The aftermath of the 1974 occupation by Turkey of the northern part of Cyprus and subsequent division of the island is still keenly felt by citizens of both the Republic of Cyprus in the south and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the North. Property abandoned on both sides by those fleeing conflict has been the subject of emotional debate and has been a considerable hindrance to forming any kind of resolution to the ongoing division of the island. However, a pathway has now been forged for the resolution of at least some of the property claims, as a body has been established in TRNC with the express intention of creating an effective domestic remedy for claims regarding properties originally belonging to dispossessed Greeks in TRNC.
The Evolution of Case law
The case of Orams v Apostolides was a landmark ruling concerning property rights in TRNC. In 2002 a British couple bought land in TRNC upon which they built a villa. Mr Apostolides was the dispossessed Greek owner and brought a civil claim in the Greek Cypriot Nicosia court, under which it was ordered that the Orams demolish the villa and pool they had erected, that they return the land to Mr Apostolides and that they pay him damages. As there was no way to enforce the judgment in TRNC, Apostolides sought to have the judgment asserted against the assets of the British couple in the UK. In April 2009 it was held by the European Court of Justice that the regulation for enforcement of judgments did apply and therefore the UK courts were bound to enforce the Nicosia ruling. Essentially this meant the Orams had to comply with the Nicosia judgment and, if they did not, the British courts would be obliged to enforce it against assets in the UK, namely their family home in Sussex.
Other cases have been brought before the European Court of Human Rights which similarly recognized the rights of the Greek dispossessed owners, in spite of claimed sale to others. Cases such as that of Loizidou in July 1998 and Cyprus v Turkey in 2001 obliged the government of Turkey to pay compensation to those who deprived use of their property.
In the case of Xenides-Arestis in 2005, the ECHR ordered the TRNC to establish an effective domestic remedy in order to resolve property disputes. The TRNC therefore passed the Law for Compensation, Exchange and Restitution of Immovable Properties and on 22nd March 2006 a new Immovable Property Commission (IPC) was formally established in order to deal with such claims at a domestic level. Rights of appeal to the High Administrative Court in TRNC and ECHR are given.
In March 2010, the ECHR gave legitimacy to the IPC when it held that the case of Demopoulos v Turkey was inadmissible before the ECHR on the grounds that all domestic remedies had not yet been exhausted until a claim was made to the IPC.
Most recently, the Greek Cypriot government, which has previously expressed its reservations about the IPC as an authority to adjudicate on property claims, endorsed a property exchange settlement formulated by the IPC. In the Tymvios case, an amicable settlement was reached between Mr Tymvios and Turkey for a property exchange as resolution to Mr Tymvios claim. The agreement was endorsed by the ECHR and closely monitored by the Council of Europe. Compensation was paid to Mr Tymvios by the Greek Cypriot government because two schools and business premises had been built on the exchanged Turkish land in the South, and therefore title deeds could not be issued.
Whilst the Greek Cypriot government cited the Tymvios case as a one off, it is widely speculated that similar claims will follow.
The Immovable Property Commission Today
The IPC cites its function as dealing with claims for compensation, exchange or restitution in accordance with the provisions of Law 67/2005.
The body was initially created with a deadline of 21st December 2011, after which it was anticipated to disband, however this deadline has recently been extended for a further two years.
According to the IPC website, as of 24th July 2012, 3499 applications have been lodged with the IPC, of which 261 have been settled through amicable agreement and 7 through a formal hearing. The site further states that £80,693,225 has been paid in compensation.
Applying for a Settlement
In order to make an application for a settlement an applicant must file the necessary application form setting out his claim with the IPC. The application form must be signed by the applicant or his/her advocate and accompanied by an affidavit containing detailed information concerning the facts of the claim also signed by the applicant. Certified copies of the applicant’s ID card and/or passport should be submitted, together with the title deed to the property, originals and copies of documents indicating shares in the property and a document proving he/she is still rightful owner approved by a certifying officer.
Movable property may also be claimed, provided that acceptable proof of payment before 13th February 1975 or other documents from an official authority proving transfer to the applicant before that date, together with documents proving that the movable property had to be abandoned.
The application may be lodged by proxy and the application form shall be made in Turkish, whilst the affidavit may be made in English or Turkish. A fee is payable upon submission of the application.