The British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey
This publication has been prepared to mark the Centenary  of the British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey (Association), the second oldest British Chamber in existence in a foreign country.
It is fitting that the Chamber should be able to claim such a long history as trade relations between Britain and Turkey officially date back to 29th March 1583 when William Harborne set foot in İstanbul as Agent for the newly established Levant Company; a company which motivated the creation in 1600 of the most famous of all British trading corporations, the East India Company, of which at least thirty original members were merchants of the Levant Company and Thomas Smith the Governor of both.
Inspired by Kemal Atatürk, its illustrious founder, modern Turkey has moved ahead fast. In recent years its adoption of the principles of an outwardly oriented economy and its application in 1987 for full membership of the European Economic Community provide clear evidence of Turkey’s determination to progress economically along Western lines.
Never has the potential for closer business ties between Britain and Turkey been greater than at present. There are opportunities everywhere in trade, investment, finance, insurance, technology, consultancy, tourism and contracting. British businessmen have not always been aware of the possibilities offered by this fast developing country. Often the reason has been that they have been uncertain about whom to consult.
Our Chamber can call upon a century of experience. We now have modern facilities and a trained staff. I hope this publication will not only serve as a reminder of our presence but, also, of our purpose. This, quite simply, is the fostering and promotion of Anglo-Turkish trade in every possible way.
List of the signatures:
Chamber Formation and History
The British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey (Association) is the second oldest British Chamber of Commerce outside the United Kingdom. It was founded in Istanbul in 1887 by a group of British businessmen, several of whose families or ‘home-based’ companies had already traded in Turkey for many years. The first meeting to discuss formation of a Chamber was held on February 16, 1887, the Chair being taken by Mr. Whittaker, Editor of the now long defunct Levant Herald.
The group was actually headed and inspired by Mr. (later Sir) James William Whittall, who served the Chamber as its founder Chairman for twenty years from its first formal meeting on March 12, 1887. The (Turkish) Istanbul Chamber of Commerce pre-dated The British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey (the BCCT), by only five years; and it was not until 1925 that membership of their local (Turkish) Chamber was a legal requirement for all those trading in Turkey.
The BCCT was also one the first three foreign Chambers to be set up in Turkey, although by 1911 the total had risen to six and the BCCT remained, and remains today, the only foreign Chamber which was not, and is not, financially assisted by its ‘home’ government. Also in 1911, the initial membership of 101 has grown to just over 250 (which nonetheless compared unfavourably with the French Chamber’s 1100, including 750 members in France); there were 105 members in Istanbul, 104 in the United Kingdom, 12 each in Izmir and Thessaloniki, and 20 in Beirut, Baghdad and elsewhere.
For many years, there was in fact a separate British Chamber in Izmir but this seems to have disappeared in the mid-1920s. Of course, in those days Turkey covered a vast area, and whilst Istanbul was very much the centre of things, the Chamber had Honorary Secretaries or Correspondents throughout much of what is now referred to as the Middle East and the Balkans; earliest trading times until relatively recently, is evidenced by the fact that the Chamber had a Manchester Hon. Secretary, the first serving from the Chamber’s formation in 1887 until 1925, when ill health forced his retirement.
It is noteworthy that, when the chamber was incorporated under the United Kingdom Companies’ Act in 1913, its title was ‘The British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey and the Balkan States (Inc.)’ and this style was retained until 1925, when it became the BCCT. The Chamber remained incorporated in the U.K. (as well, of course, as in Turkey, under Turkish Law) until 1970. On its incorporation in 1913, H.M. The King “graciously signified his pleasure” that the chamber could use the Royal Coat of Arms, which it did until the late 1970s.
At intervals over the years, the Chamber and its foreign Contemporaries faced difficulties regarding their registration in Turkey as Chambers of Commerce. It was not, in fact, until 1983 that the BCCT was authorised to use the Turkish translation of its title ‘Turkiye’de İngiliz Ticaret Odası Derneği’. These problems not withstanding, the Chamber has always enjoyed a close relationship with the government authorities and with the Turkish Chambers. The records show, for instance, that some of the Chamber’s recommendations, such as provision for the depreciation and for the writing off of bad debts were incorporated in the 1926 Finance Acts, which, incidentally, included Profits’ and Salaries’ Taxes, and a 2.5% Consumption/Turnover Tax, a forerunner of VAT.
Needless to say, the Chamber was in limbo during the 1914-1918 World War, but was in business again quite early in 1919. It seems that ‘for the duration’, most of the Chamber’s records were either hidden or spirited out of the country by one Apollo D. Tyskala, an employee who continued to serve the chamber right up to his death in the mid 1950s.
