Thursday 31st May 2012
By Elizabeth Matsangou
During the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, the Turkish army advanced into Famagusta, a thriving town situated on the east coast of the island. The 40,000 inhabitants of the previously popular holiday destination, often referred to as the “jewel of the Mediterranean”, were forced to abandon their homes and all their belongings. Since the forceful removal of the inhabitants, the once bustling city is now a ghost town, completely vacant and devoid of all citizens and businesses, a bleak reminder of the atrocities of 1974 and the injustice of a beautiful place which no one has the privilege to enjoy anymore.
On 11 May 1984, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 550 which states that the settlement of any people in Famagusta other that its inhabitants is “inadmissible” and calls for the area to be transferred to the administration of the United Nations so that it can be used as a buffer zone. Despite several UN resolutions, and repeated calls from the international community, Turkish military forces remain in the area, occupying the town without geostrategic or economic justification and of absolutely no benefit to the Turkish Cypriot population.
The events leading to the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the illegal occupation of 36.2 per cent of the island have fostered a deep sense of animosity between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. That resentment for ‘the other’ is being passed down from generation to generation, making segregation an innate strain of social consciousness in Cyprus. As irreversible as the stagnated conflict seems, in Famagusta there exists a unique opportunity in which a project is economically mutually beneficial to both sides of the conflict. Famagusta can be reopened to the public with immeasurable benefits to the entire Cypriot population as a basis for social and economic integration.
Working together to bring this ghost town back to prosperity could act as a confidence building exercise for the two communities; encouraging a sense of goodwill and cooperation will demonstrate to the people just how beneficial collaboration and breaking the current status quo can be. The renovation of Famagusta will act as a civil society exercise and as a basis for resolution which will permeate all levels of society. Chances of peacebuilding are increased, given that grass root solutions have proven to be more successful in grievance-based conflicts as they are more acceptable to the people than third party intervention. The integration forged whilst working on the revitalisation of Famagusta will hark back to a time in which Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together peacefully, a time when you would hear both Greek and Turkish being spoken as you walked the streets. No longer will the two communities be segregated in a fashion which would suggest that the hatred between them cannot be contained. Famagusta has the potential to act as the reminder to both Greeks and Turks that they can, in fact, peacefully coexist.
The positive results of collaboration will begin with an economic bridge around which other areas of state infrastructure will follow. The introduction of tourism and thousands of employment opportunities will provide a huge boost for the economy which will benefit both Greek and Turkish populations. Famagusta can become a model of economic interdependence between the two communities. That interdependence will compel cooperation, cooperation begets integration, and union will be the final result. Moreover, it is vital not to overlook the regional context as the numerous benefits on the European level will prompt and enhance the regional support for this initiative. Famagusta can be reintroduced to Europe as a new tourist hotspot and along with it will follow an influx of trade and foreign investment; an invaluable source in the current economic climate.
As well as a confidence building measure for the citizens of Cyprus, successfully opening and reviving Famagusta would demonstrate to the international arena the willingness and capability of both communities to live and work together successfully. With Famagusta, Cyprus can prove that the purported premise on which Turkey invaded is invalid and that their presence is not required for maintaining peace. With that model for unity in place, the reconciliation achieved in Famagusta could spill over into other areas of Cyprus thereby acting as a catalyst for peace.