It was a pure coincidence that took me to Istanbul — the old Constantinople of the famous song — in 1983, the same time Turkish politician Turgut Ozal surprised most people inside and outside Turkey by winning the general elections although he had just formed his new Motherland Party.
After a few phone calls, I was informed that I could see him and that one of his associates in the party would pick me up during the day from my hotel. So I was ready with my camera and the mini tape recorder that journalists would usually carry to such meetings. Sadly I lost the film roll in my hotel.
We drove through the streets and boulevards of the fabulous city before reaching an apartment where Ozal was residing.
Because my wife was with me, Ozal's wife Samra was kind enough to welcome us. Ozal himself was present although he was looking extremely tired on account of the election campaign which must have taken a heavy toll on his health. The sitting room was full of well-wishers and party members as well as neighboring families who arrived to lend Samra a helping hand.
He was not destined to enjoy his victory for long or to implement some of his ambitious plans for the development of his country and its neighbors. Ten years later he died of a so-called heart attack which many skeptics dismissed at the time as a coverup leading some to suspect that he was assassinated. To compound the suspicions and the pain of many of his followers his wife claimed that he had been poisoned by lemonade and questioned why an autopsy had not been carried out soon after his death. The blood samples taken to determine the cause of death were lost or disposed of according to his biography. Since he sought to create a Turkic — not Turkish — union combining Turkish speaking peoples, he exposed himself to intrigues by those who wanted to foil his plan. Several former presidents agreed with him as his popularity soared. On the 14th anniversary of his death thousands gathered in Ankara for commemoration. In September this year a court ruled that the grave be opened for an autopsy. In early October the body was examined and soon came the shocking news that Ozal had indeed been poisoned by DDT at 10 times the normal level.
Ozal was an electrical engineer by qualification but turned to politics by founding the Motherland Party and contested the elections and won. Very few cities in fact could vie with Istanbul since it was Eurasian, partly located in Europe and largely in Asia with the Bopshoros and Dardanell running between the divided metropolis, creating a paradise on earth.
We talked about the situation in Turkey which at one time had a vast empire reaching its zenith in the earlier part of the 19th century. When the country was defeated by the allies because it sided with Germany, in the 1914-1918 World War the victorious foes divided up the empire including most of the Arab world which was sliced between Britain and France from North Africa to Oman.
With very little to talk about considering his physical condition I decided to spare him any further questions and sought his leave. He suggested that I find the time to visit places outside Istanbul which was one of the finest cities I had seen by then. I agreed and asked my guide and companion where to go. He suggested we drive to Bursa, another lovely city about 200 kilometers from Istanbul which we covered by car in under four hours each way. It was worth visiting and we arrived by lunch time where we had some of the best meat meals after a long time. In fact all of Turkey boasted great meat food which I then preferred to fish. Fish food was best left to the Far East as I found out during my frequent trips to Taiwan, Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and the rest of the golden nuggets of the region. But Bursa was different and the meat preparations met all my expectations.
Surprisingly the restaurant owner, an elderly man in his 70’s after hearing us talk in Arabic with a clear Yemeni accent greeted us and inquired if we were from Yemen originally. We said yes. He surprised by saying he had served with the Ottoman army in Yemen when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire, during the World War I.
We had a lovely time before driving back to Istanbul. The road was smooth, the weather cool and clean and we decided to return to Turkey on another occasion. It was worth visiting, more so during the current economic uplift.
— Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.
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