Turkey game-changer in Varosha strategy

2 mins read

Allowing the Cyprus problem to fester for more than three years without any real hope of resuscitating it was never going to get a feel-good Hollywood ending.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on there is no quick-fix to end the island’s painful division.

They may say that hope dies first in Cyprus politics, only an eternal optimist can see the silver lining after the events that took place earlier this week in the fenced-off suburb of Famagusta.

For the first time in 46 years the Turkish Cypriots, encouraged by Turkey, opened up Varosha’s beachfront to the public.

Thousands were allowed inside the crumbling ghost town to take pictures of what lost hope looks like for many Cypriots, especially those who fled Varosha before the Turkish tanks came rolling in.

Untouched, but loved from afar, Varosha was fenced-off by the Turkish military, left to rot in the densely complex network of dead ends the UN-led Cyprus peace process has created over decades of failure.

The Cyprus government condemned the move as a flagrant breach of international law, but that has never stopped anybody doing anything in the past.

President Nicos Anastasiades says he is going to raise the issue at the United Nations and the next summit of EU leaders.

Does Cyprus need more meaningless statements of support or fake solidarity messages adding to its collection of empty promises?

Varosha was the bargaining chip Turkey held as leverage in Cyprus talks, to suddenly open the door to visitors suggests they have changed the rules of the game.

A game where they make the rules and move the goalposts.

Ankara declared months ago it would re-open Varosha, these were not idle threats but the government seems to have no counter-strategy.

Constantly caught on the backfoot, belatedly reacting to events they can see coming down the line has put the government in a weak position.

Nicosia can do the rounds on the international stage banging its shoe on the table but Varosha is already lost.

We felt safe in the knowledge that UN resolutions had protected the future of the once-proud tourist resort that attracted the rich and famous.

Hard to believe that abandoned and decaying, Varosha was once graced by Hollywood glamour couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and French model Brigitte Bardot.

UN resolutions consider attempts to settle any part of Varosha by those other than its legal inhabitants as inadmissible, calling for it to come under UN administration.

Despite UN resolutions from way back when nothing happened, Varosha remained a symbol of what could not be done.

Although opening Varosha is seen as an election stunt by pro-Turkey nationalist Ersin Tarta who wants to oust Mustafa Akinci as Turkish Cypriot leader, the damage has been done.

Cyprus’ division now feels deeper, more permanent with a feeling of disillusion tinged with fatigue in what the future holds.

If Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots lose all interest in a Cyprus solution involving power-sharing and inclusion where do we go from here?

Granted, there is a solid base who prefer the ‘them and us’ approach by keeping things as they are. They think it even if they don’t say it.

But with the fence partially coming down around Varosha, the status quo has ended, there is a new dynamic where Turkey is tearing up the rules of engagement on Cyprus.

There are voices of support for Cyprus from the international community but the ground is shifting, along with the mood music.

Generations of Famagustans have been unable to return to their ancestral homes, many refugees have died in exile in their own land, their children inherit faded memories for solace.

Allowing the Cyprus deadlock to become an open wound without any effective treatment was always going to cause pain.

Varosha is the victim of Cypriot self-isolation, mistrust, prejudice and a political arena that thrives on fear and loathing.

Only when Cypriots decide that reunification is the answer, then it will happen whatever the politicians say.

For now, the politics of division is triumphant, Varosha is the sacrificial lamb in a Cypriot-made horror show.