Turkey Moves to Reopen Varosha Ghost Town on Cyprus

A general view of the town as Kudret Ozersay, the foreign minister of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north, and Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visit to the uninhabited Famagusta suburb of Varosha, in the breakaway, Turkish Cypriot north of ethnically split Cyprus on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. (Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool)

Ignoring demands to stop by the legitimate Cypriot government – a member of the European Union – Turkish and Turkish-Cypriots unlawfully occupying the northern third of the island are speeding ahead with plans to reopen the abandoned ghost town of Varosha.

That would also be in defiance of a United Nations resolution that it can’t be untouched with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emboldened by the EU not moving to stop him from drilling for oil and gas off the island’s coast.

Turkey seized territory in a 1974 invasion and is the only country to recognize a self-declared republic there, leaving Turkish-Cypriots isolated on the word stage and Turkey floundering in a bid to join the EU with accession talks stalled for 16 years.

Turkey said reopening the town where everything has been in place since the invasion, the infrastructure deteriorating, would be an historic  opportunity to bring tourism and economic benefits, said the news agency Reuters in a feature.

Ringed by a fence which extends into the sea, the former holiday resort has been off limits to anyone but the Turkish military since its 39,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled advancing Turkish troops.

Speaking in Varosha after touring the area, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said opening Varosha would have benefits for tourism, the economy and trade.

“Keeping this coast of paradise under the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus idle is not acceptable legally, politically or economically,” Oktay said.

Turkish and northern Cypriot officials were continuing their inventory efforts there, he said. “There is unfortunately an abandoned area here as well as rotting buildings. Our hope is that Varosha is revived in a way that will revitalise the economic, trade and social life here,” Oktay said.

Turkish plans for the abandoned town of Varosha on the northern third it has occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion are to make it once again a resort mecca and gambling haven, although the UN resolution said only the original inhabitants can return, those alive.

During its peak, Varosha was a resort that attracted celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor but now is a decrepit ruin, stuck in time in 1974, an area of abandoned hotels, empty apartments and weed-covered streets taken back by nature.

In a feature in October, 2019, the British newspaper The Telegraph said if Turkey can make it happen that a revitalized Varosha could be a playground again, if you don’t mind going to an occupied land for partying and fun.

Varosha “will become Las Vegas again,” Ersin Tatar, the Turkish-Cypriot self-declared prime minister, said during the summer and all the trappings are there to make it happen unless the infrastructure is unsafe and too far gone.

Land claims by thousands of Greek-Cypriots would be taken into account, but Tatar said preference would go to conflicting claims by Islamic religious organizations dating back to British colonial rule of the island, paving the way for Turkey to take it all.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the plan is “completely unacceptable,” and has undermined hopes of restarting reunification talks that fell apart in the last round of talks in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

Around 45,000 Greek Cypriots had to flee the area during the war between the two sides and they still own land and property in the sprawling ghost town, which is situated in the Turkish Cypriot north on the southern edge of the port city of Famagusta, the paper noted.

Untouched for 45 years and open only to the Turkish military, Varosha has clothing stores with 1970’s fashion and 1974 cars in showrooms. out of bounds to the public, Varosha harbours old clothes shops with mannequins dressed in 1970s fashions and a car dealership full of old Toyotas.