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OpinionsBy Gunduz Aktan

Ambassador Gurun has sadly passed away. With his exemplary career and his abiding influence, undoubtedly he was one of the pillars to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of his generation, and ours.

He was my first ambassador at my first post abroad, namely, the Turkish delegation to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He arrived in mid-1970 from Bucharest, his first ambassadorial post. He was then barely 50-years-of-age. We were taking over economic representation from the Ministry of Finance, which had snatched them from us in the heat of the May 27 coup. Naturally, our colleagues from that ministry had been somewhat restless. They were afraid that the new ambassador would seek revenge.

None of their fears materialized. He was an ambassador of all and for all. He treated everybody equally. Indeed, they were better off than us as they were treated as our guests. His convictions were deeply conservative, yet he was open-minded and liberal towards his staff. The first thing he did was to liberalize working hours. People were free to-come-and-go. They were responsible only for the work they did.

I served for two years as his assistant at the Council and Executive committee meetings. I used to prepare his file by collecting information sheets from those who were in charge of the committees, together with the documents of the agenda. He used to receive a-half-hour briefing, either from me or a much longer one from others, depending on importance.

He used to read fast, indeed, there was a rumor that he understood diagonal reading. He quickly grasped the gist of the matter and he hated verbiage. Yet I remember no one whose sermon was interrupted in staff meetings. Instead, our own show of impatience had been the subject of rebuke. For him, one ought to realize one's own mistakes.

He was laconic. He used to speak in a low voice with an anxious countenance, yet he was outspoken. He addressed the council the same way as he conversed with individuals. Although his French was very good, he never tried to pronounce like the French. He used to tease those who were infatuated with public address.

Turkey was the poorest OECD member. It was there mainly due to being a member of NATO, in other words, for geo-strategic reasons. Our contribution to debates and to the work of the organization was constrained by this situation. Soon he felt frustrated and wanted an important bilateral post -- and Athens was being vacated.

While there an unfortunate event occured. While he was with Greek friends on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea, the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus began, he was later blamed for the consequences. Furthermore, he was accused of asking for permission to burn classified correspondence in case of an outbreak of war between Turkey and Greece. Those who were weary with his renowned courage took advantage of the situation and depicted him as a coward.

Back in Ankara the illustrious part of his career seemed at an end, yet destiny had something new for him. The Sept. 12 administration made him secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As expected, he did not condescend to avenge anybody. He tried hard to save the ministry from possible damage from the personnel reform carried out by the then administration. He was all alone in this enterprise. The traditional title of secretary-general was abolished and replaced by under-secretary, formally undermining the privileged status of the ministry when compared to others. The corresponding level of minister counselor was also lowered from director-general to assistant director-general. Such was the interpretation of the day, the military apparently wanted to have a unique position in the State structure, shunning the rivalry of the ministry.

Once again frustrated, he was seemingly dispatched as ambassador to our embassy in Bonn, West Germany. However, they committed another mistake by not asking for his prior agreement. He refused and left the government service.

Nevertheless, along with his heavy work-load as secretary-general, he achieved the unachievable; he wrote a book on the Armenian question, prompted by the Armenian murders of Turkish diplomats. A long-awaited response by Turkey to the Armenian allegations, the book entitled "Armenian File" treated the subject fairly and humanely, while shattering the genocide myth.

Upon retirement, he wrote columns in newspapers. As was his style, they were simple, curt and to the point. I guess he had few readers, but that would not have been his concern in the least. He was one of the few ambassadors who wrote history rather than patchy anecdotes about our strange career. In his magnum opus, a trilogy on Turkish foreign policy, he was scholarly, but never intellectual.

Above all, he was a man of integrity and honesty; rare commodities of our time.

Together with Mrs. Gencay Gurun, who was a former diplomat herself, they made a formidable couple representing a misrepresented country.

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