Varosha - Key to the Problem
Varosha prior to 1974 was the jewel in the crown of Cyprus. It was a world class tourist destination with fine beaches, five star resort hotels and the beauty of the island behind it enabling it to offer more than just a beach holiday destination. It was a huge money spinner with the potential to become even more of one in the future and for this reason it was treated differently by the invading Turkish forces.
Thinking about the resort, the logical thing for the Turks to do would have been to leave it intact and for the rest of the season of 1974 and into spring of the next year, plan to continue its use as a tourist resort but under TRNC control. They could have hoped that the furore over the invasion would settle down and by offering the resort as a cheap destination they could have profited from its beauty and popularity. Instead, they realised its value to the Greek Cypriots and simply closed it off to be used as a bargaining chip in future negotiations. To have used the resort or to have incorporated it into the TRNC would have utterly destroyed its worth, so, instead it was fenced off and guarded leaving the area exactly as it was the morning it was abandoned in 1974.
Like a child who has had its favourite toy taken from it, the Greek Cypriots saw Varosha as a provocation and just like the child who wants their toy returned, so have the Greeks sought the return of Varosha in negotiations ever since.
Today, the ravages of time have made the resort almost uninhabitable and, despite the promise of reconstruction funding from the EU, many fear that the resort will have to be torn down and rebuilt. Still the calls ring out for its return but, as in every political negotiation, other factors are at play.
The Annan Plan of 2004, proposed the return of the resort as one of its pillars and although the plan was welcomed by the north, it was overwhelmingly rejected by the south, mostly because of a fierce ‘Oxi’ campaign by the then president, Tassos Papadopolous.
The Annan Plan was seen by the international community as a solid way forward and by others as the only way forward. Despair set in once it was realised the plan was going to be rejected by the south.
The Turkish Cypriots saw the plan as a way to end their economic isolation and open international markets to them. They also felt less threatened by the Greek Cypriots than they had in the past and were willing to be cautiously optimistic about the future.
The south rejected it on several counts but the overriding concern was the seed sown in their minds by politicians that the Turkish were to be given powers in excess of their proportion of the population and that Turkey could not be trusted to avoid meddling in the affairs of the island.
Many see this as simply a cover for the real reasons for rejection. It is believed that many involved in the tourism industry of the south were influential figures in politics. If the island was unified and all restrictions on the north lifted, then much of the tourism that currently favours the south would migrate to the north where the island remains largely unspoilt.
Initial thoughts following the rejection were that the issue was now dead in the water but, sporadically, negotiations have recommenced with key sections of the Annan Plan being used as a basis for negotiation.
As recently as April, Varosha again came up as a bargaining chip when the Republic offered to allow unrestricted trade from Famagusta port in exchange for the return of Varosha.
Before a solution is reached we will see many more occasions when Varosha is used in negotiations. The relaxation of border crossings between the north and south was a step along the way to a resolution. Some think that the return of Varosha will be a similar but much larger step on the road. The signs are there for it to happen. The tipping point will be when the north sees the benefit as outweighing the loss of their most precious bargaining chip.
August 25, 2010
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