Cyprus Ghost Town Becomes Pawn in Drilling Dispute with Turkey
A ghost town in Cyprus’s Turkish-controlled north has become the latest pawn in the conflict surrounding Turkey’s drilling for natural gas off the island’s shore.
The breakaway Turkish Cypriot state has ordered a study to determine owners of properties in Varosha, which had been the island’s premier tourist resort before it was abandoned and sealed off following the Turkish takeover of northern Cyprus in 1974. The move was announced late Tuesday after the European Union said it was mulling possible action against Turkey for drilling off Cyprus.
Turkey is planning to a dispatch a second drilling ship off Cyprus on Thursday, the Energy Ministry said. Cyprus says the exploration is taking place in waters where it has exclusive economic rights and violates its sovereignty.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed late Tuesday that “no one can prevent us from protecting rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean.” Turkey’s army, which seized northern Cyprus in the wake of a failed coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece, kept Varosha closed and uninhabited after its Greek-speaking residents abandoned the once-posh suburb next to the port of Famagusta.
“The time has come to take a solid step on shuttered Varosha,” said Kudret Ozersay, the foreign minister of the self-declared Turkish Cypriot government, which is recognized as a state only by Turkey.
Turkey’s pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper said the plan is to reopen Varosha for settlement. The town, where ruined beachfront apartment buildings, villas, a fur shop and an Alfa Romeo dealer are partly overrun by ivy, could be a potential target for large-scale investment if the Cypriot conflict is peacefully resolved.