Two decades after the Greek-Cypriot government filed the case, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Turkey on May 12 to pay 90 million euros ($132 million) in compensation relating to its 1974 military intervention.The court only put a price tag on a decision it took back in 2001 when it ruled on two groups, “namely 1,456 missing persons and the enclaved Greek-Cypriot residents of the Karpas Peninsula.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu angrily reacted, saying the judgment is not legally binding, and that the court's decision would harm efforts at reconciliation. “We don’t legally recognize the Greek-Cypriot side,” Davutoglu said on May 14. “The court, therefore, can't impose a decision on us regarding a country that we don’t recognize.”
Riza Turmen, a former ECHR judge and a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, however, disagrees. “It’s not even open to discussion whether the court’s decision is legally binding or not. It is. Even if Turkey withdraws its signature from accepting the court’s jurisdiction, Turkey is obliged to pay this compensation,” Turmen told Al-Monitor. “If Turkey fails to pay this in the next three months, it will cost the country more with the added late payment interest fees calculated based upon the European Central Bank’s rates. Plus, it will also be the source of political confrontation with the European Council.”
The court’s decision, however, is widely perceived on the Turkish side as a political one. Mehmet Ali Talat, who was president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) from 2005 to 2010, told Al-Monitor that the court’s decision came as a surprise to him. He explained in detail how he has taken measures since he came to office to correct those areas that the court found troubling — education, religion and property rights of the Greek Cypriots. “I helped the opening of a Greek secondary school and high school in Karpas, ending violation on educational rights. There were some issues regarding the schoolbooks, which we corrected as well. I assisted a second priest be appointed to Karpas, which happened,” Talat said. “I have also taken measures improving the situation significantly on property issues and missing persons. We may not have fulfilled the requirements 100%, but we did pretty well.”
Still, though, the court decided on its largest ever damages award. Taner Erginel, former head of the TRNC's Supreme Court, believes Turkey is partly responsible for this outcome. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Erginel said the Turkish side has in general terms a systemic problem in winning cases at international courts. “It would have been more meaningful for Davutoglu to have dedicated more time and effort to this issue before the verdict was announced,” Erginel said. “Since the court decided in favor of the Turks in a previous judgment in 2010, it was clear that the Greek Cypriots would strike hard to reverse that decision. They hire the best lawyers, allocate a serious budget for their defense teams and are committed to their cause wholeheartedly. The Turkish side could mean well, but they are in the first place not truly committed to the cause and they don’t have the same quality of lawyers. If Turkey wants to win though, it has to be equally aggressive in these courts in defense of its rights.”
Gozde Kilic Yasin, a renowned expert on the Cyprus issue at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, an Ankara-based think tank, argues that Turkey should have been able to produce policies as aggressive as the Greek-Cypriot side for the 5,500 Turkish homes distributed to the Greek migrants; 8,600 houses built on Turkish property; and the 3,500 workplaces run by the Greeks — at no avail though.
Hasan Unal, head of the department of international relations at Atilim University, also stresses on Ankara’s misjudgments. Recounting the court’s decision in 1998 of compensating Greek-Cypriot Titina Loizidou, Unal told Al-Monitor, “The European Council threatened with expulsion and the Ankara government said, 'Go ahead.' Of course no such thing happened. But when the Justice and Development Party [AKP] came to power, there was euphoria in Turkey as if it is going to make its way into the European Union within a few years. This [payment to Loizidou] was presented to Turkey as one of the criteria that Turkey had to meet to start the accession talks.” Indeed. Abdullah Gul, as foreign minister in 2003, decided to pay about $900,000 in compensation stating “the Loizidou case must not constitute a precedence for similar cases in the ECHR.” “The court certainly can't make such a promise to Turkey,” Unal said, pointing clearly to today's developments.
It was the AKP government that paid the Loizidou compensation in 2003, and it's now Davutoglu arguing that Turkey cannot be legally held responsible to pay such compensation to a country that it does not recognize. “Davutoglu is speaking empty words,” Erginel told Al-Monitor. “They will have to pay this money to the Greek-Cypriot side now. One has to be consistent with their approach on issues such as this."