Few if any, Chambers of Commerce will admit to reasonable affluence but whereas the Chamber has lately adopted a more commercial attitude and is forced to make a charge for many of its services (as do most of its contemporaries and, for that matter, an increasing number of Western mission commercial departments), it is now able to operate without undue financial anxiety. It was not always like this. Until only a few years ago membership subscriptions were fixed by law at what was always a quite unreasonably low limit. That apart, membership has naturally tended to fluctuate in line with the volume of Anglo-Turkish trade and the general state of the Turkish economy. In the rush of business that followed World War I, membership rose rapidly and stood at some 600 in 1921, and in similar circumstances it peaked at over 800 in the early 1950s. At that time a majority of members were relatively small firms or commission agents and importers, and this was anyway long before Turkish trade and industry began to adopt the ‘Holding Company’ mentality, with its amalgamations and the demise of a large number of the smaller, family-owned concerns. Today, the chamber has 225 members including at least a half-dozen in Turkey who, under varying guises, can boast of unbroken family or company membership over the full century of the Chamber’s existence.
The between-wars depression hit Turkey and the BCCT as it did other countries; the resources of the Chamber and business being done had reached a low ebb by 1931.
In the following year staff cuts were averted only by a ‘Memorial’ from members, although the records do not indicate how the resultant deficit was met. The Chamber’s half-century, in 1937, was marked by the announcement that the BCCT was in dire financial straits and remained afloat thanks only to Council members having put their hands in their pockets. Tragedy was indeed averted on a number of other occasions, too, and when, in 1948, the first post-World War II full time Secretary was appointed, Council members had to make personal financial pledges to ensure that the Chamber could meet its commitments. (As a matter of fact, when that same Secretary was approaching retirement, in 1980, he found it prudent to keep a close watch on resources to make sure that his severance pay cheque would be honoured!)
But despite serious financial and other difficulties from time to time, the Chamber remains proud of the high standard of service which it has always managed to provide to allcomers. It has never refused assistance or advice on financial grounds.
The Chamber published its first journal in 1908; this was a weighty quarterly (at least 40 pages of small type text and some 30 pages of advertisements (full page, £3 for four insertions) which naturally went out of publication during the War, but which re-appeared in January 1920 as a monthly. Since then, a Journal in one form or another has regularly been published by the Chamber, except for unavoidable breaks of a few years in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the search for alternative and additional sources of revenue, services have constantly been adapted to the needs of the day. In this respect, 1949 was a milestone year since, with considerable misgivings, the Council accepted the then Commercial Counsellor’s suggestion that the BCCT should organise the British Pavilion at the annual Izmir International Fair. This was a task which the British government, at the stage of post-war upheaval and financial difficulty, could no longer undertake and has not undertaken since. From that year onwards, the Chamber has mounted the British display at Izmir without a break. In the later 1950s, when payments for imports were badly in arrears, there were several very ‘thin’ Pavilions, but Britain has in fact exhibited at the Izmir Fair, still Turkey’s only truly international event of this kind, on more occasions than any other country.
For nearly two decades now, the Chamber has operated what is almost certainly Turkey’s biggest volume status and credit reporting service. Its vast store of information is currently being computerised so as to provide a still more rapid and efficient service in the future.
Members and other enquirers can draw on the knowledge and experience of the fifteen members of the Council, whose combined expertise covers every field of business activity in Turkey today. This is in addition to the expert advice that is available from the Chamber’s permanent staff. There has also been a BCCT Advisory Committee, of one sort or another, at intervals from the earliest days. Turkish members first joined the Council itself in 1963, Mr. Ali M. Mansur, the 1985/87 Chairman of the chamber, who presided at the Centenary Dinner, was also the first Turkish member to take the Chair in 1970.
For the past sixty-eight years, H.M.’s Ambassador to Turkey has held the Honorary Presidency of the Chamber, and it was therefore fitting that the present Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Timothy Daunt, C.M.G., should have been guest of honour at the BCCT Centenary Dinner on April 3, 1987. Mr Daunt takes an active interest in the Chamber’s affairs, and the Chamber’s offices have in fact been located in the grounds of the British Consulate-General, Istanbul, since 1967.
It is apposite to mention here that the illuminated address to Chairman Sir William Whittall on his retirement states that among his many achievements it was largely thanks to the Chamber and to Sir William personally, that ‘a Commercial Attacheship was created at the British Embassy’ – which of course was then Istanbul.
Monthly lunches for members were a feature of the Chamber’s activities in the more leisurely 1920s; judging from some of the speakers’ subjects (‘Fishing in Local Waters’, and ‘Buddhist Prayer Flags and Prayer Wheels’ are two random examples), it would seem that not all of these were devoted strictly to business! In recent times, the Chamber has restricted members’ and guests’ lunchoens to special occasions. The calls on businessmen’s time and the tempo of modern business, are such that fishing, anyway, is very much an out-of-hours pursuit!
During the course of H.M. Queen’s State visit to Turkey in October 1971, the Chamber had the pleasure of entertaining H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh as guest of honour at a luncheon attended by some 400 members and guests. Prince Philip had, in fact, been the Chamber’s guest on an earlier occassion, when he paid a surprise visit to the British Pavillion at the 1950 Izmir International Fair.
