Cold War

Can This ‘Army’ Ghost Town Rise Again?

Can a town that has been abandoned for more than 40 years spring back to life? Can it become a leading example of sustainable cities, an eco-friendly location that is a model for other places in Europe?

The answer is a simple one. It depends.

It depends on two opposing sides coming together to negotiate. It depends on both parties demonstrating a willingness to work together. And like so many other aspects of modern urban life, it depends on money.

Varosha is a ghost town on the island of Cyprus. To say it has had a complicated past politically is an understatement. Folks were ordered from their homes by the Turkish military in 1974, and their leave taking was immediate.

Pots remain on stoves even to this day. Clothes hang in closets. Dishes sit on shelves gathering dust. Apartments and other buildings have been taken over by wildlife; pigeons and other birds nest inside them. It is eerily quiet in Varosha, as if cast members abruptly left the stage in mid scene.

Varosha in 2006

The island’s history is one of conflict. It was under British rule in the early part of the 20th century. But the Greek Cypriots wanted their independence, which they got in 1960. Skirmishes saw Greeks and Turks fighting on the island, until the United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force in 1964. But efforts at peace failed. Soon, the Greeks launched a takeover bid, to which Turkish officials responded by sending in its own military.

Cyprus showing the UN green zone.

The result was two opposing forces occupying separate areas of the island, Turks to the north and Greeks in the south.

Turkish soldiers evacuated Varosha in 1974.  It’s clear by the way this town looks that no one expected the ejection to last decades. But it has.

Today, all parties are trying to broker a deal that would bring peace to the region, which includes Varosha, brought back to life. Vasia Markides is leading the Famagusta Ecocity Project, which would see the population of Varosha and surrounding areas swell from its current 40,000 to 200,000.

A sign of the times. Not a tourist in sight. Yet.

And while a decades-long military occupation doesn’t inspire hope in some people, in others the ongoing negotiations mean all is not lost. Soon, a new report on those negotiations is expected to be made public.

The document will outline precisely where things stand, and what compromises each party is willing to make. If Verosha is ever to be brought back to life, certainly both sides will have to make concessions.

Press reports say that those who once lived in or around Verosha view it through a very nostalgic lens. They imagine the town will still be like it once was, before families of Greek and Turkish origin fled to their respective places of safety.

An abandoned apartment in Varosha.

But if the Eco-city Project goes forward, Verosha will look nothing like it once did. It will be powered by solar panels, and other environmentally friendly infrastructures will be in place.

Organizers of the project hope this deserted town can become a beacon of sustainability, a model for other cities in Europe. Their hope is that, though mired in conflict for decades, Verosha can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of civil unrest and be a place of hope, of ingenuity and innovation.

Varosha today

Right now, however, Verosha remains a spooky, silent location that draws furtive glances from tourists on the safe side of the fence that surrounds it.

Military forces still patrol from rooftops in Verosha, keeping a close eye on those who try and catch a glimpse of this ghost resort with its empty hotels and other structures. Will the town of Varosha ever rise once again?

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The city’s future is in the hands of Greek and Turkish officials. Whether it will one day spring back to life remains to be seen.