Cypriots dream of returning to tourism jewel that became a ghost town

Once a jewel in Cyprus”s golden east coast, today Varosha is a ghost town.

Empty since the 1974 Turkish invasion, what used to be the hotspot of international tourism, is now a vast area of abandoned and ruined buildings.

More than four decades ago, its inhabitants were forced to leave to escape war, becoming refugees in their own land.

Despite a UN Security Council resolution, which granted them the right to return, Ankara has kept Varosha shut, as leverage in the Cyprus dispute.

Forty-seven years ago, the residents of the secluded Famagusta suburb were violently kicked out of their houses and the land of their ancestors. Since then, neither Greek-Cypriots nor Turkish-Cypriots have set foot in this place.

Today, Turkey’s president is visiting Varosha, announcing important decisions in advance and Famagustans are seeing their hopes for a reunited island and a return to their properties grow dim.

In what used to be idyllic scenery, time seems frozen. Buildings are crumbling, there are ruins with rusty parts and an eerie wilderness.

It’s a painful sight for locals like Pavlos Iacovou. His family used to own a hotel here since 1948 but they had to flee in 1974.

“It hurts coming to my hometown as a tourist,” says Varoshan Pavlos Iacovou. “It hurts that I have to ask for permission to visit my occupied hometown. It hurts that I have to show an ID to go to the beach where I grew up. Everything hurts”.

Nikos Karoulas was 12-years-old when his family had to leave Varosha. Today he dreams of a reunited country and returning home.

“I think it’s utopian to expect that things will go back to how they were,” he says. “What’s tragic about it is that Famagustans have been left to themselves to figure out what to do. It’s not at all simple and nobody can tell whether emotion will prevail over reason.”

Nikos gave us a tour of the beachfront, where he met an old Turkish-Cypriot neighbour of his. Hasan told us that the two communities of Cyprus should be left to build their common peaceful future together.

“If someone has to leave, then everyone has to leave,” says Hasan. “Everyone, English, Turks and Greeks. We should be the ones to stay, we and the Greek-Cypriots”.

In an interview twenty years before the invasion, the renowned Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis said that Famagusta was one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I really long to go back there before I die, Kazantzakis said, perhaps summing up perfectly the common feelings of Varoshans. In Greece, it is commonly known as “nostos”, the desire to return home.

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