The remains of a legendary Turkish Cypriot resistance fighter killed while defending his home town were yesterday brought to their final resting place – on the spot where he was shot dead exactly 55 years ago.
Hüseyin Ruso – a talented sportsman, footballer and PE teacher – was just 28 when he became a martyr as Greek Cypriot gunmen launched an attack on the north-eastern Lefkoşa district of Küçük Kaymaklı on Christmas Day in 1963.
It was part of a brutal island-wide assault that saw Greek Cypriot forces terrorise Turkish Cypriots between 21 and 31 December of that year.
More than a hundred Turkish Cypriots were killed or went missing and over 20,000 were forced to seek refuge in makeshift camps. Hundreds of their homes were either destroyed or looted.
The events were the first step in the notorious Akritas Plan, a systematic campaign of terror orchestrated by Greek Cypriots who wanted complete control of the island by forcing Turkish Cypriots to accept inferior rights.
The ultimate aim, just three years after Cyprus gained independence from the British, was “Enosis” – union with Greece.
The violence against the Turkish Cypriot community resulted in the collapse of power-sharing arrangements and the usurpation of the Republic of Cyprus by the Greek Cypriot administration.
The bones belonging to Hüseyin Ruso, who has a school and stadium in Lefkoşa named after him, were discovered following an exhumation of a grave marked as “unknown” at the Tekke Bahçesi cemetery in Lefkoşa, where victims of the onslaught were later buried.
They were formally identified by the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons in November 2017 using DNA analysis.
Last year relatives of Ruso, including his now elderly sister Meryem Ruso Paralik, unfurled a banner at a monument in his honour – located close to a restricted military zone – demanding that his remains be buried there.
Ministers eventually gave the move the green light following pressure from the family.
Hundreds of mourners turned out for yesterday’s funeral service at a mosque in Küçük Kaymaklı, before the cortege moved on a short distance to where the burial took place with full military honours.
Six soldiers carefully carried a TRNC flag-draped coffin on their shoulders under warm sunlight, before a minute’s silence was held.
“We waited night and day for you,” a tearful Ms Paralik, 86, could be heard saying.
A guard of honour fired three volleys of rifle shots before the flag was carefully folded and handed over to Ms Paralik, who prayed for her dead brother.
President Mustafa Akıncı, former president Mehmet Ali Talat, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Kudret Özersay, main opposition National Unity Party leader Ersin Tatar and other politicians and senior military officials were among those to pay their respects.
Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman did not attend, having spent the previous night in hospital after complaining of chest pains.
The burial was the culmination of this year’s National Struggle and Martyrs’ Week in North Cyprus, which saw a series of events and ceremonies held from 21 to 25 December.
The remembrance events began on Friday, 21 December, with a radio speech by Infantry Lieutenant Murat Osman.
That was followed the same morning by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Lefkoşa Martyrs’ Memorial, led by President Akıncı.
Speaking later at a special Martyrs’ Remembrance Programme at the Atatürk Cultural Centre in Lefkoşa, Mr Akıncı said that “those who experience war know the value of peace”.
He said that the martyrs had sacrificed themselves so that others could live freely.
“But peace is not only achieved by expressing a desire to achieve peace,” he continued. “Peace is achieved by being strong – militarily, economically and diplomatically. This is the reality of the world.”
Similar ceremonies took place in other parts of the TRNC throughout the five-day period, including at Ayvasıl, İskele (for those killed in Larnaca), Kumsal and Küçük Kaymaklı.