to find something genuinely old among them, you needed to look very carefully and spend a good deal of time. Rare as it was, it was possible to find some interesting and old pieces, and for reasonable prices.
 At those times, the knowledgeable antiques dealers you see today were rare in Istanbul, and there were no scholars at the flea market. I enjoyed this type of shop very much. To find something that no-one else had spotted, even if it was hard, gave me and my mother a thrill. (p. 84)

Sevgi Gönül, Sevgi’nin Diviti (From Sevgi’s Pen), Vehbi Koç Vakfı Yayınları, İstanbul, 2003, p. 84; Hürriyet, December 16, 2001***

My mother was an extremely conservative and traditional person.

 She was religious, I don’t know whether that was because of my older sister who kept getting ill or something else, but she was a person who trusted God and always carried out her worship, but she also had many non-Muslim friends. Although she had a very soft voice and a very good temper, she raised us all with a lot of discipline. She would give each of us individual attention and was never sparing with compassion.

Throughout her life, she lived with her mother-in-law and was very respectful of my father. Whenever he left or arrived at the house, she would always meet him and accompany him in.

Throughout the days we lived together, I only saw them fight once, and I didn’t know what to do. My father was a workaholic and he didn’t have the time to cater to his wife’s wishes, but as he was an extremely tidy person, he had no tolerance for the slightest bit of mess. He was a difficult man.

My mother took all these difficulties in her stride and said nothing. If it were me I wouldn’t have tolerated it, but it was evident she loved my father very much. On top of that, there was no question of courting in that era and as my father was her aunt’s son she had only seen him once before they got married.

She was very neat and tidy and a great housewife. She knew home economics very well. As she didn’t know how to cook, she was continually watching the chef, trying to overcome her complex over her lack of knowledge, and she would beg us, “Whatever you do, go to the kitchen and learn some things from the cook.” It must have backfired, because none of us ever learnt to cook. Supposedly, the way to the heart is through the stomach...

She never related our problems to our father, she always tried to solve them herself. When we got married she put a large amount of money in our pockets. It turned out that her own mother had not given her money, and that at that time as my mother was a newly-wed she was too embarrassed to ask for money, so she had suffered for days without any. And when we were married, she gave us advice: “If you fight with your husbands, don’t come telling me; you will kiss and make up, but I won’t forget it.” She always took the side of her bride and grooms. She was extremely respectful of them, just so we girls and her bride would be happy. She would come to the door to welcome them, just as she did for her husband. She was a good housekeeper and never bragged about it.

She made very beautiful knitting and lacework. She was very hard working and never wasted time. She followed politics very closely, and she would host all the Anatolian traders’ wives with the same grace as the politicians’ wives she met through her husband.

She was very interested in the garden and flowers, and especially in folk remedies made from herbs. She would try them all on us. She forced us all to drink donkey’s milk, because she believed it was very close to mother’s milk. She was very generous, whenever she went anywhere on a trip, whatever she bought she would buy five of it—one for her own home, and one each for her four children. She never made any distinction between us. Every child had to have everything. She loved beauty. She chose to buy beautiful things.
 Sometimes I think I’m glad I don’t have a child, because I could never have been a mother of her quality, so compassionate and selfless. God knows well what he will give to each person.

I don’t know if your short life merited so much sacrifice, but it is this that makes me remember you with such joy.

Mom, I miss you.

Sevgi Gönül, Sevgi’nin Diviti (From Sevgi’s Pen), Vehbi Koç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 2003, pp. 128-29; Hürriyet, May 12, 2002

“I can still recall my mom’s scent after 30 years”

My mother lived almost all of her life with her mother-in-law. She had a hard-working husband who had no other joys in his life but work. He was a man who made a lot of money, always invested his money in his business and avoided luxury. To such an extent that he was a husband who could comfortably say, “I’m very tired, let’s not go tonight” at the last minute to a woman who had dressed herself up, got a hairdresser to come to the house and spent all day preparing for the Republic Ball, which at that time everyone was desperate to go to. My mother was very helpful to my father, who provided emotional support to his little sister, who had lost her husband at a young age. In short, my mother was a long-suffering woman, and if Vehbi Koç managed to succeed in building a giant business empire, he is fifty percent in his wife’s debt, no-one should be fooled about that.

My father was a very neat man, he would regularly open the drawers, take the bottom handkerchief and ask for the cupboards to be reordered. I will never forget, he had an operation and on his first day out of bed, he tidied all the files; I was surprised at his neatness. My mother tolerated this difficult man. I always wonder if she was in love with this man, whom she had married without seeing or meeting. I never understood. As you know, that is the Anatolian upbringing; feelings should not be made clear, or it would be rude. My mother revered my father. She arranged the whole house according to my father’s way of living. Meal times, bed times, times for listening to the news - she arranged everything, absolutely everything according to him. Even if we girls were not as self-sacrificing as she was, we have tried to apply what we saw from our mother for our own husbands.

 My mother raised four children. Each of us had health problems and school problems and my mother dealt with all of them; she tried not to let my father see our problems so he had a clear head for work.
Sevgi Gönül, Sevgi’nin Diviti (From Sevgi’s Pen), p. 262; Hürriyet, May 11, 2003
Sadberk Koç in her daughter Suna Kıraç’s memoirs

She was a good mother and a perfect housewife. She was passionate about fine handicrafts and she loved flowers. Her life and surroundings were filled with beautiful things. She even saw the value of a tiny strip of cloth. Until the final years of her life, she would raise cows in order that we children and her relatives could drink pure milk; it made her happy. The only thing she would complain about was if we didn’t give back the milk pails.
 She was the first person to introduce beauty, history and art to the Koç family. She took care to live an ordered life like my father. My mother never stayed to the end of a wedding to see the cake being cut, because she used to say, “If you sleep late, you get up late and your energy for the next day is lost”. She was not the boss of the Koç Group, but she was the boss of the Koç kitchen.

 My mother was an extraordinary woman. On the one hand she obeyed tradition and custom, and on the other, she was for the times an extremely modern woman. She was of the type that wore a scarf to the market and a hat to a marriage. Like my father, she talked little and listened a lot. She was a content person, and she had a personality that stayed modest after my father became rich. Thinking about it, she had no idea how to cook, but she could give good directions. There was always a chef. She thought long-term. Even when we were little, she would buy bridal fabric, thinking about her “three girls”. She loved shopping.

 She was a neat woman. She never used anything other than white sheets and towels. She would sew her own sheets. Whatever she bought, she would buy for 24 or 36 people. She was generous. She loved giving gifts. My dad used the word “hanım” (madame) to call to my mother, but others used the even more formal address of “hanımefendi”. This epithet was well suited to my mother and although the main reason for people using it might have been her unusual name, many people used it out of respect. When the museum she had hankered after was set up, it was called “Sadberk Hanım” (Madame Sadberk) rather than Sadberk Koç because of the name she was more commonly identified with. (pp. 20-21)

 In Ankara, male children were more important. Female children were in the background. My mother’s real insistence on this issue influenced several decisions that were made. She was very influential in ensuring we had a good education, were raised well and in later years came to have equal shares in the company. She said that the biggest problems in families came from inequalities between siblings. On this issue, she put a lot of pressure on my father. Our introduction to working life was actually my father’s decision. My mother supported it. (p. 91)
Suna Kıraç, Ömrümden Uzun İdeallerim Var (My Ideals, Longer Than My Lifetime), Suna ve İnan Kıraç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 2006
Abadan Unat, Nermin

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