European Court of Human Rights Rules in Favor of Woman Seeking to Regain Family Home in Kyrenia

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EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS RULES IN FAVOR OF WOMAN SEEKING TO REGAIN FAMILY HOME IN KYRENIA

Titina Loizidou, a native of the town of Kyrenia in northern Cyprus, is but one of some 200,000 Greek Cypriots who lost their family homes as a result of Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus. She is the only one, however, who has succeeded in having the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rule that Turkey is responsible for her continued dispossession and that Ankara must compensate her financially and allow her to resume control of her property in Kyrenia.

The court's ruling was based on two major findings (both of which might serve as interesting precedents in other parts of the world). First, the court rejected the argument that, under the constitution of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Loizidou was no longer the owner of her family property. The court instead found that, since the international community does not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Turkey being the only country to do so), its constitution has no legal validity, and therefore Loizidou remains the legal owner of her property.

In its defense against her suit, the Turkish government in Ankara acknowledged that Loizidou had lost control of her property. But Ankara also argued that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was the legal government involved and that Turkey therefore was not responsible for Loizidou's loss.

The ECHR rejected that argument as well, holding that "It is obvious from the large number of troops engaged in active duties in northern Cyprus that the [Turkish] army exercises effective overall control over that part of the island...[and that] the continuous denial of the applicant's access to her property in northern Cyprus and the ensuing loss of all control over the property is a matter which falls within Turkey's `jurisdiction.'"

Loizidou is determined that hers will not become "the only [ECHR] case up to now that has not been implemented -- although there have been some delays," she notes. Yet the Oct. 28, 1998 deadline has passed for Turkey to comply with the court's ruling awarding Loizidou $570,000 in economic compensation and $38,000 "for the feelings of anguish, helplessness and frustration caused to the applicant by the loss of the use of her property."

Turkey was ordered to reimburse Loizidou for her legal expenses as well. As of the October deadline, Turkey became subject to an interest penalty of 8 percent annually until it compensates Loizidou as ordered.

More significantly, in the opinion of Christos Rozakis, one of two ECHR vice presidents, "Turkey may have to face the prospect of sanctions or possible expulsion from the Council of Europe if it does not comply with the court decision."

By now, however, delay is no stranger to Loizidou. A process she initially thought "would take three and a half years" in fact consumed nine years, from her initial application July 22, 1989 to the court's final ruling on July 28, 1998.

Indeed, the event that prompted her decision to seek legal redress occurred even earlier: "I decided to take legal action against Turkey after I was seized by the Turkish army in Lymbia in March 1989 during the `Women Walk Home' march," Loizidou explained. "It had been organized to demonstrate, dynamically but peacefully, the refugees' desire to return to their homes, and their demand for the reunification of our country."

Loizidou had participated in previous such marches, which she described as "nonpolitical." "It's unnatural what is happening in Cyprus," she said. "It's like cutting your house in two -- it's like you're in the reception area and you can't go into the kitchen. A house can't function without a kitchen and a bathroom."

There are Kyrenians who vividly remember awakening at dawn on July 20, 1974 and seeing "two black specks" -- the first wave of Turkish helicopters -- against the rising sun. They fled in their cars, leaving homes, pets and possessions behind, never to see them again -- unless theirs are some of the many houses visible but unreachable across the Green Line, a perhaps even more heartbreaking fate. …