Do you remember the time before the Turkish occupation ? What was the town like and what happened from your perspective in 1974 ?
I was born in 1964. I remember very well 1970’s and also Cyprus War at 1974. In the old days, Famagusta was the most popular city in Cyprus. There were two major economic activities at Famagusta, that is to say: Port and touristic city Varosha. I remember the days that seasides of Varosha and the hotels in it used to be beatiful. Famagusta old city (walled city) is the best mediaval city in Europe and across the Mediterrenean… These two part of Famagusta can be seen as the two pieces of a puzzle: Old City and modern hotels at seaside of Varosha…
All the Cypriots, Turkish and Greek Cypriots, were working together at Famagusta Port and Varosha. We used to see a lot of tourists in Famagusta old city and Varosha. There were a lot of Orange gardens in Famagusta and Varosha. Every year there used to be Orange Festival covering all the main roads of Famagusta and Varosha.
How was Famagusta changed since that period? What has been the effect on the town since that period?
After the 1974 war everyting had changed. Touristic town of Varosha abondened! 8 km seaside and hotels, apartments and houses that 15 thousand people were living had closed, abondened and barriered. All of the owners, who were either Cypriots or non-Cypriots went southern side of Cyprus or fled away from the island. Also another 15 thousand people from the Greek Cypriot community that were living out of barriered area of Famagusta went away.
Since then we didn’t see any tourist in Famagusta. On the contrary instead of having tourists and the Greek Cypriots we started to see a lot of Turks from Turkey who were inhibited to the abondened houses and as well as many Turkish Cypriots who fled from southern part of the island due to the intercommunal strife that was started in 1963 and continued until the 1974 events. Most of the newcomers started to live at the Greeek Cypriots’ houses out of barriered area of Varosha.
Also Famagusta Port turned into an illegal port position. Since the new socio-political setting our port, which used to be the biggest one in Cyprus, went out of the international maritime lines and only has one connection, that is over to the ports in Turkey.
Why is Varosha still surronded by a wall and armed guards?
The 1974 war at Famagusta has finished 15 th August at 17.00 oclock. I remember these hours very well. This was the ceasefire time for Famagusta. All the Varoshian Greek Cypriots (GC) went Southern part of Cyprus. Just minority of GC’s stayed at Varosha. But Turkish Armies didnt stop with the ceasefire and went deep into the Varosha. Army passed their borders according to previously agreed plans. It is a fact that Varosha was out of the Atilla line. This is the reason why Turkey have never opened Varosha to any habitant.There are only few buildings open for the residence. It is a fact that Varosha is the Ghost City and only few army families live there occupying only 2-3 hotels or apartments. Remaining hotels and apartments has been destructed or left to collapse. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities during the war time believed that Varosha can be a trump card during the negotiations. However, as it is obvious it left to collapse. The only reply you could recieve when you question the reason why Varosha had to remain in its current shape rather than opening the region, returning it to its legal owners and giving live to the city is pure nationalist reactions, heroism and the usual cock and bull stories…
Why do you think it is important that Varosha returned back to the Greek Cypriots ?
There are a lot of agreements at the TC (Turkish Cypriot) and GC leaderships recognize that Varosha belongs to its legal owners. Also UN SC resolution (for example No 550) says that Varosha must be given back to its legal owners. ECHR produced decisions with the similar lines.
From my perspective, there is no other way than taking steps forward according to aforementioned decisions if we want to relive the Ghost City. It should be noted that, taking a step forward for the resolution of the problem on Varosha have a huge potential to play a catalyst role for the reunification of Cyprus.
How would giving Varosha back to the Greek Cypriots help with the economic problem of North Cyprus ?
Economic problems and concerns about the future of the TC and GC economy are growing each and every day. Still taking decisive steps for the reopening of Varosha carries important economic returns for the both societies such as boost in (re)construction of the abandoned city, opening of the ports, intensifying touristic activities etc…
We tried to make this issue on the agenda of the Presidential elections in the Southern part of the island. As the people living in the north we have sent letters to the major candidates for the presidency demanding for the Greek Cypriot future leadership to spent further efforts on Varosha and recognize its economic returns.
