Turkish Cypriot leader’s move on abandoned town sparks action by Cyprus

Tatar says Greek Cypriots will be invited to return to Varosha amid invasion anniversary

During Tuesday's military parade to mark the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced a section of the abandoned and fenced-off town of Varosha will be opened and Greek Cypriots invited to return.

Flanked by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr Tatar said the Turkish military zone in Varosha would be closed and property owners who applied for restitution after fleeing the area amid the Turkish invasion would be eligible to resettle there.

“A process will now begin to everyone’s benefit and with respect to ownership rights. Instead of a symbol of non-solution, Varosha will become the symbol of future prosperity,” he said.

Returnees would be expected to live under the Ankara-funded Turkish Cypriot government.

In response to the declaration, Cyprus's foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides briefed the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and EU envoys. President Nicos Anastasiades meanwhile will preside over a meeting of party leaders on Wednesday.

A modern suburb of the medieval Famagusta port, Varosha was a residential town as well as a popular resort before the Turkish army occupied northern Cyprus in 1974 following the failed coup on the island by Greece's military junta.

After Greek Cypriots fled, Varosha was declared a no-go area by the UN and was seen as a bargaining chip during protracted negotiations on the reunification of the divided island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

In the absence of a settlement and in defiance of the UN, Turkey reopened Varosha's beachfront in 2020, and since the election of Mr Tatar to the presidency of the northern region last December, he and Mr Erdogan have rejected the internationally mandated federal model for Cyprus in favour of a "two-state solution" involving recognition of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state, which is recognised only by Turkey.

Conditions for return

Veteran Varosha campaigner and parliamentary candidate Anna Marangou said the city did not function at present, but if it was rebuilt she would go back. "I would get my house back, my land back," she told The Irish Times.

During his address to the Turkish Cypriot parliament on Monday, Mr Erdogan reiterated Turkey's support for the "two-state solution" and announced that Ankara would help build a new presidential palace and parliament building. "This is the expression of statehood. By realising this project, some will see what kind of a northern Cypriot state exists," he stated.

When Turkish Cypriot opposition legislators and politicians who reject the “two-state solution” and Turkey’s deepening influence in their affairs boycotted the session, their chairs were removed from the hall so he might not notice the snub.

During a recent visit to Cyprus, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen stated: "I want to repeat that we will never, never accept a two-state solution, we are firm on that and very united, and this is what Cyprus can expect."

The island’s Greek Cypriot majority republic joined the EU in 2004 and is regarded as having the sole government of the island, with the north as an area outside the government’s control. Most Turkish Cypriots have applied for and received Cypriot nationality while living in the north.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times