- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lefkosa, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The Bush administration’s policies, particularly Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Washington three weeks ago, have begun causing problems for Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos.

Mr. Talat argues that since a majority of Greek Cypriots rejected a referendum in April to reunify the island, Turkish Cypriots are gaining advantage. But Greek Cypriots have joined the European Union with the Cyprus problem still unresolved — and they’re using their stronger position to further complicate the situation.

Property claims are a big tension in Cyprus, and now for the first time, a Greek Cypriot is suing a Turkish Cypriot for the return of his property on the north side of the island. Similar lawsuits were filed previously against the Turkish Republic, which Greek Cypriots say is the occupying force. But no Turkish Cypriot has ever filed suit against the Cyprus Republic — to be exact, the Greek Cypriot administration — so the world community has assumed that only Greek Cypriots have property claims.

Until now, the most famous case was filed by Titina Louizidou against the Turkish Republic in the European Human Rights Court. Turkey compensated Ms. Louizidou, who was barred from her property in Kyrenia for 30 years. The case also led to the opening of the Green Line — the border between the Turkish Cypriot side and Greek Cypriot side — in April 2003.

Now Greek Cypriot Akinita P. Ioannidis Ltd. is suing Huseyin Caginer, a Turkish Cypriot, whose lawyer says that though he is trying to treat it as an ordinary lawsuit, the case has a political dimension.

Greek Cypriots have joined the EU based on the 1960 constitution.

However, since the Greek Cypriot government does not control the north part of the island, the “doctrine of necessity” gives it legal permission not to implement all of the constitution’s articles — and it doesn’t. Mr. Caginer’s lawyer asked the court, as the constitution allows, to let the hearings be conducted in Turkish as well and his request was granted. It is unclear how this case will proceed when the hearings continue next month, but as Mr. Talat told me, “it will be like a boomerang and will start hurting the Greek Cypriot side.”

The constitution also allows for both Turk and Greek Cypriot judges to rule on conflicts between the two sides. The question is how the Greek Cypriot court will decide to follow the constitution. Assuming that it will be demanded, if it rules against having a Turkish Cypriot judge, Mr. Caginer’s lawyer could argue that his client isn’t getting a fair trial and take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. If a Turkish judge does sit in, it is naive to think the case could be decided uniformly. Either way, it’s the first time Turkish Cypriots can take a case to the ECHR — and that court should be asked to re-evaluate Cyprus’ EU membership on the basis of its constitution.

Greek Cypriot law does not give equal rights to Turkish Cypriots.

The government argues that there is no such thing as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots — just Cypriots — and everyone is represented by the current administration. But a Greek Cypriot can reclaim his property, and a Turkish Cypriot cannot do the same until the island is reunified. Custodian law states that any payment the defendant was ordered to make would be suspended “during the abnormal situation which exists in the republic of Cyprus by reason of the Turkish invasion.”

When the Turkish Cypriot lands were made public property, the Greek Cypriot government neither got the permission of Turkish Cypriots nor paid them compensation. Larnaka airport, for example, is the main airport of the Greek Cypriot side. The majority of the land where it’s located is owned by the family of Turkish Cypriot Behlul Sutcu. Mr. Sutcu’s late mother owns the land, he says, and the idea of a Greek Cypriot suing a Turkish Cypriot to reclaim his property woke his family up. But for the Sutcu family to claim their inheritance, the Greek Cypriot government must authorize the death certificate, which was issued by the Turkish side, and that process is slow going to say the least.

There has been no ethnic conflict on this small Mediterranean island since Turkey’s 1974 intervention, but cases like this are fueling a coming explosion.

Mr. Talat says such individual property claims have the potential to cause fights and stir hatred never before experienced on Cyprus. “Mr. Papadopoulos is trying to create fights to deepen the divide between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots,” Mr. Talat said. When the European Union asks Turkey to open its air and sea ports to Greek Cypriots, these developments will inevitably play a role — and, he believes, will push Mr. Papadopoulos back to the negotiation table. Or will Turkey end its quest to become a member of the EU?

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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