Remembering top Turkish diplomat, Ismail Cem

Late FM of Turkey adopted multi-dimensional foreign policy and pioneered Turkish-Greek rapprochement

Remembering top Turkish diplomat, Ismail Cem

By Fatih Hafiz Mehmet and Tugcenur Yilmaz


One of the most prominent figures in Turkey's history of foreign policy, Ismail Cem is being remembered on the 12th anniversary of his passing.

Cem was the minister of foreign affairs between 1997 and 2002. During this period, he adopted an active, realist and multi-dimensional foreign policy which attached importance to Turkey's EU membership, also developing relations with African, Asian and Latin American countries.

He was a highly educated intellectual and author of many books on politics and the recent history of Turkey.

Early life and career

Born in 1940 in Istanbul, Cem graduated from Istanbul's Robert College (high school) in 1959 and then from the Faculty of Law of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1963.

He pursued his master's degree at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris in 1981.

Cem started his career as a journalist at his cousin Abdi Ipekci's newspaper Milliyet, then worked as the editor-in-chief of several other media outlets.

He was chairman of Turkey Journalists' Syndicate Istanbul Branch between 1971-1974 and became general director of Turkey's public broadcaster TRT in 1974, a position he held until 1975.

Starting his political career in 1985 with Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP), he was elected a lawmaker in 1987.

Cem became the culture minister for a brief period in 1995 and then foreign minister in 1997.

Minister of foreign affairs

During his duty as the foreign minister, Cem always defended that Turkey has both a European and Asian identity.

He frequently used the term "historical geography" in foreign policy and took steps in developing friendly relations in the Middle East, Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia.

Cem used to believe that Turkey's importance will increase in the post-Cold War period.

His policies on the process of Turkey's EU membership were generally regarded as successful and drew the attention of many.

Due to the close dialogue he established with then Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Cem was also a pioneer of a rapprochement in Turkish-Greek relations.

For his contributions to Turkish-Greek relations, he received the award of "Statesman of The Year" in 2000 together with his Greek counterpart Papandreou, given by the New York-based think tank East West Institute.

Other than the SHP, he later assumed different roles in the Republican People's Party (CHP), Democratic Left Party (DSP) and New Turkey Party (YTP) in his political career.

History of Backwardness in Turkey (1970) and Writings on Turkey (1970) are among the many books he wrote and published.

He was married to Elcin Cem and was a father of two children -- Ipek and Kerim. On Jan. 24, 2007, Cem died of lung cancer.

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