Famagusta Initiative in Berlin

Serdar Atai

Famagusta Initiative: Started by 2010, as a think-tank and active citizens’ initiative with pure volunteer contribution. It’s not registered as an ngo, no membership fees. And the activists keep it going with devoting their time and self funding.

The main drive was the shared attitude by its members that negotiation tables are not producing desired outcomes, they are entirely disconnected with ordinary people and the grassroots people should mobilise to have their voice heard by international community.

We promoted a CBM package for the return of Varosha to its legal owners under a transitional UN administration, the opening of Famagusta port to international free trade and an application to UNESCO for listing Famagusta Walled City’s unique cultural heritage. For us this would be the first step to comprehensive settlement giving an opportunity to people for working together and living together.

People were brainwashed by the propaganda machine of Turkey and its subordinate local administration in north that this package would never be considered before a comprehensive settlement. We organised many conferences, seminars, public debates and joined several media programs to transform the public opinion. We had tough times with the authorities, with different affiliated groups who were against us and as the time passed by, we realised that we had thousands of symphatisers in the region.

Of course it was not a coincidence and Famagusta Initiative tailiored its work around major sacrifices and sufferings of our region. Famagusta having highest level of youth unemployment, businesses experiencing biggest losses and going into bankruptcy one after another were our reference points.

Then we were approached by our GCYP counterparts from the region who were insipred by our struggle. They were people from Deryneia and Paralimni region having just the same problems we had. Among them there’re refugees from Varosha who had access to other refugees from Famagusta region.

Then we started working together for our common cause and vision: One Famagusta; a hinterland starting from Deryneia covering ghost town Varosha, today’s Famagusta up to ancient city of Salamis. Completely demilitarised, back to tourism business with the revival of Varosha , a Port allowing free commercial trade together with Cruise ships and medieval Famagusta Walled City listed as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Our counterparts named themselves as Famagusta Our Town; Amoochostos i Polimas. We began coorganising joint concerts, cultural events and then they demanded from us to persuade authorities in north for this iconic church for Greek Cypriots; Agios Giorgos Exorinos where the services were stopped by 1956 because of intercommunal clashes of the time. We did our best and the fisrt service took place there on 8 th Dec. 2013 after 57 years. 4 months later the Good Friday Liturgy was performed after 58 years. It was a historical day with 4000 GCYP prayers particiapting and another 500 TCYP peace activists sharing their excitement with them.

There were serious threats from radical groups, they couldnt discouarge us because we knew that if had cancelled we would lose our future. The police had to deploy 650 officers, something first in the history of Famagusta to safeguard. Many foreign ambassadors were also there and it was a big success.

And you know what happened; just afterwards because the RoC authorities took it as a goodwill gesture, they gave permission not only to TCYPs but to people from Turkey to attend to holly ceremonies at Hala Sultan Mosque in Larnaca. Two big groups; each amounting to 1,000 prayers crossed over with no problem.

We achieved something that it became a common practice and every month the GCYPs come to their churches on holly dates and on holly days the TCYPs go and visit the mosque in Larnaca.

We have some critics from time to time and from modern people mainly about Famagusta Initiative’s engagement with Church activities. You know what i say; we used Church as a constructive element. There was a huge group of people who were very sceptic about crossing to the north. Because of services they made their first experience and started coming regularly. And whenever they are in Famagusta, some uf us are there joining them for socialisation; drinking coffee or even eating lunch together. We utilised the Church sevices as a number one ice breaker!

Together with Famagusta Our Town,we also organised some demonstrations at the beach front of Varosha. We had a new year’s wish tree event last year and we’re preparing for the next one by 13 th of December. We also commemorated “Orange Festivals of Varosha” last Spring by making ornaments on to iron frames leftover before 74’ and released 41 ballons against the Divide with some reunifiaction messages written on them.

The greatest achievement of this year was a syncronised demonstration on both sides of the raod block in Deryneia by 16 th of May. 2,000 gathered on the northern part while 500 people on the southern part of the road block on that day. The shopkeepers closed down their shops, political parties regardless of their colours came together around a common goal for the first time in Famagusta. For the time being, Famagusta doesn’t have easy access checkpoints like Nicosia has. We’ve only one checkpoint that goes thru British SBA and it takes us 35 km. in total causing 40 minutes drive by car. The checkpoint we’re asking will facilitate daily lives of Famagusta people, will help them to come together easier and also boost the commercial and tourism sectors’ efforts. Because it’is only 3km. straight forward road between 2 sides.

We urged the candidates to declare their positions on the opening of this checkpoint. And only Akıncı declared that he was gonna push it forward if he wins. That’s why Famagusta Initiative has been the first group publicy announcing support to Akıncı and Eroğlu who was a Famagusta born politician and always scored much more than others in Famagusta, had equal votes with Akıncı for the first time.

It’s frustrating nowadays that our government in north is dragging its feet to complete the work for the opening, they announce a date for 7 months later which doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about a Referendum in May and we’re pressurising them to hear a better date.

Also important to mention that Espen Barth Eide UN SG Speacial Adviser on Cyprus chose us to make his first visit as a civil society group in August this year. He stressed that a Solution to Cyprus problem is so significant as not to leave in the hands of politicians only. He praised our efforts and encouraged to kmeep walking. People of Famagusta and people of Cyprus deserve a better future and our struggle will go on until we get it.