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Some Cypriots are more equal than others

Turkish Cypriots queuing up to apply for their Cyprus ID cards after the checkpoints opened in 2003

When a Turkish Cypriot with a Republic of Cyprus ID card went to buy a flat in Limassol, he learned there was one law for them and one for us

 

A 37-year-old Turkish Cypriot medical student at the University of Nicosia Medical School decided to buy a small flat in the Republic of Cyprus.

A straightforward transaction, you might think. Certainly not a complicated operation.

Ahmet Ozyigit has been commuting on a daily basis from northern Nicosia to the general hospital in Limassol since August of last year as part of his practical studies internship. Working long hours, late shifts, sometimes on emergency call, that drive back to Nicosia at the end of the day (or a hard day’s night) was becoming increasingly daunting. The more he thought about it, the more he thought how nice it would be if he had someplace nearby, somewhere along the coast, close to the hospital, where he could stay.

“When I work late shifts or am on duty call, it is hard to drive all the way to Nicosia afterwards so I thought buying a flat would be a good solution,” Ozyigit tells the Sunday Mail.

And so he began looking around for a suitable place. By mid-September, it was mission accomplished, or so he thought. He had found a one-bedroom apartment, had signed a contract and had paid 118,000 euros for his new abode.

Ahmet Ozyigit

Then, accompanied by his estate agent, to whom the flat’s original owner had given power of attorney to register the transaction, Ozyigit went to the Limassol Land Registry to complete the necessary paperwork that would seal the deal. And that’s where the problems started.

“At the beginning, all was OK as we proceeded step by step through the whole process. But then in one of the offices, a lady checking my Republic of Cyprus ID card announced that they could not register the flat in my name.” A startled Ozyigit asked why not, only to be stunned by the answer she gave. “Because I am a foreigner, is what she said.”

A foreigner? Taken aback and bemused, Ozyigit and his agent looked at one another in disbelief. How could he possibly be “a foreigner” when he had just shown her his Republic of Cyprus (RoC) ID?

Unfazed, the lady continued: “He is a Turkish Cypriot and it is not the same.” She was speaking in Greek and the real estate agent was translating for Ozyigit’s benefit.

“So I asked if there is a law like this – that there is a citizenship type A and B. And I said that if there is, we should know about it. At this point, she started yelling something in Greek and then disappeared into a room next door, emerging some 30 minutes later with a piece of paper. And on this paper, it was written in Greek that if the Land Registry believes there is a threat to the security of the country they reserve the right to deny ownership… So essentially what I think is that they gave me a piece of paper with a quote from a very old law that probably should not apply today but is still recorded and that they can use whenever they choose should they want to refuse somebody…”

A baffled and frustrated Ozyigit was told his case would have to be referred to the RoC interior ministry for further consideration and that this would take some time.

So he waited, deferring to his real estate agent, who prefers to remain anonymous but was handling the case and the paper chase. To start with, the agent followed Ozyigit’s papers to the Nicosia Land Registry and thereafter to the ministry and what seemed to be a full stop. The papers landed in a pile of other documents on the desk of a clerk who fielded several phone calls from the agent before allegedly telling him to quit “harassing” her. This was at the beginning of February. At this point, the agent, by now despondent, advised Ozyigit to sell.

“He said very simply that he no longer believed in the system’s willingness to solve my problem. So I said OK, let’s cut our losses and sell. There is no point in getting more upset,” Ozyigit says.

However, come the next day, he decided to give it one more go – “not because I was hoping to change something for myself but because I was feeling I should make the whole issue public”.

So he sat down and wrote a full account of what had happened to him and shared it as a posting with a closed United Cyprus Now group on Facebook.

He introduced himself: “I am a Turkish Cypriot who is doing his medical training in Limassol General Hospital. Over the past five years, I have never come across any issues in my relationship with Greek Cypriots and I don’t anticipate any for the future. We are all humans who share the same culture. I am a holder of the Republic’s ID and passport, so I never imagined facing any problems.”

He wrapped up his account with a sad conclusion: “While we individuals try to make this island a better place for everyone, I have come to realise that certain things will never let us. At the age of 37, I am slowly giving up on any prospects of reunification. Maybe the next generations will have better luck….”

That, he thought, was that. He had got it off his chest by going semi-public, shared his statement, expressed his regrets. The response was instant and overwhelming, coming from both sides of the divide and exceeding any expectations he might have had about efforts “to make this island a better place for everyone”.

