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May 28, 2012, Monday

The story behind the statue (1)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the statue of Grand Vizier Damat İbrahim Paşa, which stands in his hometown of Nevşehir, and how it had been viewed by the public over the years.

The strange thing is that not once did I stop to think about who might have created that statue. Did I, somewhere in the back of my mind, perhaps, imagine there was a place in Turkey where statues of “the Bridegroom” were mass-produced in the 18th century just as those of Atatürk are today? Did I think they dropped fully-formed from heaven? Surely not. But why, then, didn’t I think about where the statue might have come from?

Then one day I was chatting with Nancy Öztürk, the wonderful American woman behind Çitlembik Publications who had married into a family from Cappadocia more moons ago than she would probably like to remember. We were sitting in her office just down the road from Babylon in trendy Asmalımescit.

“You do know it was one of my relatives who designed it, don’t you?” she said, and out tumbled the fascinating life story of a sculptor named Hakkı Atamulu (1912-2006).

Hakkı Bey was born in Derinkuyu, a small town now best known for an underground city that features on most standard Cappadocia tours. The son of a second wife, Hakkı grew up living in the Greek part of town, which meant that although he was Turkish, he spoke Greek, had Greek playmates and was sent to a Greek school. But when his father was killed in one of the wars that so defaced the early years of the 20th century, the family became so poor that it was reliant on Nancy’s husband’s grandfather for meals. Hakkı’s older brother, on the other hand, went into the army and rose through the ranks as a cook, meeting many of the military top brass and rapidly bettering himself. When he and his wife were unable to have children, they adopted Hakkı as their son.

The family moved into a mansion in Laleli in İstanbul, and Hakkı began studying sculpture first at the Fine Arts Academy and then in Germany. Soon he had his own atelier and started to turn out full-size statues of Atatürk; while he is not usually credited for the work, Nancy told me that he always claimed to have been the guiding hand behind the one that stands on the grounds of İstanbul University. He also won the commission to design the statue of Atatürk that went up in Samsun, the Black Sea port that served as a springboard for the Turkish War of Independence.

By then, Hakkı was already showing his originality and the Samsun statue, cast in Bulgaria, came flanked with a pair of “Soviet-esque” abstract figures. They were too much for then-President Kenan Evren, who took one look and announced that Turkey had “no tradition of nude sculpture,” hence the abstracts must go. Hakkı is said to have muttered under his breath that “he didn’t know that Turkey had a tradition of sculpture at all.”

But while his professional life was moving along nicely, Hakkı’s private life was unraveling. His first marriage ended in divorce and soon he wanted to divorce his second wife, too, which was how he came to wind up back in Derinkuyu.

(To be continued).

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

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