Turkey eyes Cyprus expansion ahead of April election

Turkey eyes Cyprus expansion ahead of April election

Turkey’s vice president Fuat Oktay has held talks on reopening the border town of Varosha (pictured) in the Turkish Cypriot city of Gazimağusa, according to the Turkish state media. 

The site has been abandoned since the Turkish invasion in 1974. 

Oktay said Turkish Cypriots would not accept the status quo and were pushing for an end to the deadlock on the divided island. 

“Varosha belongs to the Turkish Cyprus,” he told the media. “Steps by Turkish Cyprus for the economy and welfare of the area are legitimate.” 

Last year, Oktay promised to reopen Varosha after abandoned properties were returned to their owners using official documents. 

Only the armed forces from the Turkish Cypriot side can currently enter Varosha.

Most of Varosha belonged to Turkish foundations, Oktay said last year.

Turkish Cypriot president Mustafa Akinci has criticised the Varosha initiative, saying the ghost town should be reopened in accordance with international law.

“It makes sense if it is handled in a way that contributes to the solution without conflict with the United Nations,” said Akinci, who is suffering from increasingly frayed relations with Ankara ahead of a presidential election in April. 

“Otherwise, this initiative, which was held before the election, is very faulty in terms of participation, scope and timing,” added Akinci, a leftwing former Nicosia mayor.

The 1984 United Nations Security Council resolution 550 outlawed any effort to repopulate Varosha with anyone other than its original inhabitants.

This month Akinci caused outrage in Turkey when he told the Guardian that the nationalist government in Ankara wanted to relegate the isolated enclave to a mere Turkish province. 

He called for urgent talks with Greek Cyprus to establish a federal state on the island within the European Union. 

The president, who took office in 2015, in April will face an electoral challenge from the current prime minister, Ersin Tatar, a pro-Ankara populist who opposes reconciliation with Greek Cyprus. 

He favours a divided island and has the firm backing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Unknown numbers of mainlanders have arrived in Cyprus, shifting the pariah state’s electoral and religious balance.

Erdogan has said the electorate will teach Akinci a “lesson” in April.  

Akinci says Turkish Cypriots have a distinct culture, which is secular, democratic and plural, in contrast to some of the more fundamentalist Turkish settlers. 

Activists say Turkey has led a campaign of Islamisation through mosque-building, the establishment of madrassas and the removal of evolution from the school curriculum.


Varosha. Picture credit: Wikimedia 



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