(Adds Greek defence minister comment)
ISTANBUL Jan 18 Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali
Birand, whose documentaries and books helped shape many Turks'
understanding of their recent tumultuous history, died in
Istanbul on Thursday at the age of 71.
Birand suffered cardiac arrest due to complications while
undergoing surgery to replace a gallbladder stent, according to
the Hurriyet Daily News, where he worked. He had been battling
cancer, for which he had surgery in 2011.
In a career spanning almost 50 years, Birand interviewed
international leaders from Bill Clinton to Francois Mitterrand
to Saddam Hussein. He worked mainly as a newspaper columnist and
nightly news anchorman, including at CNN Turk, owned by
Istanbul-based Dogan Yayin Holding.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whom Birand
interviewed often, described him as "professional and
passionate." A devout Muslim, Erdogan said he had prayed for
Birand when he underwent cancer surgery.
His documentary films about the 1960 and 1980 military coups
helped define those watershed moments in the public record.
In October he told a parliamentary commission investigating
Turkey's coups that he and other members of the media had
tacitly supported such military interventions.
His book "30 Hot Days" was an insider-like account of the
manoeuvring by Britain, the United States, Turkey and Greece
that followed Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
Turkey still keeps 30,000 or more troops on the eastern
Mediterranean island and backs a small Turkish Cypriot
administration there, while the rest of the world considers
Greek Cypriots the only legitimate authority for the island.
Greek Defence Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos, a former
journalist, said Birand had become a friend and that he always
calmly debated his differences of opinion calmly, even over the
often frosty relationship between Greece and Turkey.
"He stood apart for his great journalistic skill, his
erudition and his deep interest on Greek-Turkish issues,"
Panagiotopoulos said. "His loss leaves a great void in
(Additional reporting by Harry Papachristou; Writing by Ayla
Jean Yackley; Editing by Mark Heinrich)