Austrian Ambassador to Turkey Heidermaria Gürer, who has been married to Nadir Gürer for 27 years said 'We remember the Ottoman siege of Vienna very well. I think this should not be taken in a negative way.
Some of the things we have today come from those days: for example, coffee and chestnuts. Our famous composer Mozart was influenced by Ottoman music. So yes, there are many thinks linked to this historical event, and we should use this richness as an experience'.
The Austrian ambassador to Turkey, Heidermaria Gürer, knows Turkey and the Turkish culture very well, particularly since she is married to a Turk. She and her husband think that this is an advantage, and it doesn't create conflicts for her job. Their daughter considers herself both Austrian and Turkish. For the Gürer family, these are richnesses that complete each other. While Mrs. Ambassador likes cooking dolma, she is very strict when it comes to differentiating between being a yenge of Turkey and her job.
Their home was a mysterious house. It's big, very big. At that time, the iron doors were not covered. So I could see through the bars when I was walking on the Atatürk Boulevard as a child. The building was, and actually still is, different from the other buildings there. It has a unique architecture. It was very close to the news agency that my father was working on. Every time we passed in front it with my father, I used to stop and try to see inside.
I used to ask him: "Who lives there?" He would say: "The Austrian ambassador." Then, I would press on: "What does an ambassador do?" He would reply: "Try to improve the relations between their countries and Turkey." Then, I would inquire: "How do they clean such a big house?" He would remark: "I am sure they have some people to help them." I would question: "Do you know them?" He would simply say: "No."
With their warm welcome and open answers during the interview, which we held in Turkish, the Gürer family gave the impression that we were actually paying a "house warming" visit to our neighbors although she was appointed as Ambassador to Turkey in August of last year. Yet she has known Turkey and the Turkish culture since 1980 when she met with her husband Nadir Gürer, a Turk from Ýzmir.
"We were both doing our postgraduate studies in Vienna in a diplomatic academy. This is how we met and we have been together 27 years," says the ambassador. At that time, Mr. Gürer had an opportunity to join the Turkish Foreign Ministry. But regulations did not allow two foreign diplomats to have intimate relations. "I left the decision to my wife. She started her career in the Foreign Ministry and I choose international platform," says Nadir Gürer, who works for OPEC in Vienna.
Of course, as a curious neighbor, I had to ask, "Wasn't it difficult to live apart, you are in Ankara and your husband lives in Vienna?" The answer, from Mr. Gürer: "The connections are very good, it takes only two and a half hours to travel. It just takes good organization."
Actually, since the beginning of their marriage, when Ambassador Gürer was working in Belgrade, Prague and Finland, they used to travel to see each other. She gave a pause to her carrier couple of years only when their daughter was born.
The ambassador uses her husband's family surname, not because they are living in Turkey, but this was the case since the beginning. "When we got married, Austrian law did not allow me to continue using my own surname. Also I did not care for it," she says.
Mrs. Ambassador came to Turkey for the first time in 1982. Before her arrival, she learned Turkish a little bit. She is now almost perfect. She knows Arabic, as well. At that time, the first city she visited was Ýzmir, hometown of her husband. However, they have now traveled almost all around Turkey, they even went to Van and Hakkari. Traveling is a hobby for the Gürer couple. When she compares Turkey in the 1980s to the present day, she says that the economic situation is better now: "Ýzmir, at that time, was already a European city, but the living standards were not. But now it is much better. Also, the politics have changed. When I came first time, it was after coup d'état of 1980. It was possible to feel it everywhere. But, it changed. The political life has also developed."
The way she serves tea and special cookies from Ýzmir, and the way she talks and she acts give the impression that she has become a little Turkish, but she is also an ambassador. Does it create a conflict?
"No," she answers. "This is something very good. The other European ambassadors coming for the first time have some difficulties with understanding Turkey. I can understand it better than them. I am talking with them. Also with daily life, it is easier for me."
This, however, reminds me one of our Turkish ways. Although it may not necessarily be called as nepotism, Turks feel more comfortable if we know someone in an official position. Now, she is our yenge -- a Turkish word for sister-in-law -- and it implies closeness that one can make use of in facilitating the official procedures we face in bureaucracy. I ask her if there are Turks who come to her asking such favors calling her Yenge Haným.
She is called Yenge Haným sometimes, Ambassador Gürer says. "It is something sweet; but also, the people are not underlining it that strongly." But she says she draw her official lines very boldly. "I have not faced it, but if they ask favors, I would say that it is not possible. Very openly."
When it comes to being a female diplomat, Mrs. Ambassador says that she has also worked in the Caucasian region, and sometimes she has been asked if it is difficult to be a woman. "I answered these questions saying that even though there might be problems in Austria, but these are neither here nor there. They respect a foreign woman, although I am aware of the fact that the situation can be different for a local woman." Mrs. Ambassador underlines that the advantage of being a woman is that women can understand psychology better. This is an advantage for a diplomat.