As in the case with records of most events of long ago, those concerning the beginnings of Anglo-Turkish trade are nothing if not incomplete and confusing. It seems, however, that whereas there is a record of one “one Wm. Cooper having done business in Istanbul in 1489” and of “Kerseis” being shipped to Turkey “as early as 1511”, it was not until Queen Elizabeth’s conclusion in 1581 of a five years treaty with the Sultan, that regular trading ties were established.
The First Elizabeth was always anxious to promote her Empire’s foreign trade and she granted letters patent to a small company “The Company of Merchants of the Levant” among whom were Sir E. Osborne, Thomas Smith and Stephen and William Garrett, “because they had opened and found out a trade in Turkey not known in the memory of any man now living to be frequented by our progenitors”.
Under its Charter, The Levant Company gave trading rights in the Levant to 53 individuals and accepted responsibility for appointing (and financially maintaining) Britain’s ambassador to the Sublime Porte. The first (British) ship flying the British flag to enter the port of Istanbul was the Great Susan (in 1583) and aboard her was William Harbour who was the first representative of the Levant Company and who later became Britain’s first ambassador.
There can be no doubting the solidity of those foundations because, despite many ups and downs over the past four centuries, Anglo-Turkish trade has since been interrupted on only one occasion, the period of the 1914-18 war.
In general, The British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey (Association) (BCCT) was, prior to that war, principally concerned with straightforward buying and selling; the trading community was able to draw on its foreign exchange accounts in the main commerial centres of the world, or pay up in gold coins. The BCCT Journal of those early days said little about economic pressures and developments, but a lot about Turkish mohair (a regular letter from Bradford which was referred to as “Worstedopolis”), cotton piece goods and yarns, wood, coal (a large British export to Turkey and, today, Turkey is again importing coal on a substantial scale but not, of course, from Britain), valonia, gum tragacanth, and so on; shipping too, was naturally of considerable importance.
But the post-war situation was less buoyant, and much more was being said about restrictions. The Chamber’s Market Report for October 1921 was despondent in the extreme “...business generally, whether wholesale or retail, import or export, has reached a stage which, if of any duration, in the opinion of one of the oldest traders in the country, spells absolute ruin to this market...” The BCCT voiced its opposition to suggestions of restrictions on imports of luxuries (even though, “in the U.K., the import of American and Japanese silk hose is prohibited...”); but a new Custom Tariff with much higher rates of duty was introduced in November 1922, along with a list of prohibited imports which included beer, other alcoholic drinks, and cigarettes.
Restrictions on foreign exchange operations were not, however, initiated until 1930, under the first Law for the Protection of Turkish Currency; under these new regulations, currency holdings (with a few exceptions) had to be transferred to the Central Bank of Turkey. More general curbs were imposed on imports from November 1931, when a system of monthly quotas came into force. (The records show that the BCCT made a number of suggestions regarding these which were accepted by the authorities).
In its December 1932 Journal, the BCCT was dejected as ever “...The year 1932 is drawing to a close with all countries expressing the hope that trade may never see another such depression as has been experienced in the past twelve months.Each country has sought to protect itself, which is only natural, but many of the measures taken with this end in view have in reality made matters worse. Each has sought by tariffs or quotas and by exchange restrictions to keep out of the economic blizzard, but with little success and with the result of practically returning to barter...”
Clearing / soft currency accounts had in fact been introduced in 1932 and so had a limited volume of barter trading, although this latter was further restricted following year. Having a still valid Trading agreement with Turkey, the United Kingdom was unable to take advantage of these facilities until 1935, when a new Agreement was negotiated. This was suspended in 1939, whereafter compensation or barter trading was general; and from the outbreak of the 1939-1945 war virtually all foreign trade was conducted on this basis. Britain set up the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation to operate in Turkey and the Balkans; as a result of heavy buying (much of it like Germany’s, being on a pre-emptive basis) Britain was able to export virtually everything to Turkey which the exigencies of war could spare, and the problems of transport could permit.
For Turkey, barter dealing brought something of a golden age; in all but two of the fifteen years 1932-1946, Turkey recorded a favourable foreign trade balance; something which has not been achieved since. But the means to pay did not, of course, mean that still neutral Turkey could obtain all it required from a war-torn world. For example, it was reported in 1941 that although the new Atatürk Bridge across the Golden Horn had been completed, it could not be officially opened because it was unpainted and there was no sign of the paint promised by a German manufacturer!
Strictly bi-lateral trading was the order of the immediate post-war period and on several occasions the BCCT appealed to Turkish exporters to take a more active interest in the U.K. market (there were no export incentives, “drawbacks”, premiums etc. in those days) which would, in their turn, help British exports to Turkey be stepped up.
October 1, 1950 brought the first operations of the European Payments Union (E.P.U.) and a quite generous “free imports” list came into effect (it was based on 60% of actual 1948 imports and included a number of semi-luxuries, such as passenger cars and radio sets; even in 1950, imports of cotton piece goods were exceeded in value only by machinery, iron and steel, cereals, and petroleum products). Perhaps for Turkey, the most import feature of the E.P.U. was that it opened the way to a multi-lateral approach to foreign trade for the first time. However, within two years, payments problems were such that import freedom was little more than theoretical, and severe restrictions were imposed from March 1953.
