On Tuesday it will be 47 years, to the day since the first Turkish invasion troops set foot in Cyprus. Within four weeks of this day the troops had taken control of more than a third of the Republic’s territory, causing death and destruction in the process. Close to 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled, to save themselves from the advancing troops, leaving behind their homes, belongings and livelihoods. These people, whom we refer to as the refugees, over these five decades, have been fed thousands of empty promises and false hopes by the politicians, of all persuasions, whose main interest was the advancement of their careers.
In the years after the invasion, they were given countless assurances they would all return to their homes and that no settlement would be signed that did not guarantee their right to return, later modified to ‘right of return’. Once we entered the 21st century, the promise was amended and they were told the objective was to secure the return of as many as possible, while the rest (about 50 per cent) would be compensated for the loss of their property. In the meantime, they were offered some cash assistance to build a house, buy a flat or given a title deed to the property in the refugee estate they were housed in.
During the 2004 referendum campaign for the Annan plan, which would have allowed some 80,000 refugees to return to their homes under Greek Cypriot administration (territory would have been returned), the opponents of the settlement told refugees they could secure compensation or return of their property by applying to the European Court of Human Rights. It was just another lie, the ECHR was not willing to waste its time on hundreds of applications; instead, the Immovable Property Commission was set up in the north to look at all applications. People who did apply were criticised by the politicians and made to feel guilty for betraying the Greek Cypriot cause.
We are witnessing the same script now that the Turkish government has decided to open the fenced area of Famagusta for settlement. The government, through its officials, is advising the people of the town, not to apply to return to their properties in the event the Turkish authorities invited them to do so because this would somehow harm the Greek Cypriot side’s case. The audacity of this advice defies belief. The fenced area of Varosha has been empty for 47 years, the Turks having decided it could be returned in the event of a settlement. The town’s return was offered in 1978, without a settlement, but was turned down by President Kyprianou and Akel; in 2004 Greek Cypriots voted against its return in the referendum, while in 2017, at Crans Montana, President Anastasiades spurned the offer of the return of Famagusta and Morphou by walking out of the talks.
Turkey has been taking small steps in opening up the fenced area, and an announcement about its plans is expected to be made by President Erdogan on his visit on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the invasion. The national council met to discuss Varosha on Wednesday and we were told that decisions were taken that would be implemented depending on developments. Anticipating an announcement by Erdogan, Anastasiades said he expected a reaction from the UN and EU adding that every effort “was aimed at preventing any fait accompli sought by Turkey”. The irony is that Anastasiades and his predecessors had paved the way for the fait accompli. In the last 17 years there were two big opportunities for preventing the fait accompli but they spurned both.
Was anyone under the illusion that Turkey would keep the fenced area of Varosha closed for another 50 years? Perhaps this was yet another bad miscalculation, one more added to the long list, for which no politician ever takes responsibility. Why would they, when they can blame all their failures on Turkey’s intransigence and their own principled embrace of human rights. In the 47 years since the invasion, despite the big words and promises, they have not secured the return of a single refugee to their home and failed to reclaim a square inch of the occupied territory. And now, even the slim hopes of the return of the fenced area of Varosha are fast disappearing. Meanwhile Anastasiades is telling people from the town to “be patient” with no irony intended.
Perhaps our political establishment had written off all the occupied territory, because they were never willing to pay the price for the return of land and withdrawal of occupation troops – sharing power with the Turkish Cypriots. If they had a shred of honesty, they would have made this clear, instead of keeping it secret and feeding refugees with false hopes and lies for 47 years.
And Anastasiades, who has created the conditions for the Turks to move with the opening of Varosha, has the nerve to tell Famagustans to ‘be patient’! For what? For more lies by political leaders or for the completion of the partition process?