New hopes may arise from ruins of Varosha

New hopes may arise from ruins of Varosha

If no wholesome resolution of the Cyprus problem is probable, perhaps the old idea of compartmentation might be revisited. That idea did not succeed in the past, but what idea can succeed in bringing about a Cyprus breakthrough? None have worked so far for more than six decades.

Jane Hall Lute, the temporary special Cyprus advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez, will be back on the island this weekend. She is scheduled to start as early as Sunday her second round of exploration for a five+one unofficial Cyprus summit. The job is difficult. The sides have different expectations from such a summit. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have been saying in all clarity that they won’t talk federation that was proved unattainable in talks since the 1970s and might go to such a meeting to discuss a two-state resolution, while the Greek Cypriots have been saying they would discuss nothing but a federal resolution.

Could these two totally incompatible positions be reconciled? Probably not a diplomat but a magician is needed to achieve that. The Greek Cypriot leadership, anyhow, has already started flirting with the idea of compartmentation of the Cyprus problem by floating the idea that in exchange for the Turks placing Varosha under interim U.N. administration and allowing the Greek Cypriots to return to the ghost city they abandoned after the 1974 Turkish intervention, the Ercan airport – the former Timbo – might be opened again to international aviation under the U.N. rule. Both Varosha and Ercan would remain part of the Turkish Cypriot territory pending a final settlement.

Why is the Greek Cypriot leadership considering such a move, which was indeed included in many confidence-building packages – the most serious one during the Finnish term presidency of the EU more than a decade ago – that, collapsed mostly with a stubborn “oxi” (no) reply from the Greek Cypriot side? There might be tons of probabilities. But let me cite the most prominent.

With support or prodding from Ankara, the Turkish Cypriots in the runup to the last presidential vote took an unprecedented step and not only declared its intention to open up Varosha under its rule for the resettlement of the districts pre-1974 owners but also opened an avenue and allowed people to enjoy the famous Varosha beaches. The ownership of most of the properties of the district is still disputable, but yet it was made clear that the rights of the former owners, as well as tenants, would be protected.

Unlike other people who migrated from North Cyprus after the Turkish intervention, former Varosha residents were not compensated by the Greek Cypriot government as most of them were well off enough not to ask for government support. Decades have passed, and they remain the most organized “refugee” group, politically very active and capable. For some time, most people in this group have been saying that they cared less about the color of the flag flying over their properties, and if allowed, they may return and resettle under Turkish rule.

If a considerable number of Greek Cypriots returned to live under the Turkish Cypriot flag, including the Greek Cypriot enforced economic and political isolation of the Turkish Cypriot state, they would suffer a severe blow.
Secondly, if Cyprus talks this way or the other cannot be revived, particularly in view of the fact that at the collapsed talks at Crans Montana in the summer of 2017 in which all the demands of the Greek Cypriot side were agreed and where Turkish Cypriot Nicos Anastasiades threw in the towel and walked away saying he could not deliver a power-sharing deal to his people, recognition of the Turkish state might become a possibility, at least among countries with closer ties with Turkey.

Varosha has been a ghost town since 1974. It became a district in its ruined state, with collapsed infrastructures and substructures. Yet, if the idea of stopping Varosha’s opening under the Turkish Cypriot rule, placing it under interim U.N. administration in exchange for Ercan opening up to international traffic can be agreed upon, then that might be the start of building a common future. Yes, a future built on ruins. Initially, the Turkish Cypriot side rejected this proposal, which was not officially presented anyhow. Yet, if Greek Cypriots enhance this offer to include Famagusta port to be opened to international traffic as well, probably it would be a golden chance for taking some important steps towards a Cyprus deal.

Rather than discussing to share the odds, probably it might be better to share the resources. Such a package should also include the establishment of an ad-hoc commission or a joint company affiliated with the U.N. to make the best use of the hydrocarbon riches off the island.

Is Anastasiades that smart? Can the Turkish Cypriots grab such a hand for mutual cooperation?

New hopes may be developed from the ruins of Varosha…

Note: Next week, I will not be able to write as I will be administering a week-long e-conference on media freedom in Turkey.