‘Homecoming’ to a ghost town provokes Greek Cypriot anguish

‘Homecoming’ to a ghost town sparks Greek Cypriot anguish

They can’t enter their lost homes. That’s the rule Turkish Cypriot authorities imposed last October, when they partly opened Varosha — Maras in Turkish — to visitors amid much fanfare, after keeping it uninhabited and sealed off by Turkish troops for nearly half a century.

Yet a rope line prevents the Greek Cypriot cardiologist from walking down a shrub-festooned side street to see the home he fled as a 6-year-old refugee in 1974, while Turkish troops approached the Famagusta suburb. Like any tourist or sightseer, Varosha’s Greek Cypriot former residents must look from behind ropes at empty houses and schools, gutted hotels and looted stores. They cite public safety, as many buildings are crumbling. But it’s the absurdity of playing sightseer in his former home that grates on Costantinides, 53.

Now, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots are dangling the opportunity of letting at least some Greek Cypriots reclaim their Varosha property if they accept the rule of the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state as legitimate — a move that’s sowing consternation and discord. “There’s tremendous anger about what has happened here. Turkey has committed a huge crime,” Costantinides said.

“Today, we’re living the same crime again. … It’s as if they’re performing an autopsy and tourists are coming to witness it. It’s a shame, a shame for humanity.” With its white sand beaches and luxury hotels, Varosha was once the pride of the eastern Mediterranean island’s booming tourism industry. Then in 1974, Turkey invaded in response to a coup aiming at union with Greece. About 180,000 Greek Cypriots fled Cyprus’ northern third, including 15,000 Varosha residents. Tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots settled the north — whose declaration of independence only Turkey recognizes.

Varosha was kept untouched, to be used as a bargaining chip in peace negotiations, despite two United Nations Security Council resolutions — the latest in 1992 — for its return to its residents under U.N. administration. After decades of fruitless talks, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots last year changed tack on Varosha, under a major policy shift seeking to formally partition Cyprus between two “sovereign and equal states” — ignoring the agreed-upon framework for a federation of Greek- and Turkish-speaking zones. That shift was condemned by the U.N., the EU, the U.S., Russia and others as gravely undermining hopes for peace.

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