Greek Cypriot officials in the south are calling once again on Varosha title deed holders to stay away from a “legal trap” in the north, pointing to Ottoman religious foundations officially acknowledged as interested parties by a commission that examines property claims in the divided island’s ghost town.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said over the weekend that his administration’s concerns on Varosha, the abandoned town off limits to civilians for decades, have been proven true following a recent decision by an Immovable Property Commission in the north.
The internationally-recognized IPC recently announced it would allow Evkaf, a Muslim charity dating back to the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus in 1571, to be an “interested party” in regards to property claim applications made by Greek Cypriots on Varosha, the once fashionable resort of British and Hollywood stars.
Muslim scholars suggest that property donated for the benefit of Cyprus’ Muslim community to the Evkaf, established by the Sultan soon after the conquest, was “irrevocable, perpetual and inalienable,” with some even arguing that Turkish Cypriots never sold Evkaf land to the British who later transferred ownership to Greek Cypriots.
But Greek Cypriot officials have dismissed any claims coming from Evkaf.
'Hence the small so-called pilot-phase section, set up to lure Greek Cypriots to file claims with the commission after it had been determined that it was not on land being sought illegally by Evkaf'
Greek Cypriot Famagusta mayor Simos Ioannou also argued over the weekend that claims through Evkaf were being made so that religious foundations could seek compensation from Greek Cypriots who built properties on Turkish Cypriot land.
“This issue was settled back in 1931,” Ioannou said, referring to Abdullah pasha foundation, one of three religious networks recognized by the IPC.
According to reports on the issue, Evkaf land in Varosha does not cover any sections of the roughly 3.5% area that Turkish Cypriots are reopening to Greek Cypriots.
But the president, who spoke at a monument inauguration in Limassol on Saturday, said “this is a trap.”
“Hence the small so-called pilot-phase section, set up as initial measure to lure Greek Cypriots to file claims with the commission after it had been determined that it was not on land being sought illegally by Evkaf,” Anastasiades said.
The president went on to say that he and his administration had been warning from the very beginning that there was a catch in the case of Varosha.
“We have been saying all along that this was a trap,” Anastasiades said, adding later that “all those who were calling on inhabitants to go to the commission for so-called compensation or restitution today are being proven wrong.”
Ioannou also called on fellow Greek Cypriots to be very careful with the IPC, calling it a “Trojan Horse” by which “Turkey has set a trap for looting property and rights through legal procedures.”
“It’s a Trojan horse, a trap that started with the 3% of fenced-off Varosha,” Ioannou said.
The mayor also said legal inhabitants of Famagusta, referring to Greek Cypriot families in Varosha who abandoned their town in 1974, “have at their disposal powerful documents from the UN Security Council,” along with the support of the five permanent members, the European Union, and all around the world, he added.
“This makes moves very difficult for Turkey, and that’s why they try to exhaust all legal avenues,” Ioannou argued, adding “this issue will be resolved only through political and not legal means.”
Known as Maras in Turkish, Varosha had been kept closed to civilians after Greek Cypriots fled town in August 1974, a month after Turkish troops landed on the island in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup days earlier.
The abandoned ghost town was destined to return under Greek Cypriot administration as part of a negotiated peace deal between the two sides of the ethnically-divided island, but UN efforts to help broker a deal have failed one after the other.
Anastasiades said on Saturday that he intended to bring up before the European Council the need for European initiatives on a Cyprus settlement as well as the adoption of “substantial confidence-building measures,” with Greek Cypriot media sources suggesting Varosha was being proposed to be handed over to UN administration.
But Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar has taken Varosha off the table, saying he did not believe Greek Cypriots were sincere in seeking a federal solution.
"It is their choice for the Greeks to settle here again and bring them into the economy. They can come or sell if they wish,” Tatar said last year.
Dozens of Greek Cypriot property owners, who filed an application with the IPC for the return of their Varosha properties, were approved last year after Turkish Cypriots turned the 5 square kilometers in the ghost town from a military forbidden zone into civilian administration.
Nicosia has been expressing fears that private initiatives by Greek Cypriots could tip the balance on the broader political aspect of the Cyprus Problem, with the government in the south also saying recent attempts to resettle Varosha violate UN resolutions.
Tatar has rejected the accusation, saying the process through the IPC takes place “with respect to property rights and the law.”