Turkey and TRNC must be on same page for property compensation

Following the collapse of peace talks, it must be difficult for someone like President Akıncı, who built his whole political career on the reunification of the island, to keep optimism high. His task was already complicated as he was sharing power with a government unenthusiastic about the peace talks and in favour of the continuation of the status quo, writes Barçın Yinanç journalist for Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’.

It is also likely that Turkey is looking at Akıncı who would prefer to not consider an alternative strategy and wait for the outcome of the Greek Cypriot presidential elections, in the hope of resuming talks. Equally, the TRNC government appears to be content to maintain the status quo, since the existing system suits those who are in power.

However, for the Turkish Cypriots, the status quo is untenable, as they continue to live on land under legally controversial conditions, she writes.

For years, the Turkish side was considered to be the one obstructing the reunification talks. Changes in the policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have reversed the image over the past decade, the Turkish side has shown good will towards a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem.

As there has been no settlement, some observers say it is time to act to legitimise the situation with the aid of Greek Cypriots who are willing to unilaterally solve the issue of properties in the north. There are many Greek Cypriots who are willing to sell their properties in the north through the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that claiming compensation through the IPC was an acceptable domestic remedy.

However, the flow of cash from Ankara ceased, in the hope of a solution to the Cyprus problem, thus stopping the IPC working effectively. Further, the commission will need to be reactivated because its term will expire at the end of the year. Yinanç says that new legislation is needed so that the IPC can work effectively and not be obstructed by the Turkish Cypriot government.

When a Greek Cypriot applies to the commission, he or she asks for a certain amount of money for compensation. This offer goes to the interior ministry, which makes a counter proposal that is usually much less than what the applicant originally asks for. Following that, an agreement is reached on an amount that is usually much lower than the current value of that property.

Usually, in dire straits because of the economic crisis in the south and with no hope left for reunification of the island, the applicant accepts it probably thinking “it is better than having nothing.”

But instead of letting the commission do its work and solve the property issue on a case by case basis, the Turkish Cypriot government has given indications of reviving the “global exchange” option, which is the exchange of abandoned Turkish Cypriot property in the south with abandoned Greek Cypriot property in the north. But this is an unrealistic option and it remains a mystery as to what makes the government in North Cyprus believe that Greek Cypriots will accept such an option.

Nevertheless, the interior ministry has lately been offering such low amounts for compensation that the Greek Cypriot applicants find it impossible to accept. This is seen as a sign of the unwillingness displayed by the Turkish Cypriot government for the efficient functioning of the property commission.

But the continuation of this trend will jeopardize the recognition of the commission by the ECHR.

Reportedly, some Greek Cypriots have already applied to the Strasbourg court, saying the commission no longer functions as an effective remedy. If the ECHR were to declare the commission to be ineffective, this would be catastrophic because it will take a very important mechanism out of Turkish Cypriots’ hands to legitimise the current property situation in the island. This is a mechanism that is not only recognised by European law; so far, it has proved to be a rather “inexpensive” solution to the decades-old Cyprus problem.

The Turkish Cypriot government, to date, has paid 255 million pounds in compensation. Added to the amount of the estate that has been subject to that compensation, sources familiar with the issue suggest that this amounts to only 15 percent of the real current value of these lands.

Ankara, which has been paying the compensation money, needs to do some serious talking with the Turkish Cypriot administration in order not to jeopardise this mechanism. But obviously such a conversation might turn one to be nasty since the government is expected to tell Turkish Cypriots to chip in too.

Barçın Yinanç – Hurriyet

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