Saturday, 28 February 2015

‘Three quarters of Maraş (Varosha) illegally occupied by Greek Cypriots’ claims former Evkaf head


A series of conferences in London by Taner Derviş, the former head of Evkaf, last month has turned on its head all perceptions about the ownership of the Cypriot town of Maraş. Among the many bold claims Derviş made were that Evkaf land was never sold by Turkish Cypriots to the British and evidence gleaned from title deeds “prove” that Turkish-owned property was “illegally transferred” to mostly Greek Cypriot owners while the island was under British rule.

Under Turkish control and uninhabited since the 1974 War, Maraş (also known as Varosha) is part of Famagusta district on the eastern coast of Cyprus. The town is presented by the Greek Cypriot side as inalienably “theirs”. Resolutions have been passed by the United Nations and European Parliament demanding its return to its “lawful” inhabitants, while South Cyprus leaders regularly put forward motions that Greek Cypriots be allowed to return as a confidence-building preliminary to the Cyprus talks.

Some on the Turkish side have long claimed Maraş is Turkish-owned, but have failed to present any significant facts to support their case. Any information that has been forthcoming, usually via media reports, is often in Turkish and not easy to find for those outside of the island.

Titled ‘Property and compensation rights of Evkaf Foundation and the Issue of Maraş’, Derviş’ comprehensive presentation aimed from the outset to demonstrate that this once fashionable seaside town that was frequently graced by British and Hollywood stars is, in fact, legally Turkish-owned.

Maraş measures 2.3 square miles and, according to Derviş, Evkaf owns the deeds to some 500,000 dönums – pretty much the entire area.

The Ottomans formed Evkaf in Cyprus in 1571

Sultan Selim II ruled when the Ottomans conquered Cyprus
When the Ottomans conquered the island back in 1571, one of the first things they set up was the Evkaf (short for Kıbrıs Vakıflar İdaresi or the Islamic Trust of Cyprus). The Sultan’s edict laid down the principles for its administration. These state that any property bequeathed to Evkaf for the benefit of Cyprus’ Muslim community is ‘irrevocable, perpetual and inalienable’. Should Evkaf be deprived of its property, it must be compensated for loss of use and revenue.

Over the centuries, new articles governing the administration of Trust property have been added. Derviş said these 485 articles have become embedded into the Laws of Cyprus, citing the core ones that shaped the formation and running of vakıf (foundation) land. For example, Article 11: Vakfieths (deeds of dedication) Irrevocable states: “A vakfieth registered under the provisions of section 9 shall be deemed to be irrevocable and the dedicator of the vakf shall have no power to rescind such vakf.”

Other Articles clearly state how land bequeathed to Evkaf perpetually remains its property and cannot be transferred by the Evkaf Mütevelli (Administrator), the dedicator or their heirs. Articles also exist that spell out the specific circumstances under which administrators may exchange Evkaf property for that of equivalent value and how Evkaf should be compensated if its property is forcefully seized by trespassers.

Evkaf rights embedded in Cyprus Law and international treaties

Britain prized away the island from the weakened Ottomans in 1878. During World War I, when the two sides were at war with each other, Cyprus’ status changed from a British Protectorate to being under British occupation. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the island became a Crown colony in 1922. The Treaty of Lausanne signed the following year included safeguards about Evkaf property. Article 60 of the Treaty stated that trusts created under the Ottomans shall be maintained under British rule.

These same principles are also included in the Republic of Cyprus’ Constitution of 1960. Article 110 clearly states that “no legislative, executive or other act whatsoever shall contravene or override or interfere with such Laws or Principles of Vakfs.”

In addition to these, Derviş pointed to the many legal precedents that were formed as a result of these laws being applied during the last one hundred years. Among key cases he cited involving Evkaf ownership rights being upheld were for the Arabahmet Aqueduct in Nicosia in 1914 and Tersefan farmland in Larnaca in 1958. 

Later, the international treaties that led to the creation of an independent Cyprus also acknowledged these Trust rights. 

