by Upstate NY
Tue Feb 14th, 2006 at 03:15:53 PM EST
may be a potential problem for both sides of the Cyprus conflict.
I'm unable to link to an important bit of news in Cyprus because the cyprus-mail.com page has a header that prevents linking to articles, but if you peruse that site you'll find an article which states that Turkish Cypriot Arif Mustafa has won the right to regain his property in the south after fleeing to the north during the Turkish invasion in 1974. His property has housed Greek Cypriot refugees from the north until yesterday. This move sets a precedent.
Oddly, no Turkish Cypriot had sued for their rights to property in the south until recently. Greek Cypriots have also only recently begun suing for the rights to property in the north (Titina Loizidou won a judgment from the ECHR a few years ago, though she hasn't yet been allowed into the house).
Mustafa's victory is important for a number of reasons.
One, almost 200,000 Greek Cypriots fled the north in 1974, about 1/3rd of the total population. Refugee housing was difficult to come by and so the homes of a much smaller number of Turkish Cypriots fleeing to the north were appropriated. Thus, Mustafa's victory effectively displaces the Greek Cypriots who were living in his home. This is part of the story as portrayed in the Cypriot news media.
Two, the big fear is that such suits will become increasingly popular and that, though the images of twice displaced refugees may be a difficult pill for some Greek Cypriots to swallow, even more dangerous is the precedent that property disputes will be settled legally. Once this precedent is established, the negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem become even murkier. In the Annan Plan itself, there were provisions which made it legally possible to disqualify former homeowners from returning to their properties. Instead, they were to be compensated at 1974 prices for their land. In fact, there was a fifteen year embargo on Greek Cypriots returning to or buying land in the north which stood in stark contrast to the allowance made for EU citizens of all other nationalities, even Greeks from Greece, who were allowed to purchase land in the north immediately.
The legal route by Mustafa will make such provisions more difficult, and will entangle both sides in the property issue. That's why neither the Turkish side nor the Greek side is encouraging people to sue for property rights. Both sides know that any resolution will be easier if sweeping new property laws are made as envisaged in the Annan Plan. If the Mustafa verdict (as upheld legally by the Cypriot courts as a matter of law) starts a fire, then one of the Annan Plan's basic chapters (on property rights) will become defunct. For now, maybe the Mustafa decision is a one-off. The threat is that more Turkish Cypriots will sue for their property rights, thereby making any property swaps in an eventual unification redundant.
Part of me is chering on these individuals as they use legal means to restore their rights. I think everyone should have their rights restored. But another part of me fears that this may make the problem more intractable. For now, I think Mustafa's victory is a very good thing. The Greek Cypriot gov't, however, is very concerned that it weighs heavily on public sentiment.