Fear factor at work (The Cyprus Weekly, 11 September 2015)
Ever since the two leaders – Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades – started discussing the topic of property little over a month ago, Turkish Cypriots have come under a heavy bombardment of disinformation and speculation.
Fabricated maps showing an exorbitant amount of territory being given to a future Greek Cypriot constituent state, rumours that all the Greek Cypriot properties in the northern part of Cyprus will be reinstituted to their original owners and exaggerated news reports of Greek Cypriots pounding at the door of their homes now inhabited by Turkish Cypriots are doing the rounds.
Although some of this may be due to misunderstanding or lack of knowledge, the greater part of it is clearly deliberately aimed at inciting fear, creating doubts and turning Turkish Cypriots against a prospective settlement. Misreporting by some Greek Cypriot media and failure of the Turkish Cypriot leadership to address the spread of disinformation and has added fuel to the fire.
Akinci and Anastasiades agreed during their meeting on July 27, that the individual’s right to property would be respected under a solution and that an independent property commission comprised of an equal number of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot members would resolve property claims according to mutually agreed criteria through the remedies of return, compensation or exchange. The disinformation began with certain circles claiming that the recognition of an individual’s right to property means giving the first say over what happens to the property in question to the original owners – who will most probably demand their property back, therefore ousting the current users.
“This is completely false. There is a whole lot of disinformation and distortion going on,” said Mete Hatay, senior research consultant at the PRIO Cyprus Centre.
“Recognising the individual’s right to property is nothing new. It was recognised in the Annan Plan, and is the core idea behind the Immovable Property Commission, which restores the individual’s right to property.”
The Immovable Property Commission was established by the Turkish Cypriot administration in 2005 to deal with property claims of dispossessed Greek Cypriots under the conditions of non-solution through restitution, compensation and exchange.
Baris Burcu, the spokesperson for the Turkish Cypriot leader, denied allegations that the original owners would have the first say over the fate of the properties in question. “The individual right to property of both the owners and the users will be taken into consideration when resolving property claims post settlement,” said Burcu. “Both the original owners and the current users will have their right to property restored through restitution, compensation or exchange.”
Burcu also said the sides have not exchanged maps or discussed the percentage of the land that will be subject to territorial adjustment. Regarding reports of Greek Cypriots property owners “harassing” users, Burcu stated that a number of isolated incidents may have taken place, but added that the media reports are extremely exaggerated.
“The anti-solution lobbies are at work,” said Burcu. “They are trying to put fear in people’s hearts. They are scaremongering. They cannot do this with issues that have an easy solution. Property is a complex issue and one we have not yet resolved. They are exploiting the fact that we don’t have concrete answers to all aspects of the issue yet. They are filling the gaps with speculation and instilling fear and distrust. As we proceed with the talks on property, as we find solutions and fill the gaps, they will not be able to continue with this black propaganda.”
A number of influential columnists and opinion leaders have begun voicing that the exploitation of the much-sensitive property issue is turning some Turkish Cypriots against a solution – an argument being increasingly circulated even among the pro-solution. Columnist Hasan Hasturer of the daily Kibris, for example, wrote earlier this week that no one should be surprised if the solution is rejected by Turkish Cypriots this time.
“It seems that we are not seeking peace but a commercial agreement in Cyprus,” wrote Cenk Mutluyakali in daily Yeniduzen. “What importance does property have compared to the future of our children?… If we are to discuss a solution in respect of donums, not one but a thousand signatures will not work.”
Journalist Hasan Kahvecioglu, on www.gazete360.com wrote: “The looters…have waged the war. And before you know it, even the people you consider pro-solution are drowning in hesitation…Apparently our stance is the reunification of Cyprus only as long as it does not harm our interests.”
Mete Hatay agrees that there is a degree of disheartening among the Turkish Cypriot community towards solution. “There is a level of suspicion or uncertainty towards the process,” said Hatay.
“In more than ten years since Turkish Cypriots accepted the Annan Plan by 65%, many things have changed in the property scene in the northern part of Cyprus. The number of individuals involved in affected properties some way or another, multiplied. People got more settled in the houses in the 13 years since the beginning of the Annan Plan period,” said Hatay. “Babies that were born in those houses during that time, are now 13 years old. Many more Greek Cypriot properties have been transformed through development.” Hatay believes however, that the mood of the society will change. “All this can be overcome through better management of disinformation and increased cooperation with the civil society,” he said.
Akinci also dismissed speculation of a rejection by the Turkish Cypriot community earlier this week. “Our goal is to establish a structure that would offer equality, freedom and security to our people,” said Akinci.“When we do that, present it to our people with clear conscience and say, ‘Here, we have made an agreement that you can approve with peace of mind,’ I don’t have the slightest shadow of doubt that our people will approve it.”