the lost american A Celebration of the Life and Work of Fred Cuny

(Remarks made by Mort Abramowitz, President,Carnegie Endowment for Peace, September 19, 1995)

This is a very special occasion. We are all devoted fans of Fred, we miss him, and we've come together to talk about him. He was no mean talker himself and we think he would like it.

The Carnegie Endowment was just one of Fred's many homes-away-from-home, just as we in this crowded room represent only a small number of his friends and admirers -- of the many lives he touched.

I know that a number of you were in Dallas a few weeks back for a Texas tribute to Fred. It took place at the hangar where he kept his glider and featured Bar-B-Que and beer. It was a vintage Fred occasion.

This being Washington, tonight all we're pushing is cookies, canapés and wine. But in keeping with what we are sure would be Fred's wishes, we don't want this to be a starchy, solemn event. In recalling Fred's extraordinary life and work -- his humanity -- we want to keep it informal and we want all of you to feel free to speak.

First, some introductions. In recent months, I have gotten to know the Cuny clan. Like Fred himself, they are extraordinary people -- courageous, determined, and throughout their ordeal, unfailingly caring of others. Fred had good reason to be proud of

them. We are pleased to have many members of Fred's family with us and I 'd like to ask Fred's father, Gene, to introduce them.

I would like now to offer some brief personal remarks, and then call upon the other co-sponsors of this occasion to speak. After that, the floor will be open.


Our friend Fred Cuny was a man of passions. I can talk about only four of them.

First, he had a passion for "getting in on the action", to go where the problem was, to start getting the job done. "Let's go to Somalia, Rwanda -- you name it -- he would constantly say to me. Fred in action was a marvel to behold -- and I am sure to many -something of an exasperation. He was a red-tape cutter, a circumventer, an innovator, a detector of bull and often an earth mover literally and figuratively.

My first Fred experience -- there were many -- was after the Gulf War in April, 1991 -- the 19th or 20th, while I was the American Ambassador to Turkey. We met at a coffee shop in Incerlik -- the Turkish base for Operation Provide Comfort. Fred had just come from Kuwait, where he had helped restore the city's operation, to work for AID on the Kurdish refugee problem. After their uprising failed, some 400,000 Kurds found themselves sitting in terrible conditions on the mountainous Turkish/Iraq border. The allied forces had stabilized the immediate situation, but the Kurds couldn't remain in the mountains for too long. The huge challenge was how to get them safely back to northern Iraq, which required setting up some sort of safe zone, which at that time had not been done.

So, Fred, who had spent just two days assessing the situation, tells me we can get all the refugees home in two months. Well, I had been around Turkey for 18 months, and dealing continuously with the Kurdish refugee crisis for four weeks, and I said to him: "Fred, you know, you' re full of crap!" He did not blink an eyelash, but simply went on talking endlessly. By the end of our 2 hour or so conversation he had in fact convinced me it could be done. Fred went on to work with the military, who did a splendid job, to map out and implement a plan to return the Kurds. The rest is history - an extraordinary event in repatriating a huge population so quickly after they fled their country.

After that initial encounter, I spent a lot of time with Fred, riding, flying and walking around much of northern Iraq, surveying many of the villages Saddam had destroyed. We looked at the same things, but he opened my eyes. He had answers before questions even occurred to me. Among other things, he persuaded me that the thing to do was to return the Kurds to their own damaged houses where

possible or to abandoned houses rather than build big tent cities for them as many argued for. You see, Fred always looked beyond the immediate crisis. He saw how important it was not just to save lives, but to find ways to restore a way of life, to give refugees some semblance of normalcy, something to hold onto and build upon -and by the way it reduced costs. Fred was a bear in that regard.

As held remind me, Fred was right most of the time. But even when he was wrong, Fred had something interesting to say. And that is why when I came here to Carnegie, I knew I wanted him at this institution in any arrangement we could devise. Time and again -in crises from Somalia to Bosnia -- I was struck how his kind of knowledge and experience, his conceptual and analytical skills made him a unique field operator and could at times make a real difference.

Which brings me to Fred's second passion: reforming the international crisis response system. Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia -- Fred was a veteran of most of the post-Cold War emergencies, and many of the other large-scale man-made and natural disasters going back a quarter of a century. He was convinced that the international crisis response system itself was in crisis and needed help. The will, the capacity, the effectiveness of governments, international organizations and the private community, he felt, were falling grievously short. Too often, he also saw the humanitarian response substitute for more decisive action by governments and international


Of course, Fred was a realist -- he knew that not every crisis could be prevented or brought to a speedy end -- or that governmental reluctance to engage could be easily overcome. But much could be. His realism and pragmatism were matched by resolve and a big heart. He refused to believe that the international community was powerless, or couldn't do better. And that is why he spent so much time working to help conceive and establish a new private international effort called the International Crisis Group, in which he was expected to take a major role. His death was a deep loss to that organization.

So, this evening, I'd like to announce the inauguration by the Carnegie Endowment of the Frederick C. Cuny Humanitarian Award. The Cuny Award of $10, 000 will be given each year to a private person or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the prevention, amelioration, or resolution of man-made crises. The first award honoring Fred and his deep involvement in creating the organization will go in his name to the International Crisis Group. We hope the award itself will be another way to perpetuate Fred's legacy.

Fred's third passion is consistent with the first two. It too, involves action, fieldwork and inspired strategizing. It requires facing challenges and facing up to mistakes and correcting them.

It also demands courage in the face of great odds and a fervent commitment. In short, Fred was passionate about: The Dallas Cowboys! I never saw him more desolate than in London last January when Dallas lost the conference championship!

Fred's fourth, and strongest, passion was of course people. He never saw humanitarian problems in the abstract, at a distance, despite his own superb capacity for analytical detachment. Suffering multitudes were not faceless for him. He did spend as much time taking care of one person as he would trying to help a multitude. That's another reason Fred was a rare figure.

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