Greek Cypriots in last ditch effort to ‘save Varosha’
The foreign minister of the Republic of Cyprus says a proposal to lift international embargos on Ercan airport in the north is “the only way to save Varosha” for Greek Cypriots, but it may be too little too late for the seasoned diplomat as Turkish Cypriots say the ghost town is now off the table.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, who recently visited Washington right after being reappointed to his post, said on Monday that the United States was receptive to Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to be proposed by the south.
Last month President Nicos Anastasiades hinted at a renewed CBM effort on the ethnically-divided island which would see the administration of both the abandoned ghost town of Varosha as well as Ercan airport transferred over to the United Nations.
“I don’t see any other way to save Varosha, no other power or effort can bring this about,” Kasoulides told state radio on Monday morning, adding that “Varosha will be saved by us.”
Last week Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar moved quickly to reject CBM offers regarding Ercan, an airport not recognized officially by any country except Turkey, and the abandoned town of Varosha, also known as Maras in Turkish, before any proposals were ever made official.
“When we look at the proposal, it is said that we should return Maras and that Ercan Airport may be opened to direct flights under the auspices of the United Nations. We cannot accept such a thing,” Tatar said.
But Kasoulides, responding to the radio host who suggested similar measures had been proposed in the past, said Brussels and Washington would have an assistive role in the effort, with the seasoned diplomat adding that the effort by Greek Cypriots would rely on a full-fledged campaign this time around.
The CBM discussion came about in the south as Anastasiades warned Greek Cypriots holding Varosha title deeds not to fall into what he described as a trap in the north by filing property claims through a commission in the north.
The south was angered recently after an internationally-recognized Immovable Property Commission in the north announced it would allow Evkaf, a Muslim charity dating back to the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1571, to be an “interested party” in regards to property claim applications made by Greek Cypriots on Varosha.
But the issue also comes after a heated debate in the north last month over flight costs out of Ercan, following a proposed idea by some Turkish Cypriot officials to list the area as a Turkish province for aviation purposes in order to bring ticket prices down.
Ercan, also known as Tymbou in Greek, is an airport linking the north with Turkey but remains under restrictions imposed by sanctions following a refusal by Greek Cypriots, who represent the Republic globally, to list the airport as a legal port of entry.
“By this exchange, Turkish Cypriots won’t have any basis to claim they are isolated,” Kasoulides argued, reiterating this was the “only way to save Varosha.”
Cyprus has been ethnically split over half a century with UN-backed efforts failing decade after decade to reach political settlement, with the biggest failure being a rejection of a plan that would have Varosha return under Greek Cypriot administration.
The ghost town, once a thriving resort for Hollywood stars, had been kept closed to civilians after Greek Cypriots fled town in August 1974, a month after Turkish troops landed on the island in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup days earlier.