Conflicts & War

Cypriots mull over Varosha reopening, where time froze 47 years ago

By Flora Alexandrou

Famagusta, Cyprus, Aug 13 (EFE).- “It’s surreal! Like I am part of a Salvador Dali painting,” says Alexandra, having wandered for hours through the Varosha neighbourhood, a ghost town in the Cypriot city of Famagusta, now partially opened after being sealed off behind barbed wire for 47 years.

“The clock froze in August 1974 during the war. The Turkish soldiers, they forced us to leave and abandon our lives. Today, the clock is melting,” says the Greek Cypriot, who was 8 years old at the time.

Varosha accounts for 17% of the port city of Famagusta in the north of the island. Its buildings are the quiet witnesses of the destruction inflicted by Turkish airstrikes in the summer of 1974.

In violation of United Nations resolutions, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on July 20 the partial reopening of Varosha, almost five decades since it was shut off, stirring tensions with Greek Cypriots while original owners of property are faced with a dilemma.

“We’re like guinea pigs in a Turkish military cage some 6 square kilometres large, 3.5% of which is being returned from military control to civilians. They took a first step towards total reopening. They want to gauge our reaction,” says Alexandra.

Return under Turkish Cypriot rule? Undersell our homes? Who will pay for the reconstruction of our property? These are some of the questions looping in the minds of the former residents of the area, who now have to choose one of three options offered by the Turks: compensation, restitution, or exchange.

“I will return. I want restitution. We have the obligation to do so, because of our history, our ancestors, our memories and our immense desire to be back. We are the rightful residents of Varosha,” says Xenia Papa, a Greek Cypriot whose property stands in the chunk of land to be reopened for civilian life.

Others wonder: return how? And live where? With the sole company of rats and snakes?

“I spent the first 15 years of my life here,” says Mijalis Loizidis, a former resident of Varosha. “The space and time are so weird! Everything around me looks smaller.”

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