Turkish Cypriot plans to open up part of an abandoned city on the divided island have been slammed as being “illegal and unacceptable”.
Varosha, a fenced-off derelict area under Turkish control, has been left deserted since the 1974 invasion that split Cyprus.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced earlier on Tuesday that a 3.5 square-kilometre section of Varosha would revert from military to civilian control so Greek Cypriots that fled could seek to reclaim their properties through the Immoveable Property Commission (IPC), a legal body that is empowered to adjudicate such cases.
It came as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was visiting to mark the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus.
But Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the move as being “illegal and unacceptable”.
Some Greek Cypriots fear a change to the area’s status displays a clear intent of Turkey to appropriate it.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, expressed his “deep concern” about the move, saying it threatens peace talks.
It was, he added, “an unacceptable unilateral decision to change the status of Varosha”.
Despite a UN Security Council resolution, which granted residents the right to return to Varosha, Ankara has kept it as leverage in the dispute.
Varosha is a suburb of Famagusta, a city that was Cyprus’ pre-1974 tourism hub thanks to its pristine beaches and modern hotels. After Varosha’s 15,000 Greek Cypriot residents fled in the face of advancing Turkish troops, the area was fenced-off to prevent any access until last year when Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities announced its “re-opening”.
Varosha’s former residents denounced the move as a bid to take advantage of their desperation over the area’s future and to psychologically pressure them into selling off their properties. Many Turkish Cypriots also condemned the move as undermining ongoing efforts at reconciliation between the two communities.
Famagusta Mayor Simos Ioannou told the Associated Press that Tuesday’s announcement aimed to test Greek Cypriots’ resolve about holding on to their properties. The fact that only a small section and not the whole of residential Varosha was re-opened intends to blunt international reaction to the move, Ioannou said.
The Cyprus conflict is known as the “graveyard of diplomats”. Numerous rounds of UN-mediated talks have ended in failure since Turkey’s invasion, which followed a coup aimed at unifying the island with Greece.
A Turkish Cypriot breakaway “state” declared in the north is recognised only by Turkey, while the Republic of Cyprus has an internationally recognised government led by Greek Cypriots. Cyprus has also been a member of the EU since 2004.