Varosha was considered the last hope for a solution to the Cyprus problem and was “the negotiating card” of the Turkish side, as the former leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Mehmet Ali Talat, had told me 15 years ago, after a meeting with the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Berlin (2008). At that time, we still hoped that the “formula” discussed two years earlier in 2006, during the Finnish EU presidency, which included, among other things, the return of the enclosed city of Varosha to the UN, in exchange for the approval of the EU Regulation proposal for “direct trade” from the city’s port and the prevention of a crisis in the EU-Turkey relations (which eventually came about with the freezing of eight negotiating chapters), could be revived. Along the way, the Turkish side attempted to add other elements to the “Finnish formula,” such as the legalization of flights from the illegal airport of Tympou, while appearing unprepared to accept the immediate return of Varosha, leading the effort to collapse.
Varosha continued to be called a “ghost town” and was considered the “negotiating asset” of the Turkish side. In the last two and a half years, it made a turn by deciding to open a section of its enclosed city beach and then to proceed with a “pilot opening of 3.5%”, securing the tolerance of the international community, including the UN and the EU, which only employed political rhetoric.
And that was the worst thing for Nicosia, which saw the international community behave stoically towards new facts on the ground, which were not only an extension of settlement but also placed a tombstone on any prospect for a solution to the Cyprus problem. What was also not read correctly was the fact that, for the first time since 1974, the Turkish side was no longer interested in maintaining “the negotiating trump card” of Varosha in a possible negotiation. Clearly keeping in mind that it would not allow any further negotiation, at least with the terms and the “agreed framework” that we knew. And that it has the backbone to impose its new terms for sovereign equality.
Ankara’s moves in Varosha caught Nicosia off guard. The then Minister of Foreign Affairs and current President, Nikos Christodoulides, downplayed them. Later, when the UK and the UN signaled at least tolerance for Turkish actions in Cyprus, Nicosia simply watched awkwardly as the ground slipped from under its feet. Andreas Mavroyiannis, a Greek Cypriot negotiator and a close collaborator of former President Anastasiades for nine whole years, and a candidate supported by AKEL in the presidential elections, “warned” in due time, after umbrellas were set up on beaches in Varosha and the pilot reopening was initiated, that if something is not done “yesterday”, the fenced city will be lost.
However, the puzzle had already been formed and one could discern not only the Turkish targeting but mainly the role played by the international community. Britain made sure to explain to us that the parameters of the United Nations “are wide enough to include a range of solutions” (Boris Johnson). And even the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, also made sure to give substance to the Turkish proposal for a two-state solution. Therefore, he accepted it instead of returning it as unacceptable. While he appeared ready to square the circle, retracting from his own orders for a “bizonal/bicommunal federation” solution and approaching the Turkish narrative of sovereign equality.
The puzzle is completed by the loss of land in the dead zone that Colin Stewart illegally ceded to the Turkish side as if it belonged to him and he could manage it as he wished. Also, the defeat of the Republic of Cyprus in the Council of Europe, where the supervision of the Titina Loizidou case was terminated, and the “Immovable Property Commission” of Turkey was further entrenched. Unfortunately, this recognized “Immovable Property Commission,” with the stamp of the ECHR, was informed a few days ago about the sale of three hotel units and two floors of an apartment building in Varosha from a Greek Cypriot owner to a Turkish Cypriot businessman.
And the Cypriot state, mainly the government, but also the opposition (“responsible and normal”), continue to watch awkwardly, further establishing in our consciousness that we are facing a process of managing the division, which of course is being managed by others. We simply watch…