Northern Cyprus said on Tuesday it will reopen the beach area of an abandoned resort in no-man’s land, a move condemned by Greek Cypriots and likely to conjure up memories of the 1974 Turkish invasion that partitioned the island.
Ersin Tatar, premier of the breakaway state of Northern Cyprus, made the announcement in Ankara alongside Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who said he backed the decision on Varosha, sealed off within barbed wire for decades.
The move could weigh on Turkey’s dispute with European Union members Cyprus and Greece over territorial rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tensions had eased after Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks, but Cyprus, a close ally of the Greece, promptly condemned the move to partially reopen the abandoned resort and said it would file a recourse to the United Nations Security Council.
Greece also criticised the move, and said it would support Cyprus.
“God willing, we will start to use the Maras beach on Thursday morning together with our people,” Tatar said, using Varosha’s Turkish name. Northern Cyprus is only recognised as a state by Turkey.
Sources in Cyprus said the plan was to open up about 1.5 km (1 mile) of beachfront to the public and not the approximately 6 square km (2.3 sq miles) inland that includes abandoned hotels and residences which its population of 39,000 people fled in 1974 during a Turkish invasion following a Greek inspired coup.
“We hope that the whole of Maras is opened to use after ongoing work is completed by respecting property rights,” Erdogan said, pledging support for Turkish Cypriot officials.
Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus’s internationally-recognised government – and who as recently as last week was involved in a tense stand-off with his EU peers for his push for sanctions on Turkey, said: “this is an exceptionally unacceptable situation.”
Varosha is a suburb of the larger city of Famagusta, which, in Greek – Ammochostos – means “buried in sand”. It has a pristine coastline of thick golden sand, most of it in the now out-of-bounds Varosha quarter.
Presently, about 200 metres (660 ft) of it is accessible to the public under the towering shadow of a hotel and a three-storey resort bombed during the war and left rotting since then. The rest of it is fenced off by rusting barbed wire which extends into the sea, guarded by Turkish soldiers.
Nicosia had already been in touch with the governments of the five permanent members of the Security Council in the hours leading up to the announcement, people with knowledge of the matter said.
Tatar had signalled steps to reopen Varosha in August, saying a revival of the area, which contains derelict hotels, churches and residences, would bring trade and tourism benefits.
Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Northern Cyprus on Sunday, with Tatar a candidate.
Varosha has been off limits along ceasefire lines to all but the Turkish military since 1974 and has stood as a bargaining chip in the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Several peacemaking efforts have made no significant progress and the discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated efforts to resolve the island’s partition.