The complexities of the land and property aspects of the Cyprus question are difficult but the rarified atmosphere of the Swiss Alps will help disentangle them.
What is required is inventiveness. The negotiators must negotiate off piste – to borrow an Alpine skiing metaphor – if they are to capture the public’s imagination.
I have no idea how the two sides approach the land and property aspects and it is not possible to comment on the substance of negotiations, but I can comment on constitutional mechanisms that exist to disentangle the mess the incompetent political leaders of the past left behind, which most of our venal politicians of today do not have the gumption to address.
The starting point is to be clear that the land question means the land that will be returned under the control of the constituent state in the south, and the property question means property that belongs to a citizen of one constituent state that is situated in the other constituent state.
But what is of overarching significance is the psychological factor about the nature of the ownership of Cyprus herself.
In the UK the kingdom belongs to the Crown as an institution, albeit in the person of HM the Queen, and the Crown represents the country past, present, and future.
The kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The system is a constitutional monarchy under democratic parliamentary control. All government is carried out in the name of the Crown subject to parliamentary approval and judicial scrutiny.
Transposing the idea of the Crown as an institution and calling it the State, the Island of Cyprus belongs to the State of Cyprus, which also represents the country, past, present, and future. The State will be governed democratically as a federal republic comprising two constituent states, but the Island of Cyprus will always belong to the State of Cyprus like all the land in the UK belongs to the Crown.
It is extremely important for the public to understand this if they are going to vote rationally in the referendum which I hope will be put to them shortly.
As to the land question, if the two leaders are unable to agree every area of land to be returned within the ambit of a federation comprising two zones, they may wish to consider whether they can get assistance from the status of Washington in the District of Colombia in America.
Washington DC is not situated in any state. It is a federal city that is run by the federal government itself. A special constitutional space was created in the federal constitution for Washington to be given a special status as a district rather than included in any state.
A constitutional mechanism of excellent pedigree does therefore exist to iron out intractable problems such as that posed by Morphou. If all else fails, it could be made a federal town like Washington DC and even become the seat of some federal institutions.
The property question is different and again we can turn to the position in England where all real property belongs to the Crown for assistance. Individual persons own time in land but not the land itself. I remember spending a long time trying to understand English land law but it all fell into place once I appreciated the implications of this relatively simple concept.
The mechanisms for the allocation of rights to individual property have to strike a fair balance between the rights of owners and current users. The mechanisms of compensation, sale and exchange are well known. They featured prominently in 2004 and I have nothing useful to add about them, except that so far as the property question is concerned, the general principle is that the function of the state in this area should be to provide a framework with realistic transitional provisions. Within these, individuals can work out their own agreements in private law, with recourse to some specialised dispute resolution mechanism, rather than for the state to determine their rights for them in public law.
An idea that did not feature previously is use of the concept of ownership of time in land – leasehold tenure – to assist people strike a fair balance. The idea behind leaseholds is that the land reverts to the freeholder after expiry of the lease. Leasehold is a flexible tool that can be tailored to suit the individual circumstances of owners and current users within a framework of presumptions agreed by government.
The loss of communities however is irretrievable. Forty years after people were forced by circumstances to abandon their homes and settle somewhere safe, life for most has moved on and it is not possible to turn the clock back. But I am excited about making our little federal republic a happy place again and reproduce the good times of the way we were.
A friend reminded me recently of an old 1950s song called ‘It is Istanbul not Constantinople’. I first heard this song when I was in my teens but never noticed the word ‘not’ between the two names in the lyrics. Perhaps it was a Freudian failure to hear it or just teenage exuberance that made me focus on the tune rather than the lyrics.
The problem however is more apparent than real since they both derive from the Greek words Konstantinoupolis and Eis tin Polin that mean respectively the city of Constantine and into the City, each of which was used by its Greek speaking inhabitants.
There is nothing to reject about a Turkish rendition of the Greek phrase of Eis Tin Polin. Likewise there is nothing to reject and a lot to rejoice about accepting a federal solution.
The Island of Cyprus is much more likely to continue to belong to the State of Cyprus after a federal solution than if we leave the Cyprus problem hanging indefinitely.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge