Cyprus, officially the Republic of Cyprus, is a state of the eastern Mediterranean on the third largest island of this sea region.
Although the Republic of Cyprus has sovereignty over the whole island under international treaties, the illegal state called the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” occupies 37% of the island after the Turkish invasion in 1974 and is under the military rule of the Turkish state. The United Kingdom still maintains the Akrotiri and Dhekelia military bases. International law and the UN consider the occupation of Turkish troops a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and no country other than Turkey recognizes the occupied territories as a state.
Cyprus is a member of the European Union and is an important tourist destination in the Mediterranean.
Brief historical facts
After the Ottoman Empire era, Cyprus was transferred to the British Empire in 1878. With the Treaty of Lausanne, the newly formed Turkish Republic completely relinquished its rights to Cyprus, which was declared a British crown colony in 1925. The Greek Cypriots prospected a union with Greece and the “Great Idea” of a revival of the Byzantine Empire, which escalated in the 1950s as a national policy.
The Turkish Cypriots, from their side, feared their expulsion from the island and aimed for the creation of their own state. Paramilitary organizations were formed on both sides claiming the demands of each community.
In 1960, Great Britain finally withdrew from sovereignty in Cyprus, which was declared an independent bi-communal state with Greek and Turkish as official languages, and the new state became a member of the UN.
As is common after a colonialism rule ends, especially in places with mixed ethnic and religious population groups, years of unrest, armed inter-communal conflict, political and social instability followed. Among other things, the Turkish Cypriots were isolated.
The dictatorship regime of Athens, had a prospect to annex the island, was involved in the internal politics of Cyprus, undermined the leadership of Archbishop Makarios, and strengthened the paramilitary groups (EOKA II)
In 1970 and 1973 assassination attempts were made against Makarios and on July 15, 1974 a coup was instigated. Archbishop Makarios escapes and on July 19, at the meeting of the UN Security Council, he denounces the junta of Athens for invasion.
In his speech to the United Nations, he condemned Greece’s involvement in the democratic rights of the people of Cyprus, saying that “The coup of the Greek junta is an invasion, and its consequences affect the entire Cypriot people, Greeks and Turks.”
This was considered by many to be an act of betrayal, giving cause to the Turks invading the island, although the operation had already been ordered earlier.
The tragic events that followed are well known.
Five days after the coup, on July 20, 1974, a Turkish military invasion of the Republic of Cyprus took place under the code name Operation Attila.
Turkey claims this is a peace operation legitimized by the Zurich-London Treaty, although it is definitely referred by the United Nations and the Council of Europe as an invasion.
Turkish forces occupy Kyrenia within three days and a ceasefire is declared on July 23.
The Athens junta and the coup government of Cyprus are collapsing, as are the Geneva talks on August 14th. Turkey launches the second operation “Attila II” and occupies 36% of the island, resulting in the displacement of more than 120 thousand refugees, as well as a large number of dead, missing and captives.
Population exchanges followed and in 1983, the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” was proclaimed, an illegal state recognized only by Turkey.
The occupation of northern Cyprus is still considered illegal to this day, while talks on resolving the Cyprus issue have been going on for half a century without agreement from both sides.
The European Commission of Human Rights has convicted Turkey of continuing violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, of crimes against humanity, of the rape of Greek Cypriot women by Turkish soldiers and of the tortures of Greek Cypriot prisoners of war.
The number of rapes was so large that it forced the conservative Orthodox Church of Cyprus to temporarily allow abortions.
Massacres of civilians, women and children were also committed against Turkish Cypriots, carried out by members of EOKA militants and also described by the United Nations as “crimes against humanity”. Women were raped and children were shot, according to Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot witnesses.
Occupied North Cyprus
After the independence of Cyprus, Famagusta developed rapidly, becoming a cosmopolitan and famous tourist resort. It was a favorite destination of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Brigitte Bardot and others. Until 1974, the Turkish Cypriots lived in Old Famagusta, while the Greek Cypriots lived in the part outside the walls called Varosha.
