Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Implications of European court ruling on Cyprus property rights

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.


lastgreek said...

What we know about the Turks is this: they take defeat badly, feel they are victims of injustice and respond with belligerence and intransigence.I guess Turkish provocations over the Aegean sea will increase this summer.

Notwithstanding the politics and inertia (cowardice?) of the Greek government to respond to the said provocations, I'd like to hear some opinions regarding the readiness of the Greek armed forces---if ever push comes to shove---and, in particular, the Greek air force: Is the Greek airforce up to snuff to destroy the Turkish airforce?

And btw, if our officer corps is based on nepotism and bribery instead of meritocracy, then there is no need for me to say... you know---we're fucked!


Hermes said...

lastgreek, I am not authority on the readiness of the Greek armed forces and I'll let someone else answer for you; however, regarding nepotism and bribery in the officer corps, Turkey is also riddled with these problems. Recently, it appears the situation has gotten worse with the AKP systematically putting its own people in the judiciary, police force etc. I am not sure if they have any control over the armed forces, as this is usually a bastion of the Kemalist forces, but with time certain Kemalist forces in the army may see the winds changing and go over to the other side. Have you read The Leopard by Lampedusa or seen the film by Vischonti?

lastgreek said...


I hear you. I asked the question because I'm very concerned---concerned of another '74 catastrophe.

No, I have not read The Leapard, nor have I seen the film. Unfortunately, my reading of late has been finance focused dealing mainly with financial derivatives. But I will look for the book on my next visit to the library. Coming from you, I am sure it's an interesting read.


john akritas said...

I'm no expert on Greek defence matters either; but it should be remembered that Greek pilots confront the Turk on a daily basis over the Aegean and I've never read anything to suggest that they do this with anything other than absolute professionalism and bravery.

I'm also sceptical about this powerful Turkish army myth, which seems to paralyse Greek politicians. Since the foundation of the Turkish republic, the Turk military has never seriously been tested in battle. We've previously mentioned what a shambles their operation in Cyprus in 1974 was and that proper resistance from the Greek armed forces may have halted the invasion. Also, the Turks don't seem to be doing too well against the PKK.

Anonymous said...

This and the post below are brilliant. Thank you J.


john akritas said...

Thanks A.
Reading through the Cypriot newspapers today, a couple more points emerged.

Apostolides' Cypriot lawyer, Constantis Cantounas, seems to think that the Orams, if they lose at the Court of Appeal, will not be able to go to the House of Lords, which is pretty much the UK's court of last resort. Cantounas also says that he is preparing another case for a Greek Cypriot refugee against Britons who have usurped his land, this time the land is in Karmi, near Kyrenia.

I also read a Turkish Cypriot report that suggested that it is possible for the British government to intervene in the case and ask for the ECJ ruling to be ignored on the grounds of 'public interest'. I imagine that the Turks may well press the British to do such a thing; but I think it unlikely that the UK government would contemplate such blatant political interference in the judicial process. The consequences, also, for London-Nicosia relations would be severe.

No; I think the Turks' only hope is if the Court of Appeal finds some legal excuse not to rubber stamp the ECJ judgment. If the Court of Appeal judges can't stomach the idea of a British couple being done over by foreign courts then I'm sure they will find the legal rationale to find for the Orams'. Cyprus has been in conflict with the British state for a long time and there exist a lot of grudges on both sides. I wouldn't expect their legal system and their judges to take too kindly to being told what to do by a Cypriot court – and an EU court.

The other thing I keep meaning to mention is this: often we Greeks dwell on our foreign policy defeats and overlook our successes. One such success has been 1. The preservation after 1974 of the Republic of Cyprus – as essentially a second Greek state; and 2. The entry of The Republic of Cyprus into the EU – from which it has been able to exert pressure on Turkey in a way that would have been inconceivable if successive Greek and Cypriot governments had not fought for Cyprus' EU membership.