Turkish Cyprus to open beach of ghost town Varosha after 46 years

Turkish Cyprus has announced that it will open the coastline of the abandoned town of Varosha ("Maraş" in Turkish) on Oct. 8. "Maraş issue is a national cause above all political competitions and debates," Turkish Cypriot PM Ersin Tatar said on Oct. 6, alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkish Cyprus has said it will reopen the beach area of an abandoned resort in no-man's land on Oct. 8, a move condemned by Greek Cypriots.

Ersin Tatar, premier of the breakaway state of Turkish Cyprus, made the announcement in Ankara on Oct. 6 alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said he backed the decision on Varosha, sealed off within barbed wire for decades.

The move could weigh on Turkey's dispute with European Union members Cyprus and Greece over territorial rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions had eased after Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks, but Cyprus, a close ally of the Greece, promptly condemned the move to partially reopen the abandoned resort and said it would file a recourse to the United Nations Security Council.

Greece also criticized the move, and said it would support Cyprus.

"God willing, we will start to use the Maraş beach on Thursday morning together with our people," Tatar said, using Varosha's Turkish name. Turkish Cyprus is only recognized as a state by Turkey.

Turkish Cypriot PM Ersin Tatar (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attend a news conference on Oct 6 in Ankara.

"Maras issue is a national cause above all political competitions and debates," Tatar said.

Varosha is currently a ghost town where entry is forbidden, except for Turkish army personnel stationed in the Turkish Cyprus.

"Maraş issue is a national cause above all political competitions and debates," Tatar said.

Sources in Cyprus said the plan was to open 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 39,000 people fled in 1974 during a Turkish invasion following a Greek inspired coup.

"We hope that the whole of Maraş is opened to use after ongoing work is completed by respecting property rights," Erdoğan said, pledging support for Turkish Cypriot officials.

"It is a fact that Maraş is a Turkish Cyprus territory. We fully support the decision to make Maraş's coastline available to the public," Erdoğan said. “The objections of the opposing party have already been in vain, as there will be no victimization due to the absence of any private property [in Maraş].”

Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus's internationally-recognized government - and who as recently as last week was involved in a tense stand-off with his EU peers for his push for sanctions on Turkey, said: "This is an exceptionally unacceptable situation."

Varosha is a suburb of the larger city of Famagusta, which, in Greek - Ammochostos - means "buried in sand." It has a pristine coastline of thick golden sand, most of it in the now out-of-bounds Varosha quarter.

Presently, about 200 meters of it is accessible to the public under the towering shadow of a hotel and a three-story resort bombed during the war and left rotting since then. The rest of it is fenced off by rusting barbed wire which extends into the sea, guarded by Turkish soldiers.

Tatar had signaled steps to reopen Varosha in August, saying a revival of the area, which contains derelict hotels, churches and residences, would bring trade and tourism benefits.

Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Turkish Cyprus on Oct. 11, with Tatar a candidate.

Varosha has been off limits along ceasefire lines to all but the Turkish military since 1974 and has stood as a bargaining chip in the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Several peacemaking efforts have made no significant progress and the discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated efforts to resolve the island's partition.