Turkish Cyprus can welcome Greek Cypriots back to ghost town Varosha

Turkish Cyprus can welcome Greek Cypriots back to ghost town Varosha

Before the division of Cyprus in 1974, Varosha - a resort town in Famagusta - was booming. The coastline was reportedly a destination for film stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

It is now a ghost town. Its hotels, restaurants and high-rise structures looming over sandy beaches have been slowly decaying.

The Turkish side has never opened it to new settlers, knowing that it will remain under Greek administration in case of a permanent settlement. But even those who have always been in favor of a settlement are now realizing there is no solution in sight.

The hopes of those who genuinely believed in the reunification of the island dashed especially after the collapse of the last round of negotiations in Switzerland last July. After all, even if Nikos Anastasiades on the Greek side and Mustafa Akıncı on the Turkish side, who were supposedly known to be the most pro-solution leaders, had failed to reach a compromise, that leaves no room for realistic optimism. So if this is the end of the road in terms of a negotiated solution with Greek Cyprus, what should be the strategy to be followed by the Turkish Cypriots?

In my previous article, I had mentioned the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which had recognized the Immovable Property Commission set up in Turkish Cyprus as an effective remedy for the property claims of the Greek Cypriots. The commission had received more than 5000 applications from Greek Cypriots, but the commission’s work had slowed down due to the peace talks, and had come to a standstill recently as the Turkish government cut the flow of money necessary for compensations.

The commission so far did not have a specific priority in finalizing the applications. But if it were to be reactivated; it could start from prioritizing cases from Güzelyurt (Morphu), which was completely inhabited by Greek Cypriots before the division, as well as Varosha. In Güzelyurt, Greek Cypriots would be provided financial compensation, which in the end could decrease the number of those who want to come back and resettle. That way the Greek Cypriot administration’s request in a new round of negotiations (if it will ever take place again) for a return of Güzelyurt will be obstructed as it will lose its practical justification.

Varosha on the other hand could be open to its former inhabitants to return and resettle. This is a rather more complicated issue. Relevant U.N. Security Council decisions foresee the return of Varosha under the control of the U.N. But there are more than 100 applications in front of the Immovable Property Commission from Greek Cypriots who were residents of Varosha. If the commission quickly decides on their return to their original owners, the Greek Cypriot administration’s objections could be overturned, sighting the Euro Court decision that recognized the commission as a legitimate body.

But the decision has to have practical outcome for the applicants, they need to come back to start business by restoring their facility. That would require a quick restoration of infrastructures like water, electricity, and sewerage. And finally tax exemptions could be provided to compensate for the loss of use for the past 42 years.

Obviously most of the Greek Cypriots would not be happy to see this course of action. But even the most pro-solution circles in Turkey and Turkish Cyprus are fast coming to the conclusion that Greek Cypriots are not leaving any other option.

But the Greek Cypriots need not to worry. The course of action described above requires a high degree of sophisticated strategic thinking, which the Turkish government lacks currently. They are far busy with other priorities, like finding ways to silence dissent in Turkey.