Doctor, statesman and politician, prime minister (B. 1881, Istanbul – D. 8th July 1942, Istanbul) He was born as İbrahim Refik Saydam to the merchant Çankırılı Hacı Ahmet Efendi. After the publication of civil law in Turkey, he was surnamed “Saydam” by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He completed his primary and secondary education at Fatih Askerî Rüştiyesi (Military School). Having graduated from Military School of Economy as doctor lieutenant, he entered Berlin Military School of Medicine and he took expertise trainings in various cities in Germany. He conducted studies to prevent the cholera at the Antalya front and Çatalca front during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). He created a medicine to cure typhus, dysentery, plague and cholera co-operated with the Bacteriology Institute while he was the deputy undersecretary of Sahra Public Health in 1914 and during the World War I (1914-18), the army of Ottoman Empire was supplied with medic by that Institute.
The medicine created by Refik Saydam to cure typhus took its part in literature and was used by central powers of the German Army during the World War I and by Turkish Forces during the War of Independence. İbrahim Refik Bey, who was the deputy undersecretary of Health of IX Corps, landed at Samsun with Mustafa Kemal on May 19th, 1919. Later when the headquarter of Mustafa Kemal was moved from Erzurum to Sivas, he was appointed as the clinic chief of infectious disease at Erzurum Military Hospital. He didn’t accept that duty and he resigned from military, and joined the activities of Congress of Erzurum and of Sivas. However, he began to feel resentful towards Mustafa Kemal for he hadn’t been given an active role.
İbrahim Refik Bey entered the Grand National Assembly of Turkey as the deputy of Beyazıt on April 23rd, 1920. He kept his seat in the second season of the parliamentary as the deputy of Istanbul. İbrahim Refik Bey, who was the first Ministry of the Health of Republic of Turkey, had kept his seat there for fourteen years and laid the foundations of health services in Turkey. He founded maternities, nursing homes, public hospitals in Ankara in 1924 and then in many cities like Erzurum, Diyarbakır and Sivas in Anatolia. Besides, he put particular emphasis on training health staffs and established health courses, dormitories for medicine students and established the Hıfzıssıha Foundation and Hıfzıssıha School in 1928, tuberculosis control dispensaries in central cities like Istanbul and Ankara. He presided the first board of health on July 15th, 1931. Refik Saydam, who officiated the Ministry of Education and Finance by proxy between 1931 and 1938, performed as the Minister of Internal Affairs and was assigned as the General Secretary of the Cumhuriyet Halk Party after Atatürk had passed away and held seat in the position of the President of Red Crescent for fifteen years.
He officiated as the Minister of Health under the cabinet of İsmet Pasha formed on March 1st, 1935. After the pass away of Atatürk, at the Second Cabinet of Bayar formed on November 11th, 1938, he performed as the Minister of Internal Affairs. He was appointed to the Prime Ministry by President İsmet İnönü on January 25th, 1939. National Chief İnönü always took his advices and valued his opinions. They always devised the first drafts of the decisions to be taken by the government together. During the presidency of Refik Saydam, he withdrew posters of Atatürk from state offices and had İnönü’s posters hanged instead. During his presidency, Hasan Ali Yücel became the Minister of National Education and Village Institutes (1940) were established under the guidance of İsmail Hakkı Tonguç, General Director of Teacher Training Schools. Hasan Ali Yücel directed those education projects himself.
Refik Saydam, who was the most influential person of İnönü period, wanted to resign from his duty due to his Parkinson's disease. Shortly after, he died of heart attack on July 8th, 1942 in Istanbul while he was on an investigative visit. He was laid to rest in Cebeci Asri Cemetery, Ankara.
Refik Saydam, the first Minister of Health of Turkey, made a major contribution to health services during his fourteen years in the ministry. He established maternities, hospitals and nursing homes in various towns and established health courses, dormitories for medicine students, the Hıfzıssıhha Institute and School and tuberculosis control dispensaries in Ankara and Istanbul. He tried to protect the nation from the negative impacts of World War II during the period of prime ministry. He never married. After his death, some of the health facilities were named after him.
REFERENCE: İbrahim Alâeddin Gövsa / Türk Meşhurları (1946), Hakkı Devrim / Türkiye Ansiklopedisi 4 (1974), Yurt Ansiklopedisi (c. 6, 1981), Milliyet Büyük Larousse Sözlük ve Ansiklopedisi (c. 20, 1986), Kemal Öztürk / İlk Meclis (1999), Falih Rıfkı Atay / Çankaya (2004), Süleyman Yeşilyurt / Türkiye’nin Başbakanları (2006), Sema Dülger / Dünden Bugüne Devletin Zirvesindekiler / (2007), İhsan Işık / Ünlü Devlet Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 1, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013).