There followed an extremely difficult period in which debts from imports accumulated and it was not until the latter part of the 1950’s that settlements began to be made on a regular basis. An injection of multi-lateral and bi-lateral aid, along with certain stabilisation measures, eventually corrected the situation, and a certain measure of import freedom was again enjoyed. Most imports had to be brought in under a quota system.
Yet another period of payments difficulties began in 1977, the most serious period of economic crisis so far experienced - and it was not until the introduction of the 1980 Economic Stabilization Programme, backed by Western aid and based on the principles of an outwardly oriented market economy, that foreign trade returned to normality. The freedom which imports, exports, foreign exchange transfers, and foreign investments enjoy today, is dealt with elsewhere in this article but it must be stressed here that in spite of recurrent payments difficulties, Turkey has always managed to meet its commitments in the end. This is, of course, the reason why it today enjoys a satisfactory credit rating.
Returning to the past, however, in the very first issue of its Journal (published on March 15, 1908) the Chamber reported that “...Motor cars are slowly finding their way into Turkey and various projects for motor car services in the provinces have been heard of. It may not be inopportune to call the attention of motor manufacturers to the possibility of doing some business in Turkey now that the Ottoman Government no longer prohibits their importation into the country. There are now about a score of motor boats on the Bosphorus etc. And there would appear to be an opening for British trade in this respect too...” Although the Chamber in the 1920’s made repeated references to Morris cars (perhaps the Chairman had a Morris?), it seems that, by and large, British car manufacturers were over-confident in those days; in 1926, the Chamber reported that “...When well known British makers have been approached for their Agency, their reply has been to the effect that their cars being so well known the world over, they have no need to appoint Agents, and buyers can write direct to the Works if they want one of their cars...”
Actually, British motor cars have never properly penetrated the Turkish market, whereas British trucks always did well and Ferguson tractors spearhead Turkey’s post-war agricultural revolution. Of the circa 580.000 tractors in service today, it is reckoned that not fewer than half are Massey-Fergusons (of course, both trucks and tractors have long since been built here in Turkey).
From a 1925 issue of the Chamber’s Journal it appears that not only car manufacturers were over-confident or indifferent about the Turkish market; this quotation from The Times of December 22, 1924 was underlined by the Chamber- “It will be a foolish blunder if Great Britain remains now as apathetic about the possible exploitation of Anatolia as she was in the first decade of this century. A vigilant eye must be kept open for possible development of local resources, beneficient first and foremost to the inhabitants themselves”. It is unfortunate the case that, even today, opportunities for British manufacturers, contractors, and so on in Turkey are still being overlooked!
However, the Chamber was not always reticent ...“Iron and brass bedsteads”, it said in March 1914, “is a line known to all importers to be a British speciality and one in which no other country has so far been able to complete... we would, however, draw the attention of the Bedstead Manufacturers’ Federation to the fact that Austria has recently commenced to export (them) ... German and Swedish manufacturers are actively pushing their bedsteads in Turkey ... and certain exporters have recently tried to sell American bedsteads but it seems but it seems that they have not succeeded owing to their high prices...”
At the 1911 Army adjudications for boots, an English sample for the 1st Army Corps was selected. The original sample cost 9/6 d. in England... the order was placed at 7/8 d., duty paid, delivery at depot. The Chamber’s Editor noted - “The first deliveries have been rejected; it is to be hoped the authorities will not compromise but insist on getting the goods they have contracted to buy...”
In the Chambers’ Journal of the 1920’s, there was unusually a “message” of some kind at the foot of each page; “Go to England and Visit the British Industries Fair” was a regular one; another read “Tea was brought to Europe by the Dutch in 1619; prior to 1657, it was used in England on very rare occasions, and sold for £6 or even £10 per lb...” (Currently, on the Turkish market, imported English tea is sold for the equivalent of about £10.50 per lb; a popular Turkish tea - Turkey today grows a big tea crop - costs roughly 80 p. per lb...)
The first official census of population was taken in 1926, it totalled 13,649,945, while estimates had earlier put it at as little as 7mn. Today’s  population is some 52.5mn., and it is still growing at around 2.4% per annum. In 1926, the Province of Istanbul had 806,860 inhabitants; today , the total is about 6.5 mn.
Establishment of a port of Istanbul Free Zone was provided for in a Law passed in 1927 but it was several years before it was actually applied. Ford made use of the Zone for a time to assemble vehicles but the Zone soon went out of use. At least two more attempts were subsequently made to popularise the Free Zone idea but it was not until this year  that the first full-scale Zones were set up (at Mersin and Antalya)... and the demand for space and facilities has exceeded the supply.
The British National Telephone Company, in participation with a French and American group, obtained a concession in 1911 to provide Istanbul with an initial 10,000, later 18,000 lines. The Chamber had a telephone early in 1913, the number, 1887, its foundation year. The business’ phone charge was £T 5.50 p.a. for up to 550 calls.
