The London Years – a talk based on the newly published memoirs of former Turkish Ambassador Zeki Kuneralp

The late Turkish ambassador Zeki Kuneralp (1914-1998) is regarded as one of the most brilliant diplomats of his generation. He served twice as Turkiye’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, with both terms taking place during crucial periods in modern British history, as the UK tried to come to terms with its role as a post-imperial world power, while developing relations with the European Common Market.

A meticulous notetaker, Kuneralp’s memoirs on his London years have just been published and form the subject of what is sure to be a fascinating talk at Anglo-Turkish Society (ATS) next week, given by his son, author and publisher Sinan Kuneralp.

The ticketed two hour event will be chaired by retired British ambassador Sir Kieran Prendergast, who has previously served as ambassador to Turkiye (1995-1997).

Sinan Kuneralp’s brother Selim, a retired ambassador, will end the evening with a talk on Turkish foreign policy during the half century since their father’s time in London.

About Zeki Kuneralp

Zeki Kuneralp’s early life was shaped by the murder of his father, Ali Kemal, a liberal journalist and Minister of Interior in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire. Kemal, the great-grandfather of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson via Zeki’s half-brother Osman Wilfred Kemal Johnson, met a brutal death at the hands of Turkish paramilitary nationalists during the Turkish War of Independence in 1922, which subsequently forced his second wife Sabiha and their young son Zeki into exile.

Kuneralp had an excellent education in his adopted home of Switzerland, learning to speak multiple languages and gaining a law doctorate from the University of Bern in 1938. Due to his peculiar circumstances, Kuneralp was not able to return and serve his country as a career diplomat without a special dispensation from the Turkish government, which was granted to him personally by President İsmet İnönü in 1942.

Joining the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same year, Kuneralp went on to be posted to Bucharest, Prague, Paris, and Turkiye’s NATO Delegation as he worked his way up the diplomatic ladder. In 1960, he was appointed ambassador to Bern where he served for four years before being transferred to  London to serve as ambassador for a further two years.

His arrival in the British capital came soon after Cyprus conflict had erupted. He left London in 1966, but was reposted there by Ankara in 1969, having held the post of Secretary-General at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He remained in the British capital until 1972, when he was moved to Madrid.

Zeki Kuneralp’s Memoirs

Kuneralp wrote about his experiences as a diplomat, which was published in 1981. A decade later the book, Sadece Diplomat, was translated into English as ‘Just a Diplomat’ by Geoffrey Lewis, Professor of Turkish at the University of Oxford, and published in 1992.

Yet the former ambassador’s legacy goes beyond this book. From his appointment as Deputy Secretary-General of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1957 to his retirement in 1979, Kuneralp wrote notes about the discussions, high level meetings and conversations he had on official matters.

These notebooks provide a wealth of information on Turkish foreign relations and international issues over a 22-year period and are a primary source for the study of the Cold War period as experienced by a Turkish diplomat.

They have now been turned into a series of memoirs under the umbrella title ‘Diplomatic Notebooks’. Five of the planned six books have already been published: The View from Ankara (1958-1960 and 1966-1969), The London Years (1964-1966 and 1969-1972) and The Madrid Years (1972-1979). The sixth and final volume, The Bern Years (1960-1963), will be published later this year.

From a Turkish and Turkish Cypriot perspective, the Cyprus question occupies an important place in Kuneralp’s notes, covering a series of high level meetings taking place in London in 1964 and 1965.

Talk Details

Title: ‘Zeki Kuneralp Memoirs’, Sinan Kuneralp

Date: Monday 08 April 2024

Time: 6pm to 8pm

Venue: Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 5BT

Admission: The event is a hybrid talk, where guests can attend in person or watch online via Zoom. Both options are free for ATS members, but prior reservation is needed. Non-members will be charged £11.55 for in person attendance or £6.13 for online access.

Tickets: buy or reserve your place via Eventbrite – click here