Age of iconic leaders closes in Cyprus

Age of iconic leaders closes in Cyprus

It was a very important and sad day in Cyprus. TV footage showed that a huge crowd of people, politicians and foreign dignitaries gathered for Glafkos Clerides’ final state funeral at the Orthodox Christian Church of the Lord’s Wisdom, also known as the Hagia Sofia Church, at the Strovolo district of Nicosia.

Was The former president’s passing an ironic event?It is of interest to note that he passed away at the age of 94 on Nov. 15, the 30th anniversary of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was established in the northern third of the island by his old sparring partner Rauf Denktaş in 1983.

I lost count of how many times I interviewed Rauf Denktaş or Glafcos Clerides during my journalistic career; perhaps at least once or twice a year, throughout both of their time in office. They were gigantic men who determinedly defended what they believed was right, and eloquently so. Applying their refined orative skills, they would fight each other with words; however, once their “official encounter” was over, they would then be able to embrace each other as two old buddies, raising their glasses to wish good health and luck to each other.

When Denktaş was laid to rest in January 2012 and, given that he had fallen in ill, Clerides could not attend the funeral but he ensured flowers that he sent did. His daughter, Katie Clerides, represented the family. At Clerides’ funeral yesterday, former Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and many Turkish Cypriots were in attendance. Among them was Rauf Denktaş, the grandson of the eternal leader of Turkish Cypriots, who was there as the Denktaş family’s representative.

Both Clerides and Denktaş were iconic leaders of the two peoples of Cyprus. They struggled for what they considered was right for their people and for the island. What one thought was good was not so for the other, and in this regard, they did not see eye-to-eye yet always maintaining respect for one another’s calibre and quality.

In a March 2000 interview, I asked Clerides why he stood at the stairs of the House of Representatives in 1964 and ordered Osman Örek (the joint government of the day’s defense minister) and other deputies to accept the 13 amendments Makarios demanded to be made to the constitution, threatening non-compliants with: “[Either] you go or I will chuck you out.” He responded by stating that he did not deny that the incident had occurred, though he stressed that it was not Greek Cypriots who “chucked” the Turkish deputies “out”, but that they removed themselves from parliament and the state’s political outfit all together, in a move to consolidate partition efforts.

Clerides was among the founders of the EOKA gang (National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle), a nationalist organization that aimed at the island’s union with Greece, or “Enosis” as termed in Greek; on the other hand, it was he as well who, back in 1968, saw to the commencement of intercommunal talks with his sparring partner, Denktaş, in Lebanon. In 1973 they reached a deal only to be vetoed by Makarios. Most recently in 2001, it was he who initiated the Annan Plan process by extending a “Come on Rauf, let’s have coffee” invitation to Denktaş through this writer. Not only did they have coffee and dine together, they launched a very comprehensive exercise that Clerides supported right to the end – even after he was defeated by Tassos Papadopoulos in the 2004 presidential elections – but Denktaş remained a staunched opponent of it at the expense of relinquishing his presidency to his pro-settlement successor, Mehmet Ali Talat.

It was sad that the last of the island’s iconic leaders has passed away without bearing witness to a settlement of a problem that their generation had been immense contributors to. A friend, in a pre-published article he shared with me, expressed hope that “while Clerides influenced social discourse alive, he may may continue to do so in death.”

May Clerides rest in peace.