The ghost town lies near the very center of the city, just outside the Venetian walls. But 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 who dare to take photographs with arrest or worse. The crumbling buildings inside the perimeter are frozen in 1974, as if they were in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Nothing has changed since central Famagusta was converted into the ghost town by the military 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. The few who have been allowed to enter the ghost town (called Varosha) tell of homes with uneaten breakfasts still on the tables and unmade beds. Books are opened to the exact pages where they were being read when the barbarous invasion commenced. 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. In the newspaper Kvallsposten, about his visit to the Swedish UN battalion in the port of Famagusta in 1977, he wrote: “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, although they currently place themselves at the forefront of the assault against Israel for its “illegal occupation” of its own Jewish homelands, 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% of the island, the theft of their property, and an unknown number of murders. The illegal “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized by absolutely no one, not a single country besides Turkey itself. Since its brutal invasion, Turkey has moved countless thousands of its own citizens and regular troops onto northern Cyprus. This is the very 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 BC. During the Iron Age, it was known as Salamis, and its kings traced their ancestry to the Teucer, brother of Ajax, a hero of the Trojan War. Phoenicians came and went, as did the Assyrians and Persians. Greek settlers came to dominate its population. The Romans turned Famagusta-Salamis into a port of significance and major administration center. Some Jews migrated in from their homeland, producing the wine used in the Jerusalem Temple described in the Talmud, and later, manufacturing silk.
The Byzantines strengthened the town’s defenses after it became a target for raids from Arab Moslems. In one of these, the mother of the Prophet Mohammed accompanied the troops and died during the raid. She is buried near the Cyprus airport, and the site has become a shrine of pilgrimage for Moslem believers. Crusaders from northern Europe took the island in the Middle Ages, but positioned their capital to the west of Famagusta. The town remained the main port for the entire island.
Crusader knights took refuge in Famagusta after being expelled from the Holy Land by the Saracens. In time, the island was taken over by Venice, in part to prevent her Italian rivals in Genoa from grabbing control of the strategic island. The Venetians gave the center of Famagusta its defining character, with its massive defensive bulwarks, gates, and towers. The winged lion of St. Mark, the patron of Venice, still looks down from the walls. 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 lost patience with their Venetian allies and seized the island, taking Famagusta only after a nine month siege. It was the last Christian stronghold to fall. The majority ethnic Greeks of the island maintained their cultural identity, speaking their own language, and stubbornly preserving their Christian Orthodox faith in spite of attempts by the Latins and Ottomans to expunge it from their midst. The impressive main cathedral of Famagusta was converted into a mosque, and remains so to this day.
The Turkish colonialists turned the island over to the British colonialists in 1878 as part of a deal to get Great Britain to back the Ottomans in their fight against subjugation by the Russian Czar. Britain wanted Cyprus to serve as a naval base to guard access to the Suez Canal, and they governed the island with a policy of benign neglect. In the 1940s, the British grabbed ships filled with Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler and seeking refuge in the Land of Israel. They imprisoned the Jewish refugees on the island in camps around Famagusta.
After an armed campaign by Cypriots to drive the Britain from the island, 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, with growing incidents of atrocities and violence taking place. Crimes 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 militarily in the summer of 1974.
Turkish tanks landed on the northern shore west of Kyrenia and quickly drove out the weak Cypriot armed forces from the northern part of the island. 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 to the areas beyond the reach of the Turkish army. Evidently to show the Greek Cypriots who was the new boss in town, the Turks sealed off the wealthy tourist area of Famagusta altogether, denying civilians access. The new ghost town was filled with valuable Greek property, including homes and luxury hotels. It had been the capital of the Cyprus tourist industry, thereafter forced to relocate to the south. The artifacts and museum of the ghost town were looted.
Meanwhile, Turkish tanks rolled onward until Turkey had conquered exactly half of the Cyprus capital of Nicosia. There it erected a wall running through the center of the city, a wall still standing – many years after the similar wall in Berlin fell. To cow the Greek Cypriots of southern Nicosia, the Turks created the world’s largest flag on a mountainside facing the city. Other Turkish flags fly over the northern half of the city, and Nicosia mosque minarets are said to have their volume dials turned to the maximum just to antagonize the ethnic Greeks beyond the wall.
The wall of occupation running through central Nicosia 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 to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from mass murdering Jewish children. No Rachel Corries come to Nicosia to defy the Turkish occupation army. They know they would be jailed without hesitation in a nice Turkish Midnight Express, or worse.
Countless UN resolutions since 1974 have demanded that Turkey leave the island and restore property stolen by Turkey to Greek Cypriots. The same Turkish government that regularly denounces Israel for daring to defend its own civilians from Arab terrorists and for otherwise disregarding anti-Israel world opinion, has never paid those UN resolutions any mind.
The Turkish pilliagers of Famagusta, the Turkish occupiers of northern Cyprus, are angry at occupation. But only by Israel. They send “peace flotillas” filled with armed terrorists to challenge the closure of Gaza by Israel, but never question the closure of Famagusta’s ghost town. Turkey demands a right of return to Israel for “refugees” claiming to be “1948 Palestinians” (never mind the twenty-two Arab states in which the same “Palestinians” can live comfortably), but refuse to even take under consideration a right of return for Greek Cypriots to their own property lost in 1974.
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 Turks living in Turkey, the Turkish government continues to denounce Israel for its oppression of Arab “human rights.“ Recently, on the very day when Turkey murdered 120 Kurds, it denounced Israel for “war crimes,” supposedly committed when the Israeli army invaded Gaza in response to the thousands of rockets fired at Israeli civilians.
The respect for human rights in Turkey is only notable for its absence. Kurdish, Armenian, and other ethnic minorities have been forcibly Turkified. Religious minorities, such as the Alevi, are persecuted. Censorship is commonplace. Kurdish areas have been subjected to martial rule.
The operations of the Turkish military against the Kurds make Israel’s recent incursion into the Gaza Strip (in operation “Cast Lead”) look like a May Day picnic. Until 2003, it was forbidden to speak Kurdish on the radio or television; the Kurdish alphabet still cannot be used. The state of human rights in Turkey, according to numerous human rights NGOs, continues to be atrocious. Women in Turkey are mistreated; until very recently women students applying to universities had to pass a virginity test. 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, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel for supposedly “massacring innocent women and children.“ He repeatedly accused Israel of “mass murder” in Gaza. Erdogan ranted 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 today, behind the barbed wire and fences of the ghost town of Famagusta.