Cyprus Consultations and Presidential Statement*
This afternoon (9 October) the Security Council will hold in-person consultations on Cyprus. Special Representative and head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) Elizabeth Spehar is expected to brief via videoconference (VTC). The Republic of Cyprus requested the meeting over recent actions by the Turkish Cypriot authorities in the city of Varosha that it believes run counter to relevant Security Council resolutions on the issue. The Council expects to adopt a presidential statement at the meeting.
Varosha is located on the Turkish Cypriot side of the buffer zone, a demilitarised area separating Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south. The residents, who were predominantly Greek Cypriots, fled the city in 1974 after Turkish military forces intervened on the island, following a coup d’état in Cyprus by Greek officers who were members of the Cyprus National Guard. Since then, Varosha has remained unpopulated and closed to the public. The city is under the control of the Turkish military and UNFICYP supervises the ceasefire and maintains the buffer zone. The mission does not have control over Varosha, however.
The status of Varosha, which has remained disputed since 1974, is an important part of the greater unification talks. The Council has pronounced itself on Varosha on several occasions. In resolution 550 of 11 May 1984, the Council stated that it considered inadmissible any efforts to populate Varosha with people other than its inhabitants and called for a transfer of the area to the administration of the UN. The most recent UNFICYP mandate renewal (S/RES/2537 of 28 July 2020) recalled “the status of Varosha as set out in relevant resolutions”. On 9 October 2019, the Council held consultations on this issue after the Turkish Cypriot authorities announced plans to reopen the city. Following the meeting, Council members issued a press statement that also recalled the importance of the status of Varosha as set out in previous Council resolutions.
On 6 October, Turkish Cypriot authorities announced plans to open to the public a part of the beachfront area of Varosha. Turkish Cypriot prime minister Ersin Tatar made the announcement during the joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara. In his statement, Erdoğan emphasised that Varosha belongs to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and that he supports the plans of its authorities to reopen the coastline. Erdoğan criticised the Greek Cypriot side and Greece for a stalemate in negotiations on the resolution of the Cyprus question. Citing the collapse of negotiations in 2017, he said that it is evident that there is no longer a possibility for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue. While Turkey recognises the TRNC and has provided it with economic, political and military support, most UN member states continue to recognise the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus over the whole island.
In a 6 October statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern over the reopening of Varosha and reiterated that the UN position on this issue is guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions. He called on all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and to avoid any actions that could contribute to further tensions.
Yesterday (8 October), the Turkish Cypriot authorities formally opened a part of the beachfront in Varosha to the public for the first time since 1974. Turkish Cypriot authorities have emphasised that the reopening will not affect the Greek Cypriot property owners in Varosha, given that public access is restricted to the beachfront area only.
Over the past two days, Council members negotiated a presidential statement to be adopted at the meeting. The statement is expected to reiterate the importance of maintaining the status of Varosha, as set out in previous Council resolutions. While there appears to be a consensus among members over the status of Varosha, as set out in previous Council resolutions, some members seem to have differed on how to calibrate the strength of the language in expressing concern about the opening of Varosha. It appears that the text that passed silence expresses the Council’s deep concern over the reopening of Varosha.
Today’s meeting comes at a politically sensitive time for Cyprus, given that the presidential elections in the Turkish Cypriot north take place this Sunday (11 October). Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinçi, who has been leading the negotiations on unification during the past five years, is running for re-election. Negotiations on the resolution of the Cyprus issue have been at an impasse since 2017. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has contributed further delay to the political process. A possible resumption of talks is expected only after the elections.
*Post-script: On 9 October, the Security Council issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2020/9) reaffirming the status of Varosha as set out in previous Council resolutions.