Süheyla Küçük, the wife of Turkish Cypriot leader Dr Fazıl Küçük, has passed away at Lefkoşa Burhan Nalbantoğlu State Hospital on Monday. She had been receiving treatment for sepsis.
Tributes have poured in for Mrs Küçük, who was given the title ‘First Lady’ after her husband, Turkish Cypriot leader Dr Fazıl Küçük, became the first Vice-President of the newly independent Republic of Cyprus’ in 1960, and the President Archbishop Makarios had no wife.
Prime Minister Ersin Tatar led the condolences to Mrs Küçük family and the Turkish Cypriot people in his statement:
“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Süheyla Küçük, the wife of the late Turkish Cypriot leader Dr. Fazıl Küçük who fought for the existence and freedom of the Turkish Cypriot people. With her politics and her services she has taken her place in the history of the Turkish Cypriot people. I want to express my deepest condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.”
In his message, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay praised Süheyla Küçük for her “services to the nation”, adding that she will always be “loved and respected.”
Mrs Küçük was active in civil society, serving for many years as the President of the Union of Turkish Cypriot Women (UTCW), which she helped form in 1953.
She led by example, championing the need for women to have greater prominence in Cypriot society, and supporting initiatives that would allow women to have a profession.
Born in the capital Lefkoşa/Nicosia on 30 July 1925, Süheyla was the daughter of Mustafa Zeki Şenyüz and Rabia Şenyüz, the second of their four children.
She attended Yemicami Primary School, where she finished as the school’s top pupil, winning a scholarship to study at Shakespeare School. Due to problems with the school’s building, she continued her studies at a nearby boys school.
She met her future husband in November 1941, and they became engaged the following year. Due to the Second World War, the couple couldn’t marry immediately, only formally tying the knot in 1946.
Her husband Dr Fazıl Küçük was synonymous with the political struggle of Turkish Cypriots, awakening their political consciousness in the years after the Ottomans were pushed out of Cyprus and the island became a British colony.
A medical graduate who studied in Istanbul, Lausanne and Paris, Dr Küçük returned to the island in 1937 and quickly became involved in local politics. In 1941, he established the daily newspaper Halkın Sesi (The People’s Voice), still in publication today, which opposed British colonial rule.
Dr Küçük was at the forefront of action to protect the social, economic and political wellbeing of the Turkish Cypriot people. He spearheaded a successful battle to wrest control of Evkaf (Cyprus Turkish Islamic trust) – the island’s biggest private landowner – from British hands and place it back under the administration of Turkish Cypriots.
Aware of the dangers of Enosis (‘union of Cyprus with Greece’), which nationalist Greek Cypriots and the Orthodox Church in Cyprus were agitating for, Dr Küçük led the Turkish Cypriot fightback in the 1950s. He went on to represent his community at the 1959 London and Zurich Conferences, which gave birth to the Republic of Cyprus.
In 1960, Dr Küçük became the Republic’s first and only Turkish Cypriot Vice-President, a post he held until 1973, when he retired from ill-health. However, his role in the state was minimised when the Greek Cypriot majority seized power in a well-orchestrated coup in December 1963 and Turkish Cypriots were either thrown out of government or withdrew in protest.
He passed away on 15 January 1984 in London, where he had been receiving treatment for ill-health.
She captured her life alongside the great leader in her memoirs ‘Dr. Küçük’le Bir Ömür’ [‘A Lifetime with Dr. Küçük’], which was published in 2009.
Süheyla Küçük was an ever-present by her husband’s side, epitomising the role of Turkish Cypriot women who did not shy away from defending their families and community during the national struggle.
A woman of style, elegance and substance, Mrs Küçük was also admired and respected for the way she represented Turkish Cypriot women to the outside world.
Inspired by the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, Mrs Küçük used her role on various UTCW committees to help enlighten Turkish Cypriot women about their rights and opportunities. She was elected President of the Union in 1965, which she helped register with the United Nations, making it one of the first internationally recognised non-governmental organisation (NGO) for Turkish Cypriots.
She took issue with the behaviour of Greek Cypriots, who would regularly impose power cuts on their Turkish Cypriot neighbours. On 10 December 1994 – UN Human Rights Day – she wrote to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, highlighting the issue and the challenges families faced due to these hostile acts. She followed up with another powerful letter to Boutros-Ghali in March 1995, demanding the UN protect “the national and human rights of the Turkish Cypriot women.”
Two years later, Mrs Küçük took on British Labour MEP Pauline Green, who was then head of the European Parliament’s Socialist Group, calling Ms Green out for her ‘anti-Turkish, pro-Greek Cypriot bias’.
Mrs Küçük remained active in the UTCW until 2017, when she retired due to ill-health.
She was admitted to hospital on 14 May 2020, where despite the best efforts of doctors, she lost her battle for life during the early hours of Monday, 8 June.
She is survived by her two children, Pembe and Mehmet, and four granddaughters Sinem, Selen, Esen and Nilsen.