India-born former first lady of Cyprus passes away

New Delhi
20 June 2007

A chapter in the history of relations between India and Cyprus has ended with
the passing away of Lilla Irene Clerides, the India-born former First Lady of that
Mediterranean island nation. She passed away on 6 June. She was 85. She is survived
by her husband and former president of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides, and her only child,

Lilla Irene Clerides nee Erulkar was born on 31 October 1921. Her father, Dr Abraham
Erulkar, was a respected member of the Jewish community of Mumbai (formerly
Bombay) and personal physician to Mahatma Gandhi. He was the first president of the
Medical Council of India. She lived in Mumbai till the age of 11 before relocating to the
United Kingdom. After studying at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in London,
she worked in the Indian service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) under
British novelist George Orwell. There she met Chrysanthi Clerides, who was working in
the Greek service of the BBC, and through her met her future husband in 1945, when he
returned from a German prisoner of war camp to study law. Glafcos Clerides was a
decorated gunner for Britain's RAF during the Second World War. She said that she went
on her first date after taking pity on the "scraggy youth who had just been released from
a concentration camp". They married in 1946.

Glafcos Clerides is a veteran politician who founded the Democratic Rally. He joined the
British Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1939 and was shot down over Germany in 1942 as an
RAF pilot and was taken prisoner until the end of the World War II. He took over as Acting
President of the Republic in July 1974, in the wake of the military coup of July 15 that
forced the late president, Archbishop Makarios III, into exile and the Turkish invasion
five days later. Makarios resumed his duties in December 1974. Clerides led his party in
the House of Representatives until his election as President in 1993. He was reelected
in 1998. He published the book "Cyprus: My Deposition" in four volumes. In 1988 he
dedicated the first volume of this book to "... my wife Lilla, as a token of my recognition
of the many lonely hours she spent during the 42 years of our marriage, when I was
busy with the Cyprus problem, and of her constant, unwavering support to the cause of
the Freedom of Cyprus."

Lilla Irene Clerides came to India as the First Lady with the then President Glafcos
Clerides on a six-day State visit in 1997. She travelled to Mumbai. She said that India's
struggle for Independence helped her to understand the Cypriots's struggle for
independence. "I love India. I love the people. I love its history. I was brought up as an
Indian and I have to admit that my pride in India is noticed by everybody. I have not
changed in that in one iota," she said. Another opportunity to renew her ties with India
presented itself five years later during the visit of former prime minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee to Cyprus in October 2002.

Georges Der Parthogh, journalist and photographer, recalls her telling him in an
interview before Mr Clerides ran for President, "When I married Glafcos I told him your
people is my people, your country is my country, your God is my God. It comes from the
Bible and I think it is one of the loveliest parts of the Bible and I meant it then and I mean
it now." He says that she fully justified this throughout her life as wife, mother and First
Lady. In 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, she associated herself with the Red Cross
and volunteered as a nurse at the Nicosia General Hospital, feeding and washing the
wounded. According to Georges Der Parthogh, she had many interests including a great
love and understanding for literature and art and added to them the sea, sailing with
Glafcos and Kate on their beloved yacht, inviting close friends on exciting voyages when
they could all forget, for a while, the constant worries and problems of Cyprus. "Her
devotion to her husband was implacable and she created for him a warm and loving
home where he could relax and sometimes take his mind off politics and when at last he
became President of the Republic, she put her foot down and refused to move to the
Presidential Palace, knowing that her man needed the loving atmosphere she had
created," he recalls.

Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee paid an official visit to Cyprus last month.
He met with his Cypriot counterpart Yiorgos Lillikas and called on President Tassos
Papadopoulos. It was the first visit by an Indian minister of external affairs in over two
decades. The president of Cyprus visited India in April 2006. India and Cyprus have
traditionally supported each other on issues of importance to each other. New Delhi has
said that Cyprus's membership of the European Union has given rise to greater scope
for closer collaboration between the two countries. India has consistently supported the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cyprus. India supports a peaceful resolution of the
Cyprus problem in accordance with relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. India
and Cyprus share similar views on the need to combat and eradicate the scourge of
terrorism. Within the UN, both countries share the need for early conclusion of the
Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

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