Interestingly, Annex E of the Treaty of the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, which was signed in 1960, states that the newly formed state must bear “all legal liabilities and obligations incurred by the government of the Colony of Cyprus” as if they had been incurred by itself.
Archbishop Makarios (centre) and Sir Hugh Foot (right) for the UK, signing the Treaty of the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960
Appendix U of the same Treaty also states that the British Government is, “making available the sum of £1,500,000 by way of a grant to the Turkish community in Cyprus to be used for education, the development of Vakf property and cultural and other like purposes.”

Derviş, who spent 32 years working at Evkaf, believes this grant by the British to Turkish Cypriots is the root of the popular myth about the so-called sale of Evkaf land. Many Cypriots were deliberately – but falsely – led to believe that “Maraş was sold to the British by Denktaş and Küçük in 1955 for £1.5 million” – an assertion that was firmly rejected by the two Turkish Cypriot leaders. For a start, in 1955 Turkish Cypriots did not even have control of Evkaf – its administration rested with Britain until 1956 – and moreover there are no deeds or other legal proof documenting such a sale, only the reference under Appendix U of the 1960 Treaty of the Establishment of the Republic of Cyprus.

British and Greek Cypriots complicit in illegal transfer of Evkaf property

Derviş underlined the fact that the Treaty of Establishment passed any earlier wrong-doing by the British entirely on to the Cypriot government. He claims there is plenty of evidence detailing the illegal transfer of Evkaf property throughout British Rule.

Another element Derviş repeatedly emphasised was that Evkaf is the “greatest landowner in CyprusOver the centuries, many Cypriot Muslims left land to Evkaf, hence its accumulation of huge wealth, but this was not at the expenses of others on the island.

Derviş reminded the audience that prior to the reign of the Ottomans, Greek Cypriots, who are Orthodox Christians, had lived as serfs under Catholic Venetian rule. This changed when the Turks arrived, who granted them numerous rights, including ownership of land. 

In 1924, two years after Cyprus formally passed into British hands, a land census showed that roughly one third was owned by the Sultan (now the State), one third by Muslims, and one third by non-Muslims (the latter two comprising a mixture of individuals and institutions).

Following the collapse of Ottoman rule, much Evkaf land was usurped by Greek Cypriots – primarily individuals, but also businesses, schools and the Greek Orthodox Church, who all helped themselves to Turkish-owned land. Derviş argued that Britain was complicit in enabling these unlawful transfers. Laws were ignored, court decisions in favour of Evkaf were not upheld, key documents were ‘lost’ and Evkaf resources were mismanaged.

To prove this, Derviş presented numerous title deeds from the past century where Evkaf-owned land was clearly unlawfully transacted by the central government. The vast majority of these deeds, he said, list names of Greek Cypriots as the new ‘owners’, all authorised by British officials. Through this Derviş claims some 77% of Maraş became illegally occupied by Greek Cypriots. He adds that his research exposes the same situation of usurpation and unlawful occupation across the entire southern part of the island.

Arestis & Lordos in legal battle with Evkaf over Maraş

This significant body of evidence assembled by Derviş and his team at Evkaf sheds a whole new light on key property judgments in Cyprus, such as in the Arestis case. In 2005, Ms. Xenides-Arestis won a claim of compensation against the Turkish side at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) without providing any deeds to the land she claimed her family owns in Maraş.

Evkaf was initially not a party to the Arestis case at the ECHR. Treated as a test case, its outcome paved the way for over 1,400 others to push for similar legal satisfaction, which prompted the European Court to rule that it was better for a local body – the internationally accepted Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the TRNC – to find lawful remedies in not just the Arestis, but also all the other property cases involving Greek Cypriot refugees originally from North Cyprus.

The ECHR judgment meant it was left to the IPC to review and decide the appropriate remedies for claims made by refugees from Maraş. Among those applying was Andreas Lordos. Recently deceased, Lordos was one of the island’s wealthiest men prior to the events of 1974 and a big developer in the seaside resort, owning five hotels, and several apartment blocks.
Andreas Lordos, who died in Feb. 2012, one of 12 Greek Cypriot
refugees battling Evkaf over Maraş
In 2012, Lordos was among those who objected to Evkaf’s application to join the cases involving Maraş. 

