In fear of the ethnic cleansing committed by Turkish troops as they advanced through the north of Cyprus during July and August 1974, the entire population of Varosha, the Greek Cypriot suburb of Famagusta, fled in terror.
A town of over 40,000 inhabitants, the centre of tourism in Cyprus and an important centre for trade and commerce, was suddenly emptied of its entire population. Turkey did not occupy or resettle the town and so since 15 August 1974 it has become a ghost town. Hundreds of shops, schools, churches, blocks of flats, hotels, and homes stand decaying, ravaged by 36 years of neglect and decay.
Greek Cypriots are now only able to approach their former home town and view it from a few hundreds yards distance across a barbed wire fence.
Turkey refuses to return Varosha to its rightful inhabitants despite United Nations resolutions such as 550 which would lead to the full restoration of property to its legitimate owners in Varosha. The European Parliament in February 2010 in its report on Turkey’s EU progress called on Turkey to “withdraw its forces from Cyprus, address the issue of the settlement of Turkish citizens on the island and also enable the return of the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants in compliance with Resolution 550 of the United Nations Security Council.”
However, Turkey continues to use the town as a bargaining chip in its attempts to coerce Greek Cypriots into accepting any plan to legitimise Turkey’s illegal occupation of the northern area of Cyprus.
For Turkey to now complain of Israel’s blockade in Gaza constitutes hypocrisy given its own policy over 36 years of preventing Greek Cypriots from returning to their homes.
Given international attempts over many years to rebuild Cyprus, the inevitable redevelopment that would be required in Varosha offers the perfect opportunity for joint Greek and Turkish co-operation to rebuild the shattered town and a timely boost to the construction industries across the European Union.
It is time to free the shackles from this shattered town and bring Turkey to account for its violations of human rights and international law in Cyprus, including the ending of the imprisonment of the once bustling, yet currently deserted town of Famagusta.