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Monday, 16 February 2015

What I saw in a ghost city called Varosha by Wale ojo lanre

What I saw in Varosha: A city frozen in time
 16.Feb.2015    Wale Ojo-Lanre who just returned from Cyprus , Nigerian Tribune 
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I lost everything after the Turks invaded: my home, my factory, my orange groves,” said Harris Demetriou, 71, a Greek Cypriot whose family fled their handsome villa and left behind an ice cream business in Varosha. “I try not to dwell on the past or my misery. I have given up.” Mr. Demetriou has since rebuilt his life in a suburb near Nicosia, the Cypriot capital.
It’s a long stretch of sad stories of those who fled the once prosperous city of Varosha. It was in 1974 when Turkey, in response to a Greek-inspired coup attempt in Cyprus, invaded the town. The news of the invasion created fear in the hearts of the residents who abandoned their homes, means of livelihood and possessions, fleeing in 1974 and still to return. The invasion saw to the division of the city into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish-occupied north. Today, heavy security details guard Varosha, enclosing it with barbed wire with nature taking total possession of the entire space.
The beaches still spread in their pristine magnificiency and the hotels in their antique grandeur once drew the high and mighty across the globe to the splendour of its fanfare. Quiet, eerie, Varosha is an eloquent testimony of the irrationality of conflict. Okan Dagli, a Turkish Cypriot from Famagusta who saw the area when he served in the army, said it felt like a dystopia.
“Everything was looted and crumbling,” Mr. Dagli said. “It was as if time had stopped. It was both very sad and very disturbing.”
“It makes me feel ashamed and angry,” said Selma Caner, 28, a Turkish Cypriot philosophy teacher, sunbathing on the beach next to the barbed-wire fence blocking off Varosha. “It’s a bit creepy coming here. But after a while, abnormality becomes normal.”
Mr. Demetriou, the former Greek Cypriot resident of Varosha, said he dreamed of reopening an ice cream business in Cyprus in the late 1970s. But with his house and factory here looted and occupied by the Turks, Cypriot banks refused to grant him a loan, he said, because he had no collateral. He and his wife lived off her modest teacher’s salary.
In the 1970s, Famagusta was the number one tourist destination in Cyprus. To cater for the increasing number of tourists, many new high-rise buildings and hotels were constructed. During its heyday, Varosha was not only the number one tourist destination in Cyprus, but between 1970 and 1974, it was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and was a favourite destination of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, and Brigitte Bardot.
The main features of Varosha included John F. Kennedy Avenue, a street that ran from close to the port of Famagusta, through Varosha and parallel to Glossa beach. Along JFK Avenue, there were many well known high rise hotels including the King George Hotel, The Asterias Hotel, The Grecian Hotel, The Florida Hotel, and The Argo Hotel which was the favourite hotel of Elizabeth Taylor.

The Argo Hotel is located near the end of JFK Avenue, looking towards Protaras and Fig Tree Bay. Another major street in Varosha was Leonidas, a major street that came off JFK Avenue and headed west towards Vienna Corner. Leonidas was a major shopping and leisure street in Varosha, consisting of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and a Toyota car dealership.
1974 till date
Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus on 20 July 1974, the Greek Cypriot army withdrew its forces to Larnaca. The Turkish army advanced as far as the Green Line, which is the present day border between the two communities. Just hours before the Turkish and Greek Cypriot armies met in military combat on the streets of Famagusta, the entire population fled, fearing a massacre. Many refugees fled south to Paralimni, Dherynia, and Larnaca. Paralimni has since become the modern day capital of the Famagusta province.
When the Turkish Army gained control of the area during the invasion, they fenced it off and have since barred admittance to anyone except Turkish military and United Nations personnel. The people living in Varosha hoped to return to their home when the situation calmed down, but the resort was fenced off by the Turkish military.
The UN Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984 ordered for Varosha to be handed over to the administration of the United Nations, and was to be resettled by no other people than the inhabitants who were forced out. The Turkish State did not comply, but has held Varosha as a bargaining chip in the hope of persuading the people of Cyprus into accepting a settlement of the Cyprus issue on their terms.
One such settlement plan was the Annan Plan, which the vast majority of Greek Cypriots rejected as unfair. It provided for the return of Varosha to the original residents, but this never happened because the plan was rejected by Greek Cypriot voters in a referendum, as the overall plan was considered unacceptable.
The UN Security Council Resolution 550 states that it “considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations”. Since 1974, entry to the district is forbidden by Turkey with the exception of the TSK personnel and the students of the girls’ dormitory there.
The European Court of Human Rights awarded between €100,000 and €8,000,000 to eight Greek Cypriots for being deprived of their homes and properties as a result of the 1974 invasion. The case was filed jointly by businessman Constantinos Lordos and others, with the principal judgement in the Lordos case dating back to November 2010. The court ruled that, in the case of eight of the applicants, Turkey had violated Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human rights on the right of peaceful enjoyment of one’s possessions, and in the case of seven of the applicants, Turkey had violated Article 8 on the right to respect for private and family life.
As nobody has inhabited the area and no repairs have been carried out, all of the buildings continue to fall apart. Nature is reclaiming the area, as metal corrodes, windows break, and plants work their roots into the walls and pavement.
But not all Turkish Cypriots want to give Varosha back. After the 1974 invasion, an estimated 150,000 Turkish settlers arrived in the north of Cyprus, many of them poor and agrarian Turks from the mainland, who Greek Cypriots say are illegal immigrants used by Turkey as a demographic weapon.
Satilmis Sisli, a nurse from Izmir, in the west coast of Turkey, lives in Famagusta, across the street from a tall barbed wire fence sealing off Varosha’s crumbling Greek Orthodox Churches and mangled homes. He has lived 33 years in the former home of a Greek Cypriot, which he has adorned with lemon trees. He has no intention of leaving.
“I am a Turk, so I don’t know if things would be better if we were reunited — most people think it would be worse,” Mr. Sisli said, standing in his fragrant garden. “Greek Cypriots won’t come back as long as Turks rule here, and if they come back, we will lose everything.”
“Anyone who comes from Varosha has a romanticised notion of it,” says Vasia Markides, 34, an American Greek-Cypriot whose mother grew up there. “They talk about it being the hub of art and intellectual activity. They describe it as the French Riviera of Cyprus.”
The whole city is crying for occupants. Obviously so.
Additional reports from New York Times.