Yvonne Cerkez, an English teacher in North Cyprus, has written the first biography of Rauf Raif Denktaş, the founder of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Mr Denktaş was the first president of Northern Cyprus but had been actively involved with Cyprus’ issues since the days of Dr Fazıl Küçük, Cyprus’ First Vice President and Archbishop Makarios, Cyprus’ first president.
We meet at Altan Houssein’s villa, who is Yvonne’s agent. The villa, which Altan designed himself in Cypriot style is beautifully situated by the sea in Küçük Erenköy. Altan welcomes us and serves coffee while we settle down for the interview.
Yvonne was born in London in 1967 and gives a brief outline of her early life:
-My biological father was of Turkish Cypriot origin and my mother from England although I grew up with foster parents and in children’s homes. Despite having a rough time in care I was very fortunate to have had some great teachers at school who were good role models for me. One particular adult was the Administrative Officer at the school, June Burnett, who was very supportive and encouraged me to read books. She would buy books for me, take me to the theatre and took a great deal of interest in me. We were very close – and still are, I would describe my relationship with her as like having a favourite aunty. I have much to thank her for and believe her influence over me kept me sane and stable!
Yvonne reveals that she just became a grandmother to a little girl.
-I became a mother myself just a few weeks short of my 21st birthday and quite like it that I am a fairly young grandmother. At least I think I will still be able to chase my granddaughter around the garden without the use of a zimmer frame! I used to be married but am now divorced.
When asked why she chose to stay in Northern Cyprus, she replies:
-I guess I feel a connection because I have roots here, but my path in life led me here. Fate maybe… But who does not want to stay in Cyprus? she says, smiling. -I mean with the mild climate and the relaxed atmosphere here.
-I’ve always read a lot from an early age although I knew nothing about Cyprus and Rauf Denktaş it has since become a big part of my life. He was such an important person to Northern Cyprus. What we have here today is thanks to him, says Yvonne with determination. He was Northern Cyprus’ founder and first president. He was an integral part of the history of Cyprus and it’s amazing how few people, who have adopted Cyprus as their home, are aware of him. I thought that was worrying, and a good enough reason to take on the project of writing his story. I met Altan through mutual friends and I knew he had good contacts with the circle around Rauf, so he introduced me to him.
Yvonne had prepared the first meeting with a presentation and a rehearsed pitch, but it turned out it was not needed.
-Mr Denktaş’s reaction when I told him that I wanted to write his biography was – Oh, really? And 10 minutes later I was shaking his hand as well as having in my possession written confirmation that I would be writing his biography. It was all very exciting and a little scary. No one had done this before and I wasn’t sure why he had agreed to do it now – with me. But he was extremely helpful and introduced me to his friends and his family. He was very keen that the project would go ahead and I guess he had decided it was time for his story to be told.
Yvonne met Rauf on a weekly basis and after 2 years of interviews and hours of recorded conversations she had the material ready. She says: I got the feeling that he had prepared beforehand for the interviews with notes on what he wanted to say. He knew exactly how he would answer my questions. He was like that, kept notes, documenting everything so that he could remember specific situations. Facts were important to him.
Yvonne wants to show the private Rauf Denktaş, to tell us more about how he was as a person.
-Rauf was a gentleman, passionate about Cyprus and his people. He handled ups and downs with dignity and a big scoop of humor. He gained respect from the opposition also which says a lot about him, more as a person than as a politician. He ate, breathed and slept Cyprus. It also meant that he was an absent father, because he had a larger family, the people of Cyprus.
January next year will be marking the three year anniversary of Rauf Denktaş’s passing. It was Rauf’s death that prompted Yvonne to give up teaching and concentrate on her book.
-Writing had been mostly a hobby until then but she feels now that it’s something she would like to continue pursuing although she is not sure what her next project will be. -Probably a book, she says thoughtfully. But it will be a completely different genre .. I really do not know, my focus at the moment is on this book about Rauf.
But when we get into what her dream project is, Yvonne says that it most likely will be a comment on childhood, about the protection of children.
When we´re finishing off and are about to leave, Altan inserts that Rauf was actually nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Altan presented the idea but Rauf said -No, thanks, I have not achieved what I set out to do and that is recognition for my people.
-Rauf Denktaş was really a true statesman. He should definitely be nominated, says Altan. I with the support of many distinguished signatories from Britain and North Cyprus nominated him for the prize in October 2011 and in February 2012 his nomination was accepted by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which is a great honor. But Rauf never got the news, he passed away on 13th January 2012.
Yvonne will be signing books together with Larnaca based artist Françoise Moncomble, at the booksigning and art exhibition in Panagia Thermiotissa Church, Doganköy on 15-16 November between 10.00 and 16.00. Follow our magazine to see the upcoming interview with Françoise Moncomble.