It seems, in fact, that Britain did well too early in the early days of agricultural mechanization: mid-1912, there were in the Adana region “110/112 threshing outfits, all of English manufacture, which were giving every satisfaction, and 35/40 steam ploughs, also of English make. A single German steam plough was imported, but,” the Chamber reported, “no further orders for this machine were taken...”
The contract for equipment for Karabük Iron and Steel Works (Turkey’s first: initial capacity 180.000 tonnes p.a.) was let to British companies for £3mn. For some time, the Chamber pressed the British authorities for credits to facilitate implementation of Turkey’s first 5 Year’s Industrial Development Plan (operative 1934 to 1939). In 1938, Britain granted a £10mn. commercial loan and a £6mn. armaments credit; initial orders placed against the former included those for 58 railway locomotives and 300 wagons. Around this time, Germany granted a 150 mn. RM Industrial Development Credit. The Sümerbank was responsible for many of the First Plan projects, including the Karabük Iron and Steel Works (which is today  the smallest of the smallest of Turkey’s three integrated steel mills, which together have an annual production capacity of some 6mn. tonnes, a fourth mill has been in the planning stage for some time past), the Bursa Merinos Mill, the first Seka Paper Mill, and the Ke&iborlu Sulphur Plant. Türkiye İş Bankası, the country’s largest commmecial bank, went into the industrialization field at an early date, building amongst other things, the Paşabahçe Glassworks, at Istanbul, the base from which today’s large glass, glassware and associated products industries have grown.
On January 26, 1913, a convention was signed “...between the Ministry of Public Works and the representative of a German group...for construction of an Istanbul underground railway; the principle line will be from Beyazıt to Pangaltı and Şişli ... other branch lines to Eyüp and Dolmabahçe ... the main lines to be completed in four years ... and the other lines in ten years ... A company has been formed to undertake the project... the Government reserves the right to repurchase the line after twenty years’ working...” Seventy-four years later Istanbul is still without its “Metro” [there is a limited metro service now operating since the late 1990s]. (The classic Galata-Beyoğlu Tunnel, dating from the later 1880’s, is still however operating). “Build-operate-transfer” will, the present government hopes, be the key to the financing of a number of big power stations and other projects.
In March 1911, The International Sleeping Car Company announced in the Chamber’s Journal that it was now running a fourth weekly express Istanbul/Vienna/Paris/Ostend... This was THE way of travelling to Western Europe and until the 1914-1918 war there was, of course, no question of passports, visas, or foreign exchange difficulties. Sleeper services ended some dozen years ago, more’s the pity. Incidentally, the Ankara Express is still a viable alternative to flying between Istanbul and Ankara - overnight, comfortable, with a very acceptable evening meal.
The 1939-1945 war upset plans for the establishment of an air service between London and Istanbul so that the first regular service, by BEAC and with a night stop in Athens or Rome, began in 1947; three years later it was a “same day” journey. (The 1947 return fare was £91; today’s  cheapest (Apex) fare is £196 return, and the regular fare is £475, i.e. cheaper in real terms than the 1947 price.)
Although television did not come to Turkey until the sixtees, the Chamber followed developments elsewhere and in 1927 reported that the experiments aimed at perfecting television had been so successful that it was confidently predicted that before the end of 1927 sets for home use would be available for about £30... “As is well known,” (the Chamber added), “The practicability of television was proved by the English inventor, Mr. John L. Baird, in 1925”... The compiler of these present lines remembers seeing the Trooping of the Colour on TV, in the Home Counties, in 1936 or 1937, although even then there appeared to be a violent snow-storm on what was, in fact, a lovely June day!
The forerunner of the present annual Izmir International Fair was a “September 9 Fair” organised by the Izmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the first time in 1927. There were only two British Exhibitors and both received gold medals; the Chamber urged more United Kingdom companies to take part in 1928. In April 1952, the Chamber organised a first-ever Istanbul Exhibition of British goods; nearly 300 companies were represented and there were over 48.000 visitors. It was unfortunate that foreign exchange difficulties later in the year prevented fulfilment of many of the orders which were placed on this occasion. Nowadays, of course, the accent is on specialised product exhibitions and fairs, and the 1952 experience was not repeated.
In 1946, plans were prepared for converting the Çırağan Palace, on the shores of the Bosphorus and gutted by fire in 1909, into a “high class hotel”. Early in 1987, an international group, which includes British interests, actually began the job of transforming the remaining walls of the old palace into a five-star hotel!
In its annual report for 1950, the Chamber stated that the declared policy of the Menderes Government was to encourage private enterprise, even to the extent of transferring certain State-owned industries to the private sector; ever reasonable proposition would be considered... In April 1952, the Minister of Economy, Dr. Muhlis Ete (who, by the way, frequently sought the BCCT’s views on topics and problems of the day) said that government policy was to build new State factories only if there was an absolute need therefor; certain State Enterprises (except those in the heavy industry sector) would be transferred to private ownership... In 1956, the Turkish Parliament began debating a Bill for the privatisation of (most) State industries... Just thirty years later, firm steps towards privatisation were taken and the first transfers to private ownership will probably take place before the end of 1987.
