Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Cyprus on Sunday during Turkish Cypriot celebrations in the north, prompting strong reactions from Greek Cypriots in the south at a time when the divided island’s political future hangs in the balance.
Erdogan landed at Ercan airport in north Nicosia on Sunday after 12 noon, where political ally and newly-elected Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar was waiting on the tarmac to greet the Turkish president who arrived with Turkey’s first lady.
The Turkish president was warmly received by supporters under tight security while he later went on to attend a military parade in celebration of the north’s 37th anniversary, a declaration that has not been recognized by any country in the world except Turkey.
In an official speech marking celebrations, Erdogan said “there are two peoples and two separate states in Cyprus,” adding that the Turkish side has been arguing for years that “there should be a chance for cooperation regarding energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
'A new beneficial period for all will be launched in the ghost town of Varosha' Erdogan declared, adding the move was not intended to cause new grievances but to address old ones
“But we did not get results from our well-intentioned efforts," the Turkish president argued.
Erdogan’s itinerary includes an afternoon visit to Varosha, a fenced-off ghost town in disarray for decades until very recently when controversial revitalization efforts began.
"A new beneficial period for all will be launched in the ghost town of Varosha," Erdogan declared, adding that the move was not intended to cause new grievances but to address old ones.”
The highly symbolic Varosha “picnic” -as it was described by Erdogan himself recently- prompted strong reactions from Greek Cypriots in the south, including the government which issued a statement describing the entire visit as a “provocation” and an “illegal act” in violation of United Nations resolutions.
“Unfortunately, today’s dark anniversary of the declaration of the illegal regime was chosen by Turkey and its President Tayyip Erdogan, and the illegal regime, to create new fait accompli on the ground, demonstrating in practice, that Ankara does not respect at all international legality, European principles and values, and its obligations toward the EU, boastfully showing contempt and violating the relevant decisions and resolutions of the UN,” the statement said.
The Republic of Cyprus further believed that Erdogan’s actions would “torpedo” efforts by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as he embarked on a new initiative to test the waters for a new round of peace talks.
Reaction towards latest Varosha developments also came from the north, as many Turkish Cypriots cried foul over efforts to gradually open the city. A number of demonstrations took place, calling on Ankara to hand over the administration of the ghost town to the United Nations. Protesters in the south, including Greek nationalist party ELAM, were said to be gathering near the buffer zone in Dherynia for a demonstration.
Ankara has signaled it would open the city for the first time after 1974 in an effort to boost the north’s economy as well as offer displaced residents options including going back to live under Turkish Cypriot administration.
Tatar, who won the election in the north in a runoff against incumbent Mustafa Akinci, has supported the Varosha move, while also calling for alternative options for Cyprus’ future. The new leader says he favours two equal states side by side rather than a federation of two states, something he has described as “unrealistic” and blamed Greek Cypriots of being insecure with the federal prospect.
But both critics in the north and south have accused Turkey of trying impose Ankara’s agenda against the will of the Cypriot people.
Turkey, along with Greece and the United Kingdom, are the three guarantor powers in Cyprus, which was ethnically split in 1964 and further divided in 1974, when Turkish troops landed on the island following a short-lived Greek inspired coup.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who also visited the island in late September, highlighted unity and solidarity between Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, saying “the two countries maintain a common, solid diplomatic front” in the face of Turkish provocations.