İsmail Cem

İsmail Cem
37th Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
30 June 1997  11 July 2002
Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz,
Bülent Ecevit
Preceded by Tansu Çiller
Succeeded by Şükrü Sina Gürel
Minister of Culture of Turkey
In office
7 July 1995  26 October 1995
Prime Minister Tansu Çiller
Preceded by Ercan Karakaş
Succeeded by Köksal Toptan
Personal details
Born (1940-02-15)15 February 1940
Istanbul, Turkey
Died 24 January 2007(2007-01-24) (aged 66)
Istanbul, Turkey
Nationality Turkish
Political party CHP, SHP, DSP, YTP
Children two
Relatives Abdi İpekçi
Education Law, sociology of politics
Alma mater Robert College, University of Lausanne, École Libre des Sciences Politiques
Profession Journalist, politician
Religion Secular Muslim of Dönmeh origins

İsmail Cem (born İsmail Cem İpekçi, 15 February 1940 – 24 January 2007) was a Turkish politician and journalist who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey from 1997 to 2002.


İsmail Cem finished high school at Robert College in İstanbul in 1959 and graduated from the Law School at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland in 1963. He had his master's degree in sociology of politics at the École Libre des Sciences Politiques in 1983, Paris, France. He was an exchange student with AFS Intercultural Programs at Piedmont High School, Piedmont California for one year during his high school years.

A member of one of the most prominent families in Turkey of Donmeh origin, Cem was the cousin of murdered liberal journalist Abdi İpekçi. Cem was the son of İhsan İpekçi, who was one of the pioneers of the Turkish cinema industry, as the founder and partner of İpek Film, and several popular Istanbul movie theaters including Yeni Melek and İpek. İsmail Cem was an avid photographer, and held four photo exhibits, and published a book Mevsim, Mevsim


Returning home in 1963, Cem started his professional career as a journalist. He worked in some major newspapers and became editor-in-chief of Milliyet. Between 1971–1974, he served as the chief of the Istanbul office of the Turkish Newspaper Workers Union. In 1974–1975, he acted as the general manager of the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). Cem's tenure as the general manager of TRT, then the only TV station in Turkey, created some controversy. The conservatives and prominent right-wing figures like future President of Turkey Süleyman Demirel used their political and social influence to remove İpekçi from his post in several attempts, which have all proven fruitless.

Writing career

Among with his political and journalistic successes, İpekçi is also known as one of the ideologists of social democracy in Turkey, and was counted among the prominent figures within the Turkish centre-left. İpekçi, who advocated a moderate agenda in a time of political turmoil, wrote extensive accounts of the economic and social factors lying beneath Turkey's underdevelopment and theoretized methods for the revitalization of Turkish left. Among his books are Turkiye'de Geri Kalmışlığın Tarihi (A History of Underdevelopment in Turkey), one of the most acclaimed books in the field of social sciences in Turkey and Sosyal Demokrasi Nedir?, Ne Değildir? (What is and What is not Social Democracy?), one of the first books to introduce social democracy to Turkish politics. İpekçi's books, characterized by their plain but informative nature, are still popular and are growing even more popular, especially in light of the current dissent against AKP's Islamism and the debate of reformation in Turkish left. He is also labeled as the visionary of the "Anatolian Left (Anadolu Solu)". A more detailed bibliography of his works can be found below.

Political career

He entered politics after being elected deputy of Istanbul from the Kadıköy district in the general elections held in 1987. He was re-elected in 1991 again from Istanbul and in 1995 from Kayseri. After the death of President Turgut Özal in 1993, he ran for president without success. In 1995, İpekçi left the Republican People's Party (CHP) and joined the Democratic Left Party (DSP). He was then appointed Minister of Culture. He served as minister of foreign affairs from 30 June 1997 until 11 July 2002. He was the fourth longest-serving minister of this position in Turkey.

Relations with the European Union

He negotiated candidate status for Turkey's bid to join the European Union as foreign minister.[1] He was largely credited with Turkey's declaration as a full member candidate during the Helsinki Summit Meeting in 1992, after much negotiation with the EU and a night trip by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the then European Commissioner Günter Verheugen to Ankara to iron out the last details.

Relations with Greece

İpekçi and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou worked to improve Turkish-Greek relations.[1] It is during his tenure as foreign minister that a confident, albeit a step-by-step approach was taken towards a rapprochement between Turkey and Greece. The relations were actually at an all-time low after the Abdullah Öcalan affair, whereby Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos and some officials of the Greek Foreign Ministry were involved in hiding organization PKK leader prior to his arrest by the Turkish police. İpekçi and Papandreou picked up the historically hostile relationships initially starting with some confidence measures.

Later political career and illness

After a dispute with the party leader Bülent Ecevit, he resigned from the Democratic Left Party (DSP) ahead of 2002 parliamentary elections and formed the New Turkey Party (YTP) on 20 July 2002 together with his former party colleague Hüsamettin Özkan. İsmail Cem was elected leader of YTP, which did not do well in the elections.

Returning from the United States, where he was due to medical treatment of cancer, he closed YTP on 24 October 2004, joining the CHP. İsmail Cem was acting as the chief advisor to Deniz Baykal, the leader of CHP, and lectured in Applied Foreign Politics of Turkey at the Istanbul Bilgi University until his death.

He was married to Elçin Cem, and the couple had a daughter, İpek Cem Taha, and a son, Kerim Cem.


İsmail Cem died on 24 January 2007 in İstanbul after suffering for two years from lung cancer. He was honored with a state funeral, at which Speaker of the Parliament Bülent Arınç, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, current and former leaders of the political parties, his close friend former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, George Papandreou and Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Theodoros Kasimis attended.[2]

He was interred at the Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. Papandreou laid on his grave a branch from the olive tree they both had planted 2000 in Greece as a symbol of peace.[3]


İsmail Cem was especially admired by young people in Turkey during his time as a foreign minister. Some polls indicated that young people desired to see Cem as President of Turkey.[4] İsmail Cem's biography written by Turkish political scientist Ozan Örmeci, "Portrait of a Turkish Social Democrat: İsmail Cem" and its Turkish version "Bir Türk Sosyal Demokratı: İsmail Cem" found many readers among Turkish intellectuals and showed Cem's unique place in Turkish social democratic movement.



In 2000, Cem was honored by US-based "East West Institute" think tank with the Statesman of the Year award together with the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs George Papandreou for fostering closer relations between the two nations.[5]


Political offices
Preceded by
Ercan Karakaş
Minister of Culture of Turkey
7 July 1995 – 26 October 1995
Succeeded by
Köksal Toptan
Preceded by
Tansu Çiller
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey
30 June 1997 – 11 July 2002
Succeeded by
Şükrü Sina Gürel
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