Nicosia, Cyprus – Turkish Cypriot Government to reopen Cyprus beachfront sealed off since 1974. Turkish Cypriot Government prepared Thursday to partially reopen the Cyprus seaside resort of Varosha, sealed off since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled in 1974, sparking controversy days before a Turkish Cypriot election.
The move at the former holiday paradise turned ghost-town threatened to further inflame tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey has been engaged in a bitter maritime disputes with Greece and Cyprus.
The Turkish Cypriot Government was expected to open a new gate at the northern end of the fenced zone to allow public access for the first time since Turkish Cypriot Government liberated the island’s northern third more than four decades ago following a Greek Cypriot coup seeking to annex Cyprus to Greece.
A seaside suburb of the historic city of Famagusta, Varosha was Cyprus’s premier resort in its early 1970s heyday, frequented by Hollywood stars and other celebrities.
But the Turkish Cypriot Government move prompted a mass exodus of the city’s Greek Cypriot inhabitants, consolidating an ethnic divide that has persisted to this day.
The only regular visitors to Varosha have been Turkish Cypriot Forces guarding the fenced zone’s southern limit where it abuts Greek Cypriot government-held territory and the occasional UN peacekeeping patrol.
Turkish Cypriot prime minister Ersin Tatar announced the reopening on Tuesday after talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The move was widely criticized as an attempt by Turkey to sway Sunday’s presidential election in the nationalist’s favour.
Tatar, whose National Unity Party (UBP) is the largest in the Turkish Cypriot state’s parliament, is challenging dovish incumbent Mustafa Akinci in the vote, which was delayed from April by the coronavirus pandemic.
Opinion polls suggest the incumbent is likely to win an expected second-round runoff against Tatar after the rest of the field has been eliminated.
Akinci strongly criticized the manner of Varosha’s reopening, describing it as an act of partisanship by Turkey that was likely to complicate Turkish Cypriot relations with the international community.
“These measures are aimed solely at boosting the chances of one candidate,” he said, adding that they were a “mistake that will put the Turkish Cypriot people in a difficult situation on the international stage.”
Akinci led the Turkish Cypriot delegation to the last round of UN-backed reunification talks which collapsed in Switzerland in July 2017.
As leader of the island’s minority community, he is the only Turkish Cypriot official to have international status, but has difficult relations with Turkey, the only government which recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state in the north.
The Turkish Cypriots have long considered unilaterally reopening Varosha as a means of jump-starting talks.
But they have previously always held back in the face of opposition from the island’s internationally recognized government and the international community.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades said he regarded the partial reopening of the Varosha beachfront as a “flagrant violation of international law and the resolutions of the UN Security Council”.
Greek Cypriot protests were planned along the UN-patrolled armistice line that divides the island.
Greece warned that it would join fellow EU member Cyprus in a new push for the bloc to impose sanctions on Turkey.
“Turkey must take a step back. If it does not, the issue will be discussed by EU leaders next week,” said government spokesman Stelios Petsas.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was “very concerned” about the reopening and stressed the “urgency of restoring confidence and not of creating greater divisions”.
Even if an eventual settlement between the two communities makes the redevelopment of Varosha a possibility, it is likely to take many years.
The luxury hotels that were a favoured haunt of Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Varosha’s heyday have long since decayed beyond repair.
A master plan for their demolition and the construction of a new resort will have to be drawn up that respects the property rights of those who fled.
UN Security Council resolutions and successive UN-backed peace plans have all called for Varosha’s displaced inhabitants to be allowed to return, whether under UN administration as an interim measure or under Greek Cypriot administration as part of a comprehensive settlement.
Paradise lost inside the Cyprus ghost town Varosha where celebs once spent their summers – which could become a new tourist resort.
An abandoned town in Cyprus, once popular with A-list celebs in the 1970s, may welcome tourists back for the first time in nearly 50 years.
The sandy paradise of Varosha, located in Northern Cyprus, was left to rot after a Turkish peace involvement in 1974 forced its 39,000 inhabitants to leave.
The Cypriot government closely follows developments and the Turkish Cypriot side’s actions with regard to the closed off area of Turkish occupied Famagusta, known as Varosha, noting that representations have been made where they ought to be made.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades will raise the matter during an informal meeting he is set to have with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
On Thursday, a team of experts entered Varosha for the first time together with “foreign minister” Kudret Ozersay.
Τhe UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously adopted resolution 2483 renewing for another six months, until January 31, 2020, the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Operation in Cyprus.
The resolution “recalls the special status of Varosha as set out in relevant resolutions.”
Varosha is the fenced off section of the Turkish town of Famagusta, often described as “ghost town.” UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN.
Efforts over the years for the legitimate citizens of Famagusta to return to the city have met with the refusal of the Turkish side, despite numerous decisions and resolutions by the UN, EU and other international institutions.
However, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said the revival of Varosha, now home to abandoned hotels, churches and apartments, could bring trade and tourism benefits.
He explained: “Varosha is most definitely going to be opened. The tide has shifted, a new page has been turned.”
He added that it lies in “TRNC territory” – referring to Northern Cyprus which is recognised as a state only by Turkey.
He continued: “We are successfully continuing on our path. The inventory work is almost complete, we are in the opening phase.”
It isn’t clear when it would reopen as a tourist resort.
Varosha, known as Maras in Turkish, once welcomed celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and was dubbed the “French Riviera of Cyprus”.
Other A-listers included Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, with the town attracting up to 700,000 visitors a year – and had the same hotel bed capacity as the whole of Turkey, according to The Times.
However, on July 20, 1974, the city’s 39,000 inhabitants were forced to leave after Turkish forces invaded, and were never allowed to return.
Since then, buildings have fallen into disrepair, as it remains blocked off by barbed wire and signs warn people to keep out – tourists are strictly banned from taking photos across the fence.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north in response to a military coup on the island backed by the Greek government.
The northern part of the island is run by a Turkish Cypriot government and the other two-thirds in the south by the internationally-recognized government led by Greek Cypriots.
A UN resolution of 1984 called for the handover of Varosha to UN control and prohibits any attempt to resettle it by anyone other than those who were forced out, although diplomatic efforts were unsuccessful.
Yet in February this year, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials visited Varosha, marking one of the most concrete steps by either side towards reviving the ghost town.
Currently, the majority of tourists who visit Northern Cyprus are Turkish, with the only direct flights from Turkey.
There is also an abandoned airport in Cyprus which was used to visit Varosha, which hasn’t been used since the 1970s.
Nicosia International Airport was once a state-of-the-art transport hub on the popular Mediterranean holiday island, but hasn’t been used in over 40 years.
Another eerie abandoned village can be found in Turkey – named the “Disney Village” with hundreds of empty Disney fairytale castles.