Ghost Cyprus Resort Bears Scars of Half-century of Division

Cypriots and tourists alike tour the fading 1970s time capsule preserved in Varosha's abandoned streets. ROY ISSA / AFP/File
Cypriots and tourists alike tour the fading 1970s time capsule preserved in Varosha's abandoned streets. ROY ISSA / AFP/File
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Ghost Cyprus Resort Bears Scars of Half-century of Division

Cypriots and tourists alike tour the fading 1970s time capsule preserved in Varosha's abandoned streets. ROY ISSA / AFP/File
Cypriots and tourists alike tour the fading 1970s time capsule preserved in Varosha's abandoned streets. ROY ISSA / AFP/File

Once Cyprus's premier beach resort, the abandoned hotels and villas of Varosha stand testament to dashed hopes of reclaiming lost property after five decades of division and failed diplomacy.
Situated in the seaside district of Famagusta, it was among the last parts of the Mediterranean island's north to be occupied by Türkiye during its 1974 invasion triggered by a Greek-sponsored coup, said AFP.
Fearing the advancing Turkish forces, the roughly 45,000 Greek Cypriot residents of Varosha -- where Hollywood star Sophia Loren once owned a home too -- fled, and the area was never resettled.
Instead, frozen in time, the neighborhood was fenced off for use as a bargaining chip in eventual peace talks between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.
Successive UN-backed peace plans would have allowed Varosha's residents to return to their properties under Greek Cypriot administration, but failed to satisfy other demands.
The last round of UN-backed talks collapsed in 2017.
Then, in October 2020, with both Türkiye and the Turkish Cypriots declaring the UN-backed process dead, the army announced it was opening up part of the fenced zone to day trips.
A resurfaced main street behind the crumbing beachfront has allowed Cypriots and tourists alike to tour the fading 1970s time capsule preserved in the city's streets.
Nicolas Karageorgis was among the Greek Cypriot former residents who flocked to Varosha in hope of a glimpse of their childhood homes.
Ropes blocked off the access road which was covered in weeds, leaving him unable to see the house.
A signpost nearby warned sightseers not to go near the ruined buildings.
"The house is empty but full of memories," said Karageorgis.
Hopes of 'revival'
Like many displaced from Varosha, the retired engineer has submitted a request to the Immovable Property Commission, a controversial body set up by the breakaway Turkish Cypriot administration to oversee Greek Cypriot property in the north.
"We had the choice to seek compensation or restitution. I chose restitution," he said.
Other Greek Cypriots, despairing of the prospects of ever recovering their properties as part of a UN-backed deal, have chosen compensation, leaving the Turkish Cypriots to claim ownership of several of the district's hotels.
Greek Cypriot law firms say that many owners are still waiting for compensation under the controversial scheme, which has created a roaring gray market in abandoned properties with Turkish Cypriot-issued title deeds.
Even where "judgements have been handed down... Türkiye refuses to pay", said lawyer Achilleas Demetriades.
Since the 1974 war, Cyprus has remained divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, which controls the Greek-speaking southern two-thirds of the island, and a northern Turkish-speaking statelet recognised only by Ankara.
For Turkish Cypriots, who still want to see the island reunified, the reopening of Varosha, even partially to day-trippers, is a first step.
"We would like to see the revival of Varosha, of course with the former inhabitants," said Serdar Atai, 57.
But for many Greek Cypriots, the dispute is not just about property.
"For sure the properties is an important issue," said Simos Ioannou, the mayor of Famagusta who is based in the south.
"However, we didn't leave there only our properties, but our soul."



Moonlit Scramble across the Sand for Türkiye Booming Baby Turtle Population

Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
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Moonlit Scramble across the Sand for Türkiye Booming Baby Turtle Population

Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP

The baby loggerhead sea turtles emerged from their eggshells and began their first challenge in life: a wobbly dash across the sand to the moonlit waters of Türkiye’s Mediterranean coast -- sometimes with a helping hand from volunteers.
It is a perilous journey into the unknown for the sea turtles as only about one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
Some 25 years later, the females will return to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs.
Despite grave threats from humans and predators such as birds, crabs and ants, protection measures are bearing fruit on Türkiye's southern coast.
In Manavgat, a tourist hotspot nestled in the foothills of mountains and prized for its golden sands and stunning waterfall, the number of nests has doubled from last year to 700.
A group of volunteers holds vigil around the clock along the 10-kilometer (six-mile) coastline, located east of the local tourism capital of Antalya.
It is a major breeding area for the globally endangered loggerheads -- also known as caretta caretta -- which are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened species.
"Our average estimate this year is around 60,000 eggs; 30,000 of them will become babies; only 30 of them will come back years later" to breed, Seher Akyol, founding president of DEKAFOK marine conservation center, told AFP.
Red lights
Türkiye's southern coast is home to 21 official nesting areas -- eight of them in Antalya alone.
Protection measures have been put in place such as limiting the use of light and the speed of sea vessels.
Many beaches are declared protected areas and are off-limits from 8 pm to 8 am.
Manavgat, though, is not one of them, so volunteers have taken on the task of protecting the breeding nests.
Akyol's volunteers, including young students from all over Türkiye and abroad, mark the nests, framing them with sticks and keeping the eggs protected from sunbathers.
At night, they patrol beaches, dig in nests with their bare hands and, donning white gloves, help baby turtles break from their shells and crawl to the sea.
Local officials also support volunteer initiatives.
Manavgat's mayor, Niyazi Nefi Kara, has placed red lights on roadsides along the coast. Signs that read "Attention! Caretta Nesting Area" dot the beach.
Under the environment law, anyone who damages sea turtles and their nests can be fined 387,141 liras ($11,700).
Kara said his office takes advice from "scientists and environmentalists" on protecting the turtles.
"After all, we need to learn how to live in harmony with nature," he said.
Akyol added that "people and caretta caretta can live together".
Songul Sert, 33, who was picnicking with her family around a wooden table near the beach, said "we do our best so as not to usurp their living space" with help from the signs.
Another local, Hasan Gulec, said that previously a lack of signs meant that "nobody knew where they were breeding, so anyone could walk on nests".
However, an AFP team saw some hotels along the beach still using the bright white lights that anger environmentalists.
-Climate change-
Loggerheads, whose overall numbers are unknown, can live for up to 80 years. Their weight ranges from 90-180 kilograms (200-400 pounds) and they can reach 1.2 meters (four feet) in length.
The small percentage of hatchlings that return to the beach to breed is why "they are endangered and need to be protected," Professor Mehmet Cengiz Deval of Akdeniz University's faculty of fisheries told AFP.
Loggerhead sea turtles are found primarily in subtropical and temperate regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to IUCN, the Mediterranean loggerhead is considered of "least concern", though the species remains vulnerable globally.
Climate change is also a factor that threatens the species.
The sex of hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the sand: cooler temperatures produce males and warmer ones produce females.
High temperatures from July onwards means that "most of the babies are females," Deval said.
"If this trend continues, in 30-40 years females will be the majority and there will be no male partners for them to breed. This is the biggest danger."
Akyol, who dreams of building a rehabilitation center to treat injured turtles, cannot hide her excitement each time she sends them off to the water.
"I cannot forget their last look before meeting with the water," she said. "It's as if they show how grateful they are."