On Tuesday evening, refugees from Varosha (Famagusta) will gather at the Golden Bay Hotel in Larnaca to discuss a novel idea: going back to live in their ancestral homes in the north, whether under a comprehensive political settlement or not.
It’s a drive spearheaded by the well-known Lordos family, particularly Andreas Lordos, who ran for Famagusta mayor – but did not get in – in the recent municipal elections.
So far, the notion of returning to Varosha had been doing the rounds on social media. Tuesday at 7pm will be the first post-election and in-the-flesh meeting of Lordos supporters.
“The purpose is to gauge response to this idea, listen to people, and take it from there,” Lordos tells the Sunday Mail.
“We’re tired of 50 years of negotiations with no solution in sight. If we can go back and live in our homes without a settlement, we will.
“We’ve got to make an explicit statement that we don’t accept the status quo,” he adds.
Lordos, the go-to-guy for this movement – “unfortunately” he qualifies, not wishing to be seen as a leader – proposes that for starters a small number of people could return to their homes just off Deryneia Road, which runs exactly along the fence put up outside Varosha.
The group hope that authorities and the military in the north can be persuaded to push back the fence a few meters, allowing some Greek Cypriots to occupy a dozen or so abandoned residences in the vicinity.
They’ve even earmarked the precise location: the neighbourhood around the Ayia Zoni church.
When the Turkish army gained control of the area during the 1974 invasion, they fenced it off and have since barred admittance to anyone except Turkish military and United Nations personnel. The people of Varosha hoped to return to their home when the situation calmed down, but the resort was fenced off by the Turkish military.
UN Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984 called for Varosha to be handed over to the administration of the United Nations, and was to be resettled by the inhabitants who were forced out.
During the 2016 election campaign, Lordos says he polled some 400 of his supporters, people from Varosha, 30 per cent of whom said they wanted to return to live and/or work. Forty per cent said they did not, and the rest were undecided.
Lordos, an architect by profession, explains: “No more of this business of keeping Famagusta as a bargaining chip in the negotiations. The way the negotiations have been set up, it’s been all or nothing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Politics aside, the logistics of returning are feasible, says Lordos. The area is supplied by electricity and water, the infrastructure is there.
On the legal status of refugees returning to Varosha without a political settlement – given that authorities in the north might grant Greek Cypriots permission to go back but subsequently change their mind – Lordos said: “I hope that wouldn’t happen.
At any rate, these are all subjects we’ll be discussing at our upcoming meeting.”
Asked why now, Lordos, 49, said the idea has been gaining traction over the past couple of years as first-generation refugees grow old.
“In a way, it’s either now or never, before we completely lose touch with our land. A few of us, like myself have some memories of Varosha, others not at all.”
Kyriacos Hadjiapostolou, also from Varosha, fled his home town in 1974. He was 16 at the time.
He echoes others’ frustration with the lack of progress for reunification.
“Even if a solution were agreed, that wouldn’t be the end of it. We’d still have a referendum, and we saw what happened on our side the last time round. Maybe it’s time to take matters into our own hands,” he said.
Back to Lordos who, citing a contact he has in the north – a Turkish Cypriot real estate agent with links to the land registry – says that an estimated one-third of Greek Cypriot properties there have not been allocated.
According to him, the trickle of Greek Cypriot refugees moving back north began after the opening of crossing points in 2003.
Since then, a small number of people have moved back to their homes in the Maronite villages of Kormakitis, near the northernmost tip of the island, and Ayia Marina Skylloura.
Louis K, in his early 60s, hailing from Ayia Triada village in the Karpas peninsula, told the Sunday Mail that around half a dozen people have resettled there over the past couple of years.
Mostly folks in their 50s and 60s, they rejoined parents and relatives living as enclaved persons since 1974. The Greek Cypriot enclaved in Ayia Triada reside harmoniously side by side with Turkish settlers, mostly from Trabzon, said Louis.
But these cases are somewhat different to what Lordos is proposing. People wishing to live in the north as enclaved have to apply through the office of the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots.
If approved, they are required to live permanently in the north, but may obviously travel to and fro and work in the south.
Enclaved persons qualify for a small benefit from the state, usually around €400 per person a month.
Humanitarian Affairs Commissiner Fotis Fotiou said almost all persons returning to the north post-1974 have moved into four villages – Rizokarpaso, Ayia Triada, Kormakitis and Karspasha.
All four villages were previously inhabited by 1974 enclaved persons, which is why younger people are allowed to return at all, in a sort of family reunion programme.
Currently, there are approximately 300 Greek Cypriot enclaved persons living in Rizokarpaso and Ayia Triada – including the newly-arrived.
A further 150 enclaved live in the Maronite villages of Kormakitis and Karpasha.
And another 120 applications from returning-enclaved persons are currently pending. These applications were submitted over the past six to eight months.
“Many people are thinking, ‘When my parents die, the house will be uninhabited and liable to be taken over by the authorities in the north’.”
Famagusta mayor-in-exile Alexis Galanos declined to comment when asked about Lordos’ Varosha plank, although he was aware of stirrings on Facebook.
“The issue of Famagusta will be addressed as part of a comprehensive agreement. All I can say is that if Mr Lordos or anyone else has a suggestion, they are welcome to bring it to the official municipality organs.”
Information on the Varosha move can be found on the Andreas C Lordos Facebook page and at http://www.andreaslordos.org.