Ghost town Varosha in Cyprus to become tourist attraction
Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities have decided to turn Varosha, which has remained abandoned and uninhabited for 46 years, into a major tourism destination.
The people of Turkey and Turkish Cyprus will not accept deadlock as the fate of the long-divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay on Feb. 15.
Oktay’s remarks came during a meeting on the legal, political and economic aspects of reopening the abandoned town of Varosha in the Turkish Cypriot city of Famagusta.
“Maraş [Varosha] belongs to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC],” Oktay said, using the Turkish name for the city.
“Steps by the TRNC for the economy and welfare of the area are legitimate.”
Last year, Oktay said Varosha would reopen after properties in the town were fairly returned to their rightful owners on the basis of historic documents.
Due to the high-level participation of Turkey and the Turkish Cyprus governments, the meeting on Feb. 15, organized by Turkish Bars Association, turned into a “Varosha summit.”
Apart from Vice President Oktay, Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay, Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, lawmakers, representatives of political parties, lawyers and representatives of non-governmental organizations attended the summit.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Oktay said that the city had not hosted such a big meeting since 1974, when the city was closed to civilian settlement.
Varosha is currently an abandoned town where entry is forbidden except for Turkish Cypriot security forces and Turkish army personnel stationed in Turkish Cyprus.
Abandoned after the passage of resolution 550 of 1984 UN Security Council, the “inventory count” decision in Varosha was announced by Turkish Cypriot authorities on June 18, 2019.
Stating that Varosha belongs to Turkish Cyprus, Oktay emphasized that the city turned into a ghost city in time.
“Our soldiers have been in Varosha since 1974. We want civilians to live now. This was a center of attraction, but now it has turned into a city where mice live. The buildings fell. Keeping the city closed cannot be accepted either legally, politically or economically,” Oktay said.
Stating that Varosha was Ottoman foundation land, Oktay said that the property in the city would be returned to the rightful owners in accordance with the international law.
“Foundation possessions cannot be sold or transferred. In Nicosia, we will produce a solution through the Immovable Property Commission, which is also accepted by the ECHR. Claimant Greek Cypriots will also apply,” Oktay added.
Turkish Cypriot leader criticizes the meeting
Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı, who had not been invited to the meeting, stressed that Varosha should not remain closed, but the steps to be taken should be in international law.
“It makes sense if it is handled in a way that contributes to the solution [in Cyprus] without conflict with the U.N.,” Akıncı said.
“Otherwise, this initiative, which was held before a near future election, was very faulty in terms of participation, scope and timing. It is also obvious that it will not serve the desired goal,” he added.
Varosha, a former resort suburb of Famagusta, was abandoned and declared a buffer zone between the communities of the island after the Turkish military intervened as a guarantor power following a Greece-inspired coup attempt in 1974.
Before the split of Cyprus 45 years ago, Varosha was a popular destination for Hollywood stars and wealthy tourists.
Before the closure, there were more than 100 hotels in Varosha, with an accommodation capacity of 10,000.
The closure came at a time when hundreds of new construction projects were underway. The town also hosted a rich library that offered books in Turkish, Greek and English.
Abandoned after the passage of a 1984 UN Security Council resolution, Varosha (Maraş) in Cyprus is currently a ghost town where entry is forbidden.