Cyprus, Varosha / Maraş beaches

After 46 years, the ghost town of Varosha reopens its beaches

Varosha, a tourist destination in northern Cyprus where Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor used to spend the summer, was abandoned in 1974.

After 46 years closed to the public, the beaches and the coastal area of ​​the ghost town of Varosha (Maraş in Turkish), located in the Gazimagusa district of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (KKTC), have reopened to the public today.

On this historic day, about 200 people attended the opening of the area – until now a restricted military area – around 12:00 noon: they were able to walk along Demokrasi Street and along part of the city’s coast, in the past a famous holiday resort in the Mediterranean but which after the 1974 Turkish military operation was abandoned by its inhabitants, and since then it has been closed to civilian personnel.

The reopening of Varosha, which had already been announced in June 2019 by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, was confirmed two days ago by KKTC Prime Minister Ersin Tatar during a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. “We see the Maraş issue as a national cause that is above politics,” Tatar said.

For his part, Erdoğan agreed on the reopening of the city to tourism. “It is a fact that Maraş is a territory of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We support the KKTC’s decision to open Maraş beach,” said the Turkish president.

A city where Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor used to spend the summer

Varosha was a great tourist destination on the north coast of Cyprus with more than 100 hotels where Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor usedto spend the summer; however, when the Turkish army intervened in the north of the island in 1974 to stop the attacks against the Turkish Cypriot minority and after a coup that tried to annex Cyprus to Greece (then under a military dictatorship), Varosha was captured by the Turkish army and its inhabitants fled the place.

A 1984 United Nations Security Council resolution states that the city of Varosha can only be repopulated by its original inhabitants, and in fact several Greek Cypriots have already filed lawsuits claiming their former properties in the area.

The paradox is that, if the Greek Cypriots had ratified the Annan Plan in the 2004 referendum to reunify the island, Varosha would now be under the jurisdiction of the Greek Cypriot government and its former inhabitants would live there. However, the plan was rejected at the polls in the south of the island, while the Turkish Cypriots ratified it; disregarding the promises made to the latter, the EU admitted Cyprus – actually only the southern half of Greek Cypriot majority – as a new member State that same year.

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed his concern over the decision to reopen the ghost town of Varosha, recalling that the status of the city has not changed and is subject to Security Council resolutions. According to Guterres, any unilateral action runs the risk of further complicating negotiations on the island’s future – negotiations that Turkish Cypriots consider to have come to an end after the Greek Cypriot leader left the negotiating table in 2017.