Here’s what I think: EVKAF’s property claims in Famagusta

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Here’s what I think: EVKAF’s property claims in Famagusta 1

I did consider writing about the racist verbal attack on a Russian woman in a car park in Larnaka, but I decided to let the dust settle on it first and instead write about something else which had caught my eye.

Here’s what I think: EVKAF’s property claims in Famagusta 2
Tom Cleaver

I don’t live far from the EVKAF offices in Nicosia, and for that reason noticed when a few weeks ago banners were erected on the fences declaring that the closed area of Maraş/Varoshia in Famagusta belongs to them. I had dismissed it as probably hogwash in the beginning, given the existence of Greek Cypriot Famagustans who are still very much alive today who lived in properties that EVKAF may or may not be claiming, but I decided anyway to give their explanation video the courtesy of watching.

For those unaware, Maraş was until the events of 1974 an affluent and popular tourist district in the south of the city of Famagusta. After 1974 it found itself in the dead zone between the two sides of the island, and closed to settlement. However, of late the Turkish Cypriot administration has expressed interest in trying to reopen the district; a move that was met with almost universal disapproval.

EVKAF’s erection of banners seemed almost distasteful

The Greek Cypriot Famagustans conducted themselves well in response; they staged peaceful protests against the move which, despite attempted hijackings by the far right, were kept very much in order. It may be for that reason that EVKAF’s erection of banners seemed almost distasteful at the time they first went up. I would be lying if I said it was not an emotional response that led me in the first instance to rather believe a group of impassioned but elderly protesters rather than a faceless organisation with some tarpaulin and cable ties.

However, in the interests of fairness their claim deserves as much attention as any other, and as I said the explanation video did leave me with questions. The video, in short, makes the claim that while in 1974 the properties were occupied by Greek Cypriot private citizens, the same properties had been given to those private citizens or their ancestors during the British administration of Cyprus without the consent of the Muslim charities and foundations which owned the land at the time, which EVKAF represents.

the problem is based in the idea of rightful ownership

I’ll admit to you this isn’t particularly interesting but it is important. You see, in the event that there is any truth at all in EVKAF’s claims, the whole idea of rightful ownership would be called into question. Even a single square metre having been awarded to a Greek Cypriot private citizen without the consent of the Muslim charity or foundation which owned the land would be a game changer, and not just in Famagusta.

The problem is based in the idea of rightful ownership and the right of return; that being that every square metre of land on this island has a rightful owner even if that rightful owner is not the current administrator of the land. Conventional wisdom in the Republic of Cyprus has for a long time concluded that much of the property in the north of the island was stolen from its rightful Greek Cypriot owner, but if that person or an ancestor of theirs acquired the land by similar means (on an individual level) then it would surely be fair to give the land to whoever (or in this case whichever charity) owned it before them. However, at that point I’m sure people would be asking how EVKAF got their hands on that land. I’m not a historian but I’m pretty sure they didn’t spend the Middle Ages dumping soil into the sea, so they too would have taken that land off someone.

land changeS hands, often by force rather than transaction

In short, Cyprus is an island that has seen conquest and regime change more times than I could care to repeat to you. Land changes hands, often by force rather than transaction, and sometimes in time is irreversibly repurposed. There are two international airports in Cyprus which were built on EVKAF land, and you can’t really undo that given that they’re the biggest two of the three currently in operation.

It is for that reason that the idea of rightful ownership of land here has the potential to be about as clear as mud. The question of who owns what in Cyprus could turn out to be one with upsetting and painful answers. I do not envy the judge who would have to decide what the answers are.

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