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Famagusta exhibition raises questions about the future of the ‘ghost town’

25 November 2010 / 14:11:04  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

Famagusta - a European Ghost Town is the title of a photographic exhibition which can be seen in the exhibition centre of the Greek Parliament. The mayor Alexis Galanos handed the broken key of Famagusta to the Chairman of the Parliament Filippos Petsalnikos at a small ceremony, proclaiming him an honorary citizen. Famagusta is located in northern Cyprus, but the Cypriot Greeks, who no longer live there for 36 years, elect symbolically their mayors and municipal councilors as they would do it where they live. The emigration municipality building is located in Limassol.

The photos show how the Varosha neighbourhood looked before the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974, when 45,000 Cypriot Greeks were forced to leave Famagusta. It is hardly a coincidence that it is called the ‘ghost town’. This once central part of the town, where the shopping centre was, is surrounded by barbed wire ever since then and as the exiles' mayor say “it is waiting for its legitimate residents to return.” After his election as mayor in 2006, the former Chairman of the Cyprus Parliament Alexis Galanos and the municipal councilors decided to hold a big campaign to attract international attention.

They organized a petition in 2008 with the only request the residents of Famagusta to return to town. They had 30,000 signatures submitted to the President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering. They prepared exhibition with photos showing Famagusta’s past and present which was presented in Brussels, Luxembourg, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow, Paris, Athens and follow the London and Budapest. According to Alexis Galanos, “we had good responses everywhere. The theme of a ghost town causes reactions in the international community. A war crime in peacetime is running in Famagusta.”

“Famagusta was the second largest city in Cyprus with developed tourism, industry and trade. This development was interrupted during the second phase of the Turkish invasion. The town was not even in their plans. The army had found itself in front of it most likely because of a wrong plan and entered it after 3 days. People were scared of what they heard on the radio. So, they left their houses and went to other places in Cyprus or ended up in refugee camps,” explained Alexis Galanos at a press conference.

He recalled that shortly after the events the international community declared against the Turkish actions and supported the exiles’ return to Varosha. “We’ve been waiting 36 years. Many protest notes were sent. Even in 1978 the plan of the USA, Britain and Canada provided the residents’ return under the UN auspices and the beginning of negotiations for the overall solution of the Cyprus issue in parallel. A contract was signed at a high level between Spyros Kyprianou and Rauf Denktash in 1979, which again provided for the return of the refugees. In response, the Turkish-Cypriots state began to settle people from Turkey in the town. After our protest note to the UN in 1984 the Security Council adopted resolution 550, stating that it perceives the settlement actions unacceptable and calls on the UN to take control of Famagusta. In the ensuing Security Council resolution 789 of 1992, the UN took control of the area and declared it ‘dead zone’ to which its residents are expected to return. The same is stipulated in the European Parliament resolution that was voted in last February,” the mayor said. Despite all these international appeals, “the situation has not changed, settlers are housed in most of the city and the former trade centre and the sea area are surrounded by barbed wire. Buildings in Varosha neighbourhood are empty and ruined, the streets tarmac is cracked from plants and only rats and snakes live there,” said Alexis Galanos.

He also said that there was an appeal to the Turkish-Cypriot state to show good will to allow UN experts to enter the fenced area to assess what is needed to restore the town in the future, but “they firmly refuse even that”. Alexis Galanos has accused Europe of hypocrisy because it “has set its values in a window and displays them, and games that are played outside are of predetermined outcome.” He did not save his anger to the statements of “some of our politicians, who say it will be very expensive to build the neighbourhood again.” As he said, many European countries are positive about the exiles’ return to Famagusta, but, again according to him, countries like Britain actually encourage Turkey because they do not want to lose their military bases and strategic position in the region. The Mayor in exile said that "we want reunification of Cyprus and Cypriot people. We want to live peacefully in our country that will be free from all foreign armies.”

Famagusta was one of the topics that the Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias discussed in New York with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. According to the Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou, it was decided at the meeting to strengthen the negotiations within the current process without arbitration and strict time limits and without changing the role and the mission of the UN Secretary General. Last June Dimitris Christofias made a proposal to the Turkish Cypriot leader to lift the blockade of the port of Famagusta to begin to operate under the UN control. In response to this sign of goodwill Christofias offered Dervis Eroglu the option the north of the island to use the port of Famagusta as well as the one of Larnaca and the airport there. Northern Cyprus rejected the proposal.

Tags: FamagustaNorthern CyprusVarosha neighbourhoodGhost townAlexis Galanos
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