Property rights are protected by both the tradition and practice of Western societies as well as by Western jurisprudence. This right was incorporated in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 17), it is protected by the European Convention (article 1, Protocol I), and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (article 17). In addition to their legal and economic aspects, property rights in Cyprus are also an important indicator or heritage and identity.
In the aftermath of the Turkish invasion and the deliberate ethnic cleansing of the occupied areas, the Turkish authorities and their subordinate local administration proceeded with the expropriation and usurpation of Greek Cypriot properties as part of the policy of eradicating the Greek Cypriot heritage in occupied Cyprus. Since 1974, Greek Cypriot displaced and refugee property owners have been denied access to and enjoyment of their property. Moreover, relatives of the displaced and refugees have also been denied inheritance rights to these properties. The usurpation of property has been directed at Greek Cypriots because of their language, ethnicity and religion in clear violation of the European Convention.
Property related issues are an important part of the Cyprus problem and were one of the key reasons for the Greek Cypriot rejection of the “Annan Plan” in the 2004 referendum. The former Secretary-General’s “plan” aimed primarily at property exchange and compensation rather than restitution as provided by international law. In occupied Cyprus 82.5% of the privately owned land is owned by Greek Cypriots. Under regulations adopted by the unrecognised authorities of the occupied areas starting in 1975, the confiscated and expropriated Greek Cypriot properties were redistributed and/or sold to Turkish Cypriots, Turkish mainland settlers, other foreign nationals and business interests leading to an unprecedented construction boom and land sales in occupied Cyprus. This was largely due to:
● The area’s natural beauty and pristine environment
● The relatively cheap prices compared to Western Europe
● The implication that under the 2004 UN plan on Cyprus these illegal transactions would be safeguarded and legalised.
Under international law and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, titles of usurped Greek Cypriot properties issued by Turkey’s subordinate local administration are invalid. Any violations of European law are imputable to Turkey because of its effective control of occupied Cyprus.
The objectives and extent of property usurpation:
The usurpation of Greek Cypriot property in occupied Cyprus serves various Turkish policy objectives including:
● The objective that the property issue will be solved on a global political settlement based on two ethnically cleansed states through compensation and property exchange, rather than restitution
● The creation of a new reality in occupied Cyprus that cannot be reversed on humanitarian or other legal grounds
● Buying off political influence and creating dependence on the occupation regime by Turkish Cypriots and settlers brought in by Turkey to occupied Cyprus
● Attracting badly needed foreign investment in the faltering economy of occupied Cyprus
● Providing incentives for the movement of settlers from the Turkish mainland to occupied Cyprus.
The extent of the usurpation of Greek Cypriot property in occupied Cyprus is well documented by the Turkish Cypriot press; by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot websites; extensive advertising in occupied Cyprus and in the UK; by statements of Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials on the public record and available data on land sales and building products. For example:
● In 2003 land sales were estimated at 613,000 sq. metres
● In 2004, some 2,827 applications for land sales had been submitted by foreigners, an increase of 196% over the previous year
● In 2004 land “sales” were estimated at $2 billion
● Property prices doubled in the period of 2003-05
● The granting of development licences in pristine and environmentally sensitive areas as in the Karpass Peninsula
● The import of construction material (primarily iron, cement and bricks) in the occupied areas in amounts not justified by the needs of the population. For example in 2003 over 38,222 tons of iron (a 60% over the preceding year); over 85,000 tons of cement (a 67% increase over the preceding year) were imported.
Addressing property usurpation:
The government of Cyprus has taken a number of measures to address the problem of Greek Cypriot property usurpation and exploitation in occupied Cyprus. These measures include:
● Informational activities through official channels outlining the risks facing potential buyers of stolen properties and invalid titles
● The criminalisation of the promotion and sale of stolen properties
● Cooperation with realtors associations to inform their counterparts abroad of the risks involved in illicit property transactions in occupied Cyprus
● Diplomatic actions informing foreign governments of legal risks to their citizens dealing with usurped properties
● Actions in Cypriot courts and the enforcement of Cypriot court judgments in EU countries under EU regulation 44/2001
● Incorporating the issue of property usurpation and exploitation in the interstate applications filed by the Republic of Cyprus against Turkey. In all four interstate applications the decisions favoured the rights of the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus.
Court rulings on usurped Greek Cypriot property:
Greek Cypriot citizens of the Republic of Cyprus have also filed cases against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights in an attempt to reclaim their property rights. Four cases will be summarised here. The first is the ground-breaking case of Loizidou v. Turkey (1995-1998), while the second is that of Xenides-Arestis v. Turkey (2005-2006).
In the Loizidou v. Turkey case, the European Court of Human Rights:
● Found that Turkey as an occupying power is responsible for its actions and those of its “subordinate local administration” in occupied Cyprus
● Found that Ms. T. Loizidou retains title to her property
● Found that Ms. Loizidou is entitled to more than $1.5 million in damages from Turkey arising from the non-use and enjoyment of her property
● Determined that Turkey is in violation of article 1 of Protocol I of the European Convention by denying the petitioner access and enjoyment to her property
● Determined that the absence of effective local remedies was an additional violation of the European Convention.
