A few more observations regarding yesterday's European Court of Justice ruling on the status of Greek refugee property in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. Again, I stress I am no legal expert and these are just speculations and that I may well be wrong about attributing certain ramifications to the ruling.
With that caveat in mind, it still seems to me that the ruling is a stunning victory for the Cypriot side with wide-ranging implications, and this is true even if, in the particular instance of Apostolides vs. The Orams, the UK Court of Appeal, where the case now reverts, or the House of Lords, where the Orams' will no doubt go if they lose in the Court of Appeal, try to avoid fully implementing the ECJ verdict.
Firstly, the ECJ ruling confirms that the property regime in Cyprus is effectively that which existed prior to the Turkish invasion in 1974 and that no matter what has happened to the property seized by the Turkish occupation regime in the last 35 years and who is using it now – Turkish Cypriots, Turkish settlers or other foreigners – the legal ownership continues to reside with the Greek Cypriot refugees.
Moreover, since 80 percent of property in the Turkish-occupied areas was – and remains – owned by Greek Cypriots, the Turkish argument that, in a settlement, bizonality means that in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state Turkish Cypriots must own the majority of land and this has to result from the compulsory surrender by Greek Cypriots of property abandoned in 1974, is significantly undermined. Rather, the Greek Cypriot argument that the original owners must have first say in what happens to property lost in 1974 – whether they wish to reclaim their land, sell it, swap it or be compensated for it – now has legal validity; and it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Christofias to ignore this and agree to the Turkish conditions. It should be noted that if, in a settlement, refugees are given the right to decide in the first instance what happens to their property, then this opens up the possibility of mass resettlement of Greeks in northern Cyprus and the nullification of bizonality.
Secondly, the ECJ ruling, by confirming that the laws of the Republic of Cyprus apply to all the island and that Cypriot courts do have jurisdiction even in the Turkish-occupied areas, allows Cypriots to seek legal redress over every illegality committed as a result of the Turkish invasion and continuing occupation.
For example, what is to stop the Church of Cyprus – the largest landowner on the island and with the resources to pursue lengthy and complex legal cases – going to the Nicosia courts seeking restitution and compensation for churches, monasteries, land, etc, it has had confiscated by Turkey – the government of Turkey has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights as being responsible for what happens in occupied Cyprus – and that when the Nicosia court rules in its favour, as it surely would, seeking to have that ruling enforced elsewhere in the EU? Such a scenario could see the assets of the Turkish government seized in European capitals and handed over to the Church of Cyprus.
A few more points.
1. Yesterday's ECJ ruling is precisely the sort of ruling feared by Turkey and its allies when Cyprus joined the EU, and which the Annan plan, which was to take effect before Cyprus became an EU member, was specifically designed to preclude, providing for the settlement of all these issues in Turkey's favour and depriving Cypriots of their right to challenge the new state of affairs in European courts.
Bearing this in mind, the decision by Tassos Papadopoulos to urge rejection of the Annan plan appears even more correct and his assertion that the Republic of Cyprus should continue its struggle for a solution inside the EU utterly vindicated. It is worrying, however, that in Cyprus now there exists no one with Papadopoulos' foresight, courage and belief in the justice of the Cypriot cause.
2. The ECJ judgment is a victory against all those thieves and trespassers – mostly British – who have sought to gain from the ethnic cleansing in 1974. For years, they have mocked the dispossessed and revelled in their crooked behaviour; but now they have been exposed for what they are – common criminals – and justice is catching up with them. This is morally satisfying.
3. It would be delusional to suppose that the Turks will accept the implications of the ECJ ruling and change their negotiating position on property issues accordingly. What we know about the Turks is this: they take defeat badly, feel they are victims of injustice and respond with belligerence and intransigence.
4. Finally, it should be noted that Meletios Apostolides in fighting this case repeatedly stated that he was not interested in taking over the gaudy villa the Orams' built on his land. Rather, Apostolides wanted to knock down the abomination and replant the lemon grove that had existed before the Britons had arrived and in this way achieve some form of natural justice. This striving for natural justice, restoring that which was wrought asunder, defines the Cypriot struggle, at its best, to end the Turkish occupation.
The image above is from an Attic amphora and shows Dike (justice personified) beating Adikia (injustice) with a hammer. Adikia is depicted as a tattooed barbarian woman.