Say is against Treaty of Establishment as change of use requires signatures of all five parties
By Elias Hazou
Despite recent assurances that Turkish Cypriot lands in the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) won’t be tampered with by third parties under a recent 2020 framework deal between the Cyprus government and the UK, a Turkish Cypriot lobby group says its concerns remain.
In June, Cyprus and the UK inked an agreement allowing development of certain areas inside the SBAs, 60 years after the island gained its independence from Britain.
The agreement concerns 18 square kilometres of a total of around 254 square kilometres – or 3 per cent of the island’s territory – retained by former colonial ruler Britain in Akrotiri in Limassol, and Dhekelia, Larnaca, as sovereign territory used as military bases.
The agreement prompted Evkaf (Turkish Cypriot religious endowment foundation) to dispute its validity, arguing that it was signed without the consent of the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey – a breach of one of the main principles of the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, it claimed.
Shortly after, the bases stressed that under the agreement Turkish Cypriots who own land in the SBAs will equally be able to benefit from developing their land by applying to the SBA Area Offices.
“All Turkish Cypriot land is safeguarded and cannot be developed without the consent of its owners,” SBA authorities said on August 12.
The statement was welcomed by Evkaf as a positive sign, but the foundation insisted it wanted the Bases to directly communicate with them officially.
Meantime also lobbying in the background were the UK-based Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (CTCA).
Asked whether the Evkaf aspect resolved the issue for them, CTCA chairman Ertugrul Mehmet said it did not.
“It’s good the Bases’ commander General Robert John Thompson has been in touch directly with Evkaf. Sadly no other Turkish Cypriot landowner we are working with was contacted and even if they had been, the UK’s generic attempt to reassure us is not sufficient,” Mehmet said.
“The crux of the matter is the need for the Turkish Cypriot community to give its formal consent and to ensure we have adequate representation in the NMD (non-military development). Without these two elements, we cannot have any confidence in the NMD working fairly for Turkish Cypriots.”
The CTCA were asked what proportion of Turkish Cypriot lands in the SBAs belong to Evkaf.
“We can’t say as a total proportion, but Evkaf is the single biggest Turkish Cypriot landowner on the SBAs. Its SBA properties cover some 2,400 donums, or 2.4 square km – equivalent to 13 per cent of the SBA land set to be developed.
On what exactly worries them, the CTCA replied they’re concerned on two levels.
“The first is that the change of use on the SBAs is unlawful. The SBAs are governed by the 1960 Treaty of Establishment, which clearly states the land can only be used for military purposes. Changing this requires the signatures of all five parties to the 1960 Treaty. The UK and South Cyprus have tried to circumvent this with their 2014 Agreement, which is not valid.
“The second issue is tied to the first. The UK did not seek Turkish Cypriot consent, and therefore the Turkish Cypriot community has no representation in the planning or consultation process, which is deeply flawed and biased against our community. While Greek Cypriots are embedded into the process, Turkish Cypriots have no one to fight in their corner.”
Mehmet went on to claim that “this bias is already manifesting itself in multiple ways, from consultation documents that are only in Greek, to zoning that turns most Turkish Cypriot land into agricultural use, while Greek Cypriot land is earmarked for more valuable residential and commercial development.
“The consultation process made no prior effort to identify or engage with Turkish Cypriot landowners, or those whose livelihoods sit on the boundaries of the bases and who will be severely impacted by these changes.”
The CTCA also said that, prior to the local assurances of August 12, they corresponded with Wendy Morton, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for European Neighbourhood and the Americas.
“She’s acknowledged there were flaws and errors in the consultation process, and she stressed that the SBAs remain sovereign British territory and that the UK will safeguard Turkish Cypriot properties with legislation. We welcomed the fact the Minister reacted to our concerns, but sadly her response falls well short of the resolution we are looking for.”
Asked what, if anything, has the UK government told them about the future status of Turkish Cypriot properties in the SBAs once the agreement between Cyprus and the UK kicks in, Mehmet said: “The UK authorities have told us ‘nothing will be done to the land without the owner’s prior consent’, but that does not correlate with the real-life experiences of Turkish Cypriots.
“One gentleman told us that an electric pole was erected in the centre of his father’s land in Pergama, within the Dhekelia base area, running a power line through the property. No one had bothered to inform them or secure their permission. This is just one of many examples we are being told.”
Mehmet went on to assert that the SBA zoning plans “are going to cause great tensions on the ground. Turkish Cypriots will be livid when they realise their land can only be used for ‘agricultural purposes’.”
On whether they’ve got estimates of the total monetary value of the affected Turkish Cypriot properties in the two SBAs, the CTCA said they didn’t have exact details at this time.
“Two dozen property holders have already asked for CTCA’s help, and that list is growing all the time. It’s a mixture of original landowners and a few who are descendants.”
Mehmet added they are working with Turkish Cypriot authorities, local community groups and landowners to establish the extent of Turkish landownership on the bases.
“We believe, for example, 70 per cent of Akrotiri is on Turkish title, which is why the lack of Turkish Cypriot representation in the non-military development is ludicrous. How can they be excluded from discussions and planning on matters that directly affect them?”
Regarding the CTCA’s next moves on the matter, the organisation said they would continue dialoguing with the UK government: “We want to see the NMD paused until the issue of Turkish Cypriot consent and representation is resolved, based on detailed information. We are prepared to take legal action to protect these rights, although we hope that won’t be necessary and the UK authorities will find a formula to involve Turkish Cypriots.”