Brussels and Washington have reacted strongly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to partially reopen a coastal resort town emptied of its original Greek Cypriot residents as well as his proposal for a two-state solution on the island of Cyprus.
His uncompromising speech in the north of divided Nicosia marked another step towards opening up the ghost town and former resort of Varosha, in violation of UN resolutions and slammed as “unacceptable” by the European Union.
“We don’t have another 50 years to waste,” Erdogan told a crowd at a parade to mark the 47th anniversary of his country’s invasion that divided the Mediterranean island.
He was referring to decades of failed UN-led efforts to reunite the Greek and Turkish Cypriot-controlled sectors of Cyprus.
“No progress can be made in negotiations without accepting that there are two peoples and two states with equal status,” he said.
EU top diplomat Josep Borrell issued a statement calling on Erdogan to stop provocation and return to a dialogue over the Cyprus issue based on the basis of a “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality.”
The same proposal was reiterated by US Secretary of Foreign Affairs Antony Blinken.
Erdogan also voiced support for Turkish Cypriot plans to reopen a part of Varosha, effectively handing over control from the Turkish military and changing the status quo, in defiance of UN resolutions.
“The doors of a new period that will benefit everyone will open in Varosha,” Erdogan said.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, who is close to Erdogan and supports a two-state solution rather than the federation long sought in UN-led negotiations, said an initial 3.5% of Varosha would “be removed from its military status.”
Erdogan said this showed “how sensitively Turkish Cypriot authorities approach this issue.” But Borrell swiftly slammed any such move as “an unacceptable unilateral decision.”
To cheers from Turkish flag-waving supporters, Erdogan accused the Greek Cypriots of “blocking any route to a solution” with a “maximalist approach […] that is disconnected from the reality.”
He dismissed a warning this month from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that Brussels would “never accept” a two-state solution for Cyprus, an EU member since 2004.
In contrast to celebrations in the north, mournful sirens blasted across southern Nicosia at 5:30 am (0230 GMT) to mark the anniversary of the start of the invasion on July 20, 1974.
Turkish troops seized the northern third of Cyprus in response to an aborted coup in Nicosia aimed at attaching the country to Greece.
The island is now divided between the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Ankara.
“Life will restart in Varosha,” Erdogan said on the second day of his visit to the north, renewing an offer of financial compensation for Greek Cypriots who lost properties in 1974.
‘Provocation without precedent’
Once a playground that hosted Hollywood celebrities, Varosha was for decades a derelict ghost town, fenced off by Turkish soldiers and kept as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
But the Turkish army restored public access to parts of its beachfront last year, weeks ahead of Tatar’s election.
The United Nations Security Council responded by calling for a reversal of the decision and “for the parties to avoid any unilateral action that could raise tensions on the island.”
Erdogan visited Varosha the following month in a move denounced by the Republic of Cyprus as a “provocation without precedent.”
Since then a major thoroughfare, Demokratias Avenue, has been cleared and workers raced to spruce up the street ahead of a possible second visit.
Erdogan insisted that moves to revive the town would respect property rights.
“We don’t have an eye on anyone’s land, rights or property, but nobody can touch the rights of Turkey or the TRNC,” he said.
The internationally recognised government in Nicosia has stressed that Varosha is a “red line”, and strongly condemned Erdogan’s previous visit to northern Cyprus.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is due in Cyprus on Wednesday hot on heels of Erdogan’s trip.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]