ECONOMY

Self-made Cypriot millionaire hopes to restore old fortunes

NICOSIA (AFP) – Millionaire Dinos Lordos fled his home leaving behind a lucrative hotel and construction business, having to start all over again like thousands of Greek-Cypriot refugees after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. Businessmen like Lordos who picked up the pieces have come to epitomize Cypriot entrepreneurial skill and hard-work ethic that has transformed the war-torn economy of the internationally recognized Greek-Cypriot south of the Mediterranean island into a thriving success story. Moreover, the island’s «economic miracle» has made it possible for Cyprus to meet the challenge of European Union membership, which will be realized on May 1. Turkey invaded and occupied the island’s northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia. «The north represented 60 percent of the island’s wealth and economic activity, it was tough having to start over again,» Lordos told AFP. He was able to do so thanks to a «kind bank manager» who lent him 100,000 Cypriot pounds to begin again, in his mid-30s, with only assets in Turkish hands as collateral. Using his business acumen, Lordos saw the potential for tourism to grow in the south from a starting point of zero. In 1974, the world saw pictures of tourists fleeing the island in British military planes. It was a long slog to reach today’s average figures of 2.5 million holidaymakers every year. «We had a large number of employees who were willing to work for not much money and we started by building hotels for other people, then moved into building apartments and selling them,» said Lordos. Today his Lordos Organization group of around 50 companies generates turnover of some 50 million Cypriot pounds ($100 million, 83 million euros) annually, employing several hundred people in activities such as property, property development, construction, hotels, holiday resorts and travel, food and manufacturing. «It’s definitely been a stimulating challenge,» said Lordos, 64, about his riches-to-rags-back-to-riches roller-coaster ride. Like some 200,000 other Greek Cypriots, Lordos fled his home the eastern coastal resort of Famagusta in a hurry when Turkish tanks started to advance across the island. Thirty years on, the fenced-off Famagusta resort of Varosha is a reminder of a bygone age, it remains a ghost town under UN protection and the once-plush hotels that lined the white-sand beaches are ripe for demolition. Famagusta was the island’s second city, largest tourist resort, biggest deep-water harbor and major citrus-growing area. Like most Cypriots, Lordos is strongly pro-European, and was a pioneer in trying to improve contacts between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot entrepreneurs during a time when such get-togethers were taboo. He was among the first businessmen to attend groundbreaking bicommunal contacts in Istanbul to help encourage the reconciliation process. Before the Turkish-Cypriot authorities eased travel restrictions in April 2003, contact between the two communities was almost non-existent. Lordos dreams of returning to Famagusta even from his idyllic millionaire’s retreat south of the UN-manned ceasefire line still dividing Cyprus.