Timur Goksel, former Al-Monitor editor and UN diplomat, dies

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Feb 3, 2021

Timur Goksel, a former UN diplomat who gained accolades for his peace-making position on the peak of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah within the 1990s, and was founding editor of Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, died early Wednesday. He was 77.

Goksel, a Turkish nationwide, succumbed to COVID-19 in a hospital in his beloved Beirut, the place he had lived since his retirement from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 2003. He is survived by his spouse, Nilgun, daughter, Zeynep, and son, Emir.

At Al-Monitor, the place he led Turkey protection for eight years — rising it into one of the vital broadly learn sources of Turkish information — Goksel will likely be remembered as a kindhearted, tireless and strictly principled editor.

He delivered to his work a singular understanding of the Middle East and of Turkey, based mostly on his expertise as a diplomat who mastered the artwork of diplomacy as a revered and sincere dealer.

“Timur went out of his way to help the seemingly endless number of Turkish journalists who had lost their jobs under government pressure by making room for them at Al-Monitor,” senior correspondent Amberin Zaman stated. “But he maintained the highest of professional standards. He helped run a news organization, not a charity, he would have you know.” 

Columnist Semih Idiz concurred, saying he was grateful to Goksel for inviting him to jot down for Al-Monitor in 2012 “at a time when the Turkish media was starting to become claustrophobic.”

“His loss will be dearly felt by his friends,” Idiz stated. 

Zaman added, “More than three decades after leaving Turkey, his passion for his country was unmistakable. Yet Timur remained coolly objective, a professional editor to boot.”

Kadri Gursel, one other columnist from Turkey, stated, “I always felt in safe hands. He was an understanding, responsible, highly qualified and fair editor and, above all, he was a good man.”

Pinar Tremblay stated she would bear in mind Goksel as “a kind mentor” and “a generous person who loved life with a passion.” Goksel was typically accompanied by his beloved canine. “I will always remember how he doted on Wahshi, an amazing pup,” Tremblay said.

Marita Kassis, the managing editor of Al-Monitor’s Beirut office who worked with Goksel in Lebanon, described him as “a Lebanese at heart.”

And Turkish columnist Cengiz Candar said, “Beirut was our shared love, which brought us even closer. He was the first person I could think of after the Beirut explosion in August 2020. He was the first one I called. I felt like if Beirut vanishes Timur would vanish as well.”

Recalling Goksel’s exceptional career with the UN, columnist Fehim Tastekin said, “Getting along with the Israelis and winning the confidence of the Lebanese resistance forces at the same time was something tough. He managed to do it.” 

Tyler Huffman, Al-Monitor managing editor, said Goksel brought this same spirit and energy to the newsroom, working tirelessly to gain the trust of writers, editors and readers. 

“Timur was legendary in Lebanon and beyond for his breadth of experience and passion for the region, but always made time to counsel anyone seeking his advice and provide direction and honest feedback to writers,” Huffman stated. “He was very popular and admired among his students at the American University of Beirut, where he taught courses on conflict management and other topics.”

Goksel spent most of his 35-year career with the UN at UNIFIL, first as a spokesman and then as a senior adviser. Yet his influence on the ground went beyond what his titles might suggest. Back in 1996, British journalist Michael Bywater wrote, “Choking on hatred and confusion as old as the grave, no one in that deadly buffer of stony soil between Israel and Lebanon trusted anyone else,” but Goksel “ran a bullshit-free zone.” 

The late British journalist Robert Fisk described Goksel in a 1999 profile as “perhaps the most powerful man in southern Lebanon,” earlier than including, “He is certainly the only man who can lift his phone and within five minutes call Gaby Eskenazi [Gabi Ashkenazi], the Israeli northern front commander, and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, chairman of the Hezbollah.”

In an inner memo earlier than his retirement from the UN in 2003, Goksel wrote, “Seven close calls including roadside bombs, a couple of suicide attacks and five too-damned-close firings including two with 120mm mortars on my office building, it is time. It has been one long roller-coaster ride, at times hair-raising but definitely memorable.”

Goksel remained a recognizable and revered determine in Lebanon lengthy after he left his UN put up. “He was not just a media personality, Timur was very much part of the Lebanese social fabric. He gave a lot to the city and the city loved him for it. From students to shop owners, he was recognized and loved for his sincerity,” Kassis stated.

“His aim was always to inform and communicate clearly — always ready and open to all. He was a breath of fresh air when it came to political realism. … His views shaped the modern understanding of young journalists in classrooms and events,” she added.

Ezgi Akin, Amberin Zaman and Tyler Huffman contributed to this text.