Farewell to Denktaş with thunder of applause
NICOSIA – Hurriyet Daily NewsBidding farewell to its founding president Rauf Denktaş, who passed away Jan. 13 at the age of 88, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus lived a rather exceptional day Jan. 17.
Under a light drizzle, the entire Turkish Cypriot and mainland Turkish protocol, from the president to the speaker of Parliament, executives of opposition parties, an army of generals headed by the top general, the spiritual head of Turkish Jews, many diplomatic representatives and thousands of Turkish Cypriots attended first the official ceremony at the presidential office and later marched several kilometers to Selimiye Mosque for religious services. Everybody was there.
Colonels from the Turkish Armed Forces marched in full military uniforms with swords along the two sides of the gun carriage carrying the flag-draped coffin of Denktaş. As the funeral progressed through the streets of the Turkish quarter of Nicosia, the crowd and people on the balconies of their houses broke the silence and the extremely respectful procession with occasional thunders of applause.
“I was present at the funeral of Archbishop Makarios on Aug. 6, 1977. That was a rather traumatic funeral. For us Greek Cypriots, the day after Makarios was so unimaginable that, there was total panic as regards what we would do. For Turkish Cypriots the transition was done in 2005 when Mehmet Ali Talat replaced Denktaş as second president. Thus, Turkish Cypriots have no worry over tomorrow of their state,” said Yorgos Matsakis, a Greek Cypriot political analyst.
Indeed, that was the general feeling among Turkish Cypriots. “We have succeeded in a peaceful transition to post-Denktaş era in his lifetime. He was so great a leader that he wanted to oversee the transition,” Osman Ertuğ, the presidential spokesman and a long-time aide to Denktaş, stressed.
“Halal… Halal… Halal…” roared the huge crowd when the imam conducting the religious ceremony asked them according to religious rites whether they were willing to forgive whatever Denktaş might owe to them morally or materially.
“We owe a lot to Denktaş. He created a people from a mere community, a state from a group of people always on the brink,” Taner Erkin, the former presidential undersecretary, said. Vedat Çelik, a many-time minister in former Turkish Cypriot governments and a long-time friend of Denktaş, was in tears like most of the other former Turkish Cypriot Resistance Movement (TMT) members. “We have lost a hero, a friend, a brother, a true leader.”
Some people in the crowd chanted religious slogans and some preferred to elude to the “existential struggle of the Turkish Cypriot people” the 88-year-old leader dedicated his entire life to. “Father Denktaş, extend our warmest wishes of wellbeing to our martyr father fallen for our existence,” a young girl was crying.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, who were condemning Denktaş just a few years ago of being the representative of the “anti-settlement lobby” and for being responsible of not finding a settlement over the past 40 years, were present and praying in full respect. After all, did not the Turkish government make recourse to the teachings and policies of the veteran leader of Turkish Cypriots? On his death bed, Denktaş expressed to this journalist how happy he was seeing the Turkish leaders and the government in northern Cyprus coming to his political line. Yet, he wanted to remain cautious. “Now let us see them in action!” he had said. They were all there yesterday.
As the body of Denktaş was lowered down into his grave by SerdarF Denktaş, his sole surviving son and leader of the Democrat Party (DP), other family members helped him place some personal items of the former leader in the grave. In the meantime an imam was reciting from the Quran. A huge crowd of all ages packed the Republic Park, where the founding president was buried and would soon be converted into a memorial.
The park, which also houses a monument for the TMT, which was founded by Denktaş (his name in the organization was Toros or Torous), will soon be converted into a mausoleum and a museum, Prime Minister İrsen Küçük told the Daily News.
He said the park was chosen as the burial site because of various reasons, including security. The remains of Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos were stolen in December 2009 and were found only months later.