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Media Watch 2004

22 November 2004
Source: The Times
Author: Michael Theodoulou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Times of London on 22 November 2004.
Britons face losing homes in Cyprus as refugees reclaim land
"A BRITISH couple who built a “dream” holiday home on Greek Cypriot land abandoned under force in northern Cyprus have been ordered to demolish it, return the plot and pay the original title-holder damages of nearly £10,000."

A BRITISH couple who built a “dream” holiday home on Greek Cypriot land abandoned under force in northern Cyprus have been ordered to demolish it, return the plot and pay the original title-holder damages of nearly £10,000.

The ruling against David and Linda Orams was issued by a court in the south of the island, where Greek Cypriots represent the island internationally. The court is powerless to enforce its ruling in the self- declared Turkish Cypriot state because of the island’s 30-year-old division.

However, the Orams cannot ignore the test case, which, they say, could affect thousands of Britons who have bought properties in northern Cyprus.

Now that Cyprus is a member of the European Union, Meletis Apostolides, the original Greek Cypriot landowner, aims to enforce the judgment in England, which could result in a claim on the Orams’ property in Britain. It would probably be the first time that the High Court has tested a 2001 directive from the European Council that judgments in EU member countries can be enforced in this country.

The Orams, who spend half their time in Cyprus, moved into the house about 18 months ago. They had bought the shell of the building from a Turkish Cypriot and added a swimming pool.

“Many of the British who have properties in the north are now very worried as to what will happen to them. Some of them sold up completely in England and went to live in north Cyprus permanently,” Mrs Orams, 58, a former museum assistant from Hove, East Sussex, said.

British buyers seeking holiday homes at highly affordable prices in northern Cyprus are stepping into one of the most emotive issues of the long-running Cyprus problem. The vast majority of houses are sprouting on land that 167,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to abandon when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia.

Greek Cypriot refugees, longing to reclaim their properties, fear that the frenetic building is literally cementing the island’s division. To them, British buyers are “trespassers” attempting to profit from their misfortune.

Mr Apostolides, who has the original title deed to the land where the Orams have a £160,000 home in Lapithos (Lapta to the Turks), said: “The place is very dear to me and I am very much a person who wants to go back and to find a solution to the problem.”

Mr Apostolides, an architect with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation, added: “The thing I will try to do is at least stop this feeling that it (Britons buying Greek Cypriot land) is an easy thing to do without consequences.”

He was 24 when his family had to flee their home and land in Lapithos, a hillside village overlooking the Mediterranean a few miles west of Kyrenia.

“The plot had lemon trees 30 years ago and Mr Apostolides wants the land returned to plant another citrus grove. His intention is not to take advantage of what has been built on it,” Constantine Candounas, his lawyer, said.

The November 9 ruling by the District Court of Nicosia ordered the Orams to “demolish immediately” the house, swimming pool and perimeter wall and return the land at once to the original title deed-holder. They are also required to pay damages of 7,654.83 Cyprus pounds (about £10,000) and 294.41 pounds (about £250) a month from December until the property is delivered to Mr Apostolides. The Orams have applied for a stay and to have the judgment set aside so that they can defend their case.

Experts say that, whatever the outcome, lengthy and costly litigation, together with worry and uncertainty, could scare Britons from buying land that Greek Cypriots claim. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website gives warning that northern Cyprus’s “non-recognition” and the possibility of a settlement “could have implications for those considering buying property” .

However, Minhan Sagiroglu, a Nicosia-based lawyer, said that the constitution of northern Cyprus guaranteed the rights of expatriates who bought property in the region. “If at some stage European law was applied in northern Cyprus, the English owner should be able to apply for compensation from the State.”"