Özcan Sabancı, wife of deceased business man Hacı Sabancı, mother of business woman Demet Sabancı Çetindoğan and business man Ömer Sabancı, has published an autobiography that she named “Would I Ever Leave You Behind and Go?” Here we talk about her book and the events shaping her life.

How did you decide to write an autobiography?

People I know were telling me to do this for years. They were telling me that I had lived a life full of events that should be told. Especially my daughter Demet and my son Ömer were motivating me and insisting that I get down and write it. My children really wanted me to do this. The years that we were born and grew up in, the history of our nation was being rewritten. Our family was right in the middle of all these events. Our family was from Anatolia but they also knew İstanbul well. They took part in the restructuring of the country after the Turkish Republic was established. Those years were difficult years. Prices were paid but many things were succeeded. There is a Turkish saying, ‘If I wrote my life story, It would be a novel…’ We lived a life that really could have been a novel. Some of the events that happened throughout our lives were our choice, some were not… So in the end, this book came to life. I am happy that I will be leaving a written memoir behind for my loved ones. Something for them to remember me by…


The name of your book is very interesting; ‘Would 1 Ever Leave You Behind and Go?’ What is the story behind this name?

My husband Hacı Sabancı always used to say that to me. He had promised me, he would never leave me. He was very fond of me. And me of him… It was death that seperated us. What can one do when it comes to death? I feel that he has kept his promise in a way as I still feel like he is with me every day. He has stayed with me and grown in me with every single day I have lived without him. I still talk to him, trust him and feel him by my side. I still love him very much. And I miss him terribly.


Could you please give us a short history of the Sabancı family?

It is a story of Hacı Ömer Sabancı, starting in 1906 in the little village of Akçakaya, in Kayseri, situated in central Anatolia. My uncle Hacı Ömer, who later became my father-in-law, was a brilliant man. He decided to go to Çukurova (southern Anatolia) at the early age of 14, where the land was more fertile, the climate was more bearable and trade was livelier. With his intelligence and tireless working energy, he overcame all obstacles and established his first company that would set the foundation for the greatest private sector industrial enterprises in the history of the Turkish Republic. He was loyal to his family, the things he loved most were spending time with his children and working. This became a legacy in the family. It is difficult to create a legacy but maybe even more difficult than that is to try to live up to that legacy. He is a business man who has succeeded in doing this. He has brought up six sons, who are six successful business men and industrialists. All six were well brought up, hard-working, trust-worthy and proud of who they are. Thus, this is the secret of it all. I wrote this book to tell the story of the Sabancı family, my family. There was no way I could tell it short. And I would like to point out that every member of the Sabancı family, has added a new or different aspect to whatever they set out to achieve. As people who were born and raised in the middle of Anatolia, they have written a success story, that is unthinkable for many other families. This must be what you call vision.


How did you end up getting married to Hacı Sabancı?

When we were little, my father used to call his nephew Hacı, his son-in-law. Of course it was just a joke then. Hacı was just a cousin who came to our house to pay his respect on religious holidays or other special occasions. Getting married to him was nothing I even thought of. Then one day, again on a religious holiday, my uncle said to my father, ‘Let’s marry your daughter with Hacı’. And thus the foundations of my love story were laid. I set foot into the world of marriage with my mother telling me one day that I was engaged. This later turned into a love story that even death could not end. Sometimes you love someone without even getting to know him, sometimes you love him after you spend time with him and your love grows and grows each day, even if you are seperated by death.


Can you tell us about your late husband Hacı Sabanci?

He was a man of mission. He established very important businesses. He set the foundations of many industries in Turkey. He fought many things throughout his life but still managed to remain as an Anatolian man fond of his family. He had an eye for art and constantly improved himself. He had self-discipline but was not a harsh person. I was not really aware, or rather didn’t really think about his great characteristics when I was with him. We grew up together, worked and foughtt for many things together. He never made things difficult for me. He was an easy going person. Life passed quickly, pleasantly with him. I cherished him with great love and respect. And I have missed him so much since he passed away.


I know that you cherish family values a great deal. What did you take into consideration while you were raising your children?

I tried to teach them that love, respect and trust are the most important and strong feelings in a family. As a modern Turkish woman, I wanted them to have compassion for their country and give importance to national and cultural values, education, culture and art.


You experienced great losses at a young age. How did these losses affect your life?

My husband, son, mother and father, all passed away. God bestows you with a strength you never realized you had before and somehow you endure this pain. Believe me, it is not easy. Death, is something you can’t do anything about. It leaves you helpless. And you know there is nothing you can do about it. You learn to be patient. Even years later, you immortalize your loved ones’ faces, your love for them and your memories with them. Every time you think of them you relive those memories in your mind with tears rushing to your eyes. Let them all rest in peace. In short, I can say that it is very hard to go on living with losses like this.


What advice would you like to give to the generations that come after you; your children and grandchildren?

Life is very easy now. Everybody can obtain whatever they want right away. And they are used to things being like that, too. Things being like this, you see that grown people get depressed really easy, when something simple they want doesn’t happen instantly. This is not how you should live your life. We were tought that patience was a virtue. Lives were built in our day. It took a while. We had to struggle for everything we wanted. I’m not saying that the new generation should live their lives exactly how we lived ours but they should be able to stand strong in life. Education and being able to become a part of this world are also very important. It is not easy to become successful by thinking locally. Today, one has to be equipped with the knowledge of foreign languages and cultures. I advised my children and grandchildren to create their own private world for themselves. Work alone is not enough. Hacı Sabancı for example, was interested in the arts. This interest gave him strength and cured him in many ways. Life is beautiful and time passes slow when one is waiting and sad, fast when happy. They should live every second of their lives to the full extent. Life is too short to be wasted. Believe me, as you get older and look back at your life, you can’t believe how fast it has passed by.


You are known as a kind, motherly and compassionate woman. People who work for you and your children call you, ‘Mother Özcan’. This is something special. What makes them call you that?

This is how I was raised. I grew up in a big family. It was always crowded. I felt this need within me to protect the order of things as they are. I tried to help with everybody and everything when I was growing up. And then as a grown up other responsibilities followed and I became who I am now. It is important to be aware of the circumstances you are in. Every person has a story of his own. It is not right to talk too soon, without knowing the underlying story of the person you are dealing with. You can solve every problem when you approach it with love. If you ask me how or why I became like this, I can’t give you an answer. All I can say is that I am an enabling person and I never was harmed because of it. It is nice to be loved and I must say that I really love them back. Maybe that’s why they call me that.


It has been five years since you published your memoir. If you were to add another chapter to your book, what would you put in it?

Believe me, I don’t want to add anything to my book. It is good the way it is. I wrote down all my feelings, my thoughts, my yearnings. I never was left without Hacı. My children, grandchildren, friends and I, we always remember and commemorate him when we are together. I put a note down in history. I will leave this book I dedicated to him with love for the generations to come.