Turkish Cypriots bid farewell to their founding father in a one-day-long memorial ceremony as the country halts life for a whole week to mourn the loss of Rauf Denktaş, who passed away at the age of 87 late Friday evening.
Turkish Cypriots commemorated Denktaş, a politician revered for his life-long devotion to sovereignty for Cypriot Turks, with a ceremony that started early Monday with a service at the hospital where his body was kept over the weekend. His body was transferred to the Presidential Palace after the service at the hospital, which was attended by various prominent Turkish and Turkish Cypriot politicians, for an official state ceremony consisting of a memorial walk, the signing of a memorial book and an honor guard that lasted for 12 hours.
On Tuesday, large crowds of Turkish Cypriots are expected to join in the ceremony and attend the final prayers for Denktaş at Lefkoşa's Selimiye Mosque, where the funeral is set to be held following noon prayers. Turkish senior officials -- led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- are also set to attend the funeral along with a large number of guests from Turkey. Denktaş is to be laid to final rest on Tuesday after a long series of memorial services at Republic Park in line with requests from both Turkish Cypriot officials and Denktaş's family.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) is in a period of national mourning that is to last until sunset on Friday, and KKTC flags are going to fly at half-staff throughout the week in his memory. Turkey is also following suit and has announced mourning throughout the country until the funeral on Tuesday, and Turkey's missions overseas will also be keeping their flags at half-mast. Guarantor state and “motherland” Turkey's overseas missions are also the only means of a diplomatic route for the KKTC, which remains recognized only by Turkey after its unilateral declaration of independence in 1983.
Among Turks all over the world, Denktaş's death was met with sorrow, although the first president's health had been quite unstable for the last year since he suffered a stroke. Denktaş was hospitalized last week when he was diagnosed with severe diarrhea and dehydration, but he never made it out of intensive care and passed away at 10 p.m. on Friday.
His death drew mixed reactions on an international level. Denktaş lived a hero's life among Turks, being at the forefront of Turkey's 1974 intervention in Cyprus to quell a Greek inspired coup that tried to see the multiethnic island united with Greece, and later helped found the KKTC when the island was finally separated into two communities in the south and north. The Turkish community lives on the northern one-third and does not officially exist as a sovereign state, while the Greek community is an EU member state that is considered the sole representative of the entire island and will assume its rotating presidency of the EU in less than six months.
Although Turks lamented the loss of the Turkish politician for his commitment to freedom for Turks in Cyprus, he was criticized for his strong stance against reunification of the island, a move that could ease Turkey's tension with the EU and help Turkish Cypriots thrive as they are currently citizens of a state that does not exist. The Guardian portrayed the controversy surrounding the leader by describing Denktaş as “a hero among Turks, an arch-villain to Greeks and, for the army of international diplomats and policymakers who dealt with him, an irritant par excellence” in an obituary it released on Sunday; but his legacy lives on for Turks who believe that he was the safeguard of Turkish Cypriot freedom and an embodiment of national honor for Turks all over the world.