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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Cyprus: Bridging the Property Divide

Cyprus: Bridging the Property Divide

Nicosia/Istanbul/Brussels  |   9 Dec 2010

Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean will remain hostage to full settlement of the Cyprus dispute, but the property issue – one of its most intractable knots – can be solved now if Greek and Turkish Cypriots compromise on new proposals currently before them.

Cyprus: Bridging the Property Divide ,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the fate of tens of thousands of buildings and parcels of land that Greek and Turkish Cypriots own on the other community’s side of the divided island. As Cypriot politicians and Turkey fail to come to terms, the property question is increasingly being atomised by individual actions and the courts – a process that will be more expensive, slow and inefficient for all.

“Heavy court penalties, new domestic remedies and the actions of Cypriot individuals mean that the property issue is developing a momentum of its own, whatever happens in the reunification talks”, says Didem Akyel, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Analyst. “Greek Cypriots who put their faith only in courts, however, will be investing in long, expensive, uncertain legal processes, with little likelihood of ultimate restitution”.

Since the events that led to mass displacements – 47 years ago in some cases – many properties have been assigned to new users, sold, destroyed or significantly developed. The two communities have grown apart and established new socio-economic structures in their respective areas, having lived behind closed front lines for nearly two generations and interacted only superficially since crossing points opened in 2003.

“Less than a quarter of Cypriots say they want to return to their old homes”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “Both sides should seize the opportunity of the current talks to strike a realistic balance between the right to return with the rights of the current users. Time is only making a property settlement harder”.

The flagging talks could be revived by compromises. Innovative proposals by the Turkish Cypriots deserve careful consideration. A Greek Cypriot proposal to link negotiations on property, territory and settlers could be adapted to become the first stage of a proposal the Turkish Cypriots have made for an international conference on all negotiating topics. The two sides should commission a rapid joint audit of land owned in both parts of the island and an economic impact study of redevelopment proposals.

Regardless of what happens in the negotiations, the Greek Cypriots should make legal provisions for mutually agreed property swaps between displaced owners from both sides. Turkis­h Cypriots must ensure fairness and transparency in the procedures of the Immovable Property Commission they have created to handle Greek Cypriot claims. Turkey should re-launch and sustain its efforts to assure Greek Cypriots of its commitment to a settlement, including the handing back of property and territory along the lines of previous UN plans.

“The 2011 election cycle sets a practical deadline for the current negotiations over a comprehensive Cyprus settlement”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director, “but the sides should push hard to reach compromises. New flexibility is urgently needed to bridge the positions and thereby demonstrate that the political will still exists to reunify the island”.


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