Veteran Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand dies at age 71
Mehmet Ali Birand (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Mine Çaha)
Chairman of the Kanal D News Group and veteran journalist Mehmet Ali Birand, who advocated more freedoms and democracy in Turkey during a career spanning 48 years, has died. He was 71.
His son Umur says Birand, who had cancer, died in İstanbul on Thursday from an infection.
Birand began his career with the Milliyet daily in 1964 but became better known for a series of interviews and documentaries produced in the 1980s. His books on Turkey's EU membership bid, its military and its intervention in Cyprus were translated into several languages.
Birand was among a number of liberal journalists who were fired by their bosses in 1997 under pressure from the military, which also toppled a pro-Islamic government.
Birand was taken to the American Hospital in İstanbul for an operation to replace a stent in his gallbladder on Wednesday and was kept in intensive care.
Birand, who covers political and diplomatic affairs, has been practicing journalism in Turkey since the late 1970s. He interviewed numerous world leaders in the late Cold War era, including then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the late leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
He also witnessed several key political developments abroad and at home, including military coups, and he received harsh criticism from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for his stance on the Kurdish issue in the 1990s.
Birand likewise drew ire from secular circles when he confessed that most Turkish seculars had been happy to see a military intervention on Feb. 28, 1997, rather than live under a government led by a conservative party.
Birand, a prominent journalist, columnist, anchor and above all an investigative reporter, was born on Dec. 9, 1941, in İstanbul's Beyoğlu district. The son of Mürvet and İzzet Birand, who were originally from Elazığ province, Birand was ethnically Kurdish.
He studied at Galatasaray High School and started his professional career at the Milliyet daily in 1964. He worked briefly as the editor-in-chief of Milliyet.
He wrote columns for the Sabah daily, and produced and presented the program “32. Gün” for the channels TRT and Show TV. He was also an anchor for Show TV from 1992-1995. While a senior executive at the CNN Türk channel, Birand was also presenting “32. Gün” on Kanal D. Birand spoke fluent French and English and was also a citizen of Belgium.
He was married and a father to Umur Ali.
People from all walks of life including Turkish leaders, politicians, journalists, businesspeople and intellectuals expressed condolences.
President Abdullah Gül described Birand as a colorful figure with original personality and said his intellect, courage, experience and successful professional career proved that his place could not be filled.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also released a statement to express his condolences over the death of Birand. He said Birand, being one of the most important faces in Turkish media, gained the sympathies of colleagues and his readership with his love of his profession, his hardworking character and productive journalism.
Erdoğan said Birand will always be remembered as an outstanding and respected journalist.
Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen also expressed his condolences in a statement he released on Thursday night, describing Birand an exemplary journalist who didn't compromise his democratic behavior despite all hardship and pressure.
Gülen recognized Birand's contribution in training valuable journalists and said he was respectful towards people's faith.
Leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Democratic Left Party (DSP) leader Masum Türker, Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici and Democrat Party (DP) leader Gültekin Uysal released statements to extend their condolences.
They all praised the veteran journalist's “half a century” of journalistic adventures and hailed him as a symbol of professional Turkish journalism.
Birand will receive final prayers in Teşvikiye Mosque and will be buried on Saturday.
Health Minister Recep Akdağ, Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Family Minister Fatma Şahin and former Turkish President Süleyman Demirel were also among first politicians to express condolences.
The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) and leading football clubs all released statements extending condolences to the colleagues and family of Birand.
Güler Sabancı, head of Sabancı Holding's Board of Directors, said in her condolences that Birand had effectively created a school of media. .