Turkey's plan on ghost town opening draws global criticism

Photo: AP Greek Cypriots protest against Turkish move.

Turkish Cypriot authorities announced on Tuesday a partial reopening of an abandoned town for potential resettlement, drawing a strong rebuke from rival Greek Cypriots and global powers as well, news wires reported.

Varosha, a southern suburb of Famagusta, is a collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences in a military zone nobody has been allowed to enter. It has been deserted since 1974 when war split the island. Turkish Cypriot authorities opened a small area for day visits in November 2020. Now they said a part of it would be converted to civilian use with a mechanism in place for people to potentially reclaim their properties.

“A new era will begin in Maras which will benefit everyone,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting breakaway north Cyprus on Tuesday, said. Maras is the Turkish name for Varosha.

Greek Cypriots fear a change to the area’s status displays a clear intent of Turkey to appropriate it. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades described the move as “illegal and unacceptable.” “I want to send the strongest message to Mr Erdogan and his local proxies that the unacceptable actions and demands of Turkey will not be accepted,” Anastasiades said adding that if Turkey’s “real concern was returning properties to their legal owners … they should have adopted UN resolutions and hand the city over to the UN, allowing them to return in conditions of safety.” UN resolutions call for Varosha to be handed over to UN administration and to allow people to return to their homes.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry said it condemned the move “in the strongest terms,” while the United Kingdom, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, said it would be discussing the issue as a matter of urgency with other council members, saying it was “deeply concerned.” “The UK calls on all parties not to take any actions which undermine the Cyprus settlement process or increase tensions on the island,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also expressed concern. “The unilateral decision announced by President Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar risks raising tensions on the island & compromising return to talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue,” he said on Twitter.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the announcement “provocative” and “unacceptable.” He said that “the US is working with like-minded partners to refer this concerning situation to the UN Security Council and will urge a strong response.”

Tuesday marked the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion mounted in 1974 after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece. Peace efforts have repeatedly floundered, and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Turkey, says a peace accord between two sovereign states is the only viable option.

Greek Cypriots, who represent Cyprus internationally and are backed by the European Union, reject a two-state deal for the island that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.

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