More or less at the same time with the Troika memerondum with the Republic of Cyprus economy, North Cyprus had an imposed economic package from Ankara. We called it Turcoika as the economic measures that was demanded from Turkey had the similar understanding with Troika agreements. In our declaration we underlined the potential of Varosha to become an alternative for the austerity plans because it could offer room for economic development, Varosha reconstruction can bring more employment opportunities and major interest for the domestic and foreign investors.
We also made another declaration which could support the economic returns of opening of Varosha such as Republic of Cyprus authorities to ban the isolation at Famagusta Port and putting it back to the international maritimelines under EU supervision.
Activation of the Famagusta Port by giving it a legal status again will serve for the future of the Varosha in particular and Cyprus in general … Finally, we demand that the Old City (Walled City) must be listed on World Harritage List and this demand should also be backed by the GC which will recognize the common heritage of Cypriots.
In conclusion, there is potential for economic growth if we approach the issue strategically, but in order to use this trump card we should remove prejudices that we have. Current status quo in the island is not serving for the best interests of the Cypriots, and this is the time to consider a radical change if we want to live in peace and prosperity .
Do you think Cyprus should be united ?
I think that we will achieve to unite our island and our city. But we need a step which could change and finish status quo at Cyprus. I believe that suggesting a solution over Varosha for the beginning could be an example for the whole island. Such a solution could serve the best interests of all people residing in the island.
Do you think it was necessary for the Turkish Army to come into Cyprus in 1974? What did the Turkish Cypriots think about it?
History show us Greek Colonel’s dictatorship followed with the coup d’etat against Makarios administration in Cyprus. The Greek involvement during this period pave the way to the Turkish intervention. So we can say that Turkish Army come to Cyprus in 1974, because of the nationalist and irredentist aspirations of Greek colonels’ and their followers in Cyprus. This is one side of the coin, on the other side of the coin we have a clash of two countries that were used to be the members of NATO. The colonels coup in Greece was exporting military dictatorship to Cyprus. Considering the international aspects this was not acceptable. However also it is a good example of an imperialist divide and rule policies. 1974 war was a clash of the 2 NATO members and the victims were the ordinary people living in the island who become refugees, lost their lives or lost their possesions. I see that USA and NATO remain silence on the partition of the island, and that is the reason why since the events there is no decisive steps in order to revert the division in Cyprus. Today in the public sphere while some people see the existence of the Turkish army as a safeguard of their security, majority of the people supports the idea that Turkish army should return back Turkey after the permanent resolution of Cyprus problem.
You said you have been lobbying the presidential candidates in the south of the island – what effect do you expect the elections to have on reunification?
The elections are crucial, but first time since 1974, the people in the south are much more involved with the economy rather than the Cyprus problem. As you know since the failure of 2004 referanda for the comprehensive settlement Cyprus problem we entered into a stalemate. There used to be high hopes again when Demetris Christofias was elected as a leader in the south however they unable to agree with a settlement with Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mehmetali Talat, even though both of them seem to be pro-solution candidates. Today, the picture is much blurry. There are three candidates and according to the opinion polls Nicos Anastasiadis who is the leader of Democratic Rally is the most favourable candidate. The main hope about him is the fact that he said YES and supported the Annan Plan for the comprehensive solution. However, we are observing that he had signed an agreement with more radical elements in the South and they are totally against a solution which could also be agreed by the Turkish Cypriot community. In other words, we do not see the same leadership profile up until now. The remaining two candidates has less chance to be the president. One of them is the candidate of AKEL Stavros Malas and he is supporting the same lines with the current president Christofias and the other candidate is Lillikas who is independent candidate securing the support from the church and having a further right wing profile.
At this point we know that the economic crisis in the island will led people to consider all of the options. In an economical point of view the solution also has many benefits for the people living in the island. Considering all those aspects, it is hard to say if there will be a immediate hope for the reunification, however there are dynamics that must be seized. However also there is another aspect that must be mentioned. Currently the Turkish Cypriot leader who is responsible from the negotiations for the settlement does not desire a peace and unity in the island. Instead he is happy with the status quo and in order to alter the status quo the elections in the south cannot be enough all alone also Turkish Cypriots should take decisive steps. So for the reunification both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should act in a supplementary way.