The issue of the ghost town of Varosha emerged again this week as it has done several times in the past but Famagusta Mayor Alexis Galanos believes this time it should not be allowed to fade away and called on President Nicos Anastiasiades to seize the opportunity and raise the matter with the UN of its return to its lawful owners.
In an interview with the Cyprus Mail, the mayor of the Turkish-occupied town said Varosha could and should be discussed independently of a comprehensive solution.
The veteran politician also censured the Greek Cypriot side for losing sight of the important aspects of the Cyprus problem, focusing instead on other matters like natural gas and development.
“This is an opportunity for the Greek Cypriot side to raise the issue,” which has been gradually buried over the past 45 years,” Galanos said.
Varosha, essentially the southern quarter of the city of Famagusta, is located on Cyprus’ east coast. In 1974, it was the most developed tourist resort on the island with modern hotels and facilities.
Turkey never planned to occupy the area but its 40,000 Greek Cypriot inhabitants abandoned it ahead of the advancing Turkish army in August 1974 and it has remained uninhabited ever since.
The Turkish army subsequently fenced-off the town and prohibits access to most areas apart from a couple of beach hotels in the north.
Two UN Security Council resolutions, 550 in 1984 and 789 in 1992, called on Turkey to hand over the town to the UN to be resettled by its lawful inhabitants but to no avail as the Turkish side chose to keep it as a bargaining chip.
The matter keeps cropping up at various junctures but no agreement can be struck and the town meanwhile has been rendered uninhabitable.
It came to the fore this week after Turkish Cypriot officials suggested it would be reopened for settlement. Turkish Cypriot ‘prime minister’ Ersin Tatar even said it would be turned into Las Vegas.
“In a way this resurrected the issue of Famagusta,” Galanos said. “The government must retable the issue of Varosha independent of the talks.”
The mayor said Varosha should become a top priority for the government because “if we lose Varosha, we lose the last step to a solution.”
Galanos said Anastasiades must ask the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General to take action on the matter.
On Friday, the municipality called on all Famagustans to assemble outside the presidential palace to demand from the president to set Varosha as a priority and insist on implementing the UN resolutions.
“We are determined … to loudly insist that the issue of Famagusta can no longer be swept under the carpet domestically and abroad,” Galanos said.
He is also concerned over recent talk that Anastasiades could also be considering a two-state solution.
“It is an opportunity for the government to put things straight.”
He said it appeared that some people could not care less.
“To some, the Cyprus problem today is Limassol, the towers, (selling) passports, and natural gas, if we ever manage to extract it; they are indifferent of human rights,” he said.
Although the Turkish Cypriot administration backpedaled on Friday, saying it never spoke of opening Varosha, only cataloguing the condition of properties, that is little consolation to Galanos.
It is universally accepted that the town cannot become functional again without major construction work and funding, but Galanos believes all the fuss is about the coastal area with its plush golden sand.
It would not be hard for Turkey to find investors, knock down the old hotels and construct new ones, he said.
Galanos did not rule out more events in a bid to rekindle the issue.
“We call on all our fellow citizens and organised groups of our city to set aside any personal differences and join forces with the municipality in a spirit of togetherness so as to achieve our goal.”
A protest is being organised for Friday June 28 at the presidential palace to hand over a memo to the president insisting on the implementation of UN resolutions on Varosha.