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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Some Hope for the Greek Cypriots Enclaved in the Occupied North

A landmark case at the European Court of Human Rights has safeguarded the rights of relatives of Greeks in Istanbul to inherit property even if they are not Turkish nationals.  And this raises hopes for the Greek Cypriots enclaved in the occupied Karpas peninsula where the non-inheritance policy is also applied by the Turkish regime.

This is the view of Achilleas Demetriades - one of the lawyers in the case of late Polyxeni Foka whose blood brothers were awarded five million euros by the Strasbourg-based Court on October 1, 2013.

“I believe this is an important case because it repeats the rights of ‘Romioi’ in Istanbul to have their properties inherited by their heirs who may not necessarily be of Turkish nationality.”

He added: “And it also has a link to Cyprus because a similar policy of non-inheritance was applied with the Karpas enclaved persons who, when they pass away, their relatives living in the government-controlled areas are not allowed to inherit.”

Ekaterini-born Polyxeni was adopted by Apostolos and Elisabeth Bitsika, wealthy Greeks of Istanbul, or Romioi (Greek: Ῥωμαῖοι/Greek: Ρωμιοί, "Romans") as they were branded by the Turks, back in the mid-50s.

She lived there happily and in very comfortable surroundings and when the father died in 1981, the mother inherited the family property.

The mother died in 1987 and Polyxeni actually inherited the property – both movable and immovable property.  But later on the Turkish state decided that this inheritance was contrary to the existing law because she was not a Turkish national.  By that time, she was not very well and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital called Zentiburul with the authorities appointing a guardian.

Meanwhile, her two blood brothers from Ekaterini wanted to help and began contacting Polyxeni who passed away in hospital in 2000.  That’s when the brothers’ interest in the inheritance led to the launch of a litigation in Turkey but their bid was unsuccessful.

So, in 2002 an application was submitted before the ECHR claiming the inheritance rights of the brothers.  The case was successful in 2009 when the Court accepted that a violation had occurred and their right to the property was established.

On October 1, 2013, the judgment for just satisfaction was announced awarding the brothers the sum of €5 million for loss of use and for expropriation and moral damages they had suffered because of these violations.

---Applicable to the enclaved---

Amendments to the ‘inheritance law’ in the occupied areas are already underway and the matter is being discussed before the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, said Achilleas Demetriades.

“It is expected to be finally resolved in June 2014. That is when the Committee of Ministers will issue a decision whether the ‘law’ is in fact adequate remedy to satisfy the actions taken by Turkey remedy the breaches which have been established by the 4th interstate application,” Demetriades said.

“I understand certain memos were generated but it’s a matter handled by the Attorney General’s office…I think the properties in Istanbul may very well be the subject matter of a new immovable property commission set up by Turkey to deal with this dormant for quite some time issue,” he added.

Demetriades wondered whether any of the enclaved people will initiate legal proceedings to challenge the new ‘law’ in the occupied areas and then in Strasbourg.  “The matter of the enclaved is part of the interstate application and the government should deal with it,” he said.

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