25th May 2022


Cyprus' Varosha is Erdoğan's canary in the coalmine

  • Varosha, in northern Cyprus (Photo: michael kirian)

On 20 July, president Ersin Tatar of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, unrecognised outside of Turkey, announced the second phase of reopening the derelict tourist district of Varosha in the city of Famagusta.

The resort, once among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, was abandoned after the Turkish invasion of 1974, with Greek Cypriots forced to flee their homes to avoid a massacre at the hands of Turkish troops.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The following week, the first Friday prayers since 1974 were held in the Aga Bilal Mosque in Varosha, with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself appearing virtually.

This showcased his curious ideological concoction of revanchist nationalism and fundamentalist Islamism, which together prescribe one simple policy: to re-establish the fallen Ottoman Empire and reclaim Turkey's rightful place as the dominant power in Mediterranean Europe and the Middle East.

He has made his ideas very clear, invoking ancient Ottoman claims on the city of Mosul in Iraq, converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and granting citizenship to Hamas terrorists.

One has to question whether there are any Western values or interests with which Turkey still aligns.

They have recruited Isis fighters and commanders to wage war on their behalf in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh. They remain locked in intractable conflict with France, Italy, Greece, and other supposed Nato allies over their aggression in the Mediterranean. They continue to bomb refugee camps in Iraq, whilst threatening a wave of refugee migration into Europe.

Turkey's actions in Varosha violate UN Security Council resolution 550, which states nobody but the rightful owners of the homes in Varosha should be allowed to return.

Their invasion has also been judged as contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, with the courts awarding €90m in compensation, which Ankara has refused to pay.

Where now?

Erdogan's disdain for the liberal rules-based international order is well-documented, but few appear to be trying to look forward to what happens next.

The Varosha announcement took place on the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. In 2023 the Lausanne Treaty, which delineates modern Turkey's borders, turns 100. Erdogan has long been critical of this Treaty, lamenting: "is this victory? They tried to trick us into believing that Lausanne was a victory. Those who sat at that table did not do right by that treaty. Now we are suffering the consequences."

One close aide to the president even claimed the treaty had expired in 2013, and no longer applies.

The simplest way to judge a government is to examine two things: what they say and what they do.

What they say is that the treaty setting their territorial borders is unfair and that Turkey benefits from Ottoman claims on other countries' land. What they do is defy international law, deploy terrorist foreign legions to destabilise the region, and bully their neighbours.

Turkey is emblematic of a growing divide in the Middle East, alongside the likes of Iran, between nations promoting and exporting a dangerous brand of political Islamism, and those determined to act as a bulwark against it, such as the UAE, Israel, and its newfound partners in the Abraham Accords.

If Turkey is to be contained within its current borders, we must avoid the path of least resistance, which only delays and exacerbates our troubles. To truly grasp this nettle, the West must shift its alliances in favour of more reliable partners.

Our friends in the Gulf offer a perfect example of allies whom the West can trust, having made a leap of faith in signing the Abraham Accords. They offer far more commitment to our values and regional stability. We must continue to support their commitment to being moderate, cooperative, and trustworthy allies in the face of growing extremism and polarisation in the region often fanned by Turkey.

If the Treaty of Lausanne is to reach its 100th birthday, the clock is ticking for us to act.

As Churchill famously remarked: "an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last". History looks grimly on those who seek accommodation with expansionist powers harbouring extremist ideas.

If Europe feeds Cyprus to the crocodile, who honestly believes that will be anything more than an entrée for the man who claims Mosul and Afrin, as well as much of the Mediterranean as his own?

Author bio

Simon Schofield is deputy director of the Human Security Centre think-tank.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Ghost town haunts future of Cyprus

One ghost town symbolises Cyprus' plight. Varosha, a Greek-Cypriot city in the occupied district of Famagusta on the east coast, has been cordoned off by the Turkish military since 1974. This is why I never saw my mother's home before.

Turkey formally exits treaty against gender violence

EU states Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia have not ratified the Istanbul Convention on women's rights, while Poland is on course to follow Turkey out of the accord.

Ankara's reluctance to join sanctions against Russia

Corruption, plus the Turkish economy's severe decline, is why the international sanctions are regarded as an opportunity for corrupt elites who perceive sanctions as a bargaining chip to make more money. Any EU sanctions regime must consider Ankarara's evasions.


The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back

Ukraine is finally understood — and hopefully Belarus will be soon too — as a self-standing society and state with close links to its EU neighbours, rather being relegated to Russia's backyard.

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

News in Brief

  1. France 'convinced' Ukraine will join EU
  2. Von der Leyen: Russia hoarding food as 'blackmail'
  3. Legal action launched against KLM over 'greenwashing'
  4. Orbán refuses to discuss Russia oil embargo at EU summit
  5. Turkey's Erdogan snubs Greek PM
  6. ECB: Crypto may pose a risk to financial stability
  7. UK PM Johnson faces renewed questions over Covid party
  8. Sweden gives 5th Covid shot to people over 65, pregnant women

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  2. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June
  3. 'No progress in years' in Libya, says UN migration body
  4. Toxic pesticide residue in EU fruit up 53% in a decade
  5. Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental
  6. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back
  7. EU aims to seize Russian assets amid legal unclarity
  8. Close ties with autocrats means security risk, Nato chief warns

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us