“Visitors in Own Village” in Cyprus

Rizokarpaso (Cyprus)  –  AFP – While the media pours out optimistic reports about progress in re-unification talks, the European Court of Human Rights is addressing the reality that diplomats ignore: The illegal Turkish occupation of Cyprus is approaching its 40th year and its long past time for Ankara pay for the physical and human damage it caused.

This week the court ordered Turkey to pay 90 million euros ($124 million) to compensate Greek Cypriots who had suffered “massive and continuous” rights violations since the Turkish invasion, a demand swiftly rejected by Ankara.

Sixty million euros was allocated to enclaved Greek Cypriots like Theodoros, who the court said were victims of “degrading” treatment in the most under-developed region of the island.

Theodoros was one of only hundreds of Greek Cypriots who stayed put as the “enclaved” in their villages when Turkey seized northern Cyprus in 1974

“We live like visitors in our own village,” sighed Theodoros, a resident of Rizokarpaso — known as Dipkarpaz in Turkish — in the Karpas peninsula on the island’s “panhandle” eastern tip.

The rundown church on the village’s tiny square now faces a statue of Ataturk, founding father of modern Turkey, and the sole cafe, with a sign in Greek reading “kafeneon”, that rarely opens.

“There used to be a lot of problems, but now things are better,” said Theodoros, who declined to give his full name.

He said that since 2003, when several crossing points opened on the divided island, his grandchildren have been able to visit from the south.

To receive a Greek higher education, children of the enclaved Greek Cypriots used to have to move to the “free area,” as Theodoros refers to the south.

As a result, most of the hamlet’s remaining Greek Cypriot population of around 150 is elderly.

Every week, the United Nations delivers food parcels to the enclaved, said Maria, another retired resident, sharing out cartons of orange juice “made in the south”.

But access to medical care is still a major concern for the village’s ageing inhabitants, said Theodoros, who has to motor three hours down pothole-riddled roads to cross south and be “treated near my children”.

The ECHR’s decision supplemented a court ruling which condemned censorship of textbooks in the breakaway north, whose self-declared independence is recognised only by Ankara.

It also deplored the denial of inheritance rights to relatives of the deceased if they live in the south and other discriminatory measures against Greek Cypriots, “despite improvements” since the late 1990s.

– No reason to leave –

In the neighbouring village of Sipahi — or Ayia Trias in Greek — 84-year-old Savvas Liaisi was seated on his shaded terrace with neighbour Yusuf, who settled on the island from Turkey in 1976.

“The war and the following years were difficult,” he said. “But now we live like brothers.”

Even after Turkish Cypriot authorities confiscated his shop in the village of around 50 Greek Cypriots, Liaisi said he still chose to stay on in the Karpas.

“My wife didn’t want to leave the place where she grew up,” he explained, smiling.

Their eldest son was reported missing in the 1974 invasion and their youngest daughter lives abroad, which Liaisi said made the decision easier.

“Without our children with us, we have no reason to go,” he said, before turning to talk to Yusuf in fluent Turkish.

Besides the compensation alloted to the enclaved Greek Cypriots, the ECHR has also earmarked 30 million euros for the families of hundreds of Greek Cypriots who went missing during the invasion of 40 years ago.

Turkey invaded the northern third of the island in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

But Liaisi is sceptical about the compensation, which amounts to around $80,000 a head, according to the Cypriot government.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country, which does not acknowledge the internationally-recognised, Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus, would not be bound by the ruling.

“Considering the grounds of this ruling, its method, and the fact that it is a country that Turkey does not recognise, we do not find it necessary to make this payment,” he said.

But the decision is final and the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory, is a binding document, according to the ECHR.