ANKARA, Turkey — Matild Manukyan, the queen of Turkish brothels and one of the country's wealthiest women, died of heart failure Saturday in her palatial Istanbul apartment. She was 84.
Descended from an aristocratic Armenian family, Manukyan attended Istanbul's posh Notre Dame de Sion school, run by French nuns, before launching her first career as a haute couture seamstress for the city's Westernized high society. When a customer offered her one of his brothels to settle an unpaid debt, Manukyan found herself in the murky world of prostitution, which is a legal business in Turkey as long as it is carried out in brothels registered with local governments.
A shrewd businesswoman, she proved tougher than her all-male competitors, building up a chain of 32 brothels. During an interview in 1994, she said she prided herself on having "the healthiest, best behaved and most beautiful girls in all Istanbul." So great was her fortune that in the early 1990s she was Istanbul's top taxpayer for five years running.
Her fiscal probity earned her considerable official praise. Framed letters from Turkey's top politicians, including the late President Turgut Ozal, thanking her for her sense of civic duty, adorned the walls of her home.