Published on March 7th, 2013 | by Editor0
Memorial Ceremony in Honor of Embassy Guard Mustafa Akarsu
Secretary Kerry presented the Thomas Jefferson Star medals to Mustafa Akarsu’s widow, in recognition of Mustafa’s heroism in protecting the embassy when it was under attack. “His sacrifice will not be forgotten,” read the award citation. The U.S. Embassy’s Marine Detachment Commander also presented Mrs. Akarsu with the flag that was flying over the embassy on the day Mustafa was killed.
Remarks by John Kerry
Secretary of State
March 1, 2013
On behalf of the people of the United States, I bring you the condolences of President Obama, everybody in the Congress and the Administration, and all of the American people. I offer my deepest condolences to Yasemin Hanim, and to Sami, Hilal and to the entire Akarsu family who are assembled here today. Basiniz sagolsun. We stand together here on a beautiful, beautiful day not far from this remarkable memorial over here that I just visited, very peaceful, as Yasemin said.
We stand together at a moment that is both heartbreaking but also healing. It’s fair to say that all of us, not just the family but all of us, still mourn Mustafa’s senseless and sudden loss. And even as we are reminded and fortified by the solace of knowing that the men and women of our State Department and all those who serve in missions around the world are a remarkable, loyal family, we understand that it’s made even more special by the kind of sacrifice that we honor today.
We are often defined in the State Department, the Foreign Service, Civil Service, those of us who serve abroad at times, by distance. But the truth is we are really very, very close. And in this time of grief, there is really a possibility of hope. Throughout my journey here and in the journey still to come in the days ahead, in the past few days across Europe and then moving across the Middle East and throughout the world in the coming months and years, I know I will be reminded, as I always have been reminded, again and again about the many ways in which we are all of us connected, no matter where we come from, no matter our nationality, and frankly, connected in ways that are much closer than we often realize.
Our destinies are determined in many respects by the courage of people that we meet along the way. When we lose someone who guarded an American Embassy, who heroically gave his life to protect the lives of others, we are reminded of that truth, of that closeness and connection, in a very special way. We are reminded in stark ways of the truth that can be found in the Abrahamic faiths, and which speaks to me at least powerfully, and I think it is shared by everybody, in the words of the Bible: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Mustafa laid down his life for all of us. He guarded these gates for more than 20 years. But he didn’t just stand guard; he stood tall, taking pride in his work for the people of Turkey and the people of the United States. And when the menace of terrorism came to these gates, Mustafa didn’t hesitate for a moment. He and his fellow guards acted heroically, saving lives with quickness and with bravery.
I am particularly reminded that on the day that Mustafa gave his life for this Embassy and those of you who work here, that was my first day as Secretary of State. When I raised my hand to take the Oath of Office, this tragedy was immediately on my mind and in my heart. And I have carried the memory of that courage with me in every embassy I’ve walked into since, and I will in the days ahead. It underscores that we work in a world that is both dangerous, but where our work is indispensable.
Mustafa’s name is now part of the long honor roll of local guards who have given their lives to save people who work in this great endeavor: in Beirut, 1983; in Dar-es-Salaam in 1998; in Sana’a in 2008; and at posts in every region of the world, regrettably. There are too many, sadly, to list individually, but each is honored in the lives that continue and in the work that we do that continues because of their sacrifice.
Americans who serve overseas are blessed to never serve alone. We rely on the support and the friendship and the wise counsel of our locally employed staff, and we trust our cause to their courage. Local employees around the world commit themselves to building strong and lasting relationships between their home countries and the United States, and they often serve for decades with loyalty and with devotion. You teach a steady stream of American diplomats who serve among you for a few years all about the values and virtues and beauties of your country and of the spirit of your people. You are the sturdy backbone that holds together the kind of mission that we are engaged in, and we are enormously grateful to you for that.
I salute our Turkish employees gathered here today and your colleagues who serve in our embassies round the world. Your colleague Mustafa, I am told, was a dreamer. As much as he loved his job and his life here in Ankara, he never stopped thinking about the future. He wanted to give his children an opportunity to earn an education in the United States. And Mustafa was so keen on these plans, that I’m told his boss eventually gave him a nickname: Yari Amerikali – Half-American. And today, it’s our duty to complete those dreams for him.
Those of you who had the privilege of knowing him, working with him, and laughing alongside him, were not surprised at all that he would make this kind of a selfless sacrifice. He literally always lived trying to help other people. And today, as I look out at everyone here and I see his legacy and I feel it and witnessed it in that memorial, he would be very, very proud to see how his community has extended community, his adopted community that he loves so much, has come together over these past weeks and is now closer than it ever was before.
He would be proud to know how the Embassy staff feels safe knowing that, as Tunca said, that there is a Mustafa at each gate, and he is there to protect you. He would be proud to know how members of the State Department family all over the world have reached out to support and help Mustafa’s family so that they can keep working towards his dream. And he would be proud to know how around the world in every embassy, every consulate, local guards stand, still proud, still brave, still tall, just as their brother Mustafa stood here one month ago.
And so today, as we honor all those who protect us overseas, we need to find in ourselves the optimism that Mustafa carried with him. We need to recommit ourselves to the universal ideal that everyone should be able to pursue his or her dreams, from Ankara to Anchorage. And that one honorable person can save our lives and can touch the lives of those that he never met, and in doing so, can make all the difference in the world. Thank you.