The reopening of the fenced area of Varosha for settlement is in line with international law and the north’s position on a two-state solution, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said on Friday, a year to the day after part of the former tourist resort was opened to visitors for the first time since 1974.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Tatar said the move had brought many benefits for the Turkish Cypriots in terms of tourism, the economy but also politically.
The opening of part of the fenced area of Varosha on October 8 last year was condemned by the government, the EU, UN and several countries with calls on Turkey to reverse this action.
Plans for the gradual opening of Varosha for settlement, dubbed the ‘Varosha Initiative’, is according to Tatar, a step taken in the right direction to address the grievances of former residents and property owners. He said this idea was first raised during his term as ‘prime minister’.
Tatar said that the initiative had allowed foreign nationals and also Greek Cypriots to visit the reopened parts of Varosha.
He said Varosha had remained closed for decades with the idea that it would be returned to the Greek Cypriot side in the event of a settlement, but that all efforts to reach a solution have failed. He said this was due to the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigent stance.
“It was out of the question to keep Varosha closed after all these developments,” he said.
On the property issue, Tatar reiterated the Turkish Cypriot side’s position that Varosha originally belonged to religious foundations but that the properties were unlawfully given by the British colonial administration to Greek Cypriots. He pointed out that until 1960, rent was paid for buildings and property belonging to Turkish Cypriot religious endowment foundation Evkaf.
Though Britain, prior to granting Cyprus independence paid over one million pounds to the Turkish Cypriot community in full and final settlement of all claims that they may have had to Evkaf properties, the foundation now claims its properties were illegally detached from it during the British colonial period.
Tatar said, however, that the property claims of former residents would be addressed through the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) which recognises pre-1974 title deeds.
According to Tatar, there were currently 400 applications by Greek Cypriots pending at the IPC, set up by Turkey in the north as a domestic remedy to the properties issue.
Last summer, the Turkish Cypriot side announced that it would open a small part of Varosha, 3.5 per cent of the fenced area, for settlement, calling on property owners to file their claims to the IPC.
Tatar said that the Greek Cypriot side was advising people not to apply to the IPC claiming that this would be an act of treason. “The property owners however are ignoring these calls, stating that their authorities have tricked them for the past 47 years with false hopes of a settlement,” he said.
Tatar also reportedly said that the Varosha Initiative could be expedited if more Greek Cypriots apply to the IPC. Stating that Varosha would always be part of the north, Tatar said that Greek Cypriots will be allowed to return to their homes. “It is up to them if they want to move back and live there. If not, they are free to sell their properties,” he said.
He also said that the north was acting in line with international law and would reinstate the rights of former residents through the IPC. The initiative, he added, was also in line with the Turkish Cypriot side’s position for a two-state solution in Cyprus.
“New borders were drawn in 1974 and there is no way we can return to the way things were in the past,” he added.