What has happened in Varosi?
On 20 July 2021, Turkey and the occupation regime in Cyprus announced their plans to open an additional part of the fenced off area of Varosi, the southern quarter of the occupied town of Famagusta. The area in question, as is the case with all of Varosi, has been a military zone since 1974 when Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus, forcibly removed the residents and occupied the town. The entire population of Varosi became refugees as a result of Turkey’s invasion and thousands of its lawful inhabitants now reside in Britain. The latest announcement, to convert the status of part of the fenced off area from a military zone to a civilian zone, came exactly 47 years to the day that Turkish troops started their invasion of Cyprus – the timing is no coincidence.
The United Nations Security Council has consistently and repeatedly called for control of Varosi to be transferred to the United Nations, until a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue is reached, so that the area’s lawful inhabitants can return safely and not under conditions of Turkish military occupation. Turkey’s latest announcement is, therefore, a blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions and seriously undermines prospects for the resumption of negotiations and a solution to the Cyprus issue.
Furthermore, Turkey’s responsibility regarding Varosi is abundantly clear from the regular reports of the UN Secretary General on the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) that stipulate that “the United Nations continues to hold the Government of Turkey responsible for the situation in Varosha”.
- UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984): “Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of that area to the administration of the United Nations”
- UN Security Council resolution 789 (1992): “with a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha”
- UN Security Council resolution 2561 (2021): “Recalls the status of Varosha as set out in relevant resolutions, including resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992), and its Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2020/9), which expresses deep concern at developments in Varosha, and calls for the reversal of this course of action, and reaffirms that UNFICYP’s freedom of movement should be respected”
Turkey has long threatened to ‘reopen’ the fenced off area. In October 2020, Turkey ‘opened’ a section of Varosi’s once famous beachfront. This was swiftly condemned by the international community and a UN Security Council Presidential Statement called for “the reversal of this course of action” and reaffirmed its previous resolutions. Regrettably, Turkey continues to face no tangible consequences for failing to reverse its actions in October 2020 so has now felt emboldened to ‘re-open’ a part of the fenced off area of Varosi.
How did the international community respond?
The UN Security Council has condemned the ‘re-opening’ of Varosi by Turkey in a Presidential Statement dated 23 July 2021. The statement says, “the Security Council condemns the announcement in Cyprus by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaders on 20 July 2021 on the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha.” It also calls for “the reversal of this course of action and the reversal of all steps taken on Varosi since October 2020” and “stresses the importance of full respect and implementation of its resolutions, including the transfer of Varosi to UN administration, and of respect for UNFICYP’s freedom of movement.”
Prior to the UNSC Presidential Statement being issued, there was strong opposition to Turkey’s actions from across the international community including from all P5 UN Security Council members, the EU, the UN Secretary General, as well as countless other countries.
We welcome the clear condemnation in the latest UNSC Presidential Statement. However, we are disappointed and deeply troubled by the reports that, despite the United Kingdom’s special relationship to Cyprus as a guarantor with particular obligations under the 1960 Treaties and as the UNSC penholder on Cyprus, the UK unacceptably tried to water down the Security Council’s response. In the early drafts of the Presidential Statement, prepared by the UK, neither “condemnation” of Turkey’s violation of UNSC resolutions nor the culpability of “Turkey” and “Turkish Cypriot leaders” were included.
It is concerning that it took what appears to be strong opposition by other members of the Security Council for the end result to reflect the reality of Turkey’s actions on the ground. Turkey’s violations do not just impact Cyprus, they undermine the integrity of the rules-based international system.
What needs to happen if Turkey does not reverse its actions?
Turkey has shown disregard for previous UN Security Resolutions on Cyprus and more recently the UNSC Presidential Statement from October 2020. Therefore, unless there are meaningful and tangible consequences if Turkey fails to reverse its actions in Varosi, Turkey will again feel emboldened to continue violating international law there. Given the UK’s obligations to Cyprus, Her Majesty’s Government must now seriously consider all measures and actions available to it to prevent such an eventuality.
The UK’s relationship with Turkey is of course both close and multifaceted, however this cannot mean support is unconditional. Global Britain’s positive foreign policy agenda must always prioritise upholding and defending international law and human rights against those who violate them. Where there are violations, not only must there be unequivocal condemnation, but there must be meaningful consequences. It is time for the UK to lead the international community’s decisive response to Turkey’s violations in Cyprus.