Turkish Cypriots vote amid Varosha outcry

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Turkish Cypriots head to the ballot box Sunday to elect their new leader amid rancour over Turkey meddling and the opening of the Varosha beachfront in the occupied north.

Authorities in the Turkish occupied north of Cyprus opened part of fenced-off Varosha’s beachfront to visitors for the first time in 46 years, in what incumbent Turkish Cypriot Leader Mustafa Akinci called an election stunt.

Akinci argued the opening of Varosha was planned to boost support for ruling coalition leader Ersin Tatar, head of the right-wing National Unity Party UBP, and candidate in Sunday’s vote.

The opening of Varosha was announced by Tatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this week, after Tatar had visited Ankara, despite a ban on statements from candidates.

Coalition partner and former negotiator for the Turkish Cypriot side Kudret Ozersay said Tatar had essentially gone behind his back and announced the opening of Varosha without informing him or his People’s Party (HP).

Ozersay, who is also running in Sunday’s election, said his party was withdrawing from the ruling coalition, signalling its collapse, but he has yet to make good on his declaration.

The move to open Varosha is expected to backfire on Tatar as many Turkish Cypriots are opposed to the move, especially in the manner it was carried out.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Dr Okan Dagli, member of the bicommunal Famagusta Initiative said reopening Varosha under Turkish Cypriot control is not what a large part of the society in the north agree with.

“As members of the Famagusta Initiative we have been fighting for the opening of Varosha, but not this way… Varosha is not something that can be sacrificed in the name of politics or an election,” said Dagli.

He said that the initiative supports the reopening of Varosha under the control of the United Nations, noting that Varosha has a unique meaning to its legitimate inhabitants.

“Unfortunately, people’s emotions, their future, their past have been turned into a political card in the upcoming elections, to support a certain candidate.”

Dagli added: “The fate of Varosha should be decided jointly by the legitimate inhabitants of the town, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who have lived here in the past”.

As a representative of the Famagusta Initiative, he was present at the opening of the gate leading to Varosha beach protesting on behalf of Greek Cypriots who were not able to be there.

The north has opened up about 1.5 km of beachfront to the public and not the approximately 6 square km inland that includes abandoned hotels and residences which its population of some 40,000 people fled in 1974 during the Turkish invasion.

Varosha was the island’s premier holiday resort renowned for its thick golden sand.

Currently, about 200 metres of the coastline is accessible to the public in the shadows of bombed hotels and buildings, which were left to rot after 1974 as the Varosha resort was sealed off with barbed wire which extends into the sea.

UN Security Council resolution 550 considers any attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to UN administration.

Candidates’ position on the Cyprus Problem:

Mustafa Akinci represents the strive for a bizonal and bicommunal federal solution to the Cyprus problem, which breaks away from Ankara’s foreign policy.

Akinci is seen as a politician who has developed left-wing policies not always in line with Turkey.

He is known for his head-on confrontation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Akinci’s main challenge is from the right-wing leader Tatar and Tufan Erhurman of the left-wing CTP, also a supporter of a federal solution to the Cyprus problem.

Tartar’s UBP party is traditionally hardline when it comes to the Cyprus issue with much of the party openly supporting a two-state solution.

He is tipped to come out on top in the first round of the election.

Kudret Ozersay and his party do not reject the idea of a federal solution but have often said that other options should be on the table.

Centrist Serdar Denktash has recently adopted a critical stance in the debate against Turkey’s meddling, and extreme nationalist Erhan Arikli is not interested in negotiating with the Greek Cypriots.