Memories of My Ninety Years

Revised version of “Memories of My Ninety Years,” Bütün Dünya 2006

I was born in a house situated in the Erbil Castle and studied at the primary school there where the language of instruction was Turkish, the language of the town. In that period, I was also taking private English lessons. When the Province of Mosul became a British mandate by the Lausanne Treaty, education in Turkish was banned. For this reason, my family sent me to Beirut International College* for my middle and high school education. I used to express my longing for my home by reciting the verses known as "Longing for Erbil."**

Longing for Erbil

Go, friends, go to my birthplace:
Hyacinths grow at Erbil Fortress,
Right through Kunyan,***a stream
Along whose banks stand yellow roses.

I spent my early days at Erbil schools
Where my national feelings bloomed;
Recalling those times I sigh and moan
In my heart, a nightingale from there

The lone survivors are the tombstones
The tears of desperate grannies
And frowning faces of hopeless

At that scorched place linger cold ashes.

Never lose hope, no need to grieve;
If Erbil, now suppressed, would awake
And schools open to teach in their
                                    mother tongue
One heart will be there for support.

İhsan declares that this is boundless
Nor will this love's sorrow come to an
He is bewildered when he looks in the
Confronting him is a sad, mournful

İhsan Doğramacı

With the assistance of private lessons, I succeeded in completing my secondary education in a shorter time than was usual. My wish was to become a medical doctor. In those years, I became friends with Vahit, who was the son of Salih Salim, a former Mayor (Şehremini) of İstanbul. I learned from Vahit that the best medical education was given in Vienna, and in Edinburgh in Scotland. I took German lessons from a teacher who was a Brazilian citizen of German origin. I also applied to Edinburgh University. I was informed that the quota allocated for foreign students was full, and new registrations for foreigners would only be opened three years later. They told me that the university had an affiliate medical school in Baghdad, and that I could be accepted into the Edinburgh School of Medicine three years later.

One had to be eighteen years old to apply to the Baghdad School of Medicine. However, I was seventeen. I spent that one year at the Beirut American University School of Liberal Arts. There, I studied the English and Arabic languages, and took literature courses. The following year, in 1933, I registered at the Baghdad School of Medicine. Three years later, I decided to pursue my education at the İstanbul Faculty of Medicine instead of in Edinburgh.

In İstanbul, I was referred to Prof. Nurettin Berkol, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. When Prof. Berkol said that they did not recognize the Baghdad School of Medicine, I suggested that I start from the first year. Prof. Berkol said it would be a loss, but they could examine me and decide what level I would fit into, and proceed accordingly. A committee, with Prof. Akil Muhtar Özden as the head, and on which German professors also sat, examined me in all aspects of medicine. I was asked to evaluate tissue sections under the microscope. I identified normal and cancerous cells. They asked me to wait. After a short while, the head of the committee, Prof. Özden, called me into his office and informed me of their decision: "Son, you have completed medical school. We will enroll you in the fifth class, which is the last year. Then you will work as an intern for a year." At the end of the fifth year's studies, I got the highest marks in all courses, and so started my internship at the head of the class. Thus, I completed medical school in one year less than was normal.

In 1938, I started my specialization in pediatrics as assistant to Prof. Albert Eckstein at the Ankara Numune Hospital.

In the year 1940, when I was twenty-five, I began serving as a pediatrician at the Child Welfare Society Hospital in Baghdad. This lasted four years. In the following years, I continued my studies and research in the specialized fields of advanced pediatrics at Harvard and Washington Universities in the USA. In late 1947, I was elected a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Declining the offer of a university teaching position in the USA, I settled in Turkey with my wife and two children.

The Ankara University Faculty of Medicine had been opened a year previously. Prof. Eckstein wanted me to work with him there as a teaching staff member. In the following years, I was able to establish an Institute of Child Health attached directly to the rectorate of Ankara University.

In the years 1961-1962 the Institute established departments of nursing, medical technology, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, and dietetics and nutrition offering the bachelor's degree in each area. The young staff I had sent to America six years earlier for advanced training in medical specialties returned to Turkey and joined the Hacettepe Children's Hospital established by the Institute of Child Health. In 1963 a second medical school was established within Ankara University, which was called the Hacettepe Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and which used an entirely different system of education.

