Having given life to the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years, olive trees are an indispensable source of life and health for the Aegean region as well. Historical sources indicate that the first civilizations to have benefited from the olive were based on the shores of the Aegean. And among those who derived their subsistence from that immortal tree were the people of the paradisiacal Island of Lesbos (Turkish: Midilli). One of those people was Hasan Efendi from the town of Gera, whose story tells of a family tradition of commerce that crossed the sea and ended up in Turkey. Hasan Efendi often used to travel to the village of Komi to work on his olive grove, and was thus known on the Island as Komili Hasan (Hasan of Komi).
Hasan Efendi’s nickname inspired first the name of the company Dizdarzade Komili Hasan ve Oğulları (Dizdarzade Komili Hasan and Sons), which he established in 1878 on Lesbos, and then that of the pioneering company he founded in Turkey. He was a literate man in tune with the community in which he lived. It was he who had alerted the Ottoman authorities in 1893 to the irregularities in a tender involving olive cultivation on Lesbos. Because of these qualities, the provincial governor Nami Bey had appointed Hasan Efendi administrator of his sub-district. According to Nedim Attila, it may be as a result of actions on the part of Greek gangs to intimidate the local Muslim population on the eve of the Balkan Wars that Hasan Efendi lost his life. Be that as it may, thanks to his diligent efforts, he was able to leave his sons tens of thousands of olive trees upon his death.
The war years, including World War I and the War of Independence, deeply affected the lives of the Muslims of Lesbos —which, in any case, had not been under Ottoman rule since it was conquered by Greek forces during the First Balkan War of 1912. The last record in a commercial yearbook that mentions Hasan Efendi’s workplace among the island’s merchants appeared in 1921. During the years that followed, it was with great difficulty that his four sons put bread on the table and kept the family together. Civic consciousness was their father’s legacy, and thus, when it was announced in 1923-1924 that the Muslims of Lesbos would have to leave as part of the Greco-Turkish population exchange, Hasan Efendi’s son Ali declared that he would not leave until the last Muslim on the island had boarded the boat. And that is exactly what he did.
In fact, the family did not travel far. Having crossed the straits, they settled in Ayvalık and started to rebuild their lives doing what they knew best, in the shadow of the olive trees. A document dated 1925 preserved in the Prime Ministry’s Republican Archives contains details of the transportation and resettlement of the four brothers. It describes their home on Lesbos and goes on to list “Mustafa, Ali, Hüseyin, and Abdi, children of the merchant, agriculturalist, and factory owner Hasan Komili, originating in the Village of Üsküblü in the Sub-district of Yere [Gera] on the Island of Lesbos and resettled in the District of Ayvalık.”
The Balıkesir Ticaret ve Sanayi Odası Salnamesi (Yearbook of the Balıkesir Chamber of Commerce and Industry) for 1926 mentioned “Komilizade Mustafa Bey” in the section “Factories in the District of Ayvalık.” The yearbook went on to state that the factory was operational, that it disposed of a transportation capacity of twenty animals, a production capacity of twelve metric tons per annum, and a workforce of twenty-five. The family quickly adapted to Ayvalık, with whose culture and way of life they were not entirely unfamiliar. They were, of course, not alone. Many families from Lesbos had settled there, among whom the families Sözmez and Madra who soon made their own contribution to the District’s commercial life.
Mustafa Bey’s sons Salih and Necmi kept alive the family’s commercial legacy, abiding by their grandfather’s principle that “With poor-quality merchandise, you will fool the customer once, and yourself for ever.”
The brothers lost their mother Lütfiye Hanım in 1942. In 1947, they decided to dissolve their partnership, Necmi Komili declaring that he only wanted to carry the brand Komili. It was he who passed on the brand to the generations that followed. The first time the brand was registered, in 1937, it had been under the name “Mustafa Komili Oğulları Necmi ve Salih ve Şürekâsı” (Necmi and Salih, sons of Mustafa Komili, and Company). As of 1944-1945, commercial yearbooks still listed the names of both Ali Komili and Necmi and Salih Komili. In 1947 and 1948, however, the olive oil brand was registered anew.
From this date on, the name Komili appeared more frequently on the advertisement pages of national newspapers. By 1960, the company’s daily production of olive oil had reached the striking figure of fifty tons per day. This performance brought Komili to the attention of the global players in the sector, and soon Komili was the fifth supplier of the Italian firm Mazonni, one of the world’s largest buyers.
With its innovative products, Komili has always been an important supporter of the industry. The development of cylindrical cans to replace the square cans that suffered from leaks seemed to be the harbinger of change, and Komili was now sold in “golden boxes.” In 1973, the firm established Turkey’s first installation for physical refining, and by 1980, the entire factory and equipment had been modernized. The joint stock company “Komili Sınai Mamuller Pazarlama A.Ş.” (Komili Industrial Products Marketing) was founded in 1973.
From the golden box to the Kybele bottles, the appearance of olive oil on the shelves may have constantly changed, but its beloved taste remained the same. When the market was invaded in 1969 by pirate products bearing the Komili label, advertisements were taken in newspapers that appear to stress the bond between the firm and its customers: “The packaging and its color may be imitated, but certainly not the quality of Komili olive oil.” Still, despite these advances, and even though Turkey is a Mediterranean country, the national consumption of olive oil remained far below that of developed countries. After 1990, Komili resolved to publicize the health benefits of the product by stressing the “Mediterranean” theme. Promoting customer awareness of olive oil became one of the firm’s primary concerns. Such projects as “Monuments to olive oil from trees to humans,” “Those who live with the tree of life from Tirilye to Derik, and from Adatepe to Yusufeli,” “The oil presses in the region of Edremit,” and “The past and present of the olive, olive oil, and soap industries” were sponsored by Komili. Many highly respected ventures, notably the archeological digs at Klazomenai where olive oil is thought to have originated, were also supported by Komili.
In 1992, this precious brand was taken under the umbrella of the Unilever Group. It was transfered to the company Ana Gıda in 2008, a subsidiary of the Anadolu Group where it operates alongside two other well-known Turkish olive oil brands, Sezai Ömer Madra (1914) and Kırlangıç (1953). Today, Komili continues to work on raising the consciousness of both producers and consumers, with the mission of promoting the culture and increasing the consumption of olive oil in Turkey.
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