The lines of division on the island of Cyprus are expanding beyond the traditional split along ethnic lines, with a visit by the Turkish president this week expected to cause friction within the Greek Cypriot community over the fate of Varosha but also within the Turkish Cypriot community over political values.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed in Cyprus on Monday afternoon for a two-day official visit to the self-declared breakaway state in the north, where he is expected to deliver his “good news” message to Turkish Cypriots.
Erdogan’s visit coincides with the 47th anniversary of the summer events of 1974, viewed by Turkish Cypriots in the north as a peace operation when Turkish troops landed on the island in response to a Greek-inspired coup but condemned by Greek Cypriots in the south who say Turkey carried out an illegal invasion.
The visit is seen as a diplomatic victory by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who has publicly denounced peace talks with the south unless Greek Cypriots agree to include a two-state formula in the discussion. Erdogan is expected to make announcements to upgrade the north along those lines.
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides has been going all out on a preemptive diplomatic strike aimed at garnering support in Brussels, Washington, and the international community to stop the Turkish President from revealing ‘surprises to the world’ during the visit on July 20.
Not everyone happy in the north either
But stories in the media have also pointed to a boycott of Erdogan by two Turkish Cypriot left-leaning political parties, who are concerned over tight links between Ankara and north Nicosia as well as Turkish airports treating a number of Turkish Cypriot politicians as persona non grata.
Additional stories in the south pointed to divisions among Greek Cypriots over the fate of Varosha, a ghost town that has been closed off by the Turkish military since 1974.
According to Kathimerini Cyprus, Erdogan’s anticipated announcements are expected to include measures on re-opening Varosha, including a call to Greek Cypriot displaced residents and property owners to return to their town or seek compensation through a committee in the north.
Kathimerini’s Marina Economides also noted that Ankara could be looking for a way to “move forward with a more complicated plan.”
“As a result Varoshiotes will be called upon to decide if they will return under a Turkish Cypriot administration, something that indirectly implies recognition of the regime but also secures their property rights,” Economides explained.
Last year a beach strip reopened and fences surrounding Varosha were taken down, but the question of what Varoshiotes could expect next was left to simmer until now
After travel restrictions between north and south were eased in 2003, former Varosha residents were allowed to get closer to their town but could only their homes through fences and barbed wire.
Last year a beach strip reopened and fences surrounding Varosha were taken down, allowing visitors including Greek Cypriots to visit the area under revitalization and cleaning up projects. But the question of what Varoshiotes could expect next was left to simmer until now.
The Greek Cypriot leadership has been advising Varoshiotes against going back under a Turkish Cypriot administration. The Republic of Cyprus’ public position has been the adherence to UN resolutions calling on the administration of the town to be handed over to the United Nations before the town could be opened up for residential living and commercial activity.
Turkey and Turkish Cypriots say the return of the town was included in previous peace plans rejected by Greek Cypriots, with Tatar and other Turkish diplomats accusing the south of being insincere in seeking a comprehensive solution.
But Nicosia may have a few tricks up its sleeve, according to Economides, who says the government will have to walk a fine line as not to infringe on the rights of Greek Cypriot property owners while charting a course to avert the latest developments.
Economides alluded to a number of measures previously offered by President Nicos Anastasiades in the past, including when when the Greek Cypriot leader proposed that Varosha open up to its inhabitants in exchange for the south to enter discussions about north’s unofficial but fully functional Ercan airport.
But Economides also cited former foreign minister Ioannis Kasouulides, a seasoned diplomat on the Cyprus Problem, who recently called for “taking initiatives” on the issue.
Kasoulides recently appeared as a guest on a political show on state-funded RIK where he said one idea that could get traction might be Ercan getting an official listing -similar to how China handled Taiwan- in exchange of Varosha going under a Greek Cypriot administration.
But the idea was quickly criticize by left opposition AKEL which warned that such a deal could leave other aspects of the Cyprus Problem unresolved for good.