Euro court has rung the alarm bell for Turkish Cyprus
Attending the inauguration ceremony of Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) on Jan. 12, the president of Turkish Cyprus drew attention to tension about energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. “What is rational is to benefit from these natural resources with common wisdom. It our greatest hope for TANAP to inspire everyone,” said Mustafa Akıncı.
By now it has become clear that the natural gas resources off the shore of Cyprus are not going to serve as a motivation to find a solution to the divided island. It has also become clear that the Greek Cypriot administration under Nicos Anastasiadis is not willing to take the painful required steps to accept a solution based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. He will continue the strategy of his predecessors to continue negotiations forever and play for time, in the belief that time is on the side of Greek Cyprus.
Although resentful and frustrated, the Turkish Cypriots may continue to live with the status quo while praying for a miracle to one day see the embargo implemented on them lifted, despite the absence of a solution. The problem is that the Greek Cypriots are not going to sit with their hands tied. They are likely to make every effort to make life even more difficult for the Turkish side.
They have already started to turn away non–EU nationals arriving at airports in the south with the intention of staying in hotels in the north. In April 2017, a group of Serbian pupils who arrived at Larnaca Airport in order to participate in a cultural event in the north were turned away. The same happened to a group of Lebanese tourists in September 2017. Until recently, Greek Cypriots did not dare to do the same to Israeli tourists who have shown great interest in visiting the north. Amid strains in Turkish–Israeli relations, the Greek Cypriot administration does not fear any reaction from Tel Aviv and last November 40 Israelis were expelled when they said they wanted to go to the north.
But more importantly, Greek Cyprus is trying to erode the diplomatic gains that Turkish Cyprus has acquired by setting up the Immovable Property Commission (IPC). Established in the mid-2000s to evaluate the Greek Cypriots’ claims, the IPC was recognized as an effective remedy in 2010 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which told all the Greek Cypriots with properties in the north to first apply to the commission in Turkish Cyprus.
Despite obstructions from the government, Greek Cypriots applied to the IPC in the thousands. But when the prospect of peace due to intercommunal negotiations slowed the work of the commission, this also suited the Turkish government, which did not want to earmark such a budget for compensation. Due to a halt in the flow of money, the IPC cannot take any decisions about all the applications in front of it.
In a decision it took last December, the ECHR condemned Turkey for the first time over the committee’s ineffectiveness. After applying to the IPC in 2008 and getting no result, Greek Cypriot citizen Andriani Joannou decided to apply to Strasbourg in 2014, which ended with the ECHR sentencing Turkey to pay 7,000 euros.
This should ring alarm bells for both Turkey and Turkish Cyprus. The Turkish side has to set up the financial mechanism to reactivate the IPC. Otherwise Ankara is going to be forced to earmark a much bigger budget for Cypriot properties in the north anyway, because if the ECHR decides on the ineffectiveness of the IPC and reverses its decision we will be back to 1996.
Following the ECHR’s landmark decision in 1996 in the Loizidou case, thousands of Greek Cypriots with properties in the north applied to the Strasbourg court, which would have resulted in billions of euros in compensation paid by Turkey. The IPC was set up precisely to prevent this storm.
Not only will the IPC’s compensation rates be much lower than those of the ECHR, it can also prioritize cases. If it were to compensate all of the applications in Morphu/Güzelyurt, the Greek Cypriot administration could no longer insist on the return of the province in the next round of negotiations. If the IPC were to decide on the return of some properties in former tourist attraction Varosha, the construction and tourism sectors would be boosted in the north. Compensating the Greek Cypriots will lead to a de facto solution for partition.
Ankara may currently be too preoccupied and, in addition, unwilling to start the flow of money in view of economic troubles. It should be up to the Turkish Cypriot government to take the lead and generate the necessary financial resources by introducing a tax system for Turkish Cypriot owners who will see a huge increase in the value of their properties, which used to belong to Greek Cypriots. These properties would therefore no longer be controversial. And that in turn would motivate Ankara to provide the main bulk of the financing.