LEFKOSA, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

A commission ruling on immovable property ownership in the partially reopened town of Maras in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) allowed the Turkish Cypriot directorate of foundations as a party to a lawsuit related in the once-abandoned coastal district.

“We welcome this important, reasoned decision by the Immovable Property Commission to recognise Evkaf’s interest in the case and to allow us to join as a party,” said a statement by the foundations directorate, also known as Evkaf, on Monday, quoting General Director Ibrahim Benter as saying.

This ruling will be “a vital step in protecting our historic property rights” in Maras, or Varosha in Greek, Benter added.

The Evkaf had filed a request to the commission to join the lawsuit as an interested party in 2020, on behalf of a foundation under its management called the Abdullah Pasha Vakif. However, this was opposed by the Greek Cypriot plaintiff, leading to litigation.

As a tradition, Muslims in Cyprus often leave their money and assets for the Evkaf or other foundations to manage on their behalf. This was also the case with the Abdullah Pasha Vakif.

“After hearing the arguments for and against, the IPC agreed that Evkaf has legitimate grounds to join the case and its application was approved,” the statement said.

Evkaf argues that it stands as the sole legal owner of all the properties in the Maras region and that its assets were illegally transferred to other individuals and institutions when the island was under British colonial rule.

According to law and international agreements to which the UK is a signatory, the assets of the Evkaf cannot be sold or transferred.

Evkaf was first founded upon instructions of Ottoman Sultan Selim II in 1571 to govern Muslims’ donations and all charities for Cypriots regardless of their ethnicity, religion, language, or gender.

Immovable Property Commission

The IPC was established in 2005 to create a domestic law on properties in the TRNC and is viewed as an effective domestic legal system by the European Court of Human Rights.

The commission is also tasked with tackling the property claims of Greek Cypriots in the present-day TRNC prior to 1974.

Status of Maras

Maras, or Varosha in Greek, had virtually become a ghost town as it remained cut off from the world for some 47 years. A portion of the region — just about 3.5% of the total area — was reopened in October 2020.

Maras was abandoned after a 1984 UN Security Council resolution saying that only its original inhabitants could resettle the town.

Entry into the town was forbidden except for Turkish army personnel stationed in the TRNC.

Turkish and TRNC authorities have repeatedly called on Greek Cypriots and other citizens who own assets in Maras to apply to the Immovable Property Commission.

Decades-long dispute

Cyprus has been mired in a decades-long dispute between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the UN to achieve a comprehensive settlement.

Ethnic attacks starting in the early 1960s forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety.

In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece’s annexation of the island led to Turkiye’s military intervention as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence. As a result, the TRNC was founded in 1983.

It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkiye, Greece and the UK.

The Greek Cypriot administration entered the European Union in 2004, the same year Greek Cypriots thwarted a UN plan to end the longstanding dispute.

* Writing and contribution by Ali Murat Alhas

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