In the Xenidis-Arestis case, the European Court upheld the precedent set in the Loizidou case and:
● Awarded the petitioner over $1.1 million for having been denied access to and enjoyment of her property
● Upheld that Xenidis-Arestis retains the title to the property in question
● Determined that Turkey had committed multiple violations of the Convention including article 8 (respect for the home) and article 1 of Protocol I (protection of property)
● Determined that these violations occurred because of the petitioners’ ethnic origin, thus violating the non-discrimination provision (article 14) of the Convention
● Determined that available domestic remedies were neither effective nor adequate
● Determined that the Greek Cypriot rejection of the “Annan Plan” in 2004 did not affect the petitioner’s property rights.
The conclusions in the 22 April 2008 judgment (just satisfaction) in the case of Demades v. Turkey, Application No. 16219/90, which awarded to the applicant over $1.2million for loss of use of his property were similar. At this time, there are a large number of property cases pending before the ECHR.
Another Greek Cypriot, M. Apostolides, on 26 October 2004 filed a case in the District Court of Nicosia against David and Linda Orams of the UK, who built illegally on Apostolides’ property in occupied Cyprus. The Nicosia Court decided that the Orams must demolish the home illegally built on Apostolides’ property. Mr. Apostolides sought enforcement of the Nicosia Court decision in the UK, under EU regulation 44/2001. In the UK High Court of Justice-Queens Bench Division, Mr. Apostolides lost the case on technical grounds, i.e. that the EU regulation could not be enforced in occupied Cyprus. Subsequently, Mr. Apostolides lodged an Appeal against this judgement and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales decided to ask the interpretative intervention of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In its judgement on 28 April 2009 the ECJ ruled that a judgment of a Court in the Republic of Cyprus must be recognised and enforced by the other EU member states even if it concerns land situated in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus. Even though final adjudication is still pending, the British Court has already affirmed several significant legal points:
● Cypriot courts have jurisdiction over all of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus
● Mr. Apostolides remains the legitimate owner of his property and cannot be deprived of the title to his land
● Persons buying property in the occupied areas belonging to displaced Greek Cypriots are tresspassers and can be treated as such.
The European Court of Human Rights in its historic decision on Cyprus v. Turkey of 10 May 2001 addressed the issue of violations of Greek Cypriot property rights. It determined that:
● The government of Cyprus is the sole legitimate government of the Republic
● That the so-called “TRNC” is not a state and is illegal under international law
● That Turkey being in effective control is responsible for all violations of the European Convention in occupied Cyprus
● There are continuing violations by Turkey of the rights of the displaced who are not allowed to return to their homes and properties
● That the on-going talks on Cyprus and/or the need to house displaced Turkish Cypriots cannot be invoked as a legitimate reason for the expropriation of Greek Cypriot property
● That denial of access and enjoyment of one’s own property violated article 1 of Protocol I of the European Convention
● There is absence of effective local remedies in occupied Cyprus.
The issue of “domestic remedies”:
In an attempt to remedy the findings of the European Court of Human Rights on the absence of effective local remedies (article 35, par. 1 of the Convention), the Turkish Cypriot “authorities” adopted “law” 67/2005 providing for the establishment of a Compensation Commission to which Greek Cypriot applicants would be directed to apply prior to a recourse to the European Court. It should be noted that:
● Resort to such a Commission is not obligatory if an applicant considers the remedies to be inadequate, ineffective and that the “authorities” have failed to investigate and address misconduct that inflicted harm
● The “law” provides primarily for property compensation and exchange rather than restitution as required under international law
● The Commission is not empowered to investigate, hault or control violations of Greek Cypriot property rights.
Turkey has refused to consider a request by the government of Cyprus that a moratorium be imposed on all construction activity in occupied Cyprus and that a census be taken on the status of Greek Cypriot immovable property. This would help clarify many of the issues raised in this section.
Turkey’s refusal to comply with the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights decision in the historic Loizidou case brought strong condemnation of Turkey by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the eve of Turkey’s accession talks with the EU. Under the threat of sanctions, Turkey paid the penalties imposed in the Loizidou case (December 2003). However, Turkey has not taken any steps leading to the restitution of her property.
“…The Assembly also notes with grave concern Turkey’s continued refusal to respect the Court’s judgments in the Loizidou case…This refusal demonstrates a manifest disregard by Turkey for its international obligations both as a High Contracting Party to the Convention and as a State of the Council of Europe…”
(Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, Resolution 1297(2002), 23 September 2002, par. 11)
Turkey’s documented and continuing violations of Greek Cypriot property rights are a clear indication of her intent to consolidate its conquest of nearly 37% of the Republic of Cyprus and the creation of two ethnically homogeneous states on Cyprus.
Press and Information Office