Ferit Agi, a veteran journalist and former director of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, died on December 25 in Munich, Germany. He was 75.
Born to a Tatar émigré family in Manchuria, China during World War II, Agi experienced Soviet brutality first-hand from his earliest years. As an adult, he dedicated his life to defending human dignity and individual rights and promoting pluralism and diversity.
When Agi was just two years old, in 1945, Soviet forces entered Manchuria and his father was detained by Joseph Stalin’s secret police and sent to the Gulag for his political activism among Tatar emigres.
Agi did not see his father again until he was 25 years old. By that time, the family had taken refuge in Turkey. Agi pursued a degree in Turkic studies at Istanbul University, served in the military and participated in local Tatar cultural life.
In 1969, he received an offer to join RFE/RL, then based in Munich, Germany. He remembered that period of his life with humor, saying he went to Germany with one piece of luggage, expecting he would not stay long.
But Agi’s term in RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service lasted an incredible 37 years.
He began as a radio producer, moderator and broadcaster, becoming director of the service in 1989. Agi led the service’s move from Munich to Prague in 1995, creating a network of local correspondents in Tatar-populated areas of the former Soviet Union. In 1997, he oversaw the opening of a bureau in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan Republic and launched the rebroadcast of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir programs on FM affiliates in Tatarstan.
Agi gained the deep respect of his colleagues as well as RFE/RL’s management. In 2002, he was asked to oversee the launch of a new North Caucasus Service and briefly led it. Colleagues remember him as a gentle person but also as a man of firm principles if it came to RFE/RL’s mission and standards.
In 2006, Agi retired from RFE/RL and moved back to Munich with his family, but remained in close touch with the Tatar-Bashkir service and its correspondents in the field. He also published a book of his father’s memories about life in the Gulag.
Ferit Agi is survived by his wife, Aische, also a long-time RFE/RL employee in Munich, and his two children, Kerim and Banu.
Written by Rim Gilfanov, Director of RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service (GilfanovR@rferl.org).