Ozyigit not only received dozens of messages of support and advice from Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot members of the group but also, as a result of widespread sharing and tweeting, his heartfelt message found its way to RoC Minister of Interior Constantinos Petrides and he personally undertook to look into the matter.

A mere week later, Ozyigit received a phone call from the ministry informing him that the Land Registry would contact him soon. One week later and he learned that his application had been accepted and that it would not be long before he received his title deed.

So touched was he by the general reaction, that Ozyigit took to Facebook once more and wrote: “Thanks to all the wonderful people who have helped make my voice heard. We did it! The paperwork went through today and I got the yellow slip. This just shows how much we can achieve being united. Not just on this issue, but on a whole lot more. Cypriots 1, status quo 0.”

Still, the questions remain. Why was there an issue with Ozyigit’s title deed in the first place? And why did it take so much time and effort for him to get it?

The Sunday Mail contacted other Turkish Cypriots who had bought properties in the south to check if they had encountered such problems and heard similar accounts involving both people who lived permanently in the south as well as those of people resident in the north who had opted to purchase in the Republic.

One, a Turkish Cypriot who has never lived in the north and is married to a Greek Cypriot, described how she encountered a similar situation while trying to obtain a title deed in 1995.

“I agreed on the price, gave a cheque and went with the seller to the Land Registry to deposit the contract so the title deed could be issued only to be told that my application could not be processed. Only after lots of complaining and showing my baptism certificate which incidentally I do have, the registry accepted my papers and later issued my title deed. I felt so humiliated by the whole situation. Why by proving that I was nominally Christian I was suddenly accepted but as a Turkish Cypriot I wasn’t?”

Another Turkish Cypriot who recently purchased a house in the south recalled his own difficulties and said that the only reason he managed to get his title deed relatively painlessly was the persistence of the former owner of the property who for six weeks went daily to the relevant offices demanding that the whole procedure be completed as soon as possible.

Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides personally intervened to ensure the sale of the flat went through

In talking with the Sunday Mail, all interlocutors cite instances of how some Turkish Cypriots believe they are treated differently from Greek Cypriots despite having RoC citizenship and travelling on RoC passports.

“Actually, even though I have a Greek name now and my whole ID is written in Greek and English, there is one word on it that will always tell a clerk in a governmental office that I am Turkish Cypriot,” says one of those interviewed for this article.

“Under gender, instead of using the Greek word, they wrote ‘kadin’ (Turkish for woman). It seems a little thing but I always have this thought in my mind that if, God forbid, one day we go back to confronting each other, I might be somewhere on a bus with my daughter and in the event they stop us and start checking our papers this one word could send me to one side and my Greek Cypriot daughter to the other.”

Another Turkish Cypriot woman interviewed by the paper also confirms that her ID looks different to the IDs of Greek Cypriots. She points out that all her personal information is written in Turkish.

“There is also a difference in where I have to go if I need to renew my ID or passport. A Greek Cypriot goes to the Citizen Service office and gets it sorted straight away. As a Turkish Cypriot, I have to go to the district commission office and it takes at least a month. This despite the fact that I was born in the south and they have me in the system since the day I was born.”

Asked about these anomalies, Ministry of Interior administration officer Yiannis Sophocleous explained to the Sunday Mail that indeed there are some legal provisions for Turkish Cypriots having to go through different procedures from Greek Cypriots while dealing with various governmental services. However, he noted that as a result of the Ozyigit story, the minister is planning to look into the differences to determine whether it would be possible to get rid of at least some of them.

For example, Sophocleous says, “there is a provision in the legislation introduced after the conflict of 1963 that says that if a Turkish Cypriot wants to buy a house or a flat, the Director of the Land Registry Department has to seek advice from the minister if there is a problem with national security. The reason for this is that due to the conflict it was not considered desirable to allow Turkish Cypriots to buy houses next to military camps or other high-security areas.”

According to Sophocleous, this explains why when a Turkish Cypriot buys a property in the south, regardless of his or her address, the application must go to the Ministry of the Interior for investigation in coordination with national security.

However, he pointedly adds: “the Minister has called for a meeting of various departments within the next couple of weeks in order to examine the whole procedure and check whether this law is obsolete. So perhaps some changes will be made soon.”

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