The fate of the town of Famagusta in Cyprus, which is currently under Turkish military occupation, calls to our mind Aesop’s story of ‘the dog in the manger’ which, having had no use for the hay in the manger, out of spite, denied it to the horses and cattle.
When Turkey used the pretext of a short lived coup in Cyprus in July 1974 to implement its plans to ethnically cleanse the north of the country and partition it on racial lines1, occupying Famagusta was not part of the plan. But as invading Turkish forces moved across Cyprus committing a series of well documented and horrific atrocities against the unarmed civilian population2, unsurprisingly all the residents of Famagusta took flight and left for the safety of the nearby British base of Dhekelia, expecting to return once hostilities had ceased. Sadly that was on 15 August 1974 and since then they have been denied access to or return to their homes, properties and businesses. Most of Cyprus’ tourism was in Famagusta pre-1974 and the town was the leading tourist resort in the eastern Mediterranean.
Since then, Turkey has deliberately allowed the glorious town to decay and fall apart, adopting the same attitude to Famagusta as it has to Christian places of worship and cemeteries across the occupied northern areas of Cyprus. Like the dog in the manger, successive Turkish leaders have prevented anyone from entering into what has been labelled a ‘ghost town’, despite UN resolutions such as 550 that call for Turkey to give up control of the area it has fenced off and allow the legitimate inhabitants to return. Greek Cypriot owned hotels and apartments on the best beach in Cyprus remain empty and unused for 38 years, benefiting no one, not even the Turkish Cypriots that Turkey purports to care so much about.
Turkey has used the Turkish Cypriots as a strategic minority to justify its invasion and occupation of the northern area of Cyprus (whilst seemingly oblivious to the fact that many Turkish Cypriots do not want Turkey in Cyprus – as evidenced by recent demonstrations). Yet no attempt has been made to justify the illegal occupation and decay of Famagusta on any grounds at all.
There has never been and there remains no moral, legal, or ethical basis for Turkey’s occupation of Famagusta. Turkey is not only denying Cypriots the right to return to their homes, properties and businesses but is also preventing any attempts to reconstruct the town as will be necessary after 38 years of neglect and decay.
Returning Famagusta presents a chance to turn a tragedy into a golden opportunity. It would benefit the town’s rightful owners and legitimate inhabitants and provide jobs for thousands of Cypriots from all the various communities of the island. It would serve as an enormous confidence building measure in negotiations to solve the Cyprus issue. Furthermore, European developers can be involved in the reconstruction of the town. At a time when the construction businesses in Europe lie idle, here is a wonderful opportunity to rebuild a city on a scale not seen since the re-development of central Berlin once the wall had fallen. Sadly however, it seems that the ‘dog in the manger’ will again continue to stand in everyone’s way.