'Terrible day': anger as pictures show Varosha beach in Cyprus opening after 46 years

For the first time in 46 years the public have been permitted to access the beach of Varosha in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of Cyprus, in a contentious move unveiled by its internationally unrecognised premier who is running in an election on Sunday.

Hundreds filed through a gate manned by Turkish Cypriot police on Thursday to walk on a freshly paved asphalt road leading to the beach that was the jewel of what was once a premier tourist resort in Famagusta. The road was flanked by police tape to keep pedestrians out of windowless homes and rusting business, some swallowed up by decades-old undergrowth.

Varosha’s Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled as Turkish troops advanced in 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The area was placed under Turkish military control, cordoned off and left to the ravages of time.

A woman walks through a newly opened street of an abandoned quarter of Varosha in Famagusta, Cyprus.
A woman walks past abandoned buildings in Varosha. Photograph: Katia Christodoulou/EPA

For some, like one woman draped in the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, it was a moment of joy to witness a “historic” moment. But for others, like Greek Cypriot and Varosha native Kyriakos Charalambides watching on TV from his Nicosia home, it was a moment of bitterness and sorrow. “Even though I expected this, I shuddered as I watched those familiar places,” Charalambides, a playwright, told the Associated Press. “It’s a sorrow that cannot be consoled … Varosha is lost.”

“Its a terrible day,” said art historian and archaeologist Anna Marangou, who was 22 when she was forced to flee.

Greek Cypriots protest at the Deryneia crossing point after Turkish authorities reopened Varosha, a beach quarter of the historic city of Famagusta.
Greek Cypriots protest at the Deryneia crossing point after Turkish authorities reopened Varosha, a beach quarter of the historic city of Famagusta. Photograph: Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP/Getty Images

Former Varosha residents staged a demonstration late on Thursday at a crossing point along a UN controlled buffer zone to voice their opposition to the opening. The checkpoint — one of nine from which Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can cross on either side — was shut on the Turkish Cypriot side as part of measures to counter the spread of Covid-19.

“How can someone not be upset by what they have seen today?” said the Greek Cypriot mayor of Famagusta, Simos Ioannou Press. “Varosha should have been handed over to its rightful owners … this is psychological pressure.”

Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus’s internationally recognised president, called the move “illegal”. It has already condemned the move and said it would file a recourse to the United Nations security council. Russia said reopening the beach was unacceptable. Both the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, and the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, have expressed concern at an action they said could heighten tensions and undermine fresh attempts at restarting talks.

A woman walks past a cordoned-off building in Varosha.
A woman walks past a cordoned-off building in Varosha. Photograph: Reuters

The decision, by Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara, to open the mile-long stretch of beach was roundly condemned by the island’s Greek Cypriot-run, internationally recognised government.

The Cypriot president, Anastasiades, said it was a “flagrant violation of international law” and UN security council resolutions that consider it “inadmissible” for any part of Varosha — Maras in Turkish — to be settled by anyone other than its legitimate inhabitants.

But Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials insist the move is to everyone’s benefit and that the rights of Greek Cypriot property owners are not affected since it is only the beach that is opening for now. The Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said an inventory of properties was under way to determine what would happen with the rest of Varosha.

The UN security council scheduled closed consultations on Varosha on Friday.

With AFP and Reuters