NEITHER of them remained in power long enough to put right the mistakes of the past, which they had both lived through.
Although they were always on opposite sides of the fence, be it in a court of law or at the negotiating table, Glafcos Clerides was probably the closest thing to a Greek Cypriot friend that Rauf Denktash has ever had.
“I first met Mr Denktash in 1951,” recalled the former President in 2005 “He was crown counsel. He was prosecuting, I was defending, and we crossed swords in the courts. He was a very good lawyer.
He doesn’t remember who won that first case but it was the beginning of over 50 years of sparring between the two men.
Clerides said Denktash’s ability to present a convincing case had also served him well in Cyprus negotiations, as anyone who has ever been entertained by the veteran leader knows from the ubiquitous ‘history lesson’ that was given during any visit.
“It took quite a lot of effort by me to show that things were not the way Mr Denktash portrayed them,” said Clerides.
“As a negotiator he presented his case thoroughly and very clearly and very openly but as a politician he suffered because he was looking always to what happened in the past and not looking to how the future should be.”
He said such unwavering intransigence prevented the securing of a Cyprus settlement. Denktash’s vision, Clerides said, was partition with the possibility of a federation in another 50 or 60 years. None of this could be accepted by the Greek Cypriots and Denktash would not have gotten away with his intransigence for so long without the support of successive Turkish governments, according to Clerides.
Asked if he had any insight into why Denktash persisted in his vision of two separate states for so long, Clerides said the answer lay in the past.
“He always turned back to the sixties, how we went back on our word about independence and were still trying for Enosis,” he said. “During the period Makarios was President he would say to me ‘yes but will Makarios accept this?’ He had a distrust not only for Makarios but for all the clergy, whom he thought were behind Greek nationalism.”
Of the historic personal relationship between the two veteran politicians Clerides said it was well known that they used to crack jokes during negotiations “particularly when we got very hot headed and our voices were raised”.
“Either I would crack a joke or he would and we would laugh and then start again from the beginning.” He agreed they had always managed to maintain respect for each other.
Denktash used to even recommend Clerides as a lawyer when he was asked by foreigners in Cyprus if he knew anyone suitable to represent them. He used to say: “Go to Glafcos Clerides”. Clerides in turn appreciated Denktash’s “excellent sense of humour”.
“When he was in hospital in the United States, after his operation (in 2003) I rang him up from Nicosia and I said ‘how are you Rauf? How are you doing?’ He said: ‘Glafcos I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’…and I said ‘thank you Rauf’.
“He said don’t make me laugh I’m all stitched up.”