When Osman Faruk Logoglu, Turkey's ambassador to the United States, first came to America as a high school exchange student in 1959, his host family took him for a sightseeing tour of a scenic college campus outside Boston. Strolling among the shady trees and rolling hills, Logoglu fell in love with Brandeis University.
"Can I come and study here?" he remembered wondering aloud. Before returning home after his year at Wellesley High School as part of the American Field Service exchange program, he was granted an interview at Brandeis, and then a scholarship to study political science.
Four years later, after what he described as a fascinating, sometimes lonely experience as one of several Muslim students at a university established by Jewish people, he graduated magna cum laude.
Logoglu, 64, remembered Leonard Bernstein teaching in the music department and antiwar demonstrators preventing CIA Director Allen Dulles from addressing the student body. He recalled moments of solitude and uncertainty, but kept active by playing soccer. In the summers, he took odd jobs baby-sitting, serving hamburgers, working in construction and driving a cab.
After that, he went to Princeton for six years and completed his doctorate.
"I was poor. There were strange moments," Logoglu recalled in a lengthy interview Monday. "I did not know about life or drugs. It was all around me. I stayed clean despite many temptations. I was totally innocent."
In 1969, he headed back to Turkey to find its universities embroiled in political unrest. The campuses "looked like battlefields," he recounted, with leftists and nationalists, religious and secular students engaged in passionate disputes.
Abandoning his academic career, Logoglu took Turkey's foreign service exam, got married, served 18 months of mandatory military service and took up his first Foreign Ministry assignment in 1971.
Now, nearing the end of a long diplomatic career that included three years as a U.N. representative and four as Ankara's envoy to Washington, Logoglu will be leaving here at year's end. Despite Turkey's occasional differences with U.S. foreign policy, he said he had gained deep appreciation for American democracy.
The highlight of his tenure, he said, was standing at a lectern on the South Lawn of the White House on a chilly day six months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to address a gathering of dignitaries.
"This country may run into trouble, but the system has its own way to address that problem, go to the bottom and renew itself," he said during the interview at his residence over tea and Turkish pastries.
Logoglu praised the Washington practice of having officials join think tanks when their party is out of power. "When administrations change again, some of these people return to government. It is like a constant flow of experience and ideas. It does not always produce the ideal result, but no system can beat this one," he observed.
Frank Ahmed, head of international relations at the University Club and author of the book, "Turks in America," said he would miss the ambassador. He described Logoglu as "a wonderful listener" who "absorbs everything like a sponge."
When Logoglu retires from public service next year, he said he plans to join one of Turkey's think tanks or perhaps begin one.
"Turkey is moving fast, but we have to retrain our intellectuals to think independently," he said, noting that his government had introduced a number of economic changes and finally earned entry this month into negotiations to join the European Union.
"In a sense democracy is making sure that religion does not overrun it," he said of Turkey's current Islamic government, whose leaders have deep faith but take moderate actions. "There have been instances at which they appeared to be pushing for an Islamic agenda, and then they pulled back," he said.
Logoglu defended Turkey's longtime rules banning girls with Muslim head scarves from university buildings. The restrictions, part of Turkey's perennial tug of war over its identity, led Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send his daughter to the United States to study.
"The head scarf is a difficult issue, which has become a political symbol and divisive," Logoglu said, adding that 75 percent of Turkish women have always covered their heads, but not as a provocative religious message. "We believe a secular system is the best way you can guarantee religious freedom," he said.
Logoglu expressed concern that even in the United States, religiosity is on the rise and beginning to encroach on the political system. Although Turkey opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the envoy offered an upbeat opinion about current events there, where insurgent violence continues and efforts to create a new constitution are mired in religious and ethnic power struggles.
"Some of the apparent clumsiness is democracy in the making," he said. "It is not the British House of Commons, but Iraqis are talking to each other. . . . We just have to stay the course and pray security will improve." Creating a new constitution and parliament, he said, is a process of gradually putting building blocks in place.
"Pessimism debilitates you," Logoglu said. "Don't ignore the facts, but be optimistic."