Denktaş was one of the last of his kind
REUTERS PhotoIt was the early days of 2003. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Abdullah Gül, Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış and Chief of the General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök were having a critical meeting in the small meeting room in the presidential palace in Çankaya with the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktaş.
The purpose of the meeting was to draw a new joint strategy for the future of both Turkey and Cyprus. There were three problems: The United States was pressing for active support for the coming operation in Iraq, the European Union was pressing for a settlement on Cyprus and some inside the military and judiciary had started to speak against the new conservative government behind closed doors.
After hours of discussions on the nearing talks at The Hague with the Greek Cypriots in March 2003, Sezer turned to Denktaş and talked slowly and clearly and asked him not to be the one to first say “No” and not to be the first to leave the table since all indications and intelligence showed that the Greek Cypriots would turn down U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for the reunification of Cyprus anyway.
Going down from Çankaya to the city in a car after the meeting, Denktaş received a message from within the military, probably Land Forces Commander Gen. Aytaç Yalman via his adviser Professor Mümtaz Soysal, that asked him to do the opposite. Looking at the matter in retrospect, we can now see that it was the wing of the military who assessed that if Dentaş did not say “No,” Turkey’s relations with the EU and probably the U.S. would be much better, and that would boost the power of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).
It is not clear whether this Cold War warrior, the old wolf of regional politics, Denktaş, chose to be a part of the power game in Ankara or simply missed the “Zeitgeist” and could not see that the times were changing. But the first thing he said when he landed for the talks was that he “was there to say no.”
That was the moment Denktaş was no longer Ankara’s man on Cyprus policies. The same degree of respect was there; his credit has always been high in Ankara. He code name was “Toros-Taurus” when he was recruited for the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT) in Cyprus to resist the armed attacks of Greek Cypriot right-wing organizations in the mid-1950s. But the times had changed and Denktaş was too heavy to maneuver swiftly.
He was one of the last of his kind – one of the last leaders to have real life stories to tell his grandchildren and one of the last to live more than one life during his lifetime. It was a life full of politics. In his last words, he was reportedly asking half in Greek and half in Turkish for an independent Turkish Cypriot land. Denktaş passed away on Jan. 13 at 88, leaving his political opponents in the Turkish sector in tears.
Love or hate Denktaş, you could do nothing but respect him.