Mehmet Ali Akpinar

Turkish Cypriot journalist who sustained his objectivity
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The Independent Online

Mehmet Ali Akpinar, journalist: born Pinarbasi, Cyprus 4 August 1942; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Nicosia 8 July 2003.

The distinguished Turkish Cypriot journalist Mehmet Ali Akpinar was known to the international journalistic corps not only as a perceptive, accurate reporter and editor with a first-class news sense, but for his generous allotment of time and knowledge to brief visiting journalists.

These briefings were remarkable for their clarity and objectivity, a somewhat rare quality in the troubled areas of the Levant and Middle East, and included adverse as well as favourable criticism of his own Turkish Cypriot government's policies as well as those of the Greek Cypriots'.

Akpinar was keen that the world should not forget the oppression of the Turkish Cypriots at the hands of the Greek Cypriots that led to Turkey's 1974 armed intervention, which in turn led to the division of the island into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north. But he was also quick to criticise the Turkish Cypriot diplomatic service for what he considered its unprofessional inability to keep this and other important issues before the international community.

He lamented the increasing loss in the north of a Cypriot identity in favour of a Turkish one due to the north's 25-year dependence on the Turkish mainland. "Even my own English has gone to hell," he said:

In the old days I used my mother tongue and English absolutely interchangeably, as any educated Cypriot should be able to do. Now, there is no point. I work, and socialise, almost entirely in Turkish.

He also regretted the exodus of Turkish Cypriots for greener pastures abroad, especially the young, because of the deteriorating economy in the north. While he blamed in part Turkish Cypriot policies, his main criticism was directed at the south's insistence on maintaining the international diplomatic and trade embargo against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was unilaterally declared by the Turkish Cypriot authorities on 15 November 1983 and recognised only by Turkey.

He championed continued across-the-board contacts between north and south in an effort to rebuild good relations and took care to maintain his own with Greek Cypriot professional colleagues and friends. "But I always tell them, 'If you keep up this embargo, you'll have no Turkish Cypriots left to talk to, only Turks. Then who are you going to negotiate with?' "

Mehmet Ali Akpinar was buried at his family village of Pinarbasi, north of Nicosia at the foot of the Kyrenia mountains, where he was born in 1942. After education at the English School in Nicosia, at the age of 17 he secretly (a secret kept even from his parents) commanded a platoon in the underground Turkish Resistance Movement (TMT), which was formed in the late 1950s to fight for Turkish Cypriot interests in the murderous times when the Greek Cypriot Eoka guerrilla movement was seeking to oust the governing British from the island and unite Cyprus with Greece.

Following Britain's 1960 hand-over of the island's sovereignty to a Republic of Cyprus government, with the Greek Cypriot majority sharing power with the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Britain, Greece and Turkey guaranteeing the independence of the new state, Akpinar began his lifelong journalistic career, in 1961, in the press section of the Turkish Embassy.

With the division of the island, he became chef de bureau in north Nicosia for Turkey's Anatolian News Agency until 1985, when he established the independent North Cyprus News Agency, which published in English News from the North. During this time, he also reported for the BBC's Turkish Service and Reuters.

In 1989, he abandoned his agency to become managing director and editor-in-chief of the new Turkish-language daily Kibris ("Cyprus"), which remains the north's leading newspaper, and its companion English-language weekly Cyprus Times, which, after a brief closure, was relaunched the following year as Cyprus Today.

He stayed in these posts until his retirement from journalism in 2001, but remained until his death at the head of the family patisserie business, the responsibilities of which included long bouts, no longer interrupted by telephone calls from his newspapers, of playing backgammon with friends at Café Akpinar on the Kyrenia cornice.

Larry Klinger