Diplomatic row erupts over Turkish plans to reopen derelict Cypriot town of Varosha

·2-min read
Varosha has been left largely derelict since 1974 (AFP via Getty Images)
Varosha has been left largely derelict since 1974 (AFP via Getty Images)

A diplomatic row has erupted over plans to reopen a Cypriot town left deserted since the Turkish invasion of the Mediterranean island in 1974.

Turkish Cypriot authorities announced the plan to partially reopen Varosha for potential resettlement on Tuesday, drawing accusations from rival Greek Cypriots of orchestrating a land-grab by stealth.

The eerie collection of derelict high-rise hotels and residences has been deserted since the 1974 war which split the island, a military zone nobody has been allowed to enter.

Turkish Cypriot authorities opened a small area for day visits in November 2020, and on Tuesday 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," said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting breakaway north Cyprus on Tuesday. Maras is the Turkish name for Varosha.

Abandoned crates of the local Cypriot Keo beer remain at a dilapidated storage space in the fenced-off area of Varosha (AFP via Getty Images)
Abandoned crates of the local Cypriot Keo beer remain at a dilapidated storage space in the fenced-off area of Varosha (AFP via Getty Images)

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 "unacceptable".

"It alters or is an attempt to alter the status quo," he said.

Greece's foreign ministry said it condemned the move "in the strongest terms".

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed concern. "(The) unilateral decision announced today 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.

United Nations resolutions call for Varosha to be handed over to UN administration and to allow people to return to their homes.

Tuesday marked the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion mounted 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 which would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only Ankara recognises.

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