I walk most days past Aslanyataği Street in the Cihangir neighbourhood of Istanbul – which translates as the Lion’s Den. It is a tiny loop of an alleyway and I know it better for a particular building called Jones Apt which was home to the Mango family, scions of the Levent who went on to become sturdy pillars of the British establishment. Andrew (b 1926), whom I regarded as a dear friend, has just passed away and all of us who have spent careers trying to make sense of modern Turkey feel the loss. Summing up so vigorous a personality will be a task we now face. He is known for his comprehensive biography of Atatürk, but that tome, a life’s work for a lesser talent, was merely a project for his retirement. He started out as a Persian scholar, with a doctorate from SOAS and went on to head the South European Service of the BBC external service.
What puzzles me still is that I could feel such great affection for a man with whom I disagreed about most things. I suppose the great fun and challenge was trying to get a point past his sharp intellect – no easier than trying to dribble past Germany’s mid-field. He was, above all a cynic, he would probably say a realist, who saw politicians and societies as no better than they ought to be. And if he based his analysis on what would happen rather than what should, who could fault him for that. This made him an intimate friend of the Turkey he left behind as a youth, but never abandoned. He understood its frailties all too well and loved it all the same.
I don’t suppose he would have minded that some bright spark in the local municipality has changed the name of Aslanyataği to Dr Mehmet Öz Street, in honour of the television doctor (the medical Oprah) now infamous for endorsing dietary nostrums of no proven worth. I mind desperately. It’s not that I want it changed to Andrew Mango Street but that I remember the lion who once lived there.
Our condolences to Mary and the rest of the family. If we miss him already, we can begin to understand the sadness they must feel.