Cyprus okay with latest UNSC draft on ghost town of Varosha

Cyprus appeared to be at ease after a draft statement on Varosha, expected to be adopted by U.N. Security Council members on Friday afternoon, was said to “condemn” recent announcements by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders regarding the island’s ghost town.

According to the Cyprus News Agency, a new draft presidential statement by the United Nations Security Council that emerged after consultations and deliberations included references that were acceptable to Greek Cypriots.

The Security Council was asked to tackle the Varosha issue after the Republic of Cyprus requested closed consultations to take place following a Turkish Cypriot announcement to reopen part of the ghost town in the north, a move heavily criticised by Greek Cypriots in the south.

Reports said earlier drafts penned by the British and circulated to UNSC members did not include specific references or strong language to reflect public statements by several countries, including the United States.

But shortly before midnight, according to CNA, a new draft statement was put under the silence procedure Friday 4 p.m. (Cyprus time) stating “the Security Council condemns the announcement in Cyprus by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders on July 20, 2021 on the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha.”

CNA reported that deliberations had been underway between London and Nicosia and between London and Washington after an earlier silence procedure was broken by China, India and Ireland, with the members said to have requested “a certain amendment and for the statement to note that there has been a violation of the UN resolutions and statements”.

According to CNA, the Security Council in the latest presidential draft “expresses its deep regret regarding these unilateral actions that run contrary to its previous resolutions and statements”.

Presidential statements are made by the President of the Security Council on behalf of the Council, adopted at a formal meeting, and issued as an official document.

A U.N. Security Council Resolution in May 1984 “considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations”.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides labeled the Turkish Cypriot decision, which is backed by Ankara, “a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions”.

But Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar has argued that the process through an Immovable Property Committee in the north, which calls on Greek Cypriot property owners to claim their rights through restitution or compensation, would go forward “with respect to property rights and in accordance with the law”.

A final presidential statement by the Security Council is expected to come at the peak of an intense diplomatic marathon centred around the island, with Turkish Cypriots looking for new avenues to solve the Cyprus problem based on a two-state formula and Greek Cypriots insisting on a federal solution according to previous UN resolutions backed by permanent members.

Nicosia registered the issue in New York following an announcement in north Nicosia during a two-day visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The visit coincided with the 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.

Varosha, currently under military status in the northern part of the island, was abandoned in 1974 and had been a ghost city until last year, when Turkey and Turkish Cypriot authorities allowed visitors to access previously fenced off parts of the area as construction took place to open a beach strip and rebuild roads.

Many Greek Cypriots who own property in Varosha also visited the area but had mixed feelings, with some saying they would engage with Turkish Cypriot authorities in the north while the majority in the south including government and political establishment cried foul, saying the move on the town was an attempt to divide people over an issue that had been under negotiation for decades.

The Greek Cypriot leadership has been advising Varoshiotes against going back under a Turkish Cypriot administration.

Turkey and Turkish Cypriots say the return of the town’s administration in Greek Cypriot hands 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.

Many Varoshiotes who voted in favour of the Annan plan in 2004 said they did so to get back to their properties. But the plan was voted down overwhelmingly by Greek Cypriots, while it was approved by a majority of Turkish Cypriots, many of whom saw the peace deal as their ticket out of isolation and into the European Union.

(This article was originally published in the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)