Court Orders Turkey to Pay Damages to Cyprus Refugee

NICOSIA (Reuters)–The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Turkey to pay compensation to a Greek Cypriot refugee for barring her access to her property in the north of the divided island.

In a ruling–dated July 28–the Council of Europe’s legislative body ordered that Turkey pay 300,000 Cyprus pounds ($574,500) for depriving the refugee of her ownership rights–20,000 pounds in personal damages and 137,000 in legal fees.

A copy of the ruling was distributed in Nicosia on Wednesday by the Cyprus attorney-general’s office.

"This decision sets an important precedent. It is one of those decisions that should be considered a landmark in the history of law," said Attorney-General Alecos Markides.

The compensation ruling followed an earlier court decision in December 1996 upholding a complaint by tour guide Titina Loizidou that Turkey violated her property rights by denying her access to land she owned in Kyrenia–northern Cyprus.

The compensation awarded to Loizidou represented loss of use of her home from 1990–the year Turkey accepted the Council of Europe’s jurisdiction–to 1998. The ruling does not forfeit Loizidou’s property rights or the possibility of a new lawsuit if the violation continues–Markides said.

The ruling was hailed in Cyprus as a moral victory and could open the floodgates for more lawsuits by tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots displaced from their homes in northern Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion which divided the island.

Markides told a news conference "hundreds" of similar applications from Greek Cypriots had been filed to the European court but were put on hold until the Loizidou case was over.

"This was a test case but now hundreds of other cases are being processed as we speak," he said.

In its judgment–the court found that the Turkish army "exercised effective overall control" in northern Cyprus. It rejected the Turkish government’s position that it did not exercise jurisdiction there.

Turkey had also argued any compensation award would undermine negotiations between the island’s estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities and would block efforts at reaching a settlement on the island.

Turkey has had some 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus since invading in response to a brief Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military junta then ruling Greece. A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state set up in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara.

Loizidou launched the case against the Turkish government after being briefly detained by Turkish Cypriot police in 1989 during a refugee march along the cease-fire line dividing the island.

Markides said Turkey was obliged to pay the compensation amount. "There has never been a state which has managed to escape from implementation of a European Court decision," he said.

Turkey said on Thursday a European court ruling that it must compensate a Greek Cypriot refugee from fighting in 1974 was a hindrance to solving the division of Cyprus.

A Turkish foreign ministry statement said such individual cases would block a general settlement of thousands of such cases on both sides of the UN-patrolled "Green Line" that divides the island.

"This issue can only be addressed and settled between the two states in Cyprus," it said.

The Turkish statement said the case was a matter between the plaintiff and the authorities in the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus–which is recognized only by Ankara.

"It is unfortunate that the Court has taken the judgmen’s on the case without taking into account the fact that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is an independent state," it said.

UN-sponsored talks between the two sides of the dispute are at a standstill–with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash refusing to continue until his authority is given international recognition.

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