The controversial reopening of the Cetinkaya football stadium in the buffer zone is expected this week despite efforts by the Greek side to suspend the works, Turkish Cypriot media reported on Tuesday.
The reconstruction works on the ‘Taksim’ Nicosia stadium have been completed and the stadium will open later this week, the press office in the north announced.
Works started following an agreement between Unficyp, the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey in October. The stadium, which was used by Cetinkaya football team, had been closed since 2014, when it was used for a special stage of the Cyprus International Rally.
The United Nations accepted the stadium be given back to Cetinkaya to use only for training.
As part of the works, grass was planted on the pitch, the pitch lines were reset, and nets were installed.
Cetinkaya chairman Suleiman Yemen thanked Turkey for its support and expressed his happiness that after a long struggle, they were getting the stadium back, the Cyprus News Agency said, citing his statements to the Turkish news agency.
“This place has spiritual value for us. It is the soil of the homeland,” Yemen said.
He noted that they will return to the stadium in the second week of January “with an enthusiastic opening” in the presence of their fans.
According to a sports history researcher and author, the stadium was called Tzirit, which means spear, until 1958, when it was renamed Taksim, translating as partition, by Fazil Kiouchiuk, due to the pro-partition position of the then Turkish Cypriot leadership in favour of the partition of Cyprus.
The stadium has hosted many European teams, alongside Turkish teams such as Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, the author added.
Back in October, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides had a “strong and stern” phone conversation with Unficyp head Colin Stewart over the stadium works agreed with the north because permission had not been sought from the Republic of Cyprus.
Kasoulides at the time “expressed his intense uneasiness of our side for the way Mr Stewart and Unficyp handle their mandate in Cyprus, in a way that creates complications and problems mainly to the detriment of our side.”
He asked Stewart for the immediate suspension of the works so that there could be a consultation with the government and to explain the rationale that led Unficyp to granting a work permit without the consent of the Republic.
He also recommended the UN “avoid actions that could be exploited by the Turkish Cypriots to upgrade the breakaway regime”.
Unficyp spokesperson Aleem Siddique had said any suggestion that the status of the stadium had changed was wrong and misleading.
The site would be used for football practice only, as it has been used in the past, with strict regulations in place to manage its use and protect its status within the buffer zone.