Why were Greek Cypriot politicians taken by surprise by the announcement that the Famagusta seafront would be opened to the public today? Had they not heard that this was the Turkish plan before Tuesday, when it was publicly announced in Ankara by President Erdogan and his favoured candidate in Sunday’s elections, ‘prime minister’ Ersin Tatar?
It was more than a year ago that the Turkish Cypriots had announced they would open the fenced area of Varosha, taking journalists on a tour of the ghost town as well as government officials from Turkey. Tatar had even boasted at the time that the town would be turned into the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean, while there was even talk that property rights of Greek Cypriots would be respected.
None of this gave the impression the Turkish Cypriots were joking. And if confirmation were needed that this was not just rhetoric, the plan was publicly endorsed and repeatedly supported by Turkey in the last year or so. Even if Tuesday’s announcement was a ploy to assist Tatar in Sunday’s elections – ‘a campaign fiesta’, according to Cyprus’ government spokesman – this does not make the threat less real.
The Greek Cypriot leadership, which has been in denial about the opening of Famagusta, appear to have decided to take it seriously once they heard Erdogan talking about it. Not that there is much the government can do other than appeal to the UN Security Council, which it has done already, and seek condemnations of the Turkish actions that have already been secured from the UN secretary-general and the EU.
But as we all know, expecting anything tangible from the Security Council is a chimera, while the EU is unlikely to go beyond the verbal condemnations of this action, not wanting to jeopardise the dialogue it has set in motion with Turkey. In fact, the EU will take the view that the issue of Famagusta would be resolved by the same remedy prescribed for the EEZ dispute – a settlement of the Cyprus problem. This has become the prevailing view in the EU, evidenced in last week’s decision of the European Council.
This inevitably puts the Anastasiades government in a corner, as it has made ‘no moves on Famagusta’ a condition for returning to the talks. Now, it is said, the Famagusta announcement, was a ploy by Erdogan aimed at preventing the resumption of the talks. It could well be, but even if it were not, it smacks of bad faith. Is this the action of a country that wants to engage in meaningful and constructive talks that would reach a deal?
Of course not, but on the other hand it is yet another warning of what will happen if there is no Cyprus settlement, which can only be achieved through talks. It is also a warning of what will happen if there are no talks. Famagusta mayor Simos Ioannou, underlined the dilemma on Wednesday. “If talks do not take place now or in the near future, there will be division and in such a case the whole of Varosha will be lost.”