By Stefanos Evripidou
WHILE THE island’s political leaders remain poles apart on reunification, the recently formed Bicommunal Famagusta Initiative (BFI) has taken a leap in the dark, laying the groundwork for the “massive challenge” of reviving the divided region.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots announced this week the creation of the BFI, following in the footsteps of a three-pronged Turkish Cypriot initiative in 2010 to return the fended-off area of Varosha to its lawful inhabitants, open Famagusta port to trade and declare the walled city a UNESCO heritage site.
The new initiative enjoys the full backing of the Famagusta Chamber of Commerce and Industry, while its goals are supported by an overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriot residents of Famagusta.
The multi-pronged approach is to work on numerous steps to revive the entire region both before and after a solution.
Defending the initiative on the Cyprus Mail website, BFI member Hulusi Kilim said: “Who wants to live right next to a ghost town and see the shameful wreckage everyday and be reminded of the worst days that this island has ever had to live through?”
“The reopening of Varosha will be a showcase for all Cypriots to see that we can coexist and achieve great things together through cooperation in taking care of our cultural heritage,” he added.
He referred to the restoration of the medieval walled city and revitalisation of Varosha from scratch, which together will become a magnet for tourism, along with the ancient city of Salamis.
Opening Famagusta port first to facilitate the revival of Varosha, and then to international trade “will allow the Turkish Cypriots to export their produce everywhere, and that, on its own, is an unbeatable factor for the improvement of the Turkish Cypriots’ economic wellbeing”, said Kilim.
In a further response to naysayers, he called on people to welcome any steps that can actually contribute to the Cyprus problem, even if the ultimate goal remains reunification.
“It should be everyone’s duty to do their part in improving the conditions on our island and not leave everything to the politicians, and this can be achieved through Famagusta.”
BFI member George Lordos said: “A massive challenge awaits us if we are to bring Famagusta and Varosha back to life.”
“The principles of synergy, cooperation, coexistence and partnership will guide our hands and lead us to our goal,” he added.
The aim of the BFI is to achieve the effective reunification of the entire city with a focus on a port and marine economy, building an ecological and techno-savvy city, making use of the productive countryside, showcasing the coexistence of distinct civilisations, attracting tourism, and using the city for education purposes.
“In a time of economic crisis throughout southern Europe and in Cyprus, rebuilding Varosha and the revitalisation of the medieval city of Famagusta represent investment opportunities worth billions,” he said, noting that the economic benefit will accrue to both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Investment opportunities will arise in infrastructure, public services, private property and medieval city restoration, while bicommunal cooperation in tourism, culture, education, port activities and commerce will be driven by mutual benefit.
The BFI’s vision includes extending the Famagusta beach outwards, and building a long pedestrian path from Ayios Memnonas to Salamina, with easy access to the beach.
To turn this vision into reality private initiative, special legislation, appropriate incentives and specially devolved local government structures will be required, said Lordos.
Another BFI member, Okan Dagli, noted that building trust should not be left to the politicians. He highlighted that through the work of the initial Famagusta Initiative, Greek Cypriots will now be able to attend a liturgy service at the Agios Georgios Exorinos Church in the medieval walled city of Famagusta on December 8. The last service there took place in 1958.