The first to go to New York was Celal Bayar, and he stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. Adnan Menderes, Süleyman Demirel, Turgut Özal, Tansu Çillerthey all stayed at the Waldorf Astoria.
Our current prime minister doesn’t like the Waldorf Astoria; he stays at the Ritz Carlton, the St. Regis, and mostly The Plaza. The Beatles would also stay there. Marilyn Monroe struck her famous, leggy pose there. Jacky Onassis used to take her five o’clock tea there. Sex in the City and Gossip girl have shot many an episode there. President Nixon was married there. The cheapest room runs for $1,200 a night with the suites going for $20,000. Unfortunately, it’s not all-inclusive. If you eat, the plate will cost you about $400. The faucets are made of gold. The rooms were designed by Versace and inspired by Louis XV. The furniture is antique, and the bathrobes are embroidered with gold thread. If you ask whether they worry about them being stolen, the manager would tell you with a laugh, “They’ve got our emblem on them. Any advertisement is good advertisement.” Like our prime minister, our president also stays at The Plaza. The owners used to be Saudis, but then they sold the hotel to some Israelis.
I think this is why Erdogan didn’t stay at The Plaza this time around. He preferred the Peninsula Hotel. Incidentally, however, he ended up having to meet with Obama at the Waldorf Astoria.
Like our current prime minister, Bülent Ecevit also didn’t like the Waldorf Astoria; he would stay at The Westbury. Fate also led him to the Waldorf Astoria, however, in 1976.
As we celebrated the second anniversary of the peacekeeping operation in Cyprus, MTA Sismik-1 Hora (the name of a boat) set sail for the Aegean to search for petroleum. The rest is history: “If Greece interferes, we will fire!”
The “Hora” was a 1942 model: 55 meters in length, 9 meters wide. We had rented it from Norway in order to search for petroleum in turbulent waters. Norway balked and refused to loan the boat when Greece attacked in Cyprus. From that point on, we decided to make due and head into the Mediterranean with our own homegrown maritime technology. Both the Greek and Turkish militaries had begun to prepare for war. It was just a question of time before they clashed. Gadhafi sent a message to Ankara saying, “Libya’s Mirage war planes are at the service of the Turkish Air Force.”
The prime minister at the time was Demirel, but it was clear who was supposed to handle the situation. Instead of inviting the prime minister to the White House, the U.S. President at the time, Gerald Ford, invited Bülent Ecevit. He would try to convince us not to invade Cyprus and to take it easy on the Greek forces, which we had pummeled so effectively. Diplomatic messages had already been sent long before: we will not interfere with any petrol exploration in the Aegean, no one will touch the Hora; just don’t try to start a new war.
Ecevit accepted. First stop: New York. As I said, he didn’t like the Waldorf Astoria. He settled into The Westbury. He was going to attend a dinner for Turkish businessmen and then head to Washington. But by a twist of fate, the dinner in his honor was to be had at the Waldorf Astoria.
He arrived at the hotel and entered the lobby. At that moment, a Greek Cypriot named Stavros Psihopedrisdes drew his loaded Smith Wesson pistol and aimed it at Ecevit shouting, “Die! Die! Die!” With death a split-second away, everything froze just like in the movies. That is, for everyone except Bernard Johnson. The black FBI Agent leapt upon the gun before Stavros had a chance to fire and took him down.
Everyone was in shock, as Stavros’s arm had fallen off in the attack. At least that’s how it seemed at that moment. It turned out he had lost it as a militant for the National Organization of Cypriot Struggle. While throwing a hand grenade during the Turkish Peace Operation he had accidentally blown off his arm, so it was actually his prosthetic arm that had fallen off when Bernard tackled him.
At that time Stavros was twenty-eight years old.
Athens immediately claimed that he was a “CIA agent,” although interrogations revealed that he was working for Greek Intelligence. He had come to New York a month earlier and had started working as a cashier at The Park Lane Hotel only a day before the attack. I guess you could say he paid the price for his actions. The Greek lobby kicked into action and got him released on a $100,000 bail after spending only a year in prison awaiting trial. Afterwards he ran off, and I don’t know what happened after that.
The first thing Ecevit did upon returning to Turkey was to invite Bernard for a visit. The U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger took special leave and came along. First they toured Istanbul and then made their way to Ankara. Ecevit hosted a special dinner in the honor of the man who saved his life at the Marmara Hotel. They hugged, kissed and bid one another a final farewell. Twenty-three years later in 1999, Ecevit went to New York as Prime Minister. He insisted on staying at the Waldorf Astoria although he really didn’t care for the hotel. Attending a conference at a Turkish Center, he found a bittersweet surprise waiting for him. Bernard was there, and he had been promoted to the U.S. State Department’s Director of Security in New York. He had come to visit Ecevit. They embraced, chatted and laughed about the terrifying moment they had shared at the Waldorf Astoria before parting.
Seven years later Ecevit passed away. Among the messages of condolence sent to his wife, Rahşan, was a letter from Bernard reading, “I am grieved to hear of the passing of a great man. I pray for the healing of yourself and the Turkish nation.”
It was we who took the initiative. Cyprus was ours. It was we who explored for petrol.
And today … Obama wants to tell our president at that same Waldorf Astoria, “Keep your hands off the Greeks.” The hotel is the same, but unfortunately, we are not the ones exploring. And we are not the ones in the European Union.
If you ask us, we had been looking for petrol looong before 1976. And we are still trying to rent a Norwegian boat!
Maybe if we make the situation more frustrating for you, we can be done with the whole mess already.
Also in 1976, the Hora located petrol reserves and returned to Turkey with much celebration. But in the midst of our joy the winds of fate were to change direction. Just 10 days later, blood was spilled in the Yeşilköy Airport. Four Palestinians attempted to hijack an El Al flight headed from Istanbul to Tel Aviv. A hand grenade on one of the men went off accidentally as he stood in line to board the flight. Panicked, the hijackers drew their semiautomatic rifles and sprayed the waiting area with bullets. One American, one Israeli and one Japanese citizen were killed, while thirty-four Turks were wounded. The incident lasted for one and a half hours. One militant who took off in the plane died. Two were taken into custody unharmed, while the fourth escaped. It was discovered that he had boarded another El Al flight and traveled back to Israel.
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