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Turgut Özal Twenty Years After: The Man and the Politician

Whether Turgut Özal was a good politician remains up for debate. However, there is no question that he indeed was (and is) a significant historical persona. He guided his country into the twenty-first century. When Özal suddenly passed away in 1993, he had already led Turkey to the next century, even though the twenty-first century would technically begin only seven years later.

Turgut Özal Twenty Years After The Man and the Politician
Turgut Özal - AA / Hasan Aydın
 

Among the numerous commentaries published following Turgut Özal’s death, it was the following remark that struck me the hardest: “Turgut Bey was not a good politician. For he was a good man.”

This was the most striking assessment to me because it was his qualities as a good man that marked me in our frequent encounters over the final two years of his life. Turgut Özal was an extremely courageous man, who did not seem to posess the supposedly indispensable qualities of any good politician: ruthlessness and the killing instinct.

He admired the Ottoman sultans of the Empire’s classical period for their political skills. In particular, he held in high regard Sultan Abdulhamid II, an Ottoman sultan of the last period of the Empire of equally high caliber. I remember his expressed admiration for Mehmed the Conqueror, Selim I, Suleiman the Magnificient, Murad II and Bayezid II, whom he would refer to with a facial expression overshadowed by a sense of inadequacy and modesty: “What kind of men were they? How did they rule over such vast lands and such a diverse population? Look at us, and look at them!”

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