Proof of the Chamber’s long years of experience in providing status and credit information about firms, companies and individuals in Turkey is provided in the following extract from its Journal for December 1913.
“The Black Band: As a result of our offer to furnish members and official bodies with a list of dishonest traders in this country, consisting of sixty-five names and aliases, we received an application from one home firm only.
We must suppose, although we fear to the contrary, that all members with one exception are so well-informed that they do not require to know the names of these “Knights of Commerce”... However, the British Consulate in this City has sent quite a number of copies of the list to firms, which we trust have not bought their experience too dearly.”
What price equality? “When the Bachelor Girls’ Exhibition is held (in London) November 12-21, 1930” (the Chamber reported at the time), “no man who is not accompanied by a woman will be admitted. It is to be an exhibition by women for women; there will even be women police...”
And, finally, how many of those who have read thus far already knew that a “batman”, once a much used measure of weight in Turkey, equalled 6 “okes”, or 16.958 lbs. / 7.692 kgs.?
Mention has already been made elsewhere in this article of the Chamber’s founder-Chairman, Sir William Whittall, K.B. In his book “Frederick The Great on Kingcraft”, Sir William stated that his grandfather, the late Charlton Whittall, was the first of his name to settle in the Levant, as a member of the Levant Company, in the early part of the nineteenth century. He goes on to say that his grandfather’s ancestors were a family of yeomen of the county of Worcestershire, who lived on their own estates. They evidently had a predilection for the navy, for his great-uncle, Benjamin Whitall, was a midshipman under Captain G.B. Rodney, H.M.S. Dublin, in 1757, and was killed whilst gallantly engaged in an assault on the Moor’s Castle at the Havana in 1762. “I have his certificates signed by G.B. Rodney (afterwards Lord Rodney) and I. Phillips. My grandfather’s father was also in H.M.’s navy, and he too served under Lord Rodney...”
Mr. Charlton Whittall set up the first Whittall company (C. Whittall and Co.) in Izmir, in 1811. Sir William, born there in 1838 founded J.W. Whittall and Co., in Istanbul, in 1874. This Company, importers, exporters, Lloyds Agents, shipping and insurance agents, is today in voluntary liquidation but several of its off-shoots are still in business.
From its original roots, the Whittall family still has branches in several continents and from very early days in Turkey it had forged links by marriage (and in business) with the Huguenot La Fontaine’s and with the French Giraud’s, who were also long established in Izmir and Istanbul. It is not proposed here even to attempt to summarise a family-tree which is spread over many pages of a publication which took years to prepare. But within the present  Council of the BCCT, Mr. Desmond S. Whittall is a great, great nephew of the founder and Mr. Sidney E.P. Nowill, O.B.E. also has Whittall family links. Mr. Nowill himself, a man of many parts:- company director, economist, F.R.G.S., mountaineer, traveller, and writer - is a third generation Council member. His grandfather, Stephen Nowill, was a founder member, and served until 1924; his father also Sidney, followed on, and then took his turn in 1948; in fact, there has always been a Nowill member of the Council. Until relatively recently, there was always a La Fontaine Council member, too.
Mr. Charles F. Wilkinson, another member of the present Council, is likewise a great great nephew of the founder, and the company of which he is Managing Director, Merkez Denizcilik, is the successor to two founders’ shipping agencies (E. La Fontaine’s Sons, established 1845, and Gilchrist Walker, 1881).
Two other past Chairmen with Whittall family links by marriage, who must be mentioned here, are firstly Jack (John W.) Kernick, O.B.E., an ardent golfer, some-time Times correspondent, Managing Director of Gilchrist Walker, and a pillar of the now defunct Istanbul Club; secondly, Willie (William J.) Perkins, C.B.E., M.C., the English solicitor to practise in Turkey (actually, the law was - and is - such that he had to engage a Turkish lawyer for Court and other official appearances) - Willie Perkins remained and married in Turkey after 1914-1918 war service in the area. He was anything but a mild man; but he was a highly competent one, who was active in many British institutions besides the Chamber. Perkins was easily recognised by virtue of his fine home-grown button-hole, winter and summer. The picture was completed by The Times under his arm. During the 1939-1945 war, English newspapers reached Istanbul with long delays; but Willie Perkins carried and read his newspapers in strict daily sequence and could never be prevailed upon to look ahead for the result of something which had anyway happened weeks earlier!
Although similar in so far as a typical 1914-1918 war officer background was concerned, Percy Johnson, M.C., was, by comparison, a newcomer to Turkey: Managing Director of G. and A. Baker Ltd. (established 19482 but, by his time, the 1950’s, already part of the vast Unilever organisation). G. and A. Baker was a trading company which has today become one of Turkey’s biggest producers of detergents and soaps. Percy Johnson, usually dressed in “black and stripes” was a businessman only from necessity; his real interest was painting. (He was succeeded here by Peter Gregor MacGregor, who was said to have worn his now largely out-moded “uniform”, complete with waistcoat, in Lagos and elsewhere in hottest Africa). Percy Johnson retired early to devote all his time to his hobby; for some years he was to be seen during the Christmas period at a “Your Portrait While You Wait” stand in a popular but no longer extant London Store.
