Mecit Çetinkaya was born in Kelkit, in Eastern Anatolia in 1912 (1328). His father Abdullah, who was one of the notable individuals in the village, his mother Havva, his brothers and sisters Melek, Fatma, Felek, Nigar, Mustafa and his uncle İbrahim were killed just before his eyes at one of the attacks by Armenian gangs to his village, and he was left all alone in this life at the age of 5 as the youngest member of the family.
Orphan Mecit was sent to the state orphanage located near the Poor House (Darülaceze), now in Okmeydanı, Istanbul upon orders of Kazım Karabekir Pasha in 1917. Kazım Karabekir Pasha brought the children whose parents had reached martyrdom before and after the independence war together, built a home for them and paid close attention to their education and upbringing. These orphans, referred to as “Kids with Blue Shirts” in the history, were raised and trained as valuable craftsmen in special work centers in order to contribute to the economy of the country. Mecit Çetinkaya is one of the fortunate children whose path was crossed with these orphanages and who was able to serve his country and nation thanks to the education provided there.
However Mecit needed warmth of a family due to his very young age, and following a short period of training among the “Kids with Blue Shirts” under the state’s control, was taken from the orphanage and adopted by a family living at Çeşme Square (Galata). But, when that family realized that they could not take care of little Mecit due to pressing economical hardships, they gave Mecit to their relatives İsmail and Fatma Bozkurt living in Çercille (Gökbel) village of Inebolu, who did not have any child just like them, as foster child under the state guarantee in 1918. That family formally adopted little Mecit and registered him as their lawful child.
Mecit, whose destiny took him from Kelkit (Gümüşhane) district of Erzurum as a child to the Çercille Village located at the skirts of the İsfendiyar Mountains of İnebolu Evrenyesi, spent his childhood in this village, and began to gain experience in seamanship while working as a lighterman for captains involved in shipping business in İnebolu. When he was 18 years old, he married with Hatice one of four daughters of Veteran Kadir Aga, who was known as Barbarossa of the Black Sea, and Kamile Tepe in 1930. He then began working as a lighterman for his father in law. Thanks to his talent and courage, he learned seamanship and began to sail for long distance voyages on board the old sailing boat of his father in law. Without a doubt, his early start in this profession had a great affect on him for learning seamanship quickly. Also natural structure of İnebolu and Evrenye, where many people were trained to work for Ottoman marine and sea transportation for centuries, had an influence on his training. Captain Mecit, who continued to work as a lighterman after getting married, increased his experience in sea transportation for many years. He mentioned in his diaries written in the subsequent years about how he had dreamt of growing his business in the future during his short and long voyages in lighters. Being a visionary, İnebolu and Evrenye started to look too small for Captain Mecit. He had already seen Istanbul and his love for the city was established in his heart during his time while living with his foster parents at Çeşme Square. Who would have thought that Mecit, who as a child looked at small boats, lighters and other sea transportation vehicles with sympathy, would come to these places once again?
With such thoughts and blues, he left the Çercille Village and joined the army in 1935 to serve for his much loved country and the flag. He performed his military service as cavalier at Thrace region for 4 years.
When Mecit Çetinkaya returned from the military in 1939, he did not go back to his village and began working at lighters at the Yağkapanı Quay located at Istanbul Çeşme Square (Galata) so that he could provide a better life for his family and fulfill his dreams. Starting to work at lighters at the Fermeneciler Street, Captain Mecit gained affection and respect of others thanks to his long experience in seamanship obtained since young ages. However, Captain Mecit dreamed nothing but setting up his own firm. He purchased a lighter with the money he had saved and founded his business. He gradually bought additional lighters and tugboats, growing his business and realizing his dreams dreamt at the skirts of the İsfendiyar Mountain.
Growing his business, Mecit Çetinkaya started long distance journeys by his lighters in Black Sea and Marmara. At one of such long distance voyages, his lighter was hit by Russian torpedoes in Black Sea while transporting wood and log loaded from İğne Adası, and everyone but him on board the lighter was killed. When Mecit Çetinkaya gained his conscious, he was wounded and held onto a log and then climbed on the half wrecked boat of the lighter. This is how he could save his life. After struggling with hunger, thirst and cold for many days, he was able to reach the shore. Then he went to Feriköy, Istanbul by land route where his family was living. Return of Captain Mecit, who was thought to be dead by then, is in fact another case of “history repeats itself” for his wife Hatice. During the war, while Hatice was just a little child, her father Captain Kadir and her brother Mehmet were captured as prisoner by Russians while on a journey in the Black Sea. Hatice, her mother and siblings were left on their own for years, struggled hard for life in poverty and misery. Captain Kadir and his son escaped from captivity in Russia after nine years and found their back to home village.
