The Greek Cypriot side needs to mount a robust legal defence to block unilateral Turkish plans to develop Varosha, and it needs to do it fast, a leading human rights lawyer has stressed.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail on Tuesday, Achilleas Demetriades called the recent roundtable discussion held in the fenced-off area of Famagusta “a serious development” that necessitates a vigorous response from Greek Cypriot refugees.
He was alluding to Saturday’s meeting, held at the Sandy Beach Hotel in Varosha, and attended by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials, representatives of the Turkish Cypriot religious foundation Evkaf, and Turkish and Turkish Cypriot lawyers.
The roundtable discussed the mooted opening up of the fenced-off area, with Turkey’s Vice-President Fuat Oktay arguing it was time to open up Varosha as there had been no progress in finding a solution to the Cyprus problem for almost half a century.
Oktay said the roundtable discussed the inventory on buildings and other infrastructure carried out by the Turkish Cypriot ‘government’. He said they would look into the state of the approximately 8,650 buildings in Varosha.
Metin Feyzioglu, the head of the Turkish Union of Bar Associations that organised the event, said there were 281 cases of Greek Cypriots who filed to the north’s Immovable Property Commission (IPC) for compensation.
Feyzioglu said also the overall compensation for these properties is estimated at around €2 billion. Another case was now before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the grounds that the IPC no longer offered effective remedy.
According to Demetriades, Feyzioglu’s remarks demonstrate the Turkish side has a full picture on the applications for restitution (return) and compensation for loss of use filed by Greek Cypriots, and that in itself is important.
What the Turkish side really wants, is to open up Varosha’s beach front.
“So with that in mind, the next step is what do we do about it? I believe Varosha refugees who own plots on the beach should file applications to the IPC en masse,” Demetriades said.
There are 425 plots on the beach front, which extends from the Contandia hotel to the Golden Sands hotel.
“Theoretically, you can file 425 applications requesting immediate restitution and compensation for loss of use from 1974 to date, and in this way hope to thwart Turkish designs on Varosha.
“The reason you’re able do that, is because Turkey cannot invoke the rights of the current user in the case of Varosha, as the properties there are unoccupied.”
That ought to be the minimum response. A more robust action would consist of a ‘swarming’ with all the owners of the 6,082 plots inside Varosha filing applications to the IPC.
“And to do that, you’d need up-to-date certificates of ownership from the authorities of the Republic – the land registry. The title deeds should bear the name of living persons. Where companies are concerned, the shareholder status should likewise be updated.”
Demetriades qualifies that it’s up to each individual to decide whether to apply to the IPC.
“That said, my advice is to apply only for restitution and for loss of use plus interest since 1974.”
For the enterprise to have teeth, various entities need to engage: Famagusta municipality, the Famagusta chamber of commerce, and the Cyprus hoteliers association. These organisations could encourage and help their members or citizens to file applications.
On its part, the Cyprus government should offer official property valuations to support the loss-of-use claims.
“Once all that is done, then you’d have the real cost for Turkey for loss of use of property, and you’d have people returning to their homes,” the lawyer offered.
Demetriades has been highly critical of the government’s reluctance to support Greek Cypriot recourses to the ECHR.
Regarding the case of Greek Cypriot company KV Mediterranean Tours, which owns a complex of residences inside Varosha and is seeking compensation from Turkey for compensation for loss of use and restitution of their property, he says it’s his understanding that the attorney-general’s office – after some dithering – will be providing support to the applicants with official property valuations and legal arguments.
Earlier, Turkey had made a unilateral statement before the ECHR offering the company approximately €5,000 for settlement and dismissal of the case.
Demetriades, the company’s attorney, said he will be filing his objection to the offer by February 28.