A photo of Sabiha Gökçen from the 1930s
|Died||22 March 2001 (aged 88)|
|Resting place||Cebeci Askerî Şehitliği, Ankara|
|Alma mater||Üsküdar Academy|
|Occupation||Aviator, author and spokesperson|
|Known for||World's first female fighter pilot|
|Spouse(s)||Kemal Esiner (1940–1943)|
|Parent(s)||Mustafa İzzet Bey and Hayriye Hanım|
|Awards||FAI Gold Air Medal|
Sabiha Gökçen (Turkish: [sabiha ɟœctʃæn]; 22 March 1913 – 22 March 2001) was a Turkish aviator. During her flight career, she flew around 8,000 hours and participated in 32 different military operations. She was the world's first female fighter pilot, aged 23. Others such as Marie Marvingt and Evgeniya Shakhovskaya preceded her as military pilots in other roles, but not as fighter pilots and without military academy enrollment. She was an orphan, and one of the thirteen adopted children of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
She is recognized as the first female combat pilot by The Guinness Book of World Records and was selected as the only female pilot for the poster of "The 20 Greatest Aviators in History" published by the United States Air Force in 1996.
Sabiha Gökçen Airport, the second airport in Istanbul, was named after her.
According to official Turkish sources and interviews with Sabiha Gökçen, she was the daughter of Mustafa Izzet Bey and Hayriye Hanım, both of whom were of Bosniak ancestry. During Atatürk's visit to Bursa in 1925, Sabiha, who was only twelve years old, asked for permission to talk with Atatürk and expressed her wish to study at a boarding school. After learning her story and about her miserable living conditions, Atatürk decided to adopt her and asked Sabiha's brother for permission to take her to the Çankaya Presidential Residence in Ankara, where Sabiha would live with Atatürk's other adoptive daughters, Zehra, Afet and Rukiye. Sabiha attended the Çankaya Primary School in Ankara and the Üsküdar American Academy in Istanbul.
In February 2004 an article in the newspaper Agos, headlined "The Secret of Sabiha Hatun", contained an interview with Hripsime Sebilciyan, a former resident of Gaziantep, who claimed to be Gökçen's niece and that Gökçen herself was of Armenian ancestry. Mustafa Kemal had also adopted Gökçen, who was in an orphanage shortly after the Armenian Genocide. According to Turkish-Armenian linguist Pars Tuğlacı, who deemed Sebilciyan's claim false, Gökçen herself found out about her Armenian roots while in Ankara, when members of her family contacted her from Beirut. It is claimed that Gökçen visited her Armenian relatives in Beirut and had four brothers, Sarkis, Boğos, Haçik and Hovhannes.
However, along with Turkish sources and interviews with Sabiha, her adopted sister Ülkü Adatepe, also in an interview, disputed these claims and reiterated that Sabiha and her both parents, Mustafa İzzet Bey and Hayriye Hanım, were of Bosniak ancestry.
After the introduction of the Surname Law, Atatürk gave her the family name Gökçen on 19 December 1934. 'Gök' means sky in Turkish and Gökçen means 'belonging or relating to the sky'. However, she was not an aviator at that time, and it was only six months later that Sabiha developed a passion for flying.
Atatürk attached great importance to aviation and for that purpose oversaw the foundation of the Turkish Aeronautical Association in 1925. He took Sabiha along with him to the opening ceremony of Türkkuşu (Turkishbird) Flight School on 5 May 1935. During the airshow of gliders and parachutists invited from foreign countries, she got very excited. As Atatürk asked her whether she would also want to become a skydiver, she nodded "yes indeed, I am ready right now". Atatürk instructed Fuat Bulca, the head of the school, to enroll her as the first female trainee. She was meant to become a skydiver, but she was much more interested in flying, so she earned her pilot's licence. Gökçen was sent to Russia, together with seven male students, for an advanced course in glider and powered aircraft piloting. However, when she was in Moscow, she learned the news that her sister Zehra had died, and with collapsed morale, she immediately returned to Turkey, isolating herself from social activities for some time.
After a while, with Atatürk's insistence, Sabiha began working again. At Eskişehir Aviation School, she received special flight training from Savmi Uçan and Muhittin Bey. She began flying a motorized aircraft for the first time on February 25, 1936.