Varosha is an uninhabited ghost town in the southern part of Famagusta. Before the Turkish invasion it was the tourist area of the city, with many modern buildings and hotels.
During the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the city was bombed, and fighting broke out in its streets, until finally the Greek Cypriot army withdrew its forces and the Turkish army occupied the city up to the Green Line, which is the current border between the two communities. The entire population left their homes and fled to save their lives.
The Turks took control of the area, fenced it off and since then it has been abandoned. The United Nations Security Council has handed over control of Varosha to the United Nations to resettle the displaced. The Turkish state did not comply, but kept Varosha as a negotiating element for resolving the Cyprus problem on its own terms.
The European Court of Human Rights compensated eight Greek Cypriots for depriving them of their homes and property.
The illegal opening of Varosha
In October 2020, in violation of United Nations resolutions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the so-called “prime minister” of the occupied Cyprus, Ersin Tatar, arranged a picnic and announced that they would open part of the coastal front in Varosha.
On July 20, 2021, on the eve of the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion, the lifting of the military regime in Varosha and the pilot opening of 3.5% of the enclosed area are announced, “burning” the bargaining chip, shaking any solution proposal and provoking strong reactions of the Republic of Cyprus as well as a new condemnation of the United Nations. In a move to create impressions, he called on Greek Cypriot legal residents and owners to appeal to the Real Estate Commission of the pseudo-state to claim their property.
Varosha, a ghost town
The last time I saw the sad fate of this city, it was behind the barbed wire that separated the accessible part of the beach, with the ghost town. Ignoring the whistle of the soldiers, at the outpost a few meters away, I had taken some photos of the city that is left at the mercy of nature’s elements. On September 2021, arriving in southern Famagusta, I see a gate with revolving bars and some uniformed men that control the passports of those entering, in the now open part of Varosha. In view of my bulky camera, the question I am being asked is about my purpose … to answer honestly and boldly: tourism.
View of the fenced town in 2021 and 2018
A little further the municipality of Famagusta rents bicycles for 15tl (€ 1.5) for 2 hours, with a passport required as a guarantee. Most visitors are Turkish Cypriots or Turks, with a small number of other nationalities such as Russians. The distance to the edge of the opened city is over 3km as crow flies and the intense heat in combination with the circular route that we finally made, makes the bike a necessity. However, the image is surreal, with carefree visitors cycling and taking selfies in this shocking piece of history and human tragedy.
The roads that were handed over to the public have acquired new asphalt paving and traffic lines, while on the sidewalks wooden rods have been placed with a rope, as a railing that prohibits access to the buildings.
Going down to the beach, I reach the point I had seen in the past behind the barbed wire. A woman with a swimming ring enjoys the idyllic turquoise waters while behind her rise the lifeless, ruined buildings. The creepy silence is interrupted by the croaking of birds, which nest inside buildings, where once children laughs used to echo, moments of joy and family warmth, words of love, companionship, dreams …
Wandering in the uninhabited city, where everything collapses without human care… Nature rightfully claims its space back, plants invade houses spreading their roots and climbing the walls, metals rust, windows are broken, wooden railings and shutters rot. The special architecture of the time and the area, with the curved wall corner is reflected in many houses. Many buildings are unfinished, the war did not allow their completion. The modern apartment buildings of the time are in better condition, resisting the passage of half a century. But everything seems empty and looted. A ground floor bar still has a few stools waiting in vain for the next customer. I test the tolerance limits by crossing the rope and approaching, but from a car I hear a horn warning. I feel challenged to cross the ropes and enter a house, but the signs remind that the area is monitored by cameras, as well as patrols. In many buildings there are visible holes from ammunition, one is completely demolished … and these are just what we are allowed to see. The images of sadness they evoke remind me of another ghost town I had seen, the demolished Mosul in Iraq, although in Varosha the smell of the corpses does not prevail. Under an apartment building, two UN personnel are killing time. I take a photo of them, they warn me that it is forbidden. There are more places where photography is banned, like the Turkish army unit hiding behind a plastic plant fence.
A uniformed man and a barrier mark the end of the route and here is another access point to the beach. A snack bar, plastic sun loungers and parasols are offered to the few bathers. I confess that the thin, blonde sand and the crystal clear waters of the idyllic coast, in combination with the subtropical heat, are temptations that make you forget for a while the sadness of the surrounding and your respect to history. If one day the city comes back to life and the inhabitants return to their possessions, I may finally enjoy a dip in these waters. In those deserted beaches, sea turtles find safe haven to lay their eggs.
Returning from a parallel road and while capturing this space that has been frozen in 1974 time, two uniformed cyclists are heading towards me. One is furious, tells me that I am photographing a forbidden area and asks for a passport. I boldly answer that I left my passport for renting a bicycle, but I my fear was that if he discovered my nationality I would probably have unexpected entanglements. He asks me to see the photos I took, while I protest angrily that I did not see any signs anywhere (the truth is that I saw them). I continue aggressively saying that if the crossing is forbidden, they should fence the area! Eventually he forces me with characteristic rudeness, to delete 3-4 photos.
In the buildings of the city, most of the inscriptions in Greek language have been removed or covered. So typical Turkish practice of altering history! The classical architecture building of the Lyceum of Greek Women is one of them, the same happens in the building directly opposite, the “Greek Gymnasium” which has also been covered with two oversized flags of Turkey and the Pseudo-State. However, the inscription of the small building of the Olympic Airlines remains. The small Municipal garden with the fountain is quite neat, completing the invalid tourist effort. A city that is a sad reminder of the consequences of the war and any kind of rivalry that does not come from citizens, but from the nationalist rulers. May the Greek Cypriots return to Varosha soon and give life to the place again, living together with their neighbors. As long as there is Varosha and division … I do not forget!
The large, northeastern peninsula of Cyprus, the “wild east” of the island, hides exceptional natural beauty, many historical monuments and enchanting beaches without tourist development.
Leaving behind the last village named Rizokarpaso, a road full of deep potholes reaches Cape of Apostolos Andreas with the homonymous monastery, and transfers you to an idyllic forgotten corner of the European continent. A large number of wild donkeys of the local protected breed, will precede you by “invading” through the car windows in search of some tasty vegetable. In the recently renovated monastery, above the picturesque cove, you will find some souvenir shops and a cafe on a wooden balcony overlooking the sea. It is September and the visitors are few, the cafe is closed, but the tranquility of the place is amazing. A bit further on the road, there is a sole tavern that if you are lucky you will find a fresh fish catch. Accommodation is minimal, the beautiful stone house on a cape is unfortunately occupied. A young man having lunch with the owner of the tavern, has rooms in a hotel a few kilometers south. “View hotel” is a large building of the 70’s in kitsch blue exterior painting, on the verge of abandonment. It is completely empty and there are no staff, the rooms are wide open and one could stay without asking anyone. The young man informs that he will come again in the morning to make breakfast and we agree on a room price of 300tl. The room is relatively clean, it reminds me of another ghost hotel I had stayed in Chad, fortunately without the dust, birds and rodents that had settled in that one. The full moon is reflected in the Mediterranean and illuminates the surfaces of the building giving a spooky but at the same time romantic feeling.
A little further south is the undoubtedly most enchanting beach in Apostolos Andreas, it is the so-called Golden Coast. A huge sandy beach with dunes that climb to the hills, reminiscent of the deserted, spooky landscapes of the island of Socotra in Yemen. I climb the sand dunes traveling my mind in a Sahara illusion, interrupted by the clear blue waters that sparkle under the bright sun. Few are the visitors to this amazingly preserved paradise.
The occupied area of Kyrenia is of remarkable beauty, despite its tourist development. The picturesque harbor of the city and the huge castle, the neighboring beaches where sea turtles spawn, the mountain village of Karmi, the famous Abbey of Bellapais with the Gothic medieval monastery, are just a few of the points of interest in the area.
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