TEPEBAG, AUGUST 1941 KEMAL ATALAY IN WHITE SUIT, MOTHER LAMIA AND BULENTSARACOGLU( UNCLE) IN THE BACK
It was November of 2006 when I had finished the story Tepebağ : Kaybolan Kır *, written in Turkish, about the now lost fields and farms of Tepebağ or the "Hill Vineyard " in Istanbul. In the story I was trying to recollect my memories of old Istanbul, the old wooden house I lived in as a child an our frequent outings to Tepebağ where we often had a picnic outside the farmhouse of a so called "Uncle Hazım". I remembered that it took us about an hour of walk going through country roads and a cemetery before we had reached our destination. Earlier that November, on a chilly Sunday noon we had just attended the military funeral ceremony for my dear father at the Selimiye Mosque in Istanbul and I was lost in thoughts while the military bus was taking relatives and friends to the cemetery side at Karacaahmet. That is when my only living uncle Bülent Saraçoğlu handed me a manila envelope with a picture inside. The picture it seemed, had to be taken in a studio, with a farm decor painted in the back and a dozen or so people sitting on ,or assembled around a fake pile of straw.
When carefully looked at the picture , I realized the decor was genuine not fake and the people in the picture were all my aunts and uncles, now all deceased except my mother and uncle Bülent standing tall in the background like the oak trees behind them. I remembered seeing the picture when I was a child and without any hesitation or looking at the back of the picture I said this is :"Tepebağ". Then I turned the back of the picture , the inscription read : "August 1941 Tepebağ , from left to right.... " "Picture taken by Nigar Atalay" All but one of the people in the picture neatly dressed in spring dresses and suits were my close maternal relatives with whom we shared the three story old house in Kocamustafapaşa, a suburb in Istanbul's old district within the Theodosian city walls. The handsome man sitting on the ground in a sharp white suit ,looking in his mid thirties was the only one I had difficulty in recognizing.
The inscription at the back of the picture read: Kemal Atalay.I remembered Kemal Atalay and Nigar Atalay ; my maternal grand mothers relatives who once lived in Ankara then moved to United States. I remember vaguely when we moved to Ankara in 1952 staying at their house one night, they having two children Bülent and Gülseren , the former older than I was the latter being around my age. That was all I remembered and at this point I put the thought about Atalay family to rest. On the other hand seeing the picture must have triggered my energy to finish the Tepebağ story. So I did, upon returning to the States. The story was finished and signed in Dublin, Ohio on November 7, 2006..** A year had passed since my Father's death and although he had a long and well lived life I missed him. I kept myself busy with Carte Postale Nostalgia,*** a collection of my father's postcards from his college and post graduate years which I posted on the internet and the Heybeliada Stories ****from his High school years at the Prince Islands of Istanbul in the mid 1930 ies.
It was a November evening in 2007 , I was watching TRT International , one of the six Turkish channels on Satellite T.V. TRT Int. contrary to other Turkish channels is the State controlled channel with more emphasis on education, cultural and informative programs rather than the popular soap operas or entertainment programs. I was not paying full attention to the tube because I was either reading a book at the same time, or doing research for one of my stories on the internet. The program host was interviewing a Turkish professor who was living in the United States, who had recently published a book about Mona Lisa. But what caught my attention was when Atatürk's pictures and his birth house in Salonika suddenly appeared on the screen. Now I started devoting my full attention to the screen. The professor whose name I still did not catch at that point, was telling the interviewer about his paternal grandfather Ismail Hakkı, being Atatürk's childhood friend, how the two played together when they were kids, and how he fought alongside Turkey's future leader in the Gallipoli campaign and later how he
Above Pictures courtesy of Bülent Atalay.
died at the southern front fighting for his country. Like his grandfather his father was also a young officer in the Turkish army. A very attractive picture was now on the screen, the young officer on horseback signed on top of the picture in the year of 1936, as one of Atatürk's Presidential guards. The young officer who was in love with the beautiful daughter of a prominent Doctor in Ankara had difficult time in convincing his future father in law in his marriage plans. When Atatürk heard about his young officer not able to convince the Doctor, he took the initiative and gave his young officer a helping hand in asking the doctor for his blessings to allow his daughter to marry the young officer. This was is how his father had married his mother.
