The fate of Morphou has become the stumbling block to reaching an agreement in the Cyprus talks and was a major reason they broke down in Mont Pelerin last Monday.
It has become a red line for both sides. Morphou is crucial to how many Greek Cypriot refugees get to return and the extent of the territorial adjustment, and Greek Cypriots have always insisted on its return. The Turkish Cypriots, after being prepared to give it up in 2004, are now refusing.
The town’s mayor, Charalambos Pittas, said the area has always been part of the negotiations that have taken place over the past 42 years, and that Morphou was directly related to three major prongs of a settlement: refugees, compensation and coastline.
The Greek Cypriot side is pushing for the return of 100,000 refugees, though reports this week suggested that President Nicos Anastasiades had agreed to some 90,000 while the Turkish Cypriot side agreed on no more than 75,000.
Giving back Morphou and some surrounding areas, Pittas claims, could see 35,000 refugees return under Greek Cypriot administration. An estimated 12,000 Greek Cypriots lived in the town itself before 1974 plus a handful of Turkish Cypriot families.
Returning Morphou would lessen the cost of the solution because less compensation for lost property would be required.
Pittas said the cost would almost double without the return of Morphou.
Along with the town, the Greek Cypriot side also wants part of the coastline in the wider area. At present, the Turkish Cypriots hold around 57 per cent of the coast.
The Annan plan, the blueprint overwhelmingly rejected by 75.8 per cent of Greek Cypriots in 2004, provided for the return of the town and some villages around it, but no coast.
In an attempt to solve a major sticking point at some point during the current talks there was a suggestion that Morphou should be put under federal administration.
“Our side is asking for Morphou to be under Greek Cypriot administration,” Pittas said. “Nothing was discussed about a third zone.”
The question of how many refugees would actually choose to return 42 years after the invasion if they were allowed is an emotional one which Pittas found insulting.
“There is no question of not returning for the generation who lived in Morphou,” he said, though he did not refer to how much of that generation had since passed away.
Yet many of Morphou’s original Greek Cypriot residents had voted against their return when Morphou was on the table under the Annan plan in 2004. In contrast 65.24 per cent of the Turkish Cypriots currently living there voted in favour, knowing they would probably be removed.
Under the Annan plan, the plain – from Limnitis to Larnaka Lapithou on the Pentadakytlos range – with the exception of a narrow strip in the north giving Turkish Cypriots access to Lefka, would have been returned.
Like many original Morphou residents, Nicos Kartambis, 61, voted against the plan. He said it was because they had been told Turkey would not have implemented its provisions after it had been approved.
“Now we are waiting for a new plan to see what it says,” he told the Sunday Mail.
Kartambis saw Morphou for the last time in August 1974 when it was overrun by Turkish troops. “My home is still there, my orchard is still there,” he said.
The area was mostly known for its citrus and oranges were the mainstay.
Kartambis remembers his father spending an entire day watering their crops, as opposed to the modern systems used by the current users.
“Some (orchards) were left to die, those that bring income are still taken care of,” he said.
Kartambis believes the final decision rests with Ankara.
He acknowledges however that Greek Cypriot politicians have made serious mistakes, which are ultimately paid for by ordinary people.
Morphou and over a dozen nearby villages are today home to 19,000 mostly Turkish Cypriots. They too are also contemplating what the future would bring. If Morphou is finally offered back to the Greek Cypriots in an agreement, there is no certainty the present residents would vote ‘yes’ this time around.
Turkish Cypriots living in Morphou, known in Turkish as Guzelyurt for ‘beautiful land’, were always aware the town had been subject to negotiations since the 1990s.
Unlike other areas, it was known that Morphou was always earmarked for return in a settlement and its Turkish Cypriot residents always knew they were just caretakers.
Fearing it would not stay under Turkish Cypriot administration, many moved to other areas, mainly Nicosia.
Down the years the only major investment has been the construction of the Middle East Technical University – ‘TRNC’ Campus. This encouraged some development and student housing was built.
Even this though was constructed inside the area earmarked for the relocation of the Turkish Cypriot residents after a settlement.
Most projects were constructed outside the town, mainly road and sewerage works, leaving the town’s nucleus largely unchanged.
In the years since the invasion, the district’s main source of wealth – citrus – has declined drastically. Just after 1974 two citrus processing factories were set up in the area but after 1990, when products from the north were banned from being imported into Europe, both factories were shut down. They are currently used as packaging warehouses.
The area of citrus orchards has decreased from 75,000 donums to 40,000 due to the exhaustion of the Morphou aquifer. The 12 food processing plants that operated after 1974 have shrunk to just two.
Chairman of the town’s development and improvement board, Resat Kansoy, said recently that Morphou residents are leaning towards a ‘no’ vote if Morphou featured in a deal, though that could change if Turkish Cypriots were given political equality and Morphou residents were given homes and means to earn a living in other areas.
Kansoy said significant numbers now opposed the town’s return to the Greek Cypriots, and the best solution would be for Morphou to become a federal zone.
But not all feel this way. A group called ‘We Will not Give a Handful of Soil’ vehemently oppose the return of the town because people have lived there for 42 years and had built a life.
On the political front the Turkish Cypriot UBP (national unity party) and DP (democratic party) have always opposed the return of the town, while leftist parties such as CTP (Republican Turkish Party) and Social Democratic Party (TDP) are basically following the lead of Akinci.
But beyond and behind all that is Turkey.
Back in February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the Turkish Cypriot leadership not to deviate from the provisions of the Annan plan.
Except, that is, for the return of Morphou.
“Because the Annan plan was not accepted [a return of Morphou] is not on the table,” Turkish newspaper Milliyet quoted him
as saying, citing the fact that it is one of the most fertile areas on the island.
This was further reinforced by an article in Thursday’s Turkish Cypriot Afrika paper.
Under the title “The actual maximalist”, Mehmet Levent reported that on the eve of the Mont Pelerin talks, Erdogan had sent the message that “Morphou can never be returned” and that “a territory below 30 per cent can never be accepted”.
“This message was the last sign that the Mont Pelerin summit would collapse,” wrote Levent.
But if there is any hope that Morphou might be returned, then there are signs that a slightly younger generation of Greek Cypriots from the area might accept a deal.
“I believe they want to solve it,” said Kyriacos (who only gave his first name), a Greek Cypriot from Zodhia, a village just south of Morphou. “Maybe these are games by Turkey to win what it wants. I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic.”
Kyriacos, who voted to return in 2004, wants to go back to his home in Zodhia, which he was forced to leave when he was seven.
His family are friends with the Turkish Cypriots living in their home who are from Paphos originally. The two families have gone to respective family weddings.
In his 50s, divorced, with a daughter that’s expected to graduate next year, Kyriacos has some property in the village, which he would like to use to secure his daughter’s future, if possible.
“I would go back under any administration, I have no problem,” he told the Sunday Mail. “I don’t want to die in a two-bedroom flat.”
(Additional reporting by the Sunday Mail’s correspondent in northern Cyprus)