Occupied Northern Cyprus Ghost Town May Be Opened Soon for Settlement

A Turkish military sign inside the “Forbidden Zone” of Varosha in Famagusta, Cyprus. Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images


A ghost town in Cyprus’s Turkish-controlled north will be resettled and thrown open to investment, in an apparent bid to win international recognition of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state as Ankara pursues energy claims in contested waters off the island’s shore.

Greek Cypriots who dominated the area before its 1974 takeover by the Turks will be among those able to reclaim lost property as the plan -- branded as an economic stimulus program -- gets underway.

“There should be dialog between the two communities on the island on all issues: Varosha, property issues and energy resources around the island,” a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, said in an interview on Saturday.

“If the Greek Cypriots want to come, claim their property, pay for it, run businesses, etc., it will be possible,” once legal issues are resolved, Kalin said.

Turkey and Cyprus are at loggerheads over offshore gas reserves around the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where the Republic of Cyprus is an EU member state and officially has sovereignty over the entire island.

But the island has been effectively divided into two since Turkey’s military captured the northern third in 1974, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite Cyprus with Greece. The Turkish minority’s self-proclaimed state in the north, recognized only by Ankara, also claims rights to any energy resources discovered off its coast.

Varosha, near the port of Famagusta, had been the island’s premier tourist resort before it was abandoned and sealed off following the Turkish takeover of northern Cyprus. Investment in trade and tourism in the town would imply recognition of Turkey’s control, and the plan to reopen it threatens to deepen growing strains with Cyprus and its ally Greece over natural gas drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the immediate term, at least, Turkish Cypriots are likeliest to benefit from any economic activity in the town, where ruined beachfront apartment buildings, villas, a fur shop and an Alfa Romeo dealer are partly overrun by tangles of ivy.

Ersin Tatar, the prime minister of the breakaway Turkish enclave, told CNN-Turk that more than 200 applications to reclaim properties in Varosha have been submitted and are being reviewed. Turkey kept Varosha closed and uninhabited after its Greek-speaking residents abandoned during the 1974 intervention.

Tensions in the region flared in August after Turkey resumed exploration and launched naval exercises in an area of the eastern Mediterranean where its claims are contested by Cyprus. Ankara on Monday extended seismic work by its research vessel, the Oruc Reis, through Aug. 27 in the contested waters.

German-mediated negotiations with Greece collapsed after the Athens government announced a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt on Aug. 6, similar to a Turkey-Libya deal in December. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to arrive in Turkey on Tuesday in a new mediation attempt.

“We will continue our exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean in areas which we believe belong to the Turkish continental shelf,” Kalin said, while noting Turkey doesn’t have an immediate drilling plan.

“We do not want to see any escalation and tensions in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said, adding that any discovery in those waters should be shared by all.


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