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18 June, 2024
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Varosha's haunting appeal to tourists

Varosha's dark secrets now open to visitors

Source: Daily Express

Few places in the world can claim to have been favored by both Hollywood actors such as Elizabeth Taylor and thrill seekers under very different circumstances.

Varosha, the southern quarter of the city of Famagusta, saw its fate change rapidly on July 20 1974 after the Turkish army invaded the northern part of Cyprus in response to an attempted coup sponsored by the Greek junta that happened five days prior.

The soldiers' arrival prompted 180,000 Greek Cypriots to flee Cyprus’ northern third, including 15,000 Varosha residents, who had to leave behind most of their possession and properties.

Tens of thousands of Turkish nationals relocated on the invaded part of the island to create Northern Cyprus - a country recognized only by Ankara.

Varosha, after having hosted thousands of tourists, remained an abandoned ghost town, frozen in time and cordoned off by the military.

The neighborhood has since been used as a bargaining chip, Hubert Faustmann, a professor of history and international relations at the University of Nicosia, said.

He told "Varosha was intended from the beginning as a bargaining chip. It was offered three times during the negotiations by the Turkish Cypriot side for various concessions, the most common is that they wanted the opening of the Famagusta port, but also of the Ercan airport for international traffic."

Varosha is the territory the Greek Cypriots expect to be returned, should a deal with Northern Cyprus ever be successful.

In 2020, the northern administration decided to reopen parts of the Varosha to tourists for the first time in four decades.

Travel restrictions had previously been eased in 2003 when former residents had been allowed to peer into the forgotten resort - but not to repossess their homes.

But the tourists attracted by the reopening of Varosha were neither the Hollywood stars seeking a luxurious experience between its sky-scraping hotels and glamorous shopping districts nor simple beachgoers attracted by the blue waters.

The neighborhood now tops the charts of dark tourism destinations - specific tourism involving traveling to places historically associated with death and tragedy.

Professor Faustmann said: "The section found itself in the top tourist sites in terms of dark tourism, so they started to open up certain parts of Varosha, and it's now a tourist destination with guided tours, with e-bikes, vehicles, and coffee shops.

"Varosha is being used as a tourist destination, as a tourist attraction, without a single inhabitant before 1974 returning. It's changed in the sense that it's open to the public, but it's not open for return."

People going to Varosha today still enjoy its splendid waters, but also face looted stores, ruined buildings, boarded-up homes, and several fenced areas where entrance remains forbidden.

Construction workers have been tidying up the area ahead of the arrival of tourists by laying cement, removing debris, and roping off edifices sealed from public view, while mobile canteens and tables, umbrellas, and chairs have popped up to provide service to visitors.

But these works would not be enough to allow a full-scale reopening of the quarter not just to tourists but also to residents, Professor Faustmann noted.

The opening of parts of Varosha, which two United Nations' resolutions stated decades ago should be returned to its former residents-turned-refugees, to tourists angered many Greek Cypriots.

Among those who used to live in the quarter, 53-year-old Costantinides previously told the Independent: "There’s tremendous anger about what has happened here. Turkey has committed a huge crime. Today, we’re living the same crime again.

He added: "It’s as if they’re performing an autopsy and tourists are coming to witness it. It’s a shame, a shame for humanity."

After partially reopening Varosha to tourism, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar also invited Greek Cypriots to return and reclaim their homes - but only to live under the Northern Cyprus administration rather than in a united Cyprus, as ruled by the UN.

Professor Faustmann said: "The official line is that they're supposed to return, but there are huge logistical problems including that the entire infrastructure has to be rebuilt from the sewage system to electricity. And that's not been done."

The expert believes the Turkish side is playing a tactical game, knowing it's moving against UN resolutions.

So, Mr. Tatar may move "step by step and see what the international response is", the professor explained, adding that if the UN and the international community don't hit back against Northern Cyprus' breaches in a tough way, something they haven't done so far, the administration may "proceed to the next step".

He continued: "In the long run, it depends if they want to keep it as a tourist site, or if they want to try to get back in the Greek Cypriot community, and allow Greek Cypriots to return."

A further challenge for Greek Cypriots wanting to return to Varosha has been recently posed by a Muslim religious foundation, Evak, which has claimed to be the sole owner of the area.

This claim has been backed up by the organization with documents dating back to 1571 when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island.

The future of Varosha is far from being clear, as conceded by Professor Faustmann who recently visited Varosha twice.

He said: "Do [Northern Cyprus] consider it as a dark tourism highlight that needs to be developed further? Or, given the reopening, do they allow the return and selling of the properties to investors, which is probably much more profitable?

"What we can see is that they opened up further areas, they prepare to open up further areas but they have not made any moves towards infrastructure in terms of sewage system and electricity, which would allow the return of Greek Cypriots."

Cyprus  |  Varosha  |  tourism  |  ghost  |  experience

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