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Clock ticking for Varosha

By Annie Charalambous

Speculation over the opening of the fenced-off town of Varosha may lead to that eventuality, but it will take a decade before the first displaced inhabitant gets to return.

This is what a political analyst told the Cyprus Weekly following the furore sparked by signals from Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side that they are considering opening the once cosmopolitan “ghost town”.

“Realistically speaking, it would take a decade before the first Famagustan gets to return to Varosha, even if the opening was to take place tomorrow,” said Alexandros Lordos of the Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development.

“And I say a decade because, firstly, it has to be clarified what UN control means and this seems to be a very complicated matter in itself.

“Secondly, we have to wait and see from where the money will come for the restructuring of the town whose infrastructure is ruined,” he added.

Experts estimate the cost of Varosha’s restructuring and rejuvenation at about €5 billion, to be covered with the assistance of the international community.

UN Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984 calls for the fenced-off city – whose inhabitants before the 1974 Turkish invasion were about 16,000 – to be handed over to the administration of the United Nations. It also provides for the re-settlement of its former Greek Cypriot inhabitants.

Varosha has been a ghost-city since August 1974, when its inhabitants fled as the Turkish army advanced to the south after capturing the northern part of Cyprus.
The island’s former premier tourist resort was fenced off by the Turkish army, with access allowed only to the Turkish military.

It has always been understood that, as part of any territorial adjustment in the context of a comprehensive solution, Varosha would be among the areas to be returned under Greek Cypriot administration.

After the collapse of the UN-brokered Cyprus talks in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on July 7, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot administration indicated that the opening up of Varosha was under consideration.

But under what circumstances that might happen is anyone’s guess, while reports that the Turkish side plans to hand over Varosha to the UN remain unconfirmed.

“Given that there was no official communication and that the UN have not been informed by anyone (on this issue), it is understood that this is not an immediate thing,” a UN source told the Weekly.

“The UN’s position is that any confidence-building measure has to be mutually-agreed by the parties – that is, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” added the source.

Government response

The government has said that opening up Varosha under Turkish Cypriot control would be tantamount to extending the Turkish occupation.

But Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides has also made clear that the Greek Cypriot side is ready to discuss the opening of Varosha under the auspices of the UN.
However, Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Ozdil Nami’s response this week was that developments similar to those that would have been taken in the case of a comprehensive settlement should not be expected.

This probably means that, as Varosha being handed to the UN comes within the parameters of a comprehensive settlement, this would not take place.

But it could also mean that the Turkish side was no longer considering UN parameters at all, as indicated by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after the collapse of the talks in Switzerland.

An insider said the Turkish side may go ahead with declaring their intention to open Varosha and then ask the Greek Cypriot property owners to take it or leave it.

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“It’s a dangerous game they are playing,” the insider said.

“They may blackmail displaced Famagustans by telling them that they have to express an intention to return to their properties, give them a year or so to do so, otherwise their property will be lost, or give them peanuts as compensation,” the source added.

He argued that nobody could stop the Turkish Cypriots from doing this.

“All the UN will be able and willing to do is remind them of the relevant resolutions which the Turks have chosen to ignore for decades now.”

The government has also said it would not stop Greek Cypriots from trying to return.

Maronite villages proposal

In the meantime, the Turkish side seems to be testing the waters with their announcement last week that displaced refugees from three Maronite villages in the north could return. This would be under Turkish Cypriot administration.

“It’s probably the first unilateral step of more to come in a bid to surprise not only Greek Cypriots but also the international community,” another inside source said.

Today, there are some 200 Maronites living in the north, but about 4,000 more could now return to the villages of Karpasha, Ayia Marina and Asomatos.

“If, say, another 800 opt to take this opportunity, so as not to lose their property, who can blame them? But the state of play will change, and this applies to the Varosha case as well,” an analyst said.

“Those Famagustans who would certainly return and live in their homes will probably be dead by the time Varosha becomes viable again.

“But younger family members could fix the homes and go there over the weekends without caring under whose administration this will be,” he added.

The Famagusta region’s post-1974 population was about 40,000 and their incumbent Mayor – Alexis Galanos – has sent the message that all this hype is nothing but “tactical moves” by the Turks.

“At this moment, without ruling out actions towards permanent partition, they are playing with our emotions. I believe the large majority of Famagusta residents won’t accept such proposals,” Galanos said.

Nonetheless, there was a possibility of some people thinking differently after 43 years, he added.

Under the failed Annan Plan of 2004, Varosha would have been handed back after a 100 days post settlement, but Greek Cypriots, including Famagusta refugees, overwhelmingly rejected the UN blueprint.

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One comment

  1. unfuknbelievable 43 years