Varosha, the once splendid holiday resort suburb of Famagusta, has been in a deserted state since the 1974 Turkish intervention. In Turkish the name of the suburb is Maraş, the home of Turkey’s one of most delicious and famous ice cream.
Maraş ice cream is an art. A vendor selling Maraş ice cream is definitely an artist. The vendor makes such quick, unexpected and artistic moves that one may struggle for several minutes to grab a cone filled with ice cream. Speaking from my experience, grab-bing the cone is not that easy, most of the time my ice cream fell.
The Varosha area with thousands of bed capacity, regional headquarters of many international companies, banks and offices was a sprawling city admired by everyone when all of a sudden its residents left the city, running away from the advancing Turkish military in 1974. They could not return, but Varosha is the sole city on which there is a United Nations Security Council resolution that it ought to be returned to its original owners.
Who are the original owners? That is a big problem. Were they the successors of those Turks whose lands in Varosha were distributed almost bona fide to Greek Cypriots in the early 1900s. The British action was problematic as it contradicted with the fact that title deeds of most land were with Turkish Cypriot foundations and properties owned by foundations could not be sold out.
But were Ottoman foundations different than Western foundations? If, for example, the land continued to be owned by the sultan and the foundations were only beneficiaries of the income from those lands, could they still be considered the owner of the lands?
Over the past many decades on several occasions sometimes the Turkish Cypriot leadership, most of the time the mediators acting on behalf of the U.N. Secretary-General, offered a tradeoff with Varosha be given back to Greek Cypriots in exchange of opening of Nicosia Airport to flights to northern Cyprus or allowing international flights to and from Ercan, the previous Timbo airport. All those confidence-building packages were rejected by Greek Cypriots on grounds that allowing direct flights in any form to northern Cyprus would elevate the status of the Turkish Cypriot state.
Through backdoor diplomacy leading Greek Cypriot owners recently sent messages to the Turkish Cypriot government that even if the area remained under Turkish Cypriot rule, they might return to their properties. That encouraged a courageous undertaking by the Turkish Cypriot government who almost a year ago declared its intention to reopen Varosha to settlement, giving priority to its previous owners or the 1974 leaseholders in line with the U.N. resolution.
Since that date, Varosha has become some sort of an ice cream cone that everyone is trying to grab, but the vendors are playing all sorts of artistic maneuvers to avoid it.
If the Turkish Cypriot government is opening the area to settlement, saying, propriety is with the original owners and leaseholders and those original owners would have the right to resettle, sell to the special Immovable Assets Commission or lease the properties, would not the action be in compliance with the U.N. resolution? Thus, there is panic in the Greek Cypriot sector and that panic was further increased with top-ranking land dealers and hoteliers telling behind the doors that they would not mind the color of the flag at the flag pole as long as they enjoyed investment and personal security. Turks are assuring that.
Yet, an election is on the horizon. Because of the pandemic economy, like in southern Greek Cypriot, areas are passing through unprecedented difficult times. The incumbent president, the prime minister and the foreign minister are all running for the presidential seat along with eight other candidates. More and more reopening Varosha is popping up as one of the major election campaign issues. Real, artificial, concocted all kinds of claims, assumptions are floated around regarding ownership of the buildings, precious residential and commercial plots, and farmlands in the region. There is even a claim that before the end of the year the reopening will be launched.