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Turks to unilaterally reopen abandoned Varosha on the divided island of Cyprus

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A beach located in Varosha, the abandoned southern quarter of the Turkish Cypriot city of Famagusta, will be reopened to the public on Thursday, the prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) announced on Tuesday.

“Please God, we, together with our people, will start using the beach at Varosha on Thursday morning. We see the Varosha issue as a national cause, above all political contests and debates. Thus, I call on all political parties and nongovernmental organizations to support this national cause,” Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In solidarity with the Turkish Cypriots, Erdoğan declared Turkey’s full support for the partial reopening.

“It is a fact that Varosha is the soil of Turkish Cyprus. We support the decision to open the beach to the public. We hope that all of Varosha will be opened for use,” Erdoğan said.

The announcement was made prior to the presidential election on the Turkish side of the island on October 11 in which Tatar is also a candidate.

Yenal Senin, leader of coalition partner the People’s Party (HP), announced that his party had decided to withdraw from the government. Senin claimed that Tatar was using the Varosha plan as an election strategy, accusing the prime minister of failing to inform his coalition partner the HP and state institutions of the decision.

“Varosha should have been opened not for election reasons but under a plan in compliance with international law,” the HP leader stated.

Nicos Anastasiades, president of the Republic of Cyprus, in the southern part of the island, found the reopening decision an “exceptionally unacceptable situation.”

On October 1 Anastasiades urged his fellow European Union governments to sanction Turkey over another problem between the Turkish and Greek sides. With backing from the international community, the Greeks accuse Turkey of undermining security in the eastern Mediterranean by drilling for oil and gas around Cyprus. Turkey, however, argues that it is only protecting Turkish interests, including those of the Turkish Cypriots.

A social media user posted footage that showed heavy construction equipment entering the abandoned town of Varosha following the prime minister’s announcement.

Known also as a “ghost town,” Varosha has been abandoned since Turkey took control of the town on August 13, 1974, at the end of a war between Greeks and Turks over the island. Located in the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Gazimağusa), Varosha was once a popular tourist resort. After being walled off by the Turkish army, it turned into a ghost town.

Using its guarantor rights to intervene, Turkey occupied northern Cyprus in 1974 in response to a brief Greek-initiated coup attempting to seize control of the island in a bid to unite it with Greece, a move that divided the island. Tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots fled south, while a smaller population of Turkish Cypriots living in southern Cyprus fled north with the intention of returning when the situation had stabilized.

In 1984 a resolution by the United Nations called for the handover of Varosha to its control and prohibited any attempt to resettle in the city by anyone other than its original inhabitants.

If the Annan Plan, the 2004 UN Cyprus reunification plan, had been accepted, Varosha would now have been under the Greek Cypriot control. At the time, the majority of Greek Cypriots voted against the UN plan, while Turkish Cypriots voted for it.

The KKTC is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, while the Greek Cypriot state enjoys international recognition as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960. As a result, Turkish Cyprus has faced a longstanding international embargo on commerce, transportation, and culture.

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