Rauf Denktaş, a Private Portrait, by Yvonne Çerkez

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Judge Raif, although instrumental in helping Rauf to navigate through the intricacies of Cyprus’ politics, hoped his legacy would extend to more than Rauf becoming better informed. He also wanted to instil in Rauf the importance of becoming an active member of the law profession. The dedicated Judge had maintained an almost obsessive stance on the necessity to have educated Turkish Cypriots remaining on home sod. His opinions stemmed from the idea that knowledgeable citizens would not only advocate amendments to the law but also be in a position to challenge and produce effective changes beneficial for the Turkish Cypriot community.

I never met Rauf Denktaş, though I once walked past his car as it was leaving the presidential office in northern Nicosia, and he gave me a friendly smile and an amicable wave; I was on my way in, to a meeting with Mehmet Ali Talat, his successor, and I guess he had just been there for the same reason. I spent four years immersed in the Cyprus issue a few years ago, first with the International Crisis Group and then as an adviser to President Talat with Independent Diplomat; I stay in touch as best I can, though it has frankly gone off the boil in recent years.

This is an unapologetically positive biography of the Turkish Cypriot leader, written presumably on the basis of many conversations with him (he was famously talkative) and with no claims or pretence to objectivity. This is actually refreshingly honest; in Cyprus, as in many other conflicts, many writers feel the urge to prove that their own truth is the only truth, whereas here we are just getting Denktaş’s version of events. He had a remarkable career, a London-trained lawyer who rose to the top of a small embattled community and, for good or ill, created a state for them which still exists, even if unrecognised.

There is a lot of good chewy detail about Denktaş’s early years and family. (The half-way point in the book, page 150 of 300 pages of the main narrative, comes at the end of the 1964 crisis when Denktaş had just turned 40 and had almost another half century to live.) It’s a bit less satisfying once we get into the weeds of Cyprus politics, because the book is only interested in one person, and although he was indeed pretty important, there are other important figures too. Beyond a couple anecdotes of Denktaş arguing or joking with them (or both) we don’t get much of a feeling for Makarios, Küçük or Clerides, let alone any of the Turkish political leaders.

The most interesting thing politically for me was that Denktaş (by his own account) had to lobby very hard to get attention from Ankara to the Cyprus issue in the years up to 1974. The received wisdom by the time that I got involved was that Turkey and the TRNC were in a symbiotic relationship, and there were mutterings about the tail wagging the dog when Denktaş was at the height of his powers. But in fact Turkey did not take its treaty responsibilities very seriously at first, and in the 1950s and 1960s Denktaş was constantly frustrated by Ankara. (This is where a Turkey-focused perspective would have been really illuminating. The received wisdom is that Denktaş got a lot more help from Turkey than he allows here.)

The book skips over a lot of key questions, presumably because Denktaş himself didn’t want to talk to the author about them because he found the topics either embarrassing or boring (or both). What was the extent of his involvement with the TMT’s violence in the 1950s? How did he lose the confidence of both Ankara and his own voters at the end of his career? After everything that happened, was it all worth it?

But in the end, it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is; primary material, rather than a primer.

This was the very last book that I had acquired in 2015 that was still on my unread shelf. (Actually acquired rather early in that year, at a memorial service in London to mark the second anniversary of his death in January 2013.)

Last book acquired in 2015, read in November 2022 (Rauf Denktaş, a Private Portrait)
Last books acquired in 2014, read in October 2021 (The Empire of Time and Crashland)
Last book acquired in 2013, read in October 2020 (Helen Waddell)
Last book acquired in 2012, read in May 2020 (A Sacred Cause: The Inter-Congolese dialogue 2000-2003)
Last book acquired in 2011, read in October 2019 (Luck and the Irish)
Last book acquired in 2010, read in January 2019 (Heartspell)
Last book acquired in 2009, read in December 2016 (Last Exit to Babylon)

That opens up the books acquired in 2016, which I’ll hope to get through a bit quicker than I managed for previous years, starting in this order:

  • Hyperspace Demons, by Jonathan Moeller – shortest unread book acquired in 2016
  • To Rule in Amber, by John Betancourt – earliest acquired unread sf book
  • Faith in Politics, by John Bruton – earliest acquired unread non-fiction book
  • A Darker Shade, ed. John-Henri Holmberg – earliest acquired unread non-genre fiction book
  • Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen – top unread book acquired in 2016 as by number of LibraryThing users who own it

Meanwhile you can get Rauf Denktaş, a Private Portrait here.

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