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Intervention in north’s Famagusta elections

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A section of the opened up part of Varosha.

The fight for mayor is not simply a local election, it is about Varosha and Turkish control

Two Famagusta mayor candidates simultaneously withdrew from the upcoming municipal elections 24 hours after announcing their candidacy, prompting widespread conviction that Ankara is once again meddling in the elections in the northern part of Cyprus.

Both current mayor Ismail Arter and independent candidate Cem Dana were right-wing candidates, and their withdrawal favours the candidate of the ruling coalition National Unity Party UBP. The two independent candidates would have divided the right-wing votes and given a boost to opposition Republican Turkish Party CTP’s candidate.

İsmail arter gazimağusa belediye başkanı
Ismail Arter

“It is definite that there has been an intervention,” said opposition CTP’s deputy Erkut Şahali. “And it was a very effective intervention.”

The ruling UBP, Democratic Party DP, Rebirth Party YDP coalition has not been shy about stating that Famagusta is more important than the other cities because of the plans to open fenced-off Varosha.

In fact, speaking at a gathering in Famagusta earlier this week, head of UBP and the ruling coalition Ünal Üstel said they would “bring about the full Varosha opening together with Turkey”.

The ghost town of Varosha is among the places to be returned to its lawful former Greek Cypriot inhabitants under the control of the future Greek Cypriot constituent state within the framework of a comprehensive federal solution on the island. The Turkish government, in 2020 opened a part of Varosha to visits despite UN resolutions prohibiting the move. Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities have since been vocal about plans to take forward the “Varosha opening”.

“The Varosha opening is at the axis of the…policy we have developed with Turkey,” said YDP’s Erhan Arıklı shortly after the withdrawals by the Famagusta candidates. “What would happen to our Varosha opening if someone, who is against this national policy…took over?… How could Ismail Arter or Cem Dana shoulder the responsibility of losing the Famagusta municipality and hampering the Varosha opening?”

“Evil Alliance” was the headline of Bugün Kıbrıs. “The regime in Ankara made the right wing join in support of a single candidate with the aim of being able to pursue new tensions in Varosha.”

“They will sacrifice Varosha” was the headline of Ozgur Gazete.

Former senior judge Tacan Reynar took to social media criticising the intervention. “The biggest concern that led to the intervention in Famagusta is CTP winning this city,” he posted. “Because in that city, there is the prospect of looting… Some are salivating and waiting for Varosha. All this is because of that planned looting.”

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Cem Dana

The statements by the two withdrawing candidates, whom according to journalist Serhat İncirli were threatened, strengthened suspicions.

Current Famagusta mayor Arter, when announcing his decision, talked about “intense political activity in the last 24 hours”, and said he was withdrawing “in order not to create problems and grievances for the political parties that my voters belong to”.

Dana on the other hand, said: “I took this decision in light of our national cause, and our national policy that we are pursuing together with our motherland, the Republic of Turkey.”

Reports of an intervention by Ankara were never denied, but rather legitimised by the statements of the Turkish Cypriot administration. Visibly happy with the withdrawals, Üstel thanked Arter, who “has always supported our policies on the Cyprus problem, which we pursue together with our motherland Turkey, and who did not shy away from saying ‘nothing is important when national interests are at stake’.”

“I am pleased to hear that he has withdrawn his candidacy,” Üstel said about Dana, adding that this election is not simply a local election. “Dana has taken into consideration the projects that we have tabled for Famagusta, and our foreign policy we pursue through a common understanding with Turkey. I commend him for not insisting.”

The municipal elections are scheduled for 25 December 2022.

The withdrawals took place two days after the new Turkish ambassador Metin Feyzioğlu arrived in the northern part of Cyprus, and many believe this was not a coincidence. Feyzioğlu is one of the architects of the ‘Varosha opening’.

In fact, Turkish politician and intellectual Veysi Sarısözen wrote that Feyzioğlu has been sent to Cyprus by Turkish President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party AKP with a special mission. “As part of this mission, he will first seize Varosha,” Sarısözen said.

Back in 2020, when Feyzioğlu was the head of the Turkish Bar Association, he had organised a meeting on the “Legal, Political and Economic Aspects of the Varosha Opening” in the fenced-off city. The then-Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı was not invited to the meeting, where Feyzioğlu had argued that “North Cyprus has sovereignty over Varosha.” “The Varosha opening will serve as the solution of the Cyprus problem,” Feyzioğlu had said.

Later in the year, days before the election for the Turkish Cypriot leader, in a move widely seen as an attempt to sway results against former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, Turkish President Erdogan and Akinci’s rival Ersin Tatar announced the opening of part of the sealed-off city of Varosha.

On the day of the opening, Feyzioğlu tweeted: “Only the Turkish nation can decide on the future of closed off-city of Varosha. And it did. Varosha is now open. I am proud to have been part of this big dream… We still have a lot to do.”

And last weekend, a few days after the withdrawal of two mayor candidates, Metin Feyzioğlu visited Varosha and tweeted: “Varosha is under the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.”

UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN. Resolution 789 (1992) also calls that, with a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha.

An investigation on allegations of Turkey’s interference in the 2020 elections for the Turkish Cypriot leader had revealed shocking details of threats, pressures, and blackmailing against incumbent leader Mustafa Akinci, as well as other candidates and journalists. The report, published last year, by a team of civil society representatives, lawyers and researchers details blatant interference by Ankara in the elections in favour of right-wing politician and current Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar.

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