A life dedicated to Atatürk photos
LONDON - Anadolu Agency
Hanri Benazus’biggest wish is to establish a foundation for all of his Atatürk photos.Hanri Benazus, the owner of the largest collection of Atatürk photos in Turkey, has long declined requests that he sell some of the pictures in his impressive inventory. Now, after close to seven decades of collection, Benazus is preparing to establish a foundation to help archive the documents.
Benazus, who started collecting the photos of the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, at the age of 17, amassing an archive of 5,000 photos over 67 years, said he
also had the negatives of some 3,000 photos in the collection.
Stating that he started collecting when he bought an Atatürk photo by paying his weekly wage, Benazus said: “I was working during the summer months for a weekly wage and I purchased a photo with all of my money. I was almost beaten by my mother because of this photo because Turkey was poor at the time, and my family needed my wage. Later on, I started collecting the photos I saw. As my wage got better in business life, I gained the power to buy photos, and I have a very nice collection.”
Benazus said his biggest wish was to establish a foundation for all the photos in the collection.
However, because of a new law, foundations need an income guarantor, he said, noting that he did not have a source of income and did not want to convert Atatürk into some sort of commercial commodity.
He said the Atatürk photos had become a passion for him through time, adding that he even went to the United States to buy photos following a telephone call in 1984.
“A journalist made an interview with Atatürk in Ankara in 1921. When he died, his son inherited the photos he had taken. I did not have an economic problem then and I took the next flight to go to New York. I went to the man’s workshop, gave the money and took the negatives of two photos.”
He said the two photos gave him great excitement and that he sent the copies to the president at the time, Kenan Evren.
“One week later, my late wife called me, saying, ‘Pashas raided the house.’ The 4th Army Commander İsmail Hakkı Akansel took the phone and said: ‘The pasha [Evren] issued the order. You have two photos, give them right now. We will pay for them,’ he said. I was surprised, and joked, saying, ‘I don’t have a photo for sale. But this is Evren Pasha, if he issues an order, he can take my home, but please let my wife go.’ He liked my joke and said, ‘Could you give us one or two days.’ Four-five days passed. Ali Baransel was the press consultant of the president. He called me. ‘Evren Pasha was very pleased by your answer. Can you open an exhibition in public?’ he asked. And I opened the exhibition.”
Benazus, 84, who met Atatürk when he was 7, sat with the Turkish leader when the latter came to the Aegean – even eating his roasted chickpeas.
He said Atatürk had inaugurated the Nazilli textile factory in 1937 and come to Aydın’s Ortaklar district after the inauguration. “I barely persuaded my family to welcome Atatürk, but we went to the train station with my father. When Atatürk was talking to other people, I went over to him. I had curly hair; he loved me. He loved children so much. He took me to the train and he was served rakı and roasted chickpeas. I set my eyes on the chickpeas. We were five siblings and poor. Chickpeas were luxurious for us and I ate all of his chickpeas when he was greeting the public at the window. He asked the waiter to bring more. I put them in my pocket to give my siblings,” Benazus said.
Never sold a single photo
Benazus said that with 5,000 photos, he had the largest collection in Turkey. “During a critical time of my business life, a businessman offered me $20 million for my collection. I never accepted it. I sold all my properties and solved my problems. In all modesty, I went to a rest home, which I donated to the municipality, and stayed there. But I have never sold an Atatürk photo. This is the property of society, not mine,” he said.
Benazus said the latest photo in his collection was given to him by a family from Gallipoli. “Nov. 26 was the anniversary of the liberation of Gallipoli. I found this photo during an event I organized there. I did not have a photo showing Atatürk’s coming to Gallipoli and I found it there with a family by chance. This family took the photo and gave it to me.”
Benazus said İzmir had been under Greek occupation for 3.5 years and that his father, who was a clerk at the Alsancak Station, provided information to the national forces.
During the occupation, his father continued working as a clerk, said Benazus. “What he did first was to learn Greek. I think they did not want to suspend him because of his name. My father was a spy there for the national forces. When İzmir was liberated from the occupation, my father was given a certificate because of his assistance.”