Besim Atalay was born in Uşak in 1882 . After completing primary and secondary school, he entered medresse. He went to İstanbul in 1905 after 11 years of medresse education. He continued the lessons of Çarşambalı Hacı Ahmet Efendi in the Şehzade Mosque. He entered İstanbul Darülmuallim (Teacher’s Training College) in 1909 and graduated in 1912. He worked as a teacher and director at the Teachers’ School of Konya, Trabzon and Ankara, a teacher at Darüşşafaka (Orphans’ School) in İstanbul, and Director of Education in Maraş, İçel and Niğde.
While he was Director of Education in Niğde, in 1919 he established the Müdafaa-i Hukuk Cemiyeti (Society for the Defense of the Law) at Silifke with his teacher friends. During the War of Independence, he carried out various studies. He joined the Parliament as Deputy of Kütahya in 1920. He continued as Deputy of Aksaray and Kütahya for three terms, each until the end of the seventh session.
He joined the 1st Philological Congress, which was organized by Atatürk in 1932, and he was elected as a member of the Philological Society. He continued his office as the accountant of this Society until 1952 and continued as a member until his death.
He was a Professor of Persian in the Faculty of Letters, History and Geography in Ankara between 1937 1942. He was a master of Arabic, Persian and ancient Turkish languages. His masterpiece is the translation of Divanü Lugat-it Türk. He also wrote many novels, essays, translations, and books on history and religion. One of his latest studies was the translation of the Koran into Turkish.
He donated the rare manuscripts that he collected throughout his life to the National Library, and the Turkish ethnographical objects and plates to the Ankara Ethnography Museum. He died in Ankara on 7 November 1965.
The Besim Atalay Hall, exhibiting his valuable collection was opened on 25 January 1963. Besim Atalay made a meaningful speech at the opening ceremony and gave what was almost a museology lesson. An excerpt from this speech is as follows:
“A Museum is the infallible temple of the inner strength of civilization and the art of a nation. Only museums can display the past of a nation in the best and most correct way. A Museum reflects, as an unfailing mirror, the steps and progress of any nation that are taken on the way of being and living. My age is advanced. I decided that the time has come to leave this whole collection to the bosom of our nation, to this museum. A pleasant sound remains over this vault.”
Atalay did not live long after this speech and he died in 1965.