Turkish Cypriot plans to open a part of the abandoned city on a divided island have been criticized as “illegal and unacceptable.”
Varosha, a fenced-off abandoned area under Turkish control, was abandoned after the 1974 invasion that split Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced earlier on Tuesday that the 3.5 square kilometer plot of Varosha would move from military to civilian control so that escaped Greek Cypriots could try to reclaim their property through the Real Estate Commission (IPC), a legal entity , which is authorized to consider such cases.
This happened when Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to the country on the occasion of the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus.
But Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades called the move “illegal and unacceptable.”
Some Greek Cypriots fear that the change in the status of the area indicates a clear intention of Turkey to appropriate it.
EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell expressed “deep concern” about the move, saying it threatens peace talks.
He added that this is “an unacceptable unilateral decision to change the status of Varosha.”
Despite a UN Security Council resolution granting residents the right to return to Varosha, Ankara has retained this as leverage in the dispute.
Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was the tourist center of Cyprus until 1974 thanks to its pristine beaches and modern hotels. After 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents of Varosha fled from the advancing Turkish forces, the area was fenced off to prevent any access until last year, when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its “opening”.
Former residents of Varosha condemned the move as an attempt to take advantage of their despair over the future of the area and psychologically force them to sell their property. Many Turkish Cypriots have also condemned the move as undermining ongoing efforts to bring reconciliation between the two communities.
Famagusta Mayor Simos Ioannou told The Associated Press the statement on Tuesday was intended to test the Greek Cypriot’s determination to keep their property. According to Ioannou, the fact that only a small part, and not the entire residential area of Varosha has been reopened, intends to blunt international reaction to the move.
The Cyprus conflict is known as the “graveyard of diplomats”. Numerous rounds of UN-mediated negotiations ended in failure following the Turkish invasion that followed a coup to unite the island with Greece.
The breakaway “state” of the Turkish Cypriots, proclaimed in the north, is recognized only by Turkey, while the Republic of Cyprus has an internationally recognized government headed by Greek Cypriots. Cyprus has also been a member of the EU since 2004.