The original system of education implemented in this faculty aroused great interest at the international level. Many countries, with England and Holland at the forefront, wanted to study the system on site and use it as a model for proposed developments in their own countries. The following news item appeared in the Dutch newspapers Algemeen Dagblad and De Telegraaf:

“Jan Tinbergen went to Turkey as a consultant on economics. Now, we are consulting İhsan Doğramacı on education, and especially on medical education.”

In 1966, the British Royal Commission chaired by Sir Brian Windeyer, Vice Chancellor of London University, visited Hacettepe Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to observe the new system. Following is a quotation from an article published in the January 25, 1967 issue of Participant Journal:

“The members of the Royal Medical Education Commission have received an excellent impression from what they have seen during their visit to the Hacettepe Medical Center. It has been confirmed that there has been a great and successful change in medicine, medical education, and hospital management in Turkey. Sir Brian Windeyer, Vice Chancellor of London University, has told our reporters:

“‘The education system we are trying to implement in England is being used at Hacettepe Medical Center.'"

On the other hand, there were also those who could not stomach the success of the Hacettepe Medicine and Health Sciences Faculty. Ahmet Emin Yalman showed his reaction to the attacks made on this institution in his book Gördüklerim ve Geçirdiklerim, writing that he was "face to face with the barbarians who made it their business to destroy that amazingly strong Hacettepe Organization."

Three months after the establishment of the Hacettepe Faculty of Medicine, Ankara University elected me as university rector. At the end of my two years as rector of Ankara University, I thought the time had come to establish a new and dynamic university around the Hacettepe Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, dynamism being a quality lacking in the Ankara University system.

Indeed, Hacettepe University initiated a new system different from that in other universities. During those years, boycotts and anarchy raged in the universities. Hacettepe was an exception to this. As soon as the Hacettepe Special Act was in force, the principle of inclusion of students and junior instructors in the administration was accepted.

After working as the rector of Hacettepe University for eight years, I decided to go back to my profession, pediatrics. Thus, I accepted a visiting professorship at Paris V University.

Meanwhile, I was carrying out my duties as executive director of the International Pediatric Association. In 1981 I gladly accepted an invitation to return to Turkey to oversee the reform of higher education. For six months I again investigated the regulations governing advanced universities in various countries. The act I prepared was accepted by the government, and I was appointed the President of the Higher Education Council. There were people against the Higher Education Council Act, which went into force in 1981. Time showed that their doubts and misgivings were groundless.

Upon my proposal, two articles related to higher education were added to the 1982 Constitution, making possible the establishment of nonprofit private universities by foundations. In 1984, Bilkent University was established by the three foundations that I had set up. Bilkent University thus became the first nonprofit private university in Turkey and enrolled its first students in 1986. Many scientists and statesmen who have followed the development of both Hacettepe University and Bilkent University have conveyed their admiration.

From 1992 onward, new private universities started being set up: Başkent University in Ankara, and Koç, Sabancı, and other universities in İstanbul and other Turkish cities. The new system of higher education resulted in a boost in the numbers enrolled and in the quality of higher education. Thus, whereas in 1980 only 6.3% of the 4 million young people of tertiary education age in Turkey were attending a university or other school of higher education, in 2006, 33% of the 6 million young people in Turkey are able to attend a university. The total number of universities, 24 of which are private universities has reached 92. In the same period, the country's international scientific research ranking rose from 44th to 19th*****.

* Then known as the Preparatory School of the American University of Beirut
** Translated from the original "Erbil Hasreti" by Prof. Talât S. Halman
*** Kunyan was a large Doğramacı family farmhouse with vineyards, gardens, streams, and water-powered mills.
**** Adapted from the poem titled "Fly, Birds" by Rıza Tevfik ("The Philosopher"), who lived in Beirut and was among the lecturers at İhsan Doğramacı's school at that time.
***** Philadelphia, USA, Institute for Scientific Information



Books on His Life and Achievements

Memories of My Ninety Years

Press After İhsan Doğramacı

Bilkent University Newspaper Prof. İhsan Doğramacı Special Issue (PDF*)
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