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Reopening the Ghost Town: Restitution or Compensation for Displaced Varoshans in Cyprus?

Reopening the Ghost Town: Restitution or Compensation for Displaced Varoshans in Cyprus?

Ruth Roberts 

Before the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the small coastal town of Varosha was a popular and glamorous tourist destination.[1] 1974 saw Greeks and Greek Cypriots attempting to annex the island to Greece, after which Turkish forces invaded and ultimately divided the island into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the southern Republic of Cyprus (RoC).[2] During the invasion, many Greek and Turkish Cypriots fled their homes in fear of attack.[3] Estimates say around 165,000 Greek Cypriots and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots[4]—around one-third of the Greek community and 40% of the Turkish—were displaced.[5] The residents of Varosha were amongst those who fled.[6]

Unlike the rest of Cyprus, however, families never resettled into Varoshan homes.[7] Instead, Turkish troops were ordered to erect a fence around the area, and restrict access to it to all but authorized Turkish officials.[8] Because of this, Varosha has been uninhabited for 40 years, and now stands as an abandoned and crumbling ghost town.[9]

Despite international condemnation of the Turkish invasion, the TRNC has remained as the governing body of the north of Cyprus for over 40 years.[10] Since 1975, there have been a number of attempts at reunification of the north and south, all of which have failed.[11] However, because of the election of a new Turkish Cypriot President, Mustafa Akinci, in early 2015, Cypriots have awakened a new hope for reunification.[12] President Akinci ran his campaign as a pro-reunification candidate, promising to solve the Cypriot dispute once and for all.[13] One of his pledges was to reopen Varosha to bring tourists back to the region, benefiting both northern and southern Cypriots.[14]

Political commentators, journalists, Cypriots, and the parties involved in these talks are hopeful that this attempt will be successful, and that the island can reach an agreement in “a matter of months.”[15] Reopening Varosha is likely to be an important issue on which both parties agree for a number of reasons, including the major economic benefits of doing so,[16] and as a confidence-building measure between the two communities.[17] If the town reopens, however, there will be significant questions about who owns the properties, what the property rights are with respect to the displaced Varoshans, and how to rebuild the deteriorated area. In keeping with other displaced Greek Cypriots’ claims for former property in the north, Varosha’s former residents will likely want complete return of their land and property rights. However, this solution may not be in their best interests or even available, considering that neglect has caused their properties to crumble, infrastructure to damage beyond repair, and nature to take over.[18] 

This Note analyzes what the property rights of displaced Varoshans could be if the town reopens. It determines whether they are more likely to get compensation for their lost property, or whether their former ownership rights and property will be returned in full (restitution). Part I discusses property disputes between northern and southern Cypriots that have occurred under international law and how they were resolved. It also looks into current domestic legal remedies for disputes. It shows how dispute resolution has awarded both restitution and compensation in different circumstances. Part II discusses previous political attempts at reunification, and how they proposed to solve property disputes. It looks at what these attempts could suggest for resolving property disputes in a future settlement, particularly within Varosha. Part III discusses the international law principles of returning refugees in situations similar to Varosha, and considers whether the international community prefers restitution or compensation. Generally, both the international community and the Cypriots involved prefer restitution, but the extent of the damage to Varosha suggests that compensation will be the appropriate remedy. Finally, Part IV outlines some of the potential benefits to Varoshas, Cypriots, and the wider international community if the town reopens and a reunification agreement is successful.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at

[1] Winston Ross, Famagusta, Cyprus, May Finally Be on its Way Back to Being a World-Class Tourist Destination, Newsweek (Feb. 19, 2014),

[2] Jan Asmussen, Cyprus at War: Diplomacy and Conflict during the 1974 Crisis 21–48 (2008).

[3] Dan Bilefsky, On Cyprus Beach, Stubborn Relic of Conflict, N.Y. Times (Aug. 2, 2012),

[4] Cyprus Profile – Overview, BBC (Mar. 26, 2015),

[5] Rhodri C. Williams, Introductory Note to the European Court of Human Rights: Demopoulos v. Turkey, 49 ILM 816, 816 (2010).

[6] Asmussen, supra note 2, at 239.

[7] Tom Moran, Varosha: Rare Photos from Inside Cyprus’ ‘Ghost City,Urban Ghosts (Mar. 4, 2013)

[8] Id.

[9] Marco Mancosu, Varosha, Famagusta: The abandoned Tourist Resort in Cyprus, Abandoned Places Map (May 1, 2015),

[10] Jonathan Gorvett, Cyprus Hopes Reunification Talks Will Revive a Resort, Population 0, N.Y. Times (Aug. 31, 2015),

[11] See, e.g., Benjamin M. Meier, Note, Reunification of Cyprus: The Possibility of Peace in the Wake of Past Failure, 34 Cornell Int’l L.J. 455, 465–467 (2001) (outlining a number of attempts made before 2001, including United Nations-sponsored negotiations in 1984, 1985, and 1992).

[12] See, e.g., Donald MacIntyre, Cyprus summit: After decades of division, are Greek and Turkish Cypriots now on the brink of a deal?, Independent (Sept. 1, 2015), (describing recent advancements that point towards a growing want for reunification).

[13] Helena Smith, Mustafa Akinci wins northern Cyprus presidential election, Guardian (Apr. 26, 2015),

[14] Id.

[15] Michele Kambas, Cyprus president says expects progress in long-running peace talks, Daily Mail (July 2, 2015),

[16] See Gorvett, supra note 10 (quoting Costas Apostolides, an economist who values the land in Varosha as “conservatively worth around €5 billion.”).

[17] Jean Christou, Varosha: the big push, Cyprus Mail (Apr. 13, 2015)

[18] Mancosu, supra note 9.

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