Famagusta, Cyprus: The ghost town lies near the very center of the city, just outside the Venetian walls. It is home only to snakes, scorpions, and rats of a hundred varieties. Signs on the fences around the ghost town show armed Turkish soldiers threatening those taking photographs with arrest or worse. The crumbling buildings inside the perimeter are frozen in time in 1974, as if in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
Nothing has changed since central Famagusta was converted into a ghost town – called Varosha – by the invaders. It is said that the car distributorships in the ghost town even today are stocked with vintage 1974 models. For years after the rape of Famagusta, people told of seeing light bulbs still burning in the windows of the abandoned buildings. Hollywood studios could clothe whole movie sets with the 1974 fashions still in the closets of the homes.
Three years after the invasion, the scene was described by Swedish journalist Jan-Olof Bengtsson: “The asphalt on the roads has cracked in the warm sun and along the sidewalks bushes are growing. Today – September 1977 – the breakfast tables are still set, the laundry still hanging and the lamps still burning. Varosha is a ghost town.”
The Turks currently at the forefront of the assault against Israel for its “illegal occupation” of its own Jewish homeland, and for supposedly mistreating Palestinians, are the very same people who continue the massive crime against humanity in the form of the Famagusta ghost town. Born in ethnic cleansing, it is the enduring testimony to the illegal land grab on Cyprus by Turkey, the mass expulsion of the ethnic Greek Cypriots from the northern 40 percent of the island, the theft of their property, and an unknown number of murders of Greek Cypriots by Turkey.
The illegal “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized by not a single country besides Turkey itself. Since its brutal invasion, Turkey has moved countless thousands of its citizens/troops onto northern Cyprus. This is the same Turkey that venomously denounces Israel when it builds “settlements” in the suburbs of Jerusalem for Jewish civilians on lands they have purchased legally.
Famagusta was first erected in the 13th century BCE. Phoenicians came and went, as did the Assyrians and Persians. Greek settlers came to dominate its population. Some Jews migrated in from their homeland, producing the wine used in the Jerusalem Temple described in the Talmud, and later learning to manufacture silk.
The Venetians gave the center of Famagusta its defining character, with its massive defensive bulwarks, gates and towers. Shakespeare’s mythical Othello served as ruler of Famagusta, and the largest Venetian fortress in the wall is obligingly called Othello’s Tower even today.
In 1571 the Ottoman Turks took control, relinquishing control to Great Britain in 1878. After an armed campaign by Cypriots, the Brits left in 1958 and Cyprus became a republic. Things were not well, however, in the inter-communal relations between Cypriot Greeks and Cypriot Turks. Atrocities were committed by both sides. After a particularly horrific set of attacks, and partly in response to attempts by some radical Greek nationalists on the island to seek amalgamation with Greece, the Turks invaded the island in the summer of 1974.
Within two days they had taken Famagusta. The Turkish air force bombed the helpless town. The entire Greek population, fearing massacres at the hands of the invaders, fled south. Meanwhile, Turkish tanks rolled onward until Turkey had conquered half the Cyprus capital of Nicosia. There it erected a wall running through the center of the city.
The wall of occupation does not attract “solidarity” protesters or leftist professors from the West. They are too busy denouncing and attacking Israel for building a security fence around Jerusalem, a fence to keep the Palestinian suicide bombers from murdering Jewish children. No Rachel Corries go to Nicosia to defy the Turkish occupation army. They know they would instantly be jailed in a typically barbaric Turkish prison.
Countless UN resolutions since 1974 have demanded that Turkey leave the island and restore stolen property to Greek Cypriots. The same Turkish government that regularly denounces Israel for daring to defend its civilians from Arab terrorists and for otherwise disregarding anti-Israel world opinion has never paid those UN resolutions any mind.
Turkey insists that Palestinians be granted statehood and “self-determination” while refusing to allow Turkish Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Azeris and others to exercise any of it, even in the form of limited language autonomy. While Arabs living in Israel enjoy levels of freedom a hundred times better than do Turks living in Turkey, the Turkish government continues to denounce Israel for its alleged suppression of Arab “human rights.” On the very day that Turkey recently murdered 120 Kurds, it denounced Israel for committing “war crimes.”
Respect for human rights in Turkey is notably absent. The Turkish military police routinely kill civilians. Journalists have been assassinated. Islamofascism is growing stronger and local Islamic fundamentalist terrorists filled the Gaza “peace flotilla” sponsored by Turkey. Those are the terrorists whose suppression by Israel has now become the focus of Turkey’s demand for an Israeli apology.
When Israel invaded Gaza to put a stop to massive rocket attacks against its civilians by Hamas terrorists, Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel for
“massacring innocent women and children.” He accused Israel of “mass murder” in Gaza, ranting at length
about how Israel had turned the Gaza Strip into an “open-air prison.”
But, in fact, the largest ongoing “open air” human-rights violation and crime against humanity is on display for all to see behind the barbed wire and fences of the ghost town of Famagusta.
Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.