By Okan Dagli
Famagusta became one of the world’s richest towns in the 14th century after Acre – the last port city in the Eastern Mediterranean in the hands of Christians – was lost to Muslims in 1291.
This loss turned Famagusta Port into the largest Christian port in the Eastern Mediterranean and the main hub for trade between the eastern and western worlds.
The wealth created through the Famagusta Port was so great that Syrian merchant Simon Nastrano had the town’s St. Peter and Paul Church built with the profit he had generated from only one trade deal.
After the glorious days of the Middle Ages, Famagusta Port remained as the port with the largest business volume in Cyprus and an important commercial hub in the Mediterranean until 1974. In the 42 years since then, however, it has been going through the worst days in its history.
In 1974, Famagusta Port came under the control of the Turkish army. As a port with command of the Eastern Mediterranean, it was considered strategic for maritime and air defence, and remains in the hands of the army to this day.
Unlike modern ports governed by international standards, all security and safety issues, permissions and port activities at the Famagusta Port remain under the authority and control of the Turkish army.
Even though the opening of the Famagusta Port to international trade comes to the fore from time to time within the framework of confidence-building measures or other contexts, nobody discusses the fact that this port is not even civilian yet.
There are days or weeks during which the port remains closed to any kind of civilian commercial activity due to some military exercise or action.
These often sudden and arbitrary closures cause great losses for companies that are trying to do business by trading through the Famagusta Port. No investment has been made to improve its now very shabby infrastructure or capacity since it has never been viewed as a port of trade, commerce or tourism, but rather a military port. This further hurts the activity at the port, which is already very low due to the political situation of the northern part of Cyprus.
Thus, the once-glorious Famagusta Port has now become the frequent destination of infamous ships or ships carrying toxic waste. In fact, an area within the port has turned into a dumpsite for industrial, contaminated and toxic waste.
And it seems that this will continue to be so unless the Cyprus problem is solved, putting an end to the authority of the Turkish army not only over Famagusta Port but the whole town.
The writer is an activist with the Famagusta Initiative