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Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

In the first extract, the Northern Cyprus mainstream daily Kıbrıs, 15 September 2004, assesses the impact on the construction sector of proposed legislation on property sales to foreigners. The second extract from the far-right Yeni Çağ, 15 September 2004, interviews the organiser of a petition opposing the sale of land to foreigners. I draw your attention to the disclaimer on the archive page and remind you that I try on these pages to reflect all shades of Turkish opinion. I most certainly do not share the stridently nationalistic views expressed in the article, but have to accept that they would strike a chord with many ordinary Turks.

EXTRACT 1

The Immovable Property Acquisition Foreigners bill presented with a declaration of urgency to the Republic Grand Assembly by the government has led to a head-on collision between the government and civil associations from the sector.

Bill crisis in the construction sector

# The Immovable Property Acquisition Foreigners bill presented with a declaration of urgency to the Republic Grand Assembly by the government has left professionals whose livelihood depends on the construction sector very worried. In the wake of this decision people are alleged to be demanding their money back and customers buying properties have cancelled their agreements.

# The Contractors Association: It is impossible for us to approve this decision. We call on this bill to be withdrawn and replaced by a well thought-out formula that will harm nobody's interests. The justification given was that this measure would prevent the Greek Cypriot Regime from going to the European Court of Human Rights, but we do not believe this to be true.

# The Estate Agents Association: The Annan Plan is a plan which gives first degree protection to personal property rights. This bill, however, transfers property bought by foreigners to the state without any payment, and deprives foreigners of the guarantees in the Annan Plan. The sector which was given a boost by the Annan Plan will shrivel up and die with this decision.

The Immovable Property Acquisition Foreigners bill presented with a declaration of urgency to the Republic Grand Assembly by the government has been greeted with dismay by professional groups involved in the construction business.

The sectors making up the construction business have come together and agreed to act in unison. These sectors have decided to draw up a joint statement aimed at informing public opinion of their reactions.

Bearing in mind that 85% of customers in the 'build-sell' branch are foreigners, news of the Council of Ministers' bill has led to a wave of cancellations and requests for the return of deposits.

Invitations from certain EU countries, mainly the UK, to Turkish Cypriots to attend international construction fairs have been withdrawn. Construction companies which had been preparing to attend such fairs fear that things will go from bad to worse once news of these cancellations reaches the wider public.

Under this bill, foreigners buying property in Northern Cyprus will have the use of the properties for 125 years, after which time they their properties will accrue to the state.

Estate Agents Association General Secretary Aykut Mazhar said that this decision of the government, reached without consulting a single civil association, was unacceptable and that the sector which had attained an annual turnover of 500 million dollars had come to a 'standstill' in the wake of this decision. Mazhar, stating that he could make no sense of a statement by Minister of Interior Affairs Özkan Murat to the effect that, "Construction is hindering a settlement of the Cyprus question", said, "This is no justification. Areas in which we make no investments will stay in Greek Cypriot hands anyway. So I find it very hard to make any sense of this decision."

One of the first sectors to feel the effects of this decision has been builders merchants. Builders Merchants Association Head Eray Fellahoğlu, saying that sales had started to come to a halt, declared that not only would this bring no benefit to Turkish Cypriots, but it could also ruin the sector.

Building Contractors Association Head Şevket Abohorlu, stating that the bill presented with a declaration of urgency to the assembly was unacceptable, announced that he called on the government to withdraw the bill immediately.

The contents of the bill

According to the bill, foreigners will not be granted final ownership over properties that they buy in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Instead the principle of leasing - long-term renting - will apply. However, this is not to say that any rent will be levied on such properties, rather a right to have the use of the property will be created.

Under this bill, foreigners will be able to buy one donum of land, or one house or flat. But such purchases and sales of immovable property will be subject to application for authorisation from the Ministry of Interior Affairs and a decision of the Council of Ministers. According to the bill, sales made without such authorisation are prohibited.

The contents of the bill in question are summarised below:

"Under this bill, foreign nationals are permitted to purchase properties for a period of 125 years subject to the authorisation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Council of Ministers. However, such property purchases shall not amount to final ownership, but will rather be based on the principle of leasing, a concept that is not much discussed or well-known in Cyprus. In other words, this is a different matter from the rent paid for a house or a field as we know it, it is entirely a right to have the use of a property. The legal term for this is usufruct. The property thus owned may, within the limits of this time period, i.e. 125 years, be transferred, sold, inherited, mortgaged or seized against debts secured with the property. The only difference from final ownership is that after 125 years the property accrues to the state."

Foreigners will enjoy full ownership rights over property that they buy in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Furthermore, should the state decide to take into public ownership a property that has been leased for 125 years to a foreigner before the expiry of this period, such foreigner will also be entitled to compensation. Under the bill, sales made without authorisation are prohibited."

2473 foreigners have bought 2467 donums of land

In 2004 only 54 foreigners were granted authorisation to buy immovable property. The corresponding figure for 2000 was 114; for 2001 it was 231; for 2002 it was 130 and in 2003 the figure was 429.

While there were 208 files applying for authorisation for foreigners to buy property in 2000, the number of such files had reached 1700 by August.

Since 1974 a total of 2467 donums of immovable property has been sold to foreigners. The number of foreigners buying these 2467 donums of land is 2473.

In this context, claims that 'Greek Cypriots are buying land' were denied by the authorities. They stress that that the constitution does not grant Greek Cypriots the right to buy immovable property in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The bill contains a retroactive article

The bill contains a retroactive article 'covering bodies or persons who up until now have sold property without yet gaining the authorisation of the Council of Ministers.'

This provision requires bodies or persons who have sold property without authorisation to submit for examination details of the sale to the Ministry of Interior Affairs within one month after the new law takes effect.

Civil engineers call for the decision to be reversed

In a statement to Kıbrıs, Building Contractors Association Head Abohorlu announced that they were calling on the government to reverse the decision.

"We held a widely-attended meeting. In line with the decision we reached we have called for this bill to be withdrawn. Our colleagues are still at work. We are preparing a public statement covering other sectors as well.

Regardless of the justifications that have been advanced, this bill was introduced very hastily. It is a decision that will cause huge losses for the sector.

I want to point out that the build-sell branch in particular will come to a halt. This decision will rob us of our credibility. A decision has appeared that hinders people from buying places here. People who have already bought are asking for their money back. There are cases of people cancelling and requesting the return of deposits.

Some of our colleagues who have been invited to attend foreign fairs are now learning that their invitations have been cancelled following this decision.

In short, it is impossible for us to approve this decision. We call on this bill to be withdrawn and replaced by a well thought-out formula that will harm nobody's interests.

We have been given the justification that, 'This is a measure which will prevent the Greek Cypriot Regime from going to the European Court of Human Rights', but we do not think this is true."

Mazhar: It doesn't make any sense

The strongest reaction to the Council of Ministers' bill with a declaration of urgency has come from the Estate Agents Association. Association General Secretary Aykut Mazhar has stated that the sector, which currently contributes 500 thousand dollars to the economy, will be negatively affected if this bill is passed.

Mazhar, pointing out that the sector has begun to experience negative effects since news of the bill broke, said:

"Since the day the bill appeared, we have seen sales cancelled, and even foreigners who have already signed sales agreements and put down some money asking for their money back.

This bill will not only jeopardise our current economic benefits, but also our political ones. It makes more remote the chances of the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus gaining the benefits granted to them by the Annan Plan. The Annan Plan is a plan which gives high priority to the protection of personal property rights. This bill, however, transfers property sold to foreigners into the possession of state without any payment and deprives foreigners of their guarantees under the Annan Plan. The sector, which was given a boost by the Annan Plan, will shrivel up and die with this decision.

The sale of property to foreigners does not make a permanent settlement in Cyprus more difficult, in my opinion it is a factor that will force the Greek Cypriot side's hand. When property sales to foreigners are halted or brought to a halting point, this makes Greek Cypriots the prime owners of such properties. Those Greek Cypriots who apply will eventually gain their properties. Greek Cypriot property needs to be under threat so that they are forced into an immediate settlement otherwise they will not get their properties. I can't work out why the politicians have drawn up this legislation. The government has not come clean and explained the reasons to the public. Sales and title deed transfers continue on the Greek side, sales continue in the south of Turkey, and in Spain the whole thing has turned into a sector in its own right, and you don't see them introducing such legislation because they don't want to scare off investors."

Fellahoğlu: There will be a huge crash

Builders Merchants Association Head Eray Fellahoğlu said that if the bill is passed, property sales to foreigners, which at the moment are picking up speed and bringing a lot of income into the country, will come to a halt.

He stated that initially contractors, followed by related sectors such as builders merchants, estate agents, small businesses and craftsmen would be negatively affected.

Fellahoğlu continued:

"There are large numbers of contractors who are able to find foreign customers and who have started building in the expectation that their numbers will increase. Quite a few estate agents have made contact with potential buyers. This decision will result in people who have made large investments being unable to meet their obligations, it will take them to the point where they are unable to make their payments.

It is my contention that this decision will lead the country into another economic collapse just like the banking crisis. Neither our economy nor our state structure is capable of withstanding this. In particular, should outright sales to foreigners come to a standstill at the moment, the credibility of the state will be compromised. It would usher in a loss of confidence on the part of foreigners in the business world that would be hard to rectify. The legislation should be withdrawn immediately before it causes massive instability."

EXTRACT 2

We are being robbed of our sovereignty

Mass participation in campaigns to overturn legislation by our political rulers that will open the way for foreigners to buy land in Turkey shows the sensitivity of the people on this matter. The Turkish people think this legislation threatens our sovereignty.

Aziz Işık, Pendik branch chairman of the Nationalist Workers Association, says that they have collected more than fifty thousand signatures in an 'Our motherland is our honour and is not for sale' petition. Işık, stating that the petition against land purchases by foreigners in Turkey shows that the people are uncomfortable with AK Party rule, said that the petition would be sent to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Aziz Işık, pointing out that according to official figures, 274 million square metres of land have now fallen into foreign hands, but in addition to this more land is now in Armenian, Jewish and Greek hands that is not recorded in title deeds, said with reference to their petition: 'The sale for money of land taken and held with the blood of holy warriors has all sections of society up in arms. Law number 4916 passed