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Our View: President running out of opportunities for Varosha

Back in the 1983 presidential elections, nine years after the invasion, many refugees from Famagusta supported the candidacy of Glafcos Clerides because they hoped a win for the then Disy leader would lead to their return. Varosha, as the town is also known, had been fenced off by the occupation troops and kept empty, in contrast to the rest of occupied area, raising hopes among its inhabitants that it would be re-opened and they would return to their homes.

The main reason they backed Clerides was because incumbent Spyros Kyprianou, who was standing for re-election, rejected an offer for the return of Famagusta in 1978. The fenced area of the town would have been returned on the commencement of negotiations on an American-Canadian settlement plan. In other words, even if the negotiations subsequently failed, the residents of the town would have returned. Famagustans could not swing an election, especially as businessmen in towns in the free areas saw the Varosha return as a threat to their interests, and Kyprianou secured another term.

Many years have passed since then, with Famagusta refugees calling for the return of the town and being censured by the patriotic camp for being selfish and willing to sacrifice the rest of the occupied areas so they could go back to their homes. In 2003 Rauf Denktash, in an attempt to disengage from talks on the Annan plan, offered the return of Famagusta to Tassos Papadopoulos in exchange for the restrictions on trade, transport and travel on the north being lifted and free movement being introduced. Papadopoulos rejected this on the grounds that he wanted a comprehensive settlement based on the Annan plan.

In 2014 US Vice President Joe Biden undertook an initiative envisaging the creation of a joint committee of Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and international experts to carry out a study on the re-building of the town. It also envisaged a study on modernising Famagusta port, which the Turkish Cypriot side claimed was rejected by the Cyprus government, something the latter has denied. The fact is that Biden’s initiative got nowhere and another opportunity to open the town was missed, even though the return of residents was out of the question because Varosha is uninhabitable now. A joint effort by the two sides to come up with a reconstruction plan for the derelict town in which no human had lived for 40 years could have been the ideal confidence-building measure but it also ended up in the missed opportunities bin.

Now the Turkish Cypriot side, most probably with Ankara’s blessing, has decided it is time to take over the ghost town. A few weeks ago ‘foreign minister’ Kudret Ozersay announced that a survey would be carried out by experts with a view to start the reconstruction of the town. Visits to the town have already taken place, while Ozersay has also claimed the ownership of most of the town, on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot religious foundation Evkaf. He would however allow Greek Cypriots to return if they wanted to do so. ‘Prime minister’ Ersin Tatar meanwhile has boasted the town could be turned into the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean.

In Friday’s meeting with Mustafa Akinci, President Anastasiades will no doubt bring up the matter but it is questionable whether he will get anywhere as the Turkish Cypriot leader exercises no control over Ozersay, who has made the re-opening of Varosha his cause. What can Anastasiades do under the circumstances? He can cite the UN Security Council resolutions about the return of the town’s inhabitants which have never been implemented. He could ask for the establishment of a joint committee of experts to study the reconstruction, but why would the Turkish Cypriots agree to this when they can do it on their own, with impunity.

The reality is he has no options. He does not have the power to stop the Turks from eventually opening up Famagusta under the regime’s control. Every opportunity of the past to have the town returned to the Greek Cypriot side has been spurned and now it seems even the hope that it would be returned one day, which was fed to its inhabitants by lying politicians for the last 40 years, has been dashed. We hope we are wrong, but the indications are that the well of opportunity has dried up.

 

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