Greek Cypriots urged to set up parallel property commission

Left-to-Right: Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Ergun Olgun, Embargoed! member Izzet Sinan, Alex Ritson, Emine Erk, Dr. Erol Kaymak. Photo by Suzan Nuri

Speakers at a seminar in the House of Lords today urged Greek Cypriots to set up a parallel property commission in South Cyprus to help solve one the of most complex aspects of the Cyprus conflict. The call follows the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) landmark ‘Demopoulos’ ruling on 5 March, which recognised the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was a valid local remedy for Greek Cypriot refugees.

Human rights lawyer Emine Erk told members of the British Upper Chamber that the Demopoulos vs. Turkey ruling had made legal history. For the first time, Europe’s highest court had recognised that the rights of original owners of property in the TRNC have to be balanced with the human rights of the current owners. She explained the ECHR, caught up in the new battleground for the Cyprus conflict where “Law-fare had overtaken warfare”, accepted that institutions of the politically unrecognised TRNC exist separately from the Republic of (South) Cyprus, and that the “IPC offers a fair, just and effective legal remedy that can bring closure for Greek Cypriot refugees and a chance to move on”.

Answering questions from Baroness Sarah Ludford, Ms Erk said the ECHR and European Court of Justice (ECJ) did contradict themselves over the Cyprus property problem, and the ECJ would need to reconcile itself to the Demopoulos ruling. She believed the ECHR provided a strong defence to future Orams type challenges and added that the Orams couple themselves had applied to the ECHR following the decision of the South Nicosia court for its lack of “proportionality” following the order for demolition and huge compensation, and its failure to respect their rights as innocent third parties.

Striking facts from academic Dr Erol Kaymak’s recent attitudes survey for Cyprus 2015, concluded in November 2009, included that of 1,000 Greek Cypriots polled, 50% would not return to their original homes even if there was a comprehensive solution, with many citing they did not want to restart their lives. Most Turkish Cypriots polled were open to a mixture of restitution, exchange and compensation as acceptable remedies to the property problem, with compensation the most preferred remedy. 90% of Greek Cypriots however preferred restitution, even where Turkish Cypriots and other third parties lived or used that land for their livelihood. Yet 61% of those desiring restitution would not move back to North Cyprus if it remained under Turkish administration. Dr Kaymak says the findings indicated a serious contradiction between the South’s commitment to bi-zonality and their understanding of how they would resolve the property problem. The Cyprus 2015 research also showed people on both sides were increasingly sceptical that a comprehensive settlement was likely and most people are more inclined to vote No in a future referendum on a federal solution.

Stephen Day, the former British MP and current vice chair of the British Resident’s Society in the TRNC, spoke out against accusations that British owners of property in North Cyprus are “carpetbaggers”. He said similar problems existed in the south of the island, where thousands of Britons had also bought properties in good faith, but were left without deeds as many had been built on Turkish title. He claimed the Greek Cypriot authorities were better at “hiding the problem” and called on them to set up a parallel commission to help bring closure to the property issue.

Political strategist and former undersecretary to President Denktas Ergun Olgun argued that a fair and equitable solution to the property issue is central to finding a comprehensive settlement. He explained this needs to be “a win-win solution – it must work for people on both sides of the Green Line, of whatever nationality they are. A fair balance needs to be struck between the rights of original owners of land in the North and the current owners of land in the North, who have acted in good faith”.

Mr Ergun also added that many Turkish Cypriots were experiencing huge problems reclaiming their land rights in the South. He echoed Stephen Day’s call in urging the authorities in South Cyprus to put in place a system similar to that endorsed by the ECHR in the North, thus giving a quick, inexpensive and fair remedy to people on both sides of the divide. “If this could be achieved, it would herald an era of new-thinking that really could bring about the lasting settlement that fair minded people across the island dream of.”

The event was organised by human rights group Embargoed!, and was hosted by Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, and chaired by BBC Global News presenter Alex Ritson. It formed one leg of a series of seminars titled “Solving the Cyprus Property Conundrum”, with a public event at the London School of Economics later the same day, and a legal roundtable meeting planned for the following day.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.