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Why should Argentina cry for me?

Argentinean Ambassador to Turkey Sebastian Brugo Marco is proud of being an observer of part of Turkish history. His first post in the early 1970s was Ankara and he still follows developments here.

According to him many things in Turkey, especially Ankara, have changed a lot, but Ulus has remained the same. Some politicians were the same when he returned to Ankara in 2001. The ambassador is also proud that the most popular street of Ankara is called Argentina -- he remembers the day the street was given this name. His basic belief is in the importance of understanding each other without judging. He talks about the changes in Ankara, tango and the Turks, and the future of the relations between two countries.

It is the winter of 1971. A young diplomat from Argentina, Sebastian Brugo Marco, walks out to Atatürk Boulevard from Bulvar Palas, one of the few hotels in Ankara at that time. It is snowing and so he experiences snow for the first time in his life. In the very first days of his first post, he looks for something familiar. He listens around; he thinks that the people are speaking French. The language he hears sounds very musical to him and not a harsh language at all, but strange. Very soon he discovers that it is better to learn it, because only a few people are able to speak other languages. Even at the movie theaters films are not in the original language, but dubbed. He learns Turkish, spends some nice years in Turkey and likes it. He thinks about coming back to Turkey as an ambassador and he does so in 2001; he finds out that it is totally a new country. Actually he already knew. Although he never visited Turkey between the two appointments, as with most diplomats he retained a special interest in his first post and always followed developments here. When he returns he finds that the most popular street in Ankara is named after his country. He remembers the day when this street was given the name “Argentina,” but that at that time there was nothing there.

“I’m really proud of that,” Ambassador Marco says and smiles when he is asked how it makes him feel. “First of all it is the name of my country. I was there the day that it became Argentina Street. On that day there was nothing there, just buildings. The Pakistani Embassy was there and the Kavaklıdere vineyards (now the Sheraton Hotel and Karum) and our embassy was on [what is now] Iran Street, called Rıza Pehlevi at that time,” he says.

The ambassador is a little upset that he has been unable to find the photos that he took during those years. He searched for them at home in Argentina, but with no success.

He tells the story of how Argentina Street was given its name. His ambassador at that time, who during his time as consul general in İstanbul had met Atatürk, was very much appreciated in Turkey because of his book on the founder of the Turkish republic, of whom he was a great admirer. When the ambassador asked for an Argentina Street in Ankara it was created within a month.

“So as you can imagine I also had a personal touch in the idea of Argentina Street,” Ambassador Marco says, adding that there is a primary school in Ankara called the Argentina School. “It is close to Armada. It was a very poor district and has changed so much. I go every year to spend some time there,” he says, remarking that he had been there recently for the graduation ceremony.

But Ambassador Marco does not know why the largest beer glass in Turkey is called “Argentina.” He laughs before he answers: “Something I am always asked, ‘Bir Arjantin ister misiniz?’ (Would you like to have an Argentina?) Why do you call it an Argentina? We are not Germans. We like beer, but we are not Germans. I really don’t know. Nobody has an answer for that. I’ve never heard that in other countries,” he says.

However he says that the “Argentina” beer glass is a disappearing trend and was much more common during his first appointment. Not only the Argentina glasses, but many things have changed, according to Mr. Ambassador. “I remember the first day I came back. I asked the driver to take me home and I told him I want to recognize the places, but didn’t know where I was.” It took some time for Mr. Ambassador to get used to the new Ankara. “In the beginning my colleagues, for example, were talking about Bilkent. I asked what Bilkent was. I had never heard about it. There was the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) during my first term and it was out of the city. Oran [Sitesi] was a forest and I learned how to drive there,” he says.

According to him the only neighborhood that remains the same is Ulus. He says it was shocking to him: “I went to Ulus by taxi because I didn’t want go there by car. I was wondering about Ulus. It was so shocking because I saw the same people, the same dresses. Even the colors of dresses were the same. The same men, the same ladies. I thought those people are the children of the people that I knew from my first time. But it was the same.”

He points out that the Turks and their kindness and hospitality are the same. “I find that a few more people are speaking English, because at that time the Foreign Ministry was more French than English. That was very good for me because at that time my English was poor,” he says, adding that people’s mentality hasn’t changed that much either. “I would say that the mentalities of people haven’t changed that much -- it is still provincial. I was sorry that certain aspects of Ankara were lost. Government at that time was pushing Ankara too much. It was subsidizing it for example, spending a lot of money on art. For example at the Presidential Concert Hall I saw the best performances of that time. The concerts were outstanding and it was a real privilege. But on the other hand, the ballet is much better and opera is better now,” he says.

Another thing that makes him sad is that Ankara was much greener at that time, though the streets are still narrow. He says that in the new neighborhoods like Çayyolu the streets are fine, but it is too late now for other districts.

