Photo from 1930s
Sabiha Gökçen (Turkish: [sabiha ɡøkt͡ʃen]; 22 March 1913 – 22 March 2001) was a Turkish aviator. She was the first Turkish female combat pilot, aged 23. According to some sources, including Guinness World Records, she was also the world's first female fighter pilot, being enrolled in the Military Aviation Academy in Eskisehir in 1936. However, others such as Marie Marvingt and Eugenie Mikhailovna Shakhovskaya preceded her as military pilots in other roles, probably without a military academy enrollment. She was one of the eight adopted children of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
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. Her adopted sister Ülkü Adatepe disputed this during an interview, claiming that Sabiha was of Bosniak ancestry.
Sabiha Gökçen's Bosniak or Armenian origins are a matter of some dispute. 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 origin. 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 in 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 among 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 Gaziantep resident, who claimed to be Gökçen's niece and that Gökçen herself was of Armenian ancestry. Mustafa Kemal took a liking to Sebilciyan, who was in an orphanage shortly after the Armenian Genocide, and had her adopted. According to historian Pars Tuğlacı, Gökçen herself found out about her Armenian identity while in Ankara, when members of her family contacted her from Beirut. Gökçen reportedly visited her Armenian relatives in Beirut. She 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 of Armenian origin and reiterated that Sabiha and her both parents, Mustafa Izzet Bey and Hayriye Hanim, were of Bosniak ancestry.
Just 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.