Cyprus Protests Turkish Ploy to Re-Open Varosha Ghost Town

FILE - In this Monday, May 5, 2003 file photo, a Greek Cypriot boy sits on a beach in front of deserted hotels in an area used by the Turkish military, seen in distance, in the Turkish-occupied abandoned coastal city of Varosha, in southeast of island of Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, file)

Cyprus’ government has denounced stepped-up plans by Turkey, which has occupied the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion, to reopen the fenced-off abandoned Varosha neighborhood in the city of Famagusta, which Greece and Cypriots call Ammochostos.

That came after Turkish-Cypriot officials, led by its self-declared foreign minister Kudret Ozersay, toured the ghost town, where everything has remained in place for 45 years, except for what has been taken by looters and the public and journalists banned from seeing.

Ozersay led an entourage to inventory  decaying residential buildings, hotels, and infrastructure as part of a land registry study to determine ownership of properties by Greek-Cypriots, and the Muslim community trust, the EVKAF, which claims substantial holdings, The Irish Times said.

Ozersay said the aim was to see if the can be be opened again – under Turkish control – and that it should not remain abandoned and  empty, he said, “while people who have rights to their properties there have no connection,” the paper reported.

Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said the visit violated UN Security Council resolutions and jeopardize any hope of resuming reunification talks that collapsed in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong occupying army and wanted the right to militarily intervene again when they wanted.

Ozersay said if he city can reopen – it would take expensive and immense renovation and restucturing as it’s frozen in time and deteriorated – that rights would be respected and former inhabitants would be allowed to return to their properties under Turkish-Cypriot “sovereignty.”

The UN Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984 ordered for Varosha to be handed over to the UN and resettlement only by the original owners of property, many of whom have died. Turkey has ignored the resolution with no penalty, using Varosha as a bargaining chip to try to force concessions as part of reunification negotiations.

Only Turkey recognizes the territory it seized in 1974 and a long line of diplomats, envoys and other officials have failed to make any headway despite many talks.

HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND

Ozersay said the Turkish-Cypriots want to make Varosha a tourist destination again as it was one of the mos famous in the world in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a favorite of the wealthy, celebrities and movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor.

That could give the weak Turkish-Cypriot economy a boost although the cost of making the crumbling buildings reusable again isn’t known and it could be prohibitive although Turkey is the major source of funds for the occupied territory.

After the Turkish army took control, Varosha’s population of 39,000 fled, many of them Greek-Cypriots hoping they would be allowed to return once the fighting subsided. That never happened and Turkey sealed off the town.

and the Security Council ordered that the city be transferred to the UN administration and resettled only by its former inhabitants. This never happened.

The move comes as Turkey has sent energy drilling ships into Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to hunt for potentially lucrative gas fields, in defiance of Cyprus, the European Union, Greece and the United States.

Turkish-Cypriot self-declared prime minister Ersin Tatar admitted Varosha is being held hostage by Turkey and his side for reunification concessions and to force the legitimate government of Cyprus to give Turkish-Cypriots a bigger say in licensing of foreign energy companies offshore.

NOT SO FAST

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades will raise the issue of the fenced-off town of Varosha during his meeting with Akinci on Aug. 9, media reports said, one of the few times they’ve talked since the Crans-Montana debacle.

The head of the Council for Reconstruction and Resettlement, Nicos Mesaritis, accused Ozersay of taking a “Hitler approach” with Varosha and dismissed the tour as a public relations stunt.

Mesaritis told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that photos of the visit showed a very small group of people not even carrying pens or paper to take notes but just walking around and looking at the decript buildings and that it didn’t include engineers or rebuilding experts.

Resettlement costs for the entire closed-off town are estimated between €4-€5 billion ($4.45-$5.56 billion) also he said.

“You get a city with urban planning from the ’55s and 60s and you interject the knowledge of the 2000s,” he said. According to Mesaritis, the whole project is a town-planning challenge which very serious university research units would be interested in studying.

As for the hotels on the beach, Mesaritis said they were “useless” both inside and out and that massive investments would be needed since one “cannot just give a tourist a room with a sea view but must also create surroundings.”

He said a detailed engineering analysis would be be needed since buildings need to be checked if they can stay standing after 45 years of having no maintenance plus exposure to the sea atmosphere, adding that the town’s sewerage system, water pipes and electrical installations were also useless.

“The public works department, after carrying its own study on the matter, had said that ensuring the security of access to buildings was a humongous task,” Mesaritis said.

In July, 2017, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini said that according to unconfirmed reports, Turkey’s diplomatic and military authorities had received instructions to prepare for the opening of Varosha and to offer Cypriots who left during the to return – but only if they agree to submit to Turkish law.

That came as Turkish-Cypriots announced that members of the island’s Maronite community could return to their villages in the north and live under under Turkish Cypriot administration.