NICOSIA – Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said a proposal to lift international embargos on Ercan Airport on the occupied side is “the only way to save the abandoned Varosha resort for Greek-Cypriots.
That has been closed off since unlawful Turkish invasions in 1974 seized the northern third which has been occupied since then, Turkey still keeping a 35,000-strong standing army there.
It was partially reopened by the Turkish-Cypriot side led by new hardliner leader Ersin Tatar, with the backing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicating it could further opened.
A UN resolution that states only the original residents should be allowed to get their property back was ignored, putting another obstacle in the way to solve the dilemma of the divided island after Tatar said he doesn’t want reunification, but recognition of the occupied territory.
In January, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades hinted at a renewed effort which would see the administration of both Varosha as well as Ercan Airport transferred over to the United Nations, said Kathimerini in a report.
Ioannis Kasoulides, who recently visited Washington right after being reappointed to his post, said that the United States was receptive to Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to be proposed.
Those were put forth by the legitimate Cypriot government that’s a member of the European Union that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005, prospects worsened by Erdogan’s purge of civil society, the military, courts and education sector after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him.
Kasoulides said the airport on the occupied side shouldn’t continue to sanctioned but operated under the aegis of the United Nations, with Greek-Cypriots still hoping to get back their property seized at Varosha.
“I don’t see any other way to save Varosha, no other power or effort can bring this about,” Kasoulides told state radio, adding that “Varosha will be saved by us,” but Tatar didn’t accept the idea.
“When we look at the proposal, it is said that we should return Maras (what Turkey calls Varosha) and that Ercan Airport may be opened to direct flights under the auspices of the United Nations. We cannot accept such a thing,” Tatar said.
Kasoulides, responding to the radio host who suggested similar measures had been proposed before, said that the EU and US would take the lead to convice the Turkish-Cypriot side and Turkey it could be beneficial.
Anastasiades warned Greek-Cypriots holding Varosha title deeds not to fall into what he described as a trap in the north by filing property claims through a commission in the north.
That was in reference to the internationally-recognized Immovable Property Commission on the occupied side saying it would Evkaf, a Muslim charity dating back to the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1571, to be an “interested party” over property claim applications made by Greek-Cypriots on Varosha.
There was also an intense debate on the Turkish-Cypriot side about flight costs out of Ercan and after some officials there wanted to list the area as Turkish province instead to bring prices down.
Ercan, also known as Tymbou in Greek, is an airport linking the north with Turkey but remains under restrictions imposed by sanctions following a refusal by the Greek-Cypriots, to list the airport as a legal port of entry.
“By this exchange, Turkish-Cypriots won’t have any basis to claim they are isolated,” Kasoulides argued but Tatar, who said he takes his marching orders from Erdogan isn’t budging.
Varosha is now a ghost town but in the 1960’s and 1970’s was a lure for international celebrities before being closed off after Greek-Cypriots fled in August, 1974 during the invasion.