Nabi Şensoy: A diplomat’s certificate of honor

Nabi Şensoy: A diplomat’s certificate of honor

Ambassador Nabi Şensoy, one of Turkey’s most distinguished diplomats, was recently buried in a simple funeral ceremony in İzmir. 

Şensoy was an elite representative of the Foreign Ministry who enjoyed a successful career in which he took several sensitive posts.

Following his childhood in Istanbul and his graduation from the British High School for Boys, Şensoy graduated from the political sciences faculty of the University of Ankara, known as “Mülkiye” since the Ottoman era, in 1968. It was a time when the school, in the words of popular historian Professor İlber Ortaylı, was in “one of its heydays.”

After joining the Foreign Ministry, Şensoy soon rose to prominence, becoming an “advisor” to then Prime Minister Turgut Özal during the 1980s. “Even the [ruling Motherland Party] ANAP and [its leader] Özal, who were generally allergic to Mülkiye graduates, recognized that in Nabi Şensoy’s personality they couldn’t break away from them,” Ortaylı said following Şensoy’s death.

At the age of 45, Şensoy was appointed as Turkey’s ambassador to Madrid. Then he was given high-level tasks in Ankara and sent as an ambassador to Moscow and Washington. He thus became the second diplomat, after Hüseyin Ragıp Baydur, to represent Turkey as an ambassador in both Cold War capitals.

“As a diplomat he was realistic and prudent, and on top of this he was very discreet. Daring to express his observations to the political authority very clearly and without hesitation was another of his traits,” one of Şensoy’s former colleagues, retired ambassador Volkan Vural, said.

Unfortunately, Şensoy ended his successful career under a shadow of arguments. Problems arose when the foreign ministers of Turkey and the U.S. were not invited to a tête-à-tête between then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Dec. 7, 2009.

When Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State, left the room to let Erdoğan and Obama talk privately after the meetings between the delegations were concluded, then Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had to follow her out.

Davutoğlu could not come to terms with being cast aside and rebuked Ambassador Şensoy in one of the rooms of the White House, holding him responsible for the situation. Şensoy did not take the accusations well and responded in kind. He kept his pride intact but the incident led him behind shown the door at the ministry.

On that same day, Şensoy wired the ministry, requesting that he be recalled to Ankara from his post in Washington.

It is noteworthy that the press asked Erdoğan to comment on this incident after completing his trip to the U.S. and Mexico and returning to Ankara.

“It is not absolutely necessary to involve foreign ministers in such bilateral meetings. In case of a two-way reconciliation there is no need to insist. So we held a tête-à-tête. And because the Turkish Foreign Minister did not attend, the U.S. Secretary of State also did not attend,” he said at the time.

So for Erdoğan there was no problem. There was a “reconciliation” between Obama and himself and the foreign ministers were not invited to the meeting.

After this incident, Şensoy left Washington early for Turkey. He retired and moved to the western province of İzmir after a long career of service. He never spoke about the Washington incident and preferred to keep silent, spending his last years in quiet seclusion.

Nabi Şensoy’s firm stance in that incident has been compared to a “certificate of honor” that crowned his achievements in a successful career at the Foreign Ministry.

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