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Halet Çambel

Biographical information

TypeCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameHalet•Çambel
Used nameHalet•Çambel
Born27 August 1916 in Berlin, Berlin (GER)
Died12 January 2014 in İstanbul (TUR)
NOC Turkey


Born in Berlin as the daughter of a confidant to Kemal Ataturk and the granddaughter of the Turkish ambassador to Germany, Halet Çambel took up fencing at a young age, influenced by Ataturk’s promotion of women’s sports. She attended the 1936 Summer Olympics as a representative of Turkey, but did not win any bouts and thus failed to advance beyond the opening round. She received her undergraduate degree in archaeology from Sorbonne University and later attained a doctorate from the University of Istanbul, where she met Nail Çakırhan, a Communist poet and architect who would eventually become her husband of 70 years. After World War II she rose to prominence in the archaeological world by restoring a tablet that helped decipher Hittite hieroglyphics. In the 1950s she became involved in preserving her country’s cultural history by organizing efforts to resist government activities that would have moved valuable artifacts and destroyed archaeological sites. She also worked with villages to change their livestock and weaving practices in the interests of preservation. In 2004 she received one of the Prince Claus Awards in recognition of her efforts the fields of culture and development. Although it is difficult to be certain, she is often considered the first Muslim woman to compete at the Olympics.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1936 Summer Olympics Fencing TUR Halet Çambel
Foil, Individual, Women (Olympic) 7 p5 r1/4