Evkaf’s lawyer had initially presented evidence to the IPC from the Famagusta Land Registry, which showed the Arestis land was actually owned by the Abdullahpasha Vakfı and had been unlawfully transferred to a Greek Cypriot individual. This deed had failed to record either the amount or the purpose of the exchange, so in addition to being constitutionally estopped (prior laws prevented such transfers), the contract was also not legal as there was no consideration (payment).

Due to the objections against Evkaf from Lordos and the other Maraş refugees, the matter transferred to the TRNC’s Constitutional Court, which took Lordos as the test case. The TRNC Court took the view that it was important to determine the lawful owners of property before any remedies could be agreed to compensate for loss of use, or to award restitution or exchange. Given the comprehensive evidence Evkaf presented, the Court ruled the Trust should be admitted as a party to the all Maraş claims before the IPC.

Derviş also produced copies of the Arestis deeds in Parliament. These are dated September 1913, October 1949 and February 1974, all showing the unlawful transfer of Evkaf land to the Arestis family. He said as part of its legal action, Evkaf was itself demanding restitution and compensation from the IPC.

Why is Evkaf only now asserting its property rights?

When asked by one listener in Parliament why such evidence was only just coming to light, Derviş answered that it was important to provide clear, unequivocal proof about ownership, which had taken decades to compile. Some deeds were in the Ottoman archives, the others were split between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot Land Registries. The South, he said, is not interested in helping to prove Evkaf ownership and until recently, there was no digital technology to help pull the pieces together. However a partial map of land ownership in Cyprus and the illegal occupation of Evkaf land, backed by deeds and other legal proof, were now emerging.
Taner Derviş (front) with (from L-R) Lady Butterworth, TRNC London Rep. Oya Tuncali, Ersu Ekrem of BTCA, Lord Maginnis and Mr Tuncali at House of Commons on 28 Jan. 2015
Other questions put to Derviş in Parliament and his responses are summarised as follows:
-          Was there was a paper trail detailing land bequeathed to the Islamic Trusts? Yes.
-          Is Apostolos Andreas Monastery on Vakıf (Islamic Trust) land? Not sure, but don’t think so.
-          Do digital copies of these documents exist? Currently no. We are at tip of iceberg with the paper copies, as it is taking time to mine the considerable British, Ottoman and Cypriot property archives. It will take additional time to transfer all online. But I can send scanned copies of what I have to any who request.
-          Is it morally right for a religious scheme set up 500 years ago to still prevail? It’s the Ottomans who paved the way for Greek Cypriots to be landowners and why today the Greek Orthodox Church is so wealthy.
-          Is the Cyprus Government responsible for ‘mistakes’ made by the British over Evkaf land? Yes, the Republic of Cyprus agreed to this when the island became independent.
-          Can Maraş help a Cyprus solution? Politics will determine the outcome of the talks and who governs specific territory across the island, but the Law will still be needed to determine the rightful owners of land.
-          Will Evkaf’s claims help or hinder the current climate in Cyprus? Giving clarity on the legal ownership of land can only help a fair solution for all.
-          Surely Britain, as rulers of the island, had the right to change laws and even take over Evkaf land, as the Ottomans had done when they conquered Cyprus? The British usurped Evkaf law as early as 1907 – way before they had such rights. Moreover, they have legally committed to protecting and upholding laws governing Evkaf rights and property.
-          If British responsible, why not chase them for Evkaf compensation? These are not one-sided actions. There was complicity with Greek Cypriots, who benefited from these unlawful transactions.

“What matters is the truth about who really owns Maraş”

After the Derviş Parliament talk, Leyla Kemal, one of the attendees, told T-VINE: “It’s so important to know about our roots. It doesn’t matter how long it has taken, what matters is the truth about who really owns Maraş. And that the law is properly and fairly applied for all in Cyprus.”

Late it may be, but the thorough and detailed work by Derviş and others on Evkaf property rights stands to be a real game changer in Cyprus.


London conference to shed light on real owners of Maraş / Varosha, 21 Jan. 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment