An announcement made by Turkish Cypriot authorities allowing Maronites in Cyprus to return to their villages in the north under Turkish Cypriot authority has been met with reservation.
The community leaders of the villages concerned – Kormakitis, Asomatos, Karpasia and Ayia Marina – have announced they will meet with their House representative and only after consultation with the government will they make any relevant statements.
Maronites, descendants of Christians from Syria and Lebanon who came to Cyprus centuries ago, fled four villages during the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Kormakitis is 29km west of Kyrenia and in 1974 was the largest of the Maronite villages in Cyprus with 1,800 inhabitants.
While most of the population moved to the government controlled areas of the island, 80 inhabitants have remained since 1974 while a further 140 people have been ‘repatriated’ in a government-backed package of incentives for Maronite and Greek Cypriot communities that have remained in the north.
Ayia Marina is the second largest village, and totally abandoned by its Maronite population which today numbers approximately 1,000 people and are dispersed throughout the republic.
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Asomatos is the third largest village whose population numbered 527 persons in 1974 and the last Maronite living in the village died about two months ago. Today the displaced population of Asomatos Maronites is about 850.
Karpasia is the smallest of the four communities.
In 1974, the population numbered 250 people.
While most residents left the village for the government controlled areas of the island, some decided to remain, and today of the 130 residents of the village, 30 have remained since 1974 while the remaining 100 returned to the village under the government-backed incentive package.
In 1974, the four villages of Kormakitis, Ayia Marina, Asmatos and Karpasia were inhabited exclusively by Maronites, while there were small Maronite communities in the towns especially in Nicosia and Limassol.
Today, the total population of the Maronites in Cyprus is estimated to be around 7,000 people.
The announcement by the office of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci came three weeks after the collapse of high-level talks in Switzerland that aimed to reunify the island nation as a federation.
Akinci’s office did not specify when Maronite residents will be allowed to return, but said a timetable would be prepared shortly.
However, Cyprus’ government denounced the move, claiming it would entrench the island’s division and foment discord with other Cypriots who lost homes and property in the north but are prevented from reclaiming it.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides dismissed the offer as “communication tricks.” He urged Turkish Cypriots and Turkey to abandon “extreme and anachronistic positions” and instead work toward a comprehensive reunification deal.
Akinci and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades have been negotiating a deal that anticipates 65,000-90,000 Greek Cypriots and others reclaiming lost homes and property on territory that would come under Greek Cypriot administration in a two-zone federation.
Christodoulides said the announcement was a product of the Turkish side’s position not to return the Maronite villages to Greek Cypriot administration — a policy which he said contributed to the failure of the recent peace talks.