Varosha is deserted and no one has been allowed to enter since a 1974 war divided the island.
Authorities in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on Tuesday announced the partial reopening of an abandoned town for possible resettlement, drawing strong rebuke from Greek Cypriots and international leaders.
Varosha, a strange collection of abandoned high-rise hotels and residences, has been deserted since a 1974 war that divided the island, a military zone no one was allowed to enter.
Authorities in Northern Cyprus opened a small area for day trips in November 2020, and said on Tuesday that part of it would be converted to civilian use with a mechanism in place for people to recover potentially their properties.
“A new era will begin in Maras which will benefit everyone,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, visiting northern Cyprus. Maras is the Turkish name for Varosha.
“We have not yet 50 years to lose,” Erdogan told a crowd during a parade to mark the 47th anniversary of the invasion of his country which divided the Mediterranean island.
He was referring to decades of failed UN efforts to reunify Cyprus.
“No progress can be made in the negotiations without accepting that there are two peoples and two states with equal status,” he said.
Greek Cypriot leaders fear that a change in the area’s status will show Turkey’s clear desire to appropriate it. Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades called the move “unacceptable”.
“This changes or constitutes an attempt to change the status quo,” he said.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said it condemned the move “in the strongest terms”.
“Risks that raise tensions”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has expressed concern.
“[The] unilateral decision announced today by President Erdogan and [Northern Cyprus leader Ersin] Tatar risks increasing tensions on the island and jeopardizing the resumption of talks on a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue, ”he said on Twitter.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said Turkey’s announcement was “contrary to UN Security Council resolutions” and risked “undermining the Cyprus settlement process”.
Deeply concerned by President Erdogan’s announcement of the partial reopening of Varosha. This flies in the face of UN Security Council resolutions and risks undermining the Cyprus settlement process. We are discussing it urgently with the members of the Security Council. https://t.co/aWmzMKjXnA
– Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) July 20, 2021
United Nations resolutions call for Varosha to be handed over to the United Nations administration and allow people to return home.
Peace efforts have repeatedly failed and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Turkey, has said that a peace deal between two sovereign states is the only viable option.
The government of the Republic of Cyprus, backed by the European Union, rejects a two-state agreement for the island that would grant sovereign status to the state of Northern Cyprus that only Ankara recognizes.
Varosha has always been seen as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal, and one of the areas generally expected to be returned to the Greek Cypriot administration as part of regulations.
The Turkish Cypriot decision has made this hypothesis more uncertain.