Presidents Talat and Christofias - Negotiations
North Cyprus Orams
14 November 2009
UK Court of Appeal
27 January 2009 - Property Negotiations - Presidents Talat & Christofias
The talks between Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and TRNC President Talat commenced in September 2008. There has been a lack of information concerning the progress of these talks, which leads one to the inescapable conclusion that there has mainly been an exchange of ideas and a greater understanding between the two sides. While this may be considered as positive, it falls far short of an agreement on substantive issues.
The Greek side is apparently well prepared as the negotiations on the re-unification of Cyprus enter a new and difficult phase – the property issue. These talks commence on 28 January 2009.
This is an emotional issue for the Greek side as successive Greek Cypriot administrations have constantly kept alive the hopes of dispossessed Greeks to return to their lost homes and land in the ‘occupied territory' of North Cyprus.
The Greeks are heartened by the comments of European Advocate General, Juliano Kokkot, who has indicated support for the Greek Cypriot claimant Meletis Apostolides as opposed to Linda and David Orams.
The Greeks have an 80 point plan, with 68 sub clauses, concerning their proposals for the framework within which the property issue can be resolved. A Council of Property is proposed, and this has elements of continuity with the internationally approved agency recommended by the Annan Plan.
The Greeks propose separate and different treatment of the land issue for dispossessed persons based on the following categories. Firstly, land currently occupied by expatriates, secondly, Turkish settlers and, thirdly, Turkish Cypriots.
The overall population of North Cyprus is around 265,000 persons, based on the 2006 Census. Of this number, some 178,000 are indigenous Turkish Cypriots, while some 80,000 are from the Turkish mainland and other visitors. The remaining 7,000 are expatriates, most of whom are British.
In terms of property ownership, there is a culture of owner occupation among Turkish Cypriots. Many of the Turkish settlers who came to North Cyprus after 1974 were enticed by the prospect of title deeds, and these were duly issued. More recent arrivals from Turkey, namely construction workers, are unlikely to be TRNC homeowners. Most of the expatriate community will own a home in TRNC.
Turkish settlors would leave Karpaz to the Donkeys
Expatriats would be forced to abandon their property in North Cyprus and also pay compensation. A more penal regime may be suggested for British persons who are using their North Cyprus Property as a holiday home or as a buy-to-let investment. It is estimated that there are some 7,000 expatriates living in TRNC, either full or part time.
Turkish settlers, who are mainly based in the Karpaz, would be told to leave their homes and return to Turkey. They would not be required to pay compensation.
Turkish Cypriots could remain in their property and a dispossessed Greek would probably be offered equivalent land in exchange and/or compensation.
The Greeks are proposing a timespan of 3 to 20 years for this process to be completed.
The well leaked proposals of the Greek side are alarmist. However, they reflect the unrealistic expectations of the Greeks in respect of any political settlement. Due to the fact that the return of lost lands and homes in the North has been a common cry of all Greek Cypriot politicians since 1974, this proposal merely articulates that sentiment.
The Greek position differs significantly from the Annan Plan proposals of 2004. The Annan Plan safeguarded the rights of current occupiers of land which had been improved, that is land acquired by either expatriates of Turkish Cypriots and on which a proprty had been constructed. This land would be immune from restitution, that is, it would not be returned to a dispossessed person. The dispossessed person would instead receive compensation, and this would be settled by a variety of means, including public support. The author performed a number of calculations at the time and concluded that the average level of compensation for a recently built property of 150 square metres, on a plot of 1 donum, would be around £4,800.
The comment by the European Advocate General, which has been widely reported and distorted in the Greek press, simply repeats the current legal position as confirmed by the UN in 2004: namely that the removal of Greek Cypriots from North Cyprus in 1974 and thereafter does not extinguish their property rights. They assume the status of dispossessed persons.
This statement of the legal situation does not imply that the position of either the EU or the UN is that the clock should be turned back to 1974, and all dispossessed Greeks, or more accurately, their heirs, should be given back property and land lost in 1974. What it means is that a political settlement of the ‘Cyprus Problem' must deal with this issue. The UN addressed this point in the 2004 Referendum and suggested a regime of return of land, if no house stood on the land, or compensation for land which had been developed.
As Cyprus is now part of the EU, although EU law is suspended in the North, then any property settlement must take place within an EU legal framework. The Greek proposal is highly discriminatory. On the one hand, some EU citizens, namely British homeowners would forfeit their TRNC homes and pay compensation, while Turkish Cypriots would face a compensation charge which would probably be settled by the TRNC administration. Such a proposal could not survive a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights.
The negotiations between the leaders of the two communities have proved difficult from the outset. While both men have a left of centre political background, Christofias is a self proclaimed communist and an admirer of Fidel Castro. Neither wishes to be seen as the party who breaks off the reunification talks. Consequently, the talks will continue, despite an apparent lack of progress.
In the meantime, the Greeks will continue to exploit their privileged position as the official government of Cyprus and harass purchasers of property in North Cyprus. While the case of Linda and David Orams has a high profile, it should be noted that there is an action pending against the TRNC President, Mehmet Ali Talat, who allegedly owns four properties on a Sercem Construction development at Sadrazamkoy. Sercem Construction is owned by Cemal Bulutoglulari, the Mayor of Lefkosa. The action commenced in the South Nicosia Court on 9 December 2008 and was brought by the alleged Greek Cypriot dispossessed owners.
Copyright - Leslie Hardy, 22 January 2009