Obituary: Ugur Mumcu

Ugur Mumcu, lawyer, journalist, and writer, born Krsehir Turkey 22 August 1942, married 1976 Guldal Homan (one son, one daughter), died Ankara 24 January 1993.

IN TOWNS and villages all across Turkey this week, thousands of ordinary Turks stood in spontaneous silent vigils in the streets in protest at the assassination of Ugur Mumcu in a car-bomb explosion last Sunday. Outside the Mumcu family's apartment-block home in Ankara, groups of mourners kept watch day and night with candles in their hand.

It is a sombre end to a lifetime spent battling for democratic socialist ideals by a man who was not only fearless, but also invariably modest and full of humour. Single-handedly, Mumcu probably did more than anyone else to defend press freedoms and human rights in his country. It is a mark of his achievement that by the end of his life, despite his socialist convictions, he was admired and trusted by a wide range of former opponents and critics, including conservative politicians, the senior figures in the military, the judiciary, and the civil service.

This position was partly achieved through his journalism, especially his pithy and amusingly sarcastic daily columns in Cumhuriyet newspaper, and television appearances, but also through a torrent of books. He wrote nearly 20 in 16 years, lifting the veil of mystery on murky matters such as the attempted assassination of the Pope by a Turkish neo-Fascist; arms smuggling; terrorist movements of all varieties; human rights and press freedom; and, latterly, the need to defend Kemalist secular values in Turkey against fundamentalism.

From being a controversialist, he became almost the main fountain of accepted opinion among educated people in Turkey. Yet he never relished being a celebrity. His chief interest in life was research into corruption, terrorism and political intrigue.

His meticulous investigations owed much to his having trained in his youth to be a lawyer. To some extent he retained the outlook of the legal profession. However his career as a university law teacher was brought to an abrupt end by the 1971 military coup in Turkey when he was arrested and accused of belonging to a group of left-wing conspirators. This - and the banishment that followed - formed the basis of his first book, which was an instant hit.

In the harsh years that followed the next military coup in 1980, he faced and eventually overcame a welter of martial-law prosecutions for his writings. By then, his research into Communist Bulgarian involvement in terrorism and the background to the attack on the Pope in the same years began to attract an international audience.

Around the same time, I was working in Ankara as a foreign correspondent and incurring deep unpopularity for defying an unspoken rule to report as little as possible on human-rights and press-freedom issues under the military. Ugur Mumcu and his family, more or less uniquely, bolstered my flagging professional resolve at dinners in his home, where the wine and good cheer seemed inexhaustible, no matter how gloomy the political situation.

Mumcu was always aware that his research had made him enemies and that his life might be in danger. His researches in the last few months seemed to be leading to surprising conclusions: one was that the Islamic fundamentalists might not be behind several unexplained assassinations of leading secularists. Nonetheless, he believed that he might be a target for a fundamentalist attack. 'I don't know what these people are going to do to me,' he told a friend. His death is certainly the bitterest blow that Turkey's democracy has sustained for more than a decade. But his works are so numerous, and his personality so strongly imprinted in the consciousness of his fellow citizens, that his legacy in Turkey will endure.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada