I have long argued that the property aspect of the Cyprus problem cannot be solved until the number-crunchers sit side by side with the political negotiators. This is because one can argue for years over an issue that seems enormous in theory but once you do the numbers, it becomes smaller in practice. For example, a small proportion of Greek Cypriot dispossessed owners owns a very large amount of land, and vice versa.
For example, a small proportion of Greek Cypriot dispossessed owners owns a very large amount of land, and vice versa. You can see this in the applications to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in northern Cyprus. Out of more than 1,000 plots I analysed, just 4 applicants (0.6% of the total) accounted for 23.8% of the claimed area. Conversely, 60% of the applicants (claiming for less than 0.75 hectares) accounted for just 7.8% of the area.
In addition, the vast majority of property is land, not homes. In the above mentioned IPC cases, around 80% of the claims were for land only and 20% for buildings (or a mixture of the two, since in some case they were combined.)
A good analysis of the numbers can make an important contribution to the design of the property settlement and ensure maximum acceptability on both sides.
How many refugee owners are alive today?
Another difficult question is how many Greek Cypriots will actually go back and live in a property. At face value, 160,000 Greek Cypriot refugees and all their descendants coming to claim back their homes, in an area that only has a population of 300,000, is naturally a scary number for Turkish Cypriots. It lies at the heart of differences between the two sides on who should have the final say over reinstatement.
But with a little bit of number-crunching, we can see that the number of people likely to have the strongest desire to go back to their original homes—those with the strongest emotional attachment to use case-law language—might not be that high after all.
My underlying assumption is that those who would have the strongest desire to go back are people who were:
1) alive in 1974
2) owned their home in 1974
3) had lived in the property for at least 10 years
4) continue to be resident in Cyprus
In 1974, around 160,000 Greek Cypriots and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced. Based on life expectancy, you would (on average) have to have been no more than 44 years old in 1974 to be alive today. (I am sure you all know older refugees but this is based on averages, which also take into account people who die younger.)
This brings the number of people displaced in 1974 who are alive today to about 119,000 for Greek Cypriots and about 33,000 for Turkish Cypriots (see table).
Interestingly, my Greek Cypriot figure is higher than the figure implied by the recent research of Djordje Stefanovic, Charis Psaltis and Neophytos Loizides. They found that 19.8% of the electorate (543,186 people in 2016) were displaced in 1974, which is equivalent to just under 108,000. The difference is probably accounted for by emigration (see below).
To have been a property owner at that time, I assume that you would have been older than 23 (based on average age of marriage at the time). This brings the number of displaced property owners alive today to about 50,000 for Greek Cypriots and about 14,000 for Turkish Cypriots.
If you had lived in the property you owned for 10 years or more, you would have been at least 33 in 1974. This brings the number of displaced property owners alive today, who had owned their home for at least 10 years, to 22,000 for Greek Cypriots and 6,000 for Turkish Cypriots.
Then we take account of migration. Between 1974 and 1978 there was net migration of just under 40,000 Greek Cypriots. If you assume that two-thirds of those were refugees, then about 16% of refugees left in that period.
Applying that 16% to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots brings the number of displaced property owners alive today, who had owned their home for at least 10 years, and who are currently resident in Cyprus, to about 18,000 for Greek Cypriots and 5,000 for Turkish Cypriots.
Then we remove those who, at least under the Annan Plan, would have been reinstated under territorial adjustment, which is around half of the total according to a UN paper from 2003.
This brings the number of displaced Greek Cypriot property owners, alive today, who had owned their home for at least 10 years, who are currently resident in Cyprus, and whose homes would not be returned under territorial adjustment, to about 9,000. Estimating the number of Turkish Cypriots here is more difficult since territorial adjustment also adds to the number of Turkish Cypriots displaced in the period after a settlement.
How many homes affected?
Finally, we can look at opinion polls to see how many of these 9,000 Greek Cypriots would actually want to move. The recent research by Stefanovic et al found that just over 22% of Greek Cypriots who were either displaced themselves, or were the children of parents displaced, would be likely or highly likely to return to the live in Turkish Cypriot constituent state.
The proportion of the abovementioned 9,000 who would return is likely to be higher of course, given their characteristics. Let’s assume it is 50%. That brings us to 4,500 people with a very strong desire to return to their original homes in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state.
How many homes is this? In other words, how many Turkish Cypriots and others would be displaced if this group returned? If they are all couples, it is 2,250. But women live longer than men, so let’s assume it is two-thirds of the 4,500. That means 3,000 housing units would be affected.
According to the 2011 Turkish Cypriot census, there are 86,000 inhabited housing units in the north (another 50,000 were either empty or holiday homes and presumably built after 1974).
In other words, based on my assumptions, the return of people with the strongest desire to go back could affect around 3.5% of housing units in northern Cyprus today.