Famagusta. Our story. Our history.
Ammochostos (Famagusta’s name in the Greek language) is located on the east coast of Cyprus, in the bay with the same name. In ancient times Ammochostos was known as Salamina. It was later renamed Arsinoe and Constantia. In 1974 its Greek Cypriot inhabitants were forced by the Turkish army to flee the city and today they reside in towns and villages in the non-occupied part of Cyprus.
The name Ammochostos, which in Greek literally means buried in sand, was used since the 4th century AD. And indeed, due to its golden sandy beach, Ammochostos was a world famous holiday resort from 1960 until 1974. Famagusta was the name used during the Frankish period and it is the name used to this day in the English language.
Ammochostos is also the capital of the province of Cyprus with the same name, which in 1974 had more than 40,000 inhabitants.
For more than four decades Famagusta has been a bleeding wound for its people, a constant reminder of Turkey's criminal policy and of the Greek Junta’s betrayal of their Cypriot brothers.
This open wound is also a reminder of the inability of the international community to enforce international law or, better still, of its selective memory as to the necessary actions that need to be taken to satisfy the sense of justice of a people that is being persecuted, their homelands occupied by the Turkish army.
On the 14th of August 1974, Famagusta was turned into a ghost town as its Greek Cypriot inhabitants were forced to flee. Since then, the biggest part of the city remains closed and deserted, with the occupying army not allowing the return of its lawful inhabitants, despite the relevant United Nations resolutions and decisions.
The 2008 report of the European Parliament's Committee on Petitions, painted a particularly grim picture of the dramatic situation that the once mighty city of Famagusta was reduced to: "From the fence which obstructs the stroller from gaining access to the Varosha shoreline, the sea-front hotels, apartments blocks and restaurants are no more than decaying concrete skeletons – massive urban gravestones standing resolutely against the march of time."
In 1974, the 37% of the territory of Cyprus that still remains occupied by Turkey, accounted for 70% of the islands economic life. Turkey systematically refuses to comply with United Nations resolutions, violating international laws and legitimacy. For more than 40 years, Turkey has been provocatively ignoring resolutions adopted by the United Nations the majority of which demand respect for the independence, unity and territorial integrity of Cyprus, the return of the refugees and the withdrawal of foreign troops.
The population of Famagusta before the Turkish invasion was about 40,000 and it was the third largest city of the island. Until the sinister day of August 14, 1974, the port of Famagusta was the main port of Cyprus and Famagusta was the island’s leading city in the sector of tourism. This was reflected in the fact that of the approximately 100 hotels operating on the whole island at the time, 45 were in Famagusta.
The growth in tourism and the rapid economic development of the city in general, resulted in Famagusta becoming the most important city culturally as well, since it was the cultural centre of the island, hosting many festivals and events.
Famagusta was the target of the Turkish army during the second phase of the invasion. The first phase took place the on 20th of July 1974, when more than 40,000 Turkish soldiers, supported by the Turkish air force and navy, invaded the northern coast of the Republic of Cyprus.
The landing of the Turkish troops ended almost a month later, on August 14th, 1974, with the invasion of Famagusta. In just two days, the Turks occupied most of the Mesaoria plain, the city of Famagusta, the Karpasia peninsula and most of the Morfou region. The Turkish invasion resulted in more than 4,000 dead and 1,619 missing, while more than 200,000 persons were forced to flee their homes and became refugees in their own homeland.
The Turkish army conquered 65% of the arable land, 70% of the mineral wealth, 70% of the industry sector and 80% of the tourist facilities. Famagusta, after its conquest by the Turkish troops, was looted, sealed off and is inaccessible to this day. It was first described as a "ghost town" by the Swedish journalist Jan-Olof Bengtsson, who visited the port of Famagusta and, gazing at the sealed city, wrote:
" The asphalt of the road cracked under the hot sun
And along the pavements, bushes grow.
Today-September 1977-breakfast tables are still established,
The laundry is still hanging and the lamps are still on.
Varosha is a ghost town."
(Varosha is the area outside the historic centre of Famagusta)
Since then, the demand for the return of Famagusta to its legal inhabitants remains one of the central issues of the Cyprus problem. An issue that Turkey defiantly ignores, despite the UN resolutions. The result, as the Municipality of Famagusta characteristically puts it is that "the city is empty, the streets are filled with weeds, shrubs and trees, crumbling houses are everywhere and rats, snakes and predators inhabit the ruined houses".
The UN Security Council, in two very important resolutions on the Cyprus problem, that Turkey has completely and defiantly ignored, has made explicit provisions on the issue of the city of Famagusta.
The first resolution, resolution 550, was adopted in 1984 and it considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by persons other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of the enclosed area to the administration of the United Nations.
The second resolution, resolution 789, was adopted in 1992 and it urges that Varosha be placed under the control of the UN Peacekeeping Force, as a confidence-building measure aiming at the implementation of Resolution 550 of 1984.
Two years after the adoption of the second resolution, the then UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali clearly blamed Turkey for not implementing Resolution 789, pointing out that the lack of progress on the Cyprus issue is explicitly attributed to the lack of political will on the part of the Turkish Cypriot side.
Both of these important Security Council resolutions effectively disassociate the issue of the city of Famagusta from the solution of the Cyprus problem and prioritize the return of the city to its lawful inhabitants under the Administration of the United Nations.
The European Parliament has also expressed its strong interest in Famagusta and has stressed on several occasions the need for Turkey to comply with the Security Council resolutions.
The first approach to the issue was made for the report of the Committee on Petitions in 2008, which urges the implementation of the UN Resolution 550 without delay and at the same time calls on Turkey to withdraw its occupying military forces from the Republic of Cyprus, an EU territory, starting with the return of the Famagusta sealed-off section to its lawful inhabitants.
In February 2012, a resolution was adopted demonstrating European solidarity and support for the Famagusta issue as a priority issue that would facilitate efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem in a comprehensive way.
In March 2012, the resolution on the Progress Report on Turkey also calls on the occupying force to transfer control of Famagusta to the United Nations.
The surviving fortress of Famagusta, is better known today as "Othello’s Tower". The strong medieval walls of the city and the ruins of many other monuments within them, including many important churches, are also preserved in good conditions. It is believed that Famagusta had a total of 365 churches and monasteries, one for every day of the year, but obviously the number is excessive.
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, a 16th century building that has now been converted into a mosque (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque) stands out amongst the architectural buildings that survive to date. Furthermore, ruins from 300 or more churches still exist.
The monastery of Apostle Barnabas, founder of the Church of Cyprus, is very close to the city, at the place where his tomb is located. The extensive archaeological site of Engomi, an important city in prehistoric times, is also located in the same area. Another extensive and important archaeological site, that of the ancient city of Salamina, is also located close by.
Famagusta has always had a long tradition in sports. The city featured the GSE stadium, which was the home ground of its two major football clubs, that operate successfully even today (Anorthosis and Nea Salamina), the Famagusta Maritime Club, the Famagusta Tennis Club, etc.
After the illegal Turkish invasion in 1974 and the de facto occupation of the northern part of Cyprus by Turkey, 9 of the total 39 municipalities of Cyprus stopped exercising their usual municipal powers and competences. However, they retain their legal status in the non-occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus, where they temporarily maintain and operate their offices. One of them is Famagusta Municipality which is currently located in Limassol.