From Olympic champion to a kingdom of buses.... On the verge of death, then to prison.... In spite of tuberculosis, jaundice, infarctus and bullets perforating liver and lungs, the man is alive and standing on his feet.... But this man, a businessman and a millionaire, is guarded day and night by an army of volunteers....
Thus does Ankara journalist Mehmet Ali Kislali put into elegiac summary the life and times of Gazanfer Bilge, 48, the Turkish wrestler and bus mogul. These have been bitter and bloody years for Gazanfer Bilge, a far cry from the radiant hour when he stood upon the podium in London in 1948 and received his gold medal for winning the featherweight division in freestyle wrestling. "I trembled very much," he said.
Ordinarily, Gazanfer Bilge is a man of immense ego and gargantuan self-confidence. When he was asked who had helped him most in his quest for the Olympic medal, he replied, "Nobody did. I have learned every game by myself. The secret of my success is my strength and my intelligence."
It is a bizarre world that Gazanfer Bilge lives in now, and as Kislali writes, "Clouds of anxiety have come to fill his eyes." A bloody feud has erupted among the major bus owners of Turkey. It is the more surrealistic in that all the major parties were, like Gazanfer Bilge, Olympic wrestlers.
Turkish wrestlers have gravitated to the bus business in surprising numbers—among them Kazim Ayvaz, Mustafa Dagistanli, Hamit Kaplan and the Atan brothers, Irfan and Adil, who have come to be the nemeses of Gazanfer Bilge.
After he won his medal the Turkish government rewarded Gazanfer Bilge with a house and 20,000 Turkish liras ($7,142). This resulted in his being disqualified at the 1952 Olympics along with several other Turks who had been similarly honored. He bought a farm, then sold it for a profit and bought two minibuses. He prospered and bought a full-sized bus, then many buses, and today there is scarcely an important route in Turkey that is not serviced by the buses of Gazanfer Bilge.
They are easy to recognize for they are painted with the famed five circles of the Olympics and also with Gazanfer Bilge's name in large letters. He is very rich now, with two villas in Istanbul and other valuable real estate in Ankara. Still, there are those "clouds of anxiety."
The storm center is Adil Atan, 43, who won a bronze medal in wrestling at Helsinki, and his brother Irfan, 45, who finished fourth in the same Games. Adil Atan is not as rich as Gazanfer Bilge, but he owns 50 buses. Adil Atan is a fierce-looking fellow. He is almost bald and he weighs well over 250 pounds. Adil Atan's hobby is keeping canaries. There are dozens of them in his home and it is said that he is as gentle as a little bird himself when he is around them.
There is confusion over exactly what triggered the fighting between Adil Atan and Gazanfer Bilge, but here is the chronicle in the words of Gazanfer Bilge as told to the journalist Kislali. Certainly, this is a prejudiced version, but it is the truth as Gazanfer Bilge sees it:
"The Atan brothers are Abazas, a branch of Circassians; my mother is Circassian, too. We knew each other since we were very young. One day the Atan brothers came to see me. They threatened me, started swearing and asked for half of my company. Of course, I gave them no share whatsoever. They started beating and threatening my drivers. I complained to the authorities, but nothing was done to protect me....