A viable roadmap on land and property is fundamental to ending the decades-old Cyprus Problem and avoiding future conflict. That is the conclusion of a detailed study by Embargoed!, a London based human rights group. The comprehensive report, released on Tuesday, comes after the failure of ongoing efforts by the UN to break the political deadlock at the Cyprus Talks, and the 43rd anniversary of Varosha district of Famagusta becoming a “ghost town” following the Greek mainland coup of July 15 1974 and consequent Turkish intervention.
Among the recommendations Embargoed! makes are that both sides:
a) Open Varosha/Maraş in line with the 1979 High Level Agreement, so original owners (including Evkaf) can be compensated for or recover their land and property; and
b) Commit to using the European Court of Human Right’s landmark ‘Demopoulos’ ruling [The ECtHR ruled that Greek Cypriots applying for compensation for properties abandoned in North Cyprus must first resort to domestic remedies i.e. apply to the IPC – editor] for the resolution of disputed property before and after a political settlement;
c) Undertake a land ownership audit to inform the scope and likely costs for a full property solution (last year the World Bank estimated reunifying Cyprus would cost €20 to €30 billion);
d) Create a future political settlement underpinned by a global property solution, instead of an individual basis, to prevent lengthy legal battles and possible armed conflict over disputed land;
e) Avoid inflaming community tensions through mass evictions and migration.
In the interim, Embargoed! strongly urges both sides strengthen their local remedies in line with the ECHR’s ‘Demopoulos’ ruling, thereby ensuring the legal rights of refugees – some of whom have been deprived of their property for over fifty years – are addressed at the earliest possible opportunity. It also wants the two leaders to give their respective communities “a reality-check”: that the clock cannot be turned back to 1963 or 1974, and that legal certainty over property ownership comes at a price.
The report was initiated after British Cypriots and expatriate property owners in North Cyprus complained of being “sidelined” from the Cyprus Talks. While only a few of these people would have the right to vote on any future settlement, any decisions on property, territorial adjustments and citizenship criteria will have a huge and lasting impact on their lives too.
Embargoed! held several events with British stakeholders, and reviewed existing documents political developments, which are reflected in their own report. Titled “Removing political roadblocks to Cyprus Property – A British Perspective” the report provides facts and statistics about land ownership and territory in Cyprus, and covers the origins and underlying differences of a dispute that has proved intractable for over half a century.
The report explores the case of two key areas in North Cyprus: Morphou/Güzelyurt and Varosha/Maraş. Greek Cypriots demand the return of Morphou, which would involve uprooting over 30,000 Turkish Cypriots – many of whom are refugees from the South. The report argues that such mass evictions go against the ECHR’s Demopoulos judgment, which ruled against a blanket right for restitution, and that emotional attachment to a property where the concept of “home” did not include “concrete and persisting links” was not a valid criterion.
Varosha/Maraş is another critical district with major implications for territorial adjustments. The currently deserted seaside resort is popularly – and erroneously – believed to be solely owned by Greek Cypriots, a view vigorously challenged by Evkaf (the Islamic Trust of Cyprus). Evkaf claims to hold title deeds for 90% of the land of this area. Evkaf further asserts it is the rightful owner of over 20% of the island’s landmass – claims, it says, that are backed by title deeds, international treaties and other proof protecting the Trust’s property rights as ‘irrevocable, perpetual and inalienable’. The report proposes that having lain empty as a “ghost town” for 43 years, offering no benefit to anyone, Varosha should now be opened up to service the needs of both Turkish and Greek communities.
The report highlights concerns that property is the single largest issue that will affect the greatest number of individuals on the island: an estimated 210,000 displaced persons and their heirs, and a similar number of current owners and their heirs. The sheer scale means a case-by-case attempt to resolve property would not only take decades to conclude, but, the authors argue, “is more likely to stoke inter-communal tensions that could easily re-ignite armed conflict”.
This fear is connected to the growing problem of racism and unchecked hate crime in the South, many perpetrated by members of ELAM. The issue is captured in the report, which notes that the openly racist party, now represented in the Greek Cypriot Parliament, has a history of violent attacks against Turkish Cypriots, including former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. This presents a serious threat to the security of the numerically smaller Turkish Cypriots, resulting in the view that bi-zonality – a cornerstone of any future federal Cyprus – must be maintained for the foreseeable future, until trust and confidence between the two communities is firmly established.
Speaking at the launch of the report Fahri Zihni, Chairman of Embargoed! said: “Recent proposals about the management of property are less than satisfactory. It is madness to pit hundreds of thousands of people against each other at the start of a new relationship. What we are proposing is creating legal certainty about who owns what from day one of a new beginning.
He added, “It is also high time for Varosha to be opened up to use by the two communities instead of lying empty. We know that a comprehensive settlement has proved impossible to date, but there is nothing to stop a step-by-step approach to bringing peace and prosperity to the people of Cyprus, particularly Turkish Cypriots who have been held back by unjust embargoes.” Our recommendations are steeped in sound legal judgement, offering a fair, fast and realistic resolution for all the people of Cyprus.”
To read the report in full click here
*Embargoed! is an independent human rights group campaigning for the immediate and unconditional end to all embargoes against North Cyprus. The group was formed in September 2004 and aims to play an active role in raising awareness about the isolation of North Cyprus, lobbying world leaders and institutions to restore the fundamental political, economic and social rights of Turkish Cypriots.