Dr. Andrew Mango, who died on 6 July 2014, at the age of 88 was an exceptional scholar, writer and journalist. The author of a highly acclaimed biography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and many other meticulously researched, finely detailed books on the country’s history and current affairs, he was perhaps the most prominent, respected contemporary authority on Turkey.
Ünal Çevikoz, until a few days ago the Turkish ambassador to the United Kingdom, remembers Dr. Mango as a man “speaking with a soft, gentle tone and using the most elegant forms and syntax of old Ottoman Turkish; at first sight he would give the appearance of a gentleman who came from the past.”
“Yet”, Ambassador Çeviköz adds: “with his insight into the Republican Turkish history with such an expertly understanding and interpretation, Andrew Mango could never be out of touch with the contemporary realities of Turkey.”
Nevsal Baylas Hughes, an author and a former colleague at the BBC World Service, had known Dr. Mango for 41 years and visited him regularly during his recent illness.
“Andrew Mango`s Turkish was better than most ordinary Turks; his command of modern and Ottoman Turkish was exceptional. He spoke many languages, from Russian to Persian, from French to Greek. His thirst for knowledge lasted till his death. Even when he was physically incapacitated, his brain was very much alert. He was an avid reader and even during the last months of his life he made sure he read his daily newspapers and listened to the radio every day; although he was not able to write on the computer anymore as he used to do. Whenever I visited him at his home in the last months of his life, we discussed Turkish affairs amongst other things. He closely followed the latest developments and enjoyed speaking in Turkish very much with his Turkish visitors” she says.
Like Nevsal Baylas Hughes, I met Andrew Mango at the BBC World Service. In April, 1986, on my first day at work, I was introduced to Dr Mango, then the Head of the South European Services, as the new and the youngest producer of the Turkish Service. My most vivid memory of the occasion would have to be how courteous Dr. Mango was. Kind, soft spoken as he was, his views and writings were always sharp and concise. .
In an interview with Research Turkey (August 2012), Dr Mango was asked why he concentrated so much of his writing on Turkey. He replied:
“First of all, I found the country interesting. I tried to understand it first, and explain it afterwards. My impression was always that the country was not sufficiently well understood, explained and described; that descriptions of Turkey tended to be cliché-ridden. I read many books on Turkey, but, in those days, racist clichés were very common in Europe, and I saw many clichés about Turks and Turkey, most of which were absolute rubbish”.
Dr. Mango was best known for his book “Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey” (1999). He clearly admired Atatürk but at the end of long years of research, the book was the most scholarly and objective, even irreverent biography of the leader to date. Yet, he was equally critical of those who dismissed Ataturk. Ambassador Çeviköz told me that “Dr. Mango would probably be remembered as the best biographer of Atatürk, but he was more than that. He could not tolerate any disrespect to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his criticism to the sceptics of Atatürk’s legacy was scientific. My admiration to his perception of Turkey’s modernisation and democratisation process is mainly due to this exemplary approach, something most of today’s political elite in Turkey fail to grasp.”
Nevsal Baylas Hughes says that Dr. Mango retained his love for Turkey, the country where he was born, until the day he died but he was also clearly frustrated with the recent state of affairs. He was openly critical of some aspects of the current foreign policy of Turkey, especially in the Middle East and he was outspoken about disregard for judicial independence, violations of human rights and freedom of speech. In an article published in The Middle East in London in April 2014, he wrote about the political “uses and abuses” of Islam by Turkey’s past and present rulers, noting that “since 2002, Turkey has become more puritanical, more obviously a Muslim country”.
In a 2010 interview with journalist and academic Faik Uyanık, then a producer of the BBC Turkish Service, Andrew Mango was expressing his dismay over the widespread belief in conspiracy theories, not only among the general public but in media and in academia. He was also underlining the importance of solving Turkey’s Kurdish problem.
Andrew Mango was often described as “a true friend of Turkey”. Whilst being critical, he never stopped reminding how far Turkey has travelled from the first and difficult days of the republic to this day which he so brilliantly wrote about in his 2009 book “From the Sultan to Ataturk ”.
International economist and Turkey commentator Dr. Mina Toksöz says Andrew Mango could see all the problems and shortcomings yet always chose to stand by Turkey. His profound understanding of history enabled him to advise powers such as the USA and The European Union not to interfere in Turkey’s affairs. He was an expert rarely seen.”
I, too, have thought of Dr. Mango as a man of great intellect, wit and humour. I learned a lot from him over the years. I did not always agree with him, especially with his views about the military coups of 1960 and 1980 being necessary evils that prevented a civil war. I also disagreed with his earlier over-generous view of the Justice and Development Party being a conservative democrat party, similar to the Christian Democrats of Europe.
Andrew Mango enlightened his readers and delighted his friends. He will be greatly missed.
This post is also available in: Turkish