Mr. W.G. Middleton-Edwards, the only man, so far, to have served three separate periods as Chairman of the Chamber, was also a Director of G. and A. Baker Ltd. (his family had been connected with the Company for many years) but he had few interests outside business and the Chamber. He was indeed a brilliant businessman of the old school, domineering and energetic even in his 70’s, in spite of a loss of a leg early in life.
Although never aspiring to Chairmanship, Dr. Malcolm Burr, D.Sc., A.R.S.M., was a member of the Council for some years and Editor of the Journal, and Acting Secretary for a short period. Quite apart from being a distinguished scientist and Britain’s leading lepidopterist, he was very widely travelled. He used to say that only Australia had escaped him in his travels, and claimed to be fluent in twenty-four languages. At one period he had served with the Tsar’s forces. In 1950 he was having a shoe-shine near the Chamber’s offices when the bootblack suddenly jumped up, saluted, and said “A vos orders mon Capitaine”; the man had been Dr. Burr’s batman during his “Russian” period. His Editorship was, naturally, marked by the inclusion of many “bug” and other “general interest” rather than commercial items - “Polecats and Minks”, “The Bosphorus Beetle”, “Flint Knapping”, and “The Maria Theresa Dollar”, for instance. He found an easy way out of a job which would have taxed his strictly limited economic knowledge by saying, in noticing a Board of Trade Economic Survey of Turkey, “...it is hardly necessary to give an elaborate review, for no doubt every member of our Chamber will make certain of securing a copy”.
J.E. (Jack) Fox was a typical Yorkshireman, at least to the extent of his unmistakable accent (even when a serious operation reduced his voice to a throaty whisper) and to his being a competent and enthusiastic cricketer. He worked in Istanbul with the U.K.C.C. during the 1939-1945 war and afterwards headed the Turyağ Company, in Izmir. He was noted for his generosity and kindness to the less well-off. Soon after his death in 1960, a whole queue of workers appeared to repay the sums of money - many of them quite large by the standards of those days - which he had loaned them from his own pocket.
Douglas T. Binns could always be counted to oppose any and every motion put up in Council and to take an inordinately long time in doing so. He once said that his O.B.E. was awarded to compensate him for having been posted at the end of the 1914-1918 war back to Istanbul instead of to Norway (his wife was Norwegian)!
In 1933, the Council bade farewell to Mr. F. Douglas-Watson, General Manager of The Istanbul Telephone Company, and with that Company from its foundation in 1913; he had been chairman of the Chamber 1926/1928. Apparently he had quite an eventful journey back to the United Kingdom on the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war; he was robbed in Milan and was forced to raise cash by pawning a colleague’s trousers because his (own) kilt was not acceptable as a pledge... he also claimed to have been the first to introduce a Turkish woman to a commercial occupation.
Another Scott who could be counted upon to wear his kilt on all special occasions, Robert G. (Bob) Lawson, O.B.E. who was Chairman of the Chamber for a total of nine years, came to Turkey to set up and manage the (as now is) Coats-Patons joint venture company. This was the first British investment, and one of the first of any foreign investments made under the 1952 Foreign investments Encouragement Law (which was succeeded in 1954 by the present Law No. 6224). It was under his Chairmanship that the Chamber built its permanent British Pavillion at the Izmir International Fair. The Architects were Casson, Conder and Partners.
Mr. Ali M. Mansur was the Chamber’s first Turkish Chairman and has in fact just completed a second term of office. Heading an important group of manufacturing and trading companies, Mr. Mansur’s links with Britain are of long standing; as a student at the end of the 1939-1945 war, he worked for a time with the British Army in the Middle East and later on he was with I.C.I. (Turkey) Ltd. for some years.
Mr. Bülent Yazıcı (1911-1976), for very many years Turkey’s internationally best known banker, was one of the first Turkish members to join the Council of the Chamber. His knowledge of the Turkish economy, of what was being done and of what ought to be done, was unparalleled and his counsels were invaluable to our Chamber and to the many institutions which he served. Unlike many bankers, he invariably called a spade a spade (in one of the quietest voices ever heard around a Chamber Council table). He had refused office as a non-parliamentarian Minister of Finance on at least one occasion.
R.A. (Tony) Newberry, O.B.E., for some years the only practicing Chartered Accountant in Turkey, probably spent as much time shooting and fishing as in auditing and accounting; but few foreigners with such a relatively short span of time in Turkey knew the country as well as he did. It was perhaps appropriate that, having retired and returned to England, he died in the 1970’s, whilst making preparations for a bear hunt in Alaska.
