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Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 02, 2020
image: Reuters

The Cypriot resort of Varosha, which was abandoned decades ago when it suddenly became a battleground of a war between Greece and Turkey, may become a tourist hotspot once again under new post-coronavirus plans.

The once-glittering Mediterranean seaside town, a southern suburb of the eastern city of Famagusta, has been fenced off and abandoned since Turkey invaded Cyprus five days after a Greek-inspired coup on July 15, 1974.

It was considered one of the most popular holiday resorts in the world in the early 1970s, with high-profile visitors including Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton seen wandering along its golden beaches.

It is even thought that ABBA played their first concert here, while on holiday in 1970 before they were officially a band. They are said to have rehearsed in one of the rental apartment blocks in the town, Twiga towers.

Now Turkish officials say the seaside town could one day reopen and work on the crumbling area is expected to pick up again once the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a de facto state recognised only by Turkey which comprises the northeastern portion of the island of Cyprus. The international community considers the TRNC's territory as Turkish-occupied territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

A Greek coup sparked a Turkish invasion of the island on July 20, 1974, and the town has remained eerily silent ever since the second wave invasion a month later.

The invasion drove out 39,000 inhabitants of the city, before the Turkish forces took control the area, and has remained derelict ever since.

Journalists are banned from entering the town, which is now recognised by Turkey as being under the sovereignty of the TRNC.

In 1984 a UN security resolution barred resettlement of the area.

Residents have never returned to their homes or even re-entered the fenced-off area where now only Turkish military are allowed.

In its hey-day, the population grew to 39,000 and became a millionaire's playground where they soaked up the rays across vast beaches or on the balconies of their deluxe apartments.

The land alone is expected to be valued at around $100billion.

After decades of neglect, high-rise hotels and apartments, restaurants and residences are crumbling, and the land has been reclaimed by overgrown vegetation, although the untouched beach and crystal-clear water look as inviting as ever.

The deserted city has become almost trapped in time and one of the world's most famous ghost towns, attracting photographers from around the world.

Previous attempts to reopen the resort have failed. A UN resolution of 1984 unsuccessfully called for the handover of Varosha to UN control and prohibits any attempt to resettle it by anyone other than those who were forced out.

Meanwhile, in 2003, travel restrictions were eased for the first time, allowing Cypriots on both sides to cross the UN Buffer Zone, commonly known as the 'Green Line'.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tried to allow the city's original inhabitants to return to the city but this was rejected by the The Republic of Cyprus in a referendum in 2004.

Now, Turkey is acting without Greece to reopen the town to the tourist industry.

Turkish officials met in the abandoned town on February 15 to discuss potentially re-opening the area after 46 years.

Speaking in Varosha after touring the area, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said: 'Keeping this coast of paradise under the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus idle is not acceptable legally, politically or economically.'

TRNC premier Ersin Tatar recently issued a statement announcing that work to reopen the town had been delayed for the past months due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that it will gain momentum again once the pandemic is over, Turkish publication Daily Sabah reported.

It remains to be seen how the TRNC authorities will prepare the area for reopening, and what will happen to the hundreds of abandoned Greek Cypriot properties currently under Turkish control.

Some experts say the town requires rebuilding almost from scratch as many of the buildings have become dilapidated and overrun with nature, requiring demolition and rebuilding from scratch.


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