Mr. Ambassador also says that the Ankara Esenboğa airport was poor, but more international than it is now. “I used to fly directly to Amsterdam, Beirut and Paris. Maybe they thought Ankara is not worth subsidizing. I hope it will be an international airport again,” he says.

There are some other aspects which have not changed; politicians for example. “When I came back to Turkey I found the same politicians I left more than 20 years ago. [Bülent] Ecevit was prime minister in 1974 and he was again. Mr. Süleyman Demirel was just finishing his presidency. Well of course there were some others. I am little bit proud of having the possibility of being an observer of a small part of Turkish history. It is very useful for my work in many aspects. Since I left I’ve always continued to follow the news. Once you are involved in a country you want to keep informed,” he says.

Turks and tango

“How can I say, I am rather surprised,” says Mr. Ambassador, responding to a question about whether Turks are gifted with the tango. He laughs and explains: “There are many academies in Turkey teaching tango. In İstanbul every night there are events for tango. At the beginning of July, on the fourth, there will be an international tango festival. It is getting more and more important. There are people coming from Argentina for the event,” he says. He adds that he likes Turkish tango, too.

He speaks about a special program about Turkish tango at Hacettepe University that he attended: “It was very nice to see, you know, people who came to sing the tango. There were singers, mostly youngsters, and they do it beautifully. For me it was such a nice thing to see,” he says, and asks a question, “But do you know why the tango came to Turkey?” He answers his own question saying: “Because Atatürk himself brought tango from Paris in the ‘30s. After Buenos Aires and Paris, Turkey was one of very first places tango came,” he says. Mr. Ambassador adds that in his generation people used to sing tango, including him, though he says he is not a good dancer.

But Ambassador Marco still misses something from his country -- the meat: “I like to have Argentinean meat. Not only me, many other people like to have it too because I suppose it is the best quality in the world. Besides that I don’t have that much to miss. We are a country made up of immigrants so what is international is very normal for us e. You have an Italian restaurant here which is like having an Argentinean restaurant. And the pizza house is the same,” he says, but he adds that Turks eat much more naturally than they do. “You have a lot of vegetables and fruits, much better than we do. I think we have to learn from Turkey because you are in the Mediterranean region.”

Mr. Ambassador adds that when he is in his country, he misses pistachios from Turkey. “We love them. For us they are so exotic -- many people don’t know what they are. We only see them on ice cream as they are so expensive and luxurious. I always take pistachios to my country as gifts,” he says.

While talking about immigrants, he is reminded that all the eastern immigrants to Argentina are called “el Turkos” and explains why: “They were called ‘el Turkos’ because they came with Ottoman passports -- they were Ottoman subjects. However they were mostly from Lebanon and Syria. Their immigration started at the end of the century up until World War I. There were also immigrants from Albania and Bulgaria at that time, they were Ottomans too,” he says. He mentions that one of the former presidents of Argentina, Carlos Menem, was nicknamed El Turko. “His family comes from Damascus and they were Muslims, though he was Catholic. His wife, children, and sisters were Muslims. He changed his religion when he was at university. At that time, according to the Constitution, one had to be Catholic in order to be a president. He changed this rule later, but did not convert,” the Ambassador points out.

Ambassador Marco graduated from law school and before joining the Foreign Ministry did his post-graduate studies in international relations. He was posted in Ankara, Salvador, Madrid and Paris. Before appointed here as an ambassador he spent five years at the ministry in Argentina, because he likes being in his home country. His basic principle for diplomacy is based on understanding, respect and knowledge of one another.

“The more we know each other the more we are ready to respect and accept each other. As much as we know each other, we understand and love better. We don’t have to impose on each other, we share values. Values are universal. You cannot judge the conscience of people. We are the children of the same God. I always say when I speak to religious people from other religions, ‘I feel much closer to you than many people from my country’,” he says.

The ambassador points out that he is confident in the future of relations between the two countries. He also mentions that the people of both countries are interested in each other. He says that his brother likes tango very much and he dances almost every night, often meeting Turkish people even in Argentina. Mr. Ambassador also mentions that when he was at home he noticed anything about Turkey in the travel agencies sold out quickly. However he has a common criticism for both countries: “We have very good individuals, but we should be better as a society. We should be able to be like that as a society. That is something we criticize about ourselves. Because you find outstanding writers like Borges, outstanding singers… We have personalities and we should grow up as a society. Turkey is little bit like this, too” he says.

At the end of the interview, I could not keep myself from saying, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” The ambassador laughs, responding: “When I heard the song for the first time, I was in Paris. Why should Argentina cry for me? The music is beautiful. You don’t have to take it as a sad thing. It is a part of history.”

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