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Media Watch 2005

31 July 2005
Source: Sunday Mail
Author: Simon Bahceli
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 31 July 2005.
Turkish Cypriots grapple with property conundrum

THE TURKISH Cypriot administration is seeking ways to rectify what it now accepts as the illegal expropriation of Greek Cypriot properties in the north, it emerged yesterday.

“We are working on a number of proposals to bring local law into line with international law,” said a source close to a four-person ‘government’ committee established to find ways to overcome what the international community sees as the illegal ownership of Greek Cypriot properties north of the Green Line.

Property ownership is arguably the biggest stumbling block in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, and for the north in particular it is an issue that has brought widespread condemnation over what the world has deemed its disregard for the rights of displaced Greek Cypriots. That the north is now seeking ways to overcome the problem marks a major policy change, and could be a signal that it is now willing to embrace international and European law.

The source told the Mail that the main focus of the “brainstorming” being undertaken by the committee was to look for a way forward for the north in the light of a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in April stating that a property compensation commission set up under the previous Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash could not be accepted as a valid channel of recourse for Greek Cypriots seeking compensation or retribution for properties they were forced to abandon during and after the 1974 Turkish invasion.

“According to the ECHR conclusions to the Arestis case, the main problem with the commission was that there was no possibility that Greek Cypriots could gain restitution to their properties,” the source said.

One way forward, then, would to be to make restitution a possibility for Greek Cypriot refugees.

Another focus of discussion, it emerged yesterday, was a law introduced soon after the declaration in 1983 of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)’ that claimed ownership by the ‘state’ of all Greek Cypriot properties in the north. The commission will now look at ways of carrying out expropriation in an internationally-recognised legal way.

“In order to be legal, expropriation of property can only be exercised if it is carried out in the interest of the public, there is no discrimination involved, notification is given to the owner and prompt compensation is paid,” the source said. If such criteria are to be acknowledged, the “global expropriation” of all Greek Cypriot properties that took place in 1985 would need to be repealed.

The source explained that expropriation could be used for the benefit of displaced Turkish Cypriots from the south, as expropriation carried out to house displaced persons could be justified as expropriation for public benefit.

The source explained, however, that the implementation of internationally acceptable criteria for the expropriation of property would mean a law introduced in the north in 1994 allowing the distribution of Turkish Cypriot title deeds for Greek Cypriot properties – a move that saw thousands of Turkish mainlanders, and Turkish Cypriots who were not refugees from the south, gaining ‘title deeds’ for the Greek Cypriot properties they were occupying – would need also need to be repealed.

A possible way around this problem could be, the source said, the establishment of a “guardian of Greek Cypriot properties” similar to the guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties in the Republic. This way those using the property would be asked to pay rent that would be held in a fund payable to the owner as and when a solution to the Cyprus problem is found.

Another source close to the committee said, however, that ways of dealing with such issues were by no means clear cut.

“We have information that the south’s guardianship law is being challenged by some Turkish Cypriots,” the source said, indicating that the north would possibly need to wait for the outcome of such cases before pursuing its own guardianship law. The source also warned that an increasing number of Turkish Cypriots were discovering that their properties in the south had not been dealt in ways that would be deemed legal by international law.

“It’s not just about what the north needs to do, but what needs to be done overall regarding disputed property in Cyprus,” the source said, adding: “We are trying to look at this problem using general principles and by looking at what has happened in other countries in similar situations.”

The problem with Cyprus, however, is that the problem is in many ways unique.
“Our problem is that people lost their properties over 30 years ago, and since then other people have established their lives and families in them.” Success in finding a way out of the conundrum, the source said, would be to uphold the rights of owners without causing massive unrest among current users.

“Just because the conditions under which the properties were taken were unpleasant, it does not mean the current users do not have human rights too,” the source said.

While the sources that spoke to the Cyprus Mail insist no decisions have yet been taken on a way forward for the north, it is evident that the authorities are intent on addressing the damage that has been done to the image of the Turkish Cypriot community by its past disregard for international law.

“I feel optimistic now that we can find a way forward because the Turkish Cypriots, by saying ‘yes’ to the Annan plan, have overcome the hurdle of accepting that you cannot ignore the property claims of Greek Cypriots.”"