Ismail Cem, a former Turkish foreign minister who together with his Greek counterpart was the driving force behind the thawing relations between the two archrivals, died of lung cancer Wednesday, an Istanbul hospital and his family said. He was 67.
A smartly dressed intellectual, Cem served as foreign minister under three successive governments between 1997 and 2003. His greatest achievement was forging close ties with Greece, largely because of his friendship with Greece’s former Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
The thaw followed a mutual outpouring of aid and sympathy in the wake of deadly earthquakes that struck both countries in 1999.
“Ismail was a man with whom I shared a vision. We worked hard together for this vision of peace,” said Papandreou, now leader of Greece’s main opposition Socialist party.
Cem was born Ismail Cem Ipekci in Istanbul but dropped his last name in the 1970s.
He earned a law degree from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and a master’s degree in sociology at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris. He began his career as a journalist, quickly landing a column in the newspaper Milliyet and catching the eye of then-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who appointed him director of Turkey’s state-run radio and television in the early 1970s. At 34, Cem was the youngest person ever to hold the post.
His brief spell as culture minister in 1995 ended before he could achieve his dream of organizing a mass pop concert to benefit survivors of the Bosnian conflict. He was elected to parliament in 1995 and reelected four years later.
He also wrote books on leftist ideology.