Obituary: Adnan Kahveci

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The Independent Online
Adnan Kahveci, university lecturer, politician, born 1948, died Bolu Turkey 5 February 1993.

THE DEATH in a traffic accident of Adnan Kahveci, a leading deputy of the opposition Motherland Party in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and a former finance minister, brought one of the most remarkable careers in Turkish politics to an untimely close.

In the last Turkish government, Adnan Kahveci served first as minister of state and later as finance minister, and in both capacities proved himself to be a very capable administrator who might perhaps have gone on one day to be Turkey's prime minister.

However Kahveci will be chiefly remembered as one of the main architects of President Turgut Ozal's economic reforms during the 1980s. Kahveci was a man who combined a powerful and highly original intelligence with liberal and humanitarian instincts with a firm commitment to free-market politics. Without him the Ozal years in Turkey would have been much harsher and probably less successful.

Kahveci first came to attention as an adviser of Ozal in 1980. He had been introduced to Ozal by his strongly religious brother, Korkut Ozal, but it rapidly became apparent that Kahveci was a man of secular and western instincts. As Ozal's chef de cabinet in the early 1980s, Kahveci was the main link between Ozal and the outside world, including local politicians and civil servants, the military, as well as Western journalists and foreign investors. Quietly spoken, fluent in English, fond of humour, Kahveci was no mere bureaucrat. It was soon obvious that he was Ozal's ideas man.

When Ozal broke with the military regime then ruling Turkey in the summer of 1982, Kahveci followed him into the political wilderness and was one of the two people who pressed Ozal to form his own party and contest the 1983 general elections. Ozal went ahead and formed the Motherland Party and won a sweeping victory. Kahveci's ministerial career would have started at this point, if he had not been barred from standing in the elections by the military. Instead he was appointed Ozal's chief adviser and remained in this position until he entered parliament after the 1987 elections.

His achievements covered an extraordinarily wide range. They included, among many others, discreetly resolving several of Turkey's worst human-rights cases and persuading famous political exiles to return home in safety; revising the tax regime, planning a national cultural and educational transformation through the use of satellite television; setting up a relief fund for the very poor and needy; and shaping Turkey's first privatisations. He also continued to work at electronics, designing as finance minister a new cash machine for use in shops across the country.

All this was the work of a scholarship boy who began life in a peasant community and led a notably frugal life at home and in the office.

Kahveci was born in a poor upland village in the Black Sea provice of Trabzon. For the first eight years of his life he spoke a rural patois which he subsequently realised was a form of Pontic Greek. He came first of his year for the entire country in Turkey's university entrance examinations after working as a tea-seller during his high-school days. He went on to do a doctorate in electronics at Missouri in the US where he married his wife, Fusun, who died alongside him in the car accident. When talking about their wedding, she would wryly recall that they had been unable to afford even a wedding dress at the time.

Initially diffident on public occasions, Kahveci grew in self-confidence steadily over the years. He won a striking personal victory with the electors when he stood for an Istanbul constituency in 1991. By then serious rifts were appearing in the Motherland Party. Kahveci was one of the few people on good terms with all wings of the party.

As the Ozal era drew to a close his own personal political future seemed assured. His sudden death, coming less than a fortnight after the assassination of Ugur Mumcu, is a cruel jolt for Turks whatever their politics.