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Occupied by Turkish soldiers for nearly half a century, the former Cypriot resort town of Varosha lies in ruins. Known as Marash in Turkish, the city is located in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity recognized only by Ankara. It is also home to one of the two Turkish military bases on the island. According to a 1984 UN resolution, Varosha must be returned to its original owners. But neither the Greek Cypriot authorities nor the Turkish Cypriot administration took steps to implement the decision. Report by our regional correspondents Shona Bhattacharyya and Ludovic de Foucaud.
In a show of good faith, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) recently opened two of Varosha’s streets to visitors. It has become a tourist attraction, with bike rentals, cafes, playgrounds and a beach volleyball court at the foot of empty buildings on the verge of collapse. According to Ankara, since the partial reopening of Varosha a year and a half ago, more than 400,000 visitors have walked its streets.
Among them are often former residents of the city – Greek Cypriots who hope to one day return to their homes and properties. With the 1984 UN resolution not enforced, former residents take their cases to the Real Property Commission, a court in the TRNC. But their land ownership in Varosha is disputed by a Muslim religious foundation, Evak, which claims to be the sole owner of the town. He has documents dating back to 1571, when the Ottoman Empire conquered the island, to back up his claim.
Varosha occupies a special place in the negotiations between the two shores of the island, but is representative of one of the greatest challenges of the reunification of Cyprus: expropriation and land ownership.