Colonel Harold Woods, C.B.E., was Commercial Secretary (later Commercial Counsellor) to the British Embassy in Turkey for what must surely be a record term, from 1923 to 1939; and thereafter and up to his death in 1952, he acted as E.C.G.D.’s agent in Turkey. He was a great help to the Chamber and his economic reports were widely regarded as the gospel in so far as business between Britain and Turkey was concerned. It was he who guided Britain’s trade with Turkey during the difficult days of 1939-1945 war. Perhaps one of the greatest personalities with a firm Chamber connnection was Sir Alexander Telford-Waugh, K.C.M.G. (1865-1949), who spent most of his 45 years in the Foreign Service in Istanbul, leaving on retirement in 1930 to remain an Honorary President of the Chamber up to his death. His special interest was trade but he was an out-of-doors man, and a great swimmer. A standing joke against him was that, on someone at the Consulate remarking one summer morning that he had arrived late from Tarabya (half-way up the Bosphorus coast), he replied “Oh, I swam down”. And so he had done! (Some ten miles in never very warm water).
A century ago, in its first Annual Report, the Chamber referred to the decrease in British, and the increase in German trade with Turkey, saying “... One cause of the increased German trade is the admirable way their manufacturers adapt themselves to retail orders. Many a British Manufacturer would distain a troublesome, complicated, small order for patterns to be imitated, whereas the German goes out of his way to seek it...”. This was reported still twenty-five years later (when incidentally, cotton piece goods represented more than two-thirds of Turkey’s £9.7mn. imports from Britain in 1911) and it was certainly so in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Whilst the goods differ (the Turkish textiles industry of the 1980’s produces patterns in unlimited variety and volume, meeting the home market’s needs and exporting yarns, piece goods, and clothing in an annual value approaching $2,000mn.) the principle all too often remains true today. Turkey has never been an “easy” market and it probably never will be; it requires more than routine attention, but it is a big and still rapidly growing market, with an annual foreign trade turnover nearing the $20,000mn. mark.
In fact, many of the difficulties have been overcome (simply) because Turkey’s 1980 Economic Stabilization Programme brought with it acceptance of the principles of an outwardly-oriented market economy, principles which have been applied perhaps to a surprising extent (bearing in mind the traditionally restrictive influences of the bureaucracy in the past). Recently and in the last three years especially, the speed with which restrictions have been lifted has been quite phenomenal; today, fewer than 120 items (Tariffs/Tariff Sub-sections) are subject to an import licence, only a handful of export goods require a licence or even pre-shipment registration, and practically all foreign exchange current account transactions can be completed as a matter of routine by the commercial banks. Foreign capital investment is genuinely welcomed in virtually every sphere of activity and investment authorisations are normally issued with minimal delay.
Of course, there are financial restrictions on non-essential imports, and on imports of the products of certain of Turkey’s industries which need more time to become internationally competitive. High tariffs and surcharges are the norm in these cases but they still allow a substantial import turnover and they are quickly reduced if there are signs of Turkish manufacturers taking unfair advantage of the protection they are granted.
Exports have risen from $2,910mn. in 1980 to $11,105mn., the current account deficit was roughly halved from $2,965mn. to $1,518mn., and net gold and foreign exchange reserves soared from $1,209mn. to $4,347mn., or the equivalent of the cost of more than four months’ imports.
At the same time Turkey’s foreign debt has risen sharply, to $31,228mn. of disburded debt on December 31 last ; servicing this is currently costing more than half the country’s export earnings. However, the net income from “invisibles” has increased and the fact that, since the complete overhaul of the economy at the beginning of 1980, Turkey has meticulously met all its foreign exchange commitments, has meant that its credit-worthiness in the international financial markets has long since been re-established. Facilities are being granted nowadays almost as a matter of course.
Of course, there are other problems, too; the rate of inflation has risen again this year and is currently running at some 30%; in real terms, unemployement amounts to something like 20% of the work force; Budget revenues continue to fall short of true requirements, and the resultant excessive public sector borrowing is a principal factor in the unduly high cost of money; and this has, of course, had a negative effect on the efforts being made to curb inflation.
In its latest publication (“The Turkish Economy 1987“), TUSIAD - Turkey’s equivalent of the C.B.I. says that this, the Chamber’s centenary year, will mark a turning point in Turkish economic history. This is, of course, a reference to the Turkish government’s application on April 14, 1987 for full membership of the European Economic Community. Turkey has been an Associate Member since 1963. Whether formal accession is realised in the relatively near future or in the early years of the 21st century, the application has eliminated uncertainties about the true orientation of the Turkish economy. Turkey rightly looks upon itself as a Western nation and, at the same time, the natural link between Western Europe and the Middle Eastern and other Islamic markets.
The link is being further strengthened with the opening of Free Zones; the first, at Mersin, is already open, and another is nearing completion at Antalya; the demand for space and facilities has far exceeded the supply. Later on, there will be a third zone, in the vicinity of Izmir.
Reproduction of text here kindly approved by author:
Desmond Whittall - view some family postal memorabilia
British Chamber of Commerce of Turkey
1 According to contributor Robert Baker, Henry Baker is the alternative name of Harry Baker, his grandfather.
2 The G. & A. Baker company’s origins go back to 1870, however then under a variation of this name and for a long time was run by the namesake family members on a retail only basis, as revealed in Robert Baker’s testimony.
submission date 2008