Gokcen, due to the success in flight training, Ataturk himself said:  "You've made me very happy ... Now I can explain what I have planned for you ... Perhaps you'll be the first military woman pilot in the world ... World's first military woman pilot to be from Turkish descent is what a proud event, you can imagine, right? Now I will act immediately and send you to Tayyare School in Eskişehir. You will receive a special education there. "
As girls were not being accepted by the Turkish War Academies in those years, Sabiha Gökçen was provided, on Atatürk's orders, with a personalized uniform, and attended a special education programme of eleven months at the Tayyare Mektebi (Aviation School) in Eskişehir in the academic year 1936-1937. After receiving her flight patents (diploma) she trained to become a war pilot at the 1st Airplane Regiment in Eskişehir for six months.
She improved her skills by flying bomber and fighter planes at the 1st Aircraft Regiment in Eskişehir Airbase and gained experience after participating in the Aegean and Thrace exercises in 1937. In that same year, she took part in military operations at the Dersim rebellion and became the first Turkish female air force combat pilot. A report of the General Staff mentioned the "serious damage" that had been caused by her 50 kg bomb to a group of fifty fleeing "bandits" and she was awarded with a takdirname (letter of appreciation). She was also awarded the Turkish Aeronautical Association's first "Murassa (Jeweled) Medal" for her superior performance in this operation.
In 1938, she carried out a five-day flight around the Balkan countries to great acclaim. In the same year, she was appointed "chief trainer" of the Türkkuşu Flight School of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, where she served until 1954 as a flight instructor and became a member of the association's executive board. She trained four female aviators, Edibe Subaşı, Yıldız Uçman, Sahavet Karapas and Nezihe Viranyalı. Sabiha Gökçen flew around the world for a period of 28 years until 1964. Her book entitled "A Life Along the Path of Atatürk" was published in 1981 by the Turkish Aeronautical Association to commemorate Atatürk's 100th birthday.
Gökçen made headlines and sparked controversy, in 2004, when Hrant Dink, a journalist of Turkish-Armenian descent, published an interview with a person claiming to be Sabiha's niece that claimed that she was of Armenian origin. Many contested the matter, including her adopted sister and the last living daughter of Atatürk, Ülkü Adatepe, disputing this during an interview and stating that Sabiha was of Bosniak ancestry. According to Adatepe, Sabiha's mother Hayriye and father Mustafa İzzet were ethnic Bosniaks. The notion that Gökçen could have been Armenian caused controversy in the country; the Turkish General Staff said the debate "mocked national values" and was "not conducive to social peace". Hrant Dink, the journalist who wrote the article, came under criticism, most notably from newspaper columnists and Turkish nationalist groups. A US consul dispatch leaked by WikiLeaks and penned by an official from the consulate in Istanbul observed that the entire affair "exposed an ugly streak of racism in Turkish society." It is also believed that the affair was one of the reasons that led to Hrant Dink's assassination in Istanbul in January 2007.
Legacy and recognition
That year, she was also honored at the Air Command and Staff College's Gathering of Eagles at Maxwell Air Force Base. The program encourages the study of aviation history by emphasizing the contributions of aviation pioneers.
Awards and Medals
- Number one Medal of Övünç (Murassa) and certificate of Turkish Aeronautical Association,
- The Badge of the White Eagle , the highest badge given by the Yugoslav Army, and an army badge,
- Romanian Army Aviation Badge,
- Commemorative medals awarded for the Thracian and Aegean maneuvers,
- Pioneer women's plaque in their professions given at the ceremony in the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the 50th anniversary of Turkish women gaining suffrage and election rights,
- Honorary Doctor of Selcuk University ,
- Gold medal awarded by THK in 1989,
- The FAI gold medal awarded by the International Aviation Federation in 1991 to aviators showing outstanding success in all branches of aviation,
- The title of "one of the 20 aviators who made their mark in world history" at the ceremony at the USA 's Maxwell Air Base in 1996,
- 28 plaques given by the army, various associations and organizations.
Bust of Sabiha Gökçen at the Istanbul Aviation Museum.
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Princess Eugenie M. Shakhovskaya was Russia's first woman military pilot. Served with the 1st Field Air Squadron. Unknown if she actually flew any combat missions, and she was ultimately charged with treason and attempting to flee to enemy lines. Sentenced to death by firing squad, sentence commuted to life imprisonment by the Tsar, freed during the Revolution, became chief executioner for Gen. Tchecka and drug addict, shot one of her assistants in a narcotic delirium and was herself shot.
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In Russia, Princess Eugenie Shakhovskaya is the first female military pilot. She flies reconnaissance missions.
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According to Turkish sources and the interview with Sabiha Gokcen herself, she was born on March 22, 1913 in Bursa. She was the daughter of Mustafa İzzet Bey and Hayriye Hanim who were ethnic Bosniaks
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