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Preparing for Varosha

By Annie Charalambous

Speculation about the possible opening of fenced-off Varosha is high, but no official seems to wonder whether its displaced Greek Cypriot inhabitants can return.

Because the fundamental question is who will return to the ‘ghost town’ of Famagusta considering that some – if not most – of its legal inhabitants have died since the 1974 Turkish invasion.

Human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades told the Cyprus Weekly: “The problem is that some of those people, if not most of them, have died since 1974. So the question becomes: can their heirs return?

“The answer is obviously, yes, depending, however, on how the land was inherited…Ideally, they should arrange their affairs in such a way that their children or potential heirs should not own land in divisible shares but in whole.”

For example, if someone had three children and passed away, then his/her offspring own one third of the property and the issue is whether all three can return back to that plot of land or house.

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This is a practical issue that the Greek Cypriot side should be preparing for, irrespective of how the ‘ghost town’ of Famagusta will eventually open up.

“But are we prepared? I think not. And in order to solve it I call on people from Famagusta to write to their municipality explaining the details of their properties, giving the actual address and attaching a copy of their title deeds,” Demetriades said.

“They have to make sure that in case of return they have their paper work ready to go. It is not enough to refer to the electoral list because that refers to the whole district of Famagusta, here we refer to people owning property in the fenced–off town,” he added.

Demetriades said that if the displaced municipality of Famagusta is not interested to pursue this task, then there are enough non-governmental organisations that can do it.

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

Varosha has been a ghost-town 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.

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said this week that “at the current stage, there is no decision to open Varosha”.

In order to do so, he added, all legal and political aspects needed to be taken into consideration and such an opening should be adapted to the parameters of the United Nations.

Demetriades also referred to the role – if any – of the Immovable Property Commission in the north in regard to Varosha.

“To my knowledge, the IPC has been hesitant to deal with cases relating to the fenced-off town; we have seen a delay in processing these cases and I think this can be explained in relation to the prospect of the return of the ghost town.”

The IPC mandate expires in December 2017, and it remains to be seen whether Turkey will renew it, but those applications filed before that date will – eventually – be processed.

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