After this incident, Mecit Çetinkaya spared some time for himself and began a new quest in order to develop the lighter business. Thus, he realized and introduced to the sector one his most important innovations in his business life by installing engines to the lighters, which then had no engine and pulled by tugboats, and transforming them into sea boats. This has ended the dependency on tugboats. Mecit Çetinkaya increased his business even more thanks to this development and was able to purchase the commercial building at the Fermeneciler Street together with the pontoons at the shoreline.
The engine-powered lighters reform, developed by Mecit Çetinkaya, caused the rise of a new sector in Turkey. Those who owned motor boats then began using sheet boats and stepped into ship-owning business.
The lighters owned by Captain Mecit played a significant role in transshipment and transportation of all ships arriving at Istanbul ports from 1940s until the construction of the Bosporus Bridge. The vessels coming to Istanbul then could only berth to Haydarpaşa and Salıpazarı ports, and many ships had to drop their anchors offshore due to insufficiency of these ports. All such ships could unload their cargo thanks to these wooden motors. In fact, Mecit Çetinkaya referring to importance of lighter business said at one of the newspapers “Istanbul would starve if it was not for my lighters”
When the Bosporus Bridge was built in 1974, lighter trade began to lose its significance. After the shelters at the Golden Horn were torn down in 1980, motor lighters had no place to harbor and following the shrink in the business of guilds, all of the wooden boats had to be abandoned.
Captain Mecit was also involved in many social activities, established cooperatives and associations to bring sea trades together. He led the foundation of the “Istanbul Lighter Owners, Motor Owners and Tugboat Owners Association”, was elected as the chairman of this association in 1955 – 1956 and successfully functioned as the chairman until his death in 1978.
Later on, he was elected as the chairman of the Istanbul Chamber of Guilds and Artisan Union in 1961, which still exists and combines all associations in Istanbul, and performed this position with success continuously until 1967. While in the office, he contributed to establishment of the Istanbul Nursing Home and Relaxation Homes Foundation, pioneered the works for construction of the Guilds Hospital at Beyazıt and the Nursing Home at the foundation land at Altunizade, which also includes the Marmara University Hospital. The foundation still continues its activities.
Mecit Çetinkaya’s social activities were not limited by these, and he also functioned as the chairman of many societies and sports clubs. He had been the chairman of Karagümrük Sports Club in early 1960s and Galata Sports Club in 1965 – 1967, during which the Club had lived its heydays. He also successfully served as the Chairman of the Red Crescent Karaköy (Beyoğlu) Society and Head of the Democrat Party Beyoğlu District.
At every opportunity Mecit Çetinkaya emphasized that his greatest support in performing all these feats was his most precious and beloved wife Hatice Çetinkaya. If it had not been for her he could never achieve them; and he had always been very proud of her.
Mecit Çetinkaya, who left permanent marks in Istanbul to be always remembered and has a name that continues to live in his memory; he has 9 children, two of whom have passed away, 17 grand-children and 20 grand grand-children.
Mr. Çetinkaya felt ill in his car as he was returning home from the Istanbul Chamber of Guilds and Artisan Union congress where he had delivered a speech on 19 March 1978, and passed away at the age of 66 at the Guilds Hospital, of which he had been a founder, leaving his family and loved ones in great sorrow.
Mecit Çetinkaya, who had been embodied with the Ottoman Period maritime culture, equipped with sea transportation knowledge and skills filtered through a civilization going back as far as six centuries with its traditions and roots, was sent to his final journey by his loved ones after leaving a unforgettable name and profession to his children and grandchildren, which they can keep alive for many years.
Captain Mecit has left a legacy remembered with goodness to his children. It certainly is the mission of all his children, grandchildren and other family members to be worthy of Mecit Çetinkaya and keep his name alive in the most appropriate manner.
Mecit Çetinkaya Shipping Company, Manta Shipping Company and other companies have been established by youngest son of the family, who has been named after his father late Mecit Çetinkaya and grandson Mecit Mert Çetinkaya, who has been named after his grandfather and father and was born in 1978 in the year his grandfather passed away.
These companies operate in the sector today according to patrimonial work principles and honesty, and take firm steps towards the future under the same principles.