Members of happy families adopt each others habits in time. This applies to the Gürer family as well. They behave in the same relaxed, friendly way, and their smiling comes from their heart and emerges on their face in the same way. But what of the Turkish side of the ambassador? Again, like a curious neighbor, I ask this question of her husband. "She is very keen on family relations. In this respect, she is totally integrated. Sometimes, she shows more affection than the other relatives of mine. She feels close to the Turkish geography, too. At least, I can see it in the kitchen."
The whole family breaks into laughter. Ambassador Gürer is a very good cook, all family members think so. She cooks dolma and loves ashura. When it comes to the most Austrian side of her husband, she underlines that his working habits are very Austrian. "The Europeans work in a disciplined way. He also does so." Then she adds: "He supports me always. I don't think every Turkish man acts in this way." Mr. Gürer obviously takes pride in these words.
He thinks that the fact that the Austrian ambassador to Turkey has been married to a Turk is something very positive for her relations. "As she said, this helps her to understand the Turkish society better. She knows the way of thinking. I see it as a great input, or experience. We have Turkish friends not only here, but also in Austria. So she knows better about the integration problems. I also see it as a great opportunity," Mr. Gürer says. The ambassador's motto may change depending on the place that she is working. If she were working in Mexico, it could be different. But for Turkey, she always keeps in mind that she is working to develop the Turkish-Austrian affairs, which relate to personal relations between people more than official ties between states or governments. But in general, for the life, she has a principle: "I like working very much. I love my job and I never wanted to be dependent anyone. I always wanted to stand on my own feet."
Mr. Gürer's motto is "Be peaceful with the life." He has a point; there are nice smelling narcissus flowers on the coffee table that he brought from Ýzmir.
The spoken languages of this home are German and Turkish. The family living in it adds the Turkish suffix "-cým" to the end of each other's names. This suffix gives the meaning of "dearest." Gürer's daughter, who is 15 years old and attends Bilkent's school, speaks Turkish very well, though with a bit of an accent. When the curious neighbor Ayþe asks them if they decide on which language would be spoken in the family deliberately or whether it was something developed naturally, their daughter answers:
"When I was smaller and living in Austria, I was speaking German in the school and with my friends. But my father was speaking in Turkish with me. He was teaching Turkish to me. I realized the value of it later." When she is inquired about whether she considers herself an Austrian or a Turk, she answers automatically: "I have been asked this question many times. I feel both Turkish and Austrian."
Concerning what we have in Turkey that does not exist in Austria, Mrs. Ambassador says: "Sea and the sun." She adds that they have a summer house in Ýzmir, and she likes it very much. There are wonderful places in Turkey like Ephesus, she underlines, and most of the cities are nice, but urban planning is poor.
"In Austria, we have even planned the villages, but here everybody can do whatever they like. If there were urban planning here, it would be much more beautiful," she says, and at this point, Mr. Gürer chimes in: "Turkey has lots of historical values and wealth. But we don't respect their value. This is something sad. To give them their deserved value is important not only for Turkey, but also for the world. You can see it in Europe. For example our house in Austria is at least 150 years old. The situation is now improving, but it is difficult to bring back what has been lost. I would also like to have more hospitality and warm relations in Europe, like we have in Turkey. This is a little different in Europe. They are more hesitant. There are some reasons behind it, of course. But when you show them hospitality, they are always positive."
For Turks, Vienna represents the waltz, schnitzel and the "gate." Her mother likes dancing, but her father doesn't dance, Gürer's daughter says. Nevertheless, they are preparing for the traditional Viennese Ball.
The gates of Vienna have special associations for Turks. The Ottoman armies had besieged Vienna in 1529 and 1683, but never conquered the city. We, as Turks, talk about "to be at the gates of Vienna" when we refer to the farthest point the Ottomans could go in Europe. Mrs. Ambassador acknowledges that this "gates of Vienna syndrome" exists in Austria as well: "We remember it very well. Wherever you go, there is always something to remind people of these historical events. I think this should not be taken in a negative way. Some of the things we have today come from those days: for example, cafe, and chestnuts. Our famous composer Mozart was influenced by the Ottoman music."
Madame Ambassador reminds us that Islam is one of the official religions in her country. She says this is partly because of historical reasons, partly also because of Austrians coming from Bosnia Herzegovina. "So yes, there are many things linked to this historical event, and we should use this richness as an experience," she says.
The Gürer family thinks in the same way when it comes to their lives. To come from different cultures is not a problem, but it is a richness completing each other. "What about Turkey and the EU, would they marry one day?" I ask at this point. Madame Ambassador smiles: "No one knows for sure, neither here nor in Europe."
Now I know who lives in this huge house, and I can tell my father: "A multicultural family whose members are in many ways just like their neighbors living next door."