16 June 2003

Property settlements in Cyprus

With the historic opening of the green line in Cyprus two months ago, its citizens are now moving back and forth between the two sides of the island with relative ease. With this new freedom of movement has come a general recognition that disputes over property rights must be resolved in some equitable fashion. Surprisingly, this appears to be recognized by both governments in the island, even that of the unrecognized Turkish-Cypriot state in the north. To be sure, the disputes are not nearly as intractable as those between Israelis and Palestinians, where the displacement of peoples has been large in comparison. The following article by Michele Kambas and Gokhan Tezgor, "Cyprus land ownership still controversial," indicates how such disputes are being handled, particularly by the European Court of Human Rights.

In the Greek Cypriot south there has been a concerted attempt to maintain abandoned property in trust for its owners:

Turkish Cypriot estates in the south come under a government-appointed Trustee, which leases to Greek Cypriot refugees. They have to give them back if there is a settlement.

"Nobody can usurp another person's property," said Andreas Christou, Interior Minister in the internationally-recognised government of the south."Everything is documented, down to the last square foot."

The Turkish Cypriot government is attempting to play catch-up:

Legislation now being prepared in northern Cyprus would call for the establishment of an independent property commission to deal with Greek Cypriot claims.

Even so, people are unlikely to give up their property easily and the Cypriot's love for their land is well documented. People shun rents, work a lifetime to pay for a home or a field, and throw in a house when the daughter of the family gets married. [Remember "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"?] "Have you met a Cypriot who does not want their property? I haven't," said [human rights lawyer Achilleas] Demetriades.

At one time I was fairly pessimistic over the prospects of a permanent settlement to the Cyprus issue. But given the tremendous outpouring of good will among both Greek and Turkish Cypriots since the breach of the barrier, it is hard to imagine that disputes over property would be allowed to stand in the way over the long term. It may be necessary for Cyprus' ageing leadership to pass from the scene first. A new generation with no memories of the Emergency of 1955-1960, or the troubles of 1963, 1967 and 1974 should be allowed to take responsibility for the island's future.

One such person is Serdar Denktash, son of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, and a rising star in his own right. He may be the one finally to bring about a settlement, as told in this article from TIME Magazine's European edition: "End Of The Line."

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