- Greek Cypriots say any Varosha reopening is unacceptable
- Turkish Cypriots celebrate anniversary of Turkish invasion in 1974
- Erdogan urges international recognition of Turkish Cypriots
NICOSIA, July 20 (Reuters) – Turkish Cypriot authorities on Tuesday announced a partial reopening of an abandoned town for possible resettlement, and received a strong rebuke from rival Greek Cypriots for sneaking land grabs.
An eerie collection of dilapidated high-rise hotels and residences, Varosha has been abandoned since a 1974 war that divided the island, a military zone no one was allowed to enter.
Turkish Cypriot authorities opened a small area for day visits in November 2020 and on Tuesday said part of it would be converted for civilian use with a mechanism that could allow people to reclaim their property.
“A new era will begin in Maras that will benefit everyone,” said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who visited breakaway Northern Cyprus on Tuesday. Maras is the Turkish name for Varosha.
Greek Cypriots fear that a change in the status of the area clearly demonstrates Turkey’s intention to appropriate it. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades described the move as “illegal and unacceptable”.
“I want to send the strongest message to Erdogan and his local proxies that Turkey’s unacceptable actions and demands will not be accepted,” Anastasiades said.
The Greek 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 urgently discuss the matter with other members of the Council, and said it was “very concerned”.
“The UK calls on all parties not to take any actions that undermine the Cyprus settlement process or increase tensions on the island,” said a foreign ministry spokesman.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also expressed concern. “[The]unilateral decision announced today by President Erdogan and (Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin) Tatar risks increasing tensions on the island and jeopardizing the 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 the UN administration and to allow people to return to their homes.
Anastasiades said that if Turkey’s “real concern was to return properties to their lawful owners … they should have passed UN resolutions and handed the city over to the UN so they could return in safe conditions.”
Tuesday marked the 47th anniversary of a 1974 Turkish invasion following a Greek Cypriot coup d’état staged by the army that then ruled Greece. Peace efforts have repeatedly failed and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership backed by Turkey says a peace deal between two sovereign states is the only viable option.
Greek Cypriots, representing Cyprus internationally and supported by the European Union, reject a two-state agreement for the island that would grant sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state that only recognizes Ankara.
“A new negotiation process (to heal the divisions of Cyprus) can only be carried out between the two states. We are right and we will defend our right to the end,” Erdogan said in a speech in the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia.
Varosha has always been considered a bargaining chip for Ankara in a future peace deal, and one of the areas widely expected to be returned to the Greek Cypriot government under a settlement. The Turkish Cypriot move makes that assumption more uncertain.
Reporting by Michele Kambas in Nicosia; Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and William Schomberg in London, edited by Gareth Jones and Grant McCool
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