While he was explaining how his parents got married ,on the bottom of the screen a black and white picture appeared with his parents with all their youth and charm. The picture was moving from the bottom of the screen to the top and now there appeared a third person in the picture .As the picture was moving upwards I noticed that the engaged couple had their hands on the shoulder of this beautiful young girl. I could not believe my eyes; I got up and told my wife , look Sitare , this is my Mother!. There was no question in my mind . From the family albums I knew how beautiful and charming she looked when she was young, as she is today, and this was my Anne(mother), when she probably was around seventeen. The picture kept moving up and suddenly disappeared from the screen.
Who was this man who had my mothers picture in his family album? I started paying close attention to the interview. His name was: Bülent Atalay. Now everything clicked together, he was the son of Kemal Atalay, the man with the white suit in the 1941 Tepebağ picture who happened to be our relative from my mother's side. I immediately called my mother who was living with my brother in Chicago. She told me that her maternal grandmother and Kemal Atalay's maternal grand mother were sisters, hence Bülent and I were cousins. She hadn't seen Bülent since he was a child and the family moved to the United States when Kemal Atalay was appointed as the Turkish Military Attaché to Washington some time in nineteen fifties.
My next step was to locate my long lost cousin and this was easier than I thought. With the help of Google , I was able to go into Bülent Atalay's web site*****; in there I had all the information I needed. I e-mailed him , explaining who I was , attached a family picture with my wife and daughters and a maternal family tree with lots of empty names on his great grandmothers side.
The next day, I received a long e-mail from Bülent. He was as excited as I was and was explaining how he stayed in a boarding school to continue his education after his parents went back to Turkey after his father's term was ended in Washington D.C. He lived here since, got married had children and grandchildren. He also attached a beautiful family picture with his wife , children and grandchildren and also filled the blank spots of the family tree. We decided to keep in touch with each other and for the two families to meet at the earliest convenience.
THE MODERN RENAISSANCE MAN
"Leonardo is the protype for the renaissance man-artist,architect,philosopher,scientist,writer. There are few like him today, but Atalay is indeed modern renaissance man, and he invites us tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model."
-William D.Phillips,winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics
The more I read about my long lost cousin the more I was getting impressed. Bülent Atalay was an prominent scientist an artist and author. He was a professor of physics at Mary Washington College, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and a member of the Institute for Advance Study, Princeton. His lithographs have been published in Washington and Oxford and the English Country side. He was constantly on the move giving conferences in universities all over the world as well as places like, NASA John Hopkins Center and cruise ships. His book Math and Mona Lisa has been translated to a dozen or so languages.
OZMERAL AND ATALAY MATERNAL FAMILY TREE
BULENT ATALAY WITH LAMIA OZMERAL
FROM TEPEBAĞ TO CANCUN
June 20, 2008. Today is one of the happiest days of our family. Our daughter Aslı is getting married to Matthew Weil, her fiancée from Chicago. The place: Grand Solaris Hotel in Cancun, Mexico. This is a destination wedding , the in thing nowadays, where all families and friends get together for the happy occasion as well as enjoy a nice vacation. Fifty five people in all, including my two brothers their wives and children, my mother, Matts family and friends. The only ones we are missing are the Durupinar family, my wifes parents who could not make the trip because of my brother in laws recent surgery. It is mid morning , the ladies getting ready for the wedding while the boys getting together in the bar to watch the soccer game between Turkey and Croatia not knowing the thriller to be will be another reason to celebrate for both families.******
Another reason for our excitement today is , for the first time in our lives we will meet my cousin Bülent Atalay . He had accepted our invitation and made adjustments to his busy schedule to attend the wedding. And as planned and right on time Bülent, his beautiful wife and grand daughter appear at the lobby of the Grand Solaris. I immediately recognize my cousin from his pictures , well dressed and flamboyant loyal to his reputation as the renaissance man. He is soft spoken and warm. Both families exchange hugs and greetings and try to catch up on the lost time at the hotel lobby. No body is happier than my mother as Bülent shows her copies of several old pictures from their family album.
Later on that afternoon we watch the soccer game together and take some pictures. Before the game ends I have to leave and get ready for the wedding ceremony while the Atalays go back to their hotel to change and come back for the wedding at dusk. The wedding of your child is probably the happiest moment of your life. Everything works out beautiful at the wedding ceremony as well as the dinner and entertainment afterwards. Aslı and Matt are the happiest couple in the world and everybody around them are having a grand old time . Brothers, wife's, cousins, children, grandchildren bond together , talking, dancing, taking pictures.As the beautiful Cancun night comes to an end , I ask the photographer to take a last picture of the Ozmerals and Atalays together. As the group gathers together I ask my brother Mustafa to join me to sit on the ground reminiscing the Tepebağ picture of the 1941.