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What the Turkish settlement of Varosha would make clear

Featured What the Turkish settlement of Varosha would make clear

By Gus M. Bilirakis *

I was eager to hear Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's speech to the United Nations General Assembly. As a prominent player in the Cyprus dispute, I was hoping to hear about his efforts to resolve the island's decades-long crisis. Instead, despite his calls to combat injustice and find solutions that the international community can achieve, he is clearly determined to single-handedly prevent peace and reconciliation on Cyprus.

In a massive rebellion by the United Nations and the will of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots working to reunify Cyprus, Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish occupation authorities in Cyprus have initiated the process of opening Varosha, the abandoned southern quarter of Famagusta, for settlement under Turkish control. Mr. Erdogan fully realizes this harm will require reunification talks between the two communities, but he clearly does not care. This move greedily prioritizes his aspirations for Turkey at the expense of the people of Cyprus.

The tragic story of Varosha is perhaps the quintessential embodiment of the irreparable harm Turkey's direct intervention has had on the island for the past 45 years. Varosha once held international recognition as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but that ended after the Turkish military invasion of 1974 and subsequent closure of the city. Since then, the Cypriots chased out of Varosha have had no recourse and no ability to return to their homes.

Turkey has held Varosha hostage for decades, despite two Cypriot communities' intention to reach an agreement on the resettlement of its lawful residents. The 1979 High Level Agreement made it clear that the Varosha resettlement was a unified Cypriot priority, that both sides were open to such goodwill, and that the United Nations should play a role in resolving the Cyprus problem.

Turkey disregarded the will of the Cypriot people at that time, and it continues to disregard the United Nations's legitimacy on the issue, specifically the U.N. Security Council Resolutions 482, 550, 789 and 2483. The Republic of Cyprus continues to maintain Varosha's return as a cornerstone of confidence building measures with Turkish Cypriots, including joint ventures seeking to restore the dilapidated city. Indeed, the present government of the Republic of Cyprus proposed a Confidence Building Measure (CBM) that would have turned Varosha over to the U.N. control and allowed the Turkish-Cypriot port of Famagusta to trade with the world under EU auspices. The Erdogan government and Turkish occupation authorities in Cyprus rejected this win-win proposal and decided to keep this one-time jewel of the Eastern Mediterranean a ghost town.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots have both been frustrated for decades by failing to reunify and bring peace to their common home. Still, the two communities have recently agreed on more than they've ever had before; now is the time to move on and build on these convergences. The way to do that is to comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and use Varosha to build trust and cooperation, not to exaggerate existing divisions and illegal actions.

In his address, Mr. Erdogan quotes renowned scholar and poet Rumi's description of justice as "sharing amongst the people the rights and obligations appropriately and allocating what they are entitled to." I say to Prime Minister Erdogan: Cypriot people have the right to decide the future their country without direct Turkish interference and the displaced Cypriots are entitled to return to their homes in Varosha. The people of Cyprus want and deserve resolution, and you have no right to inhibit that.

* Gus M. Bilirakis, a U.S. Republican representative from Florida, is co-chairman of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and co-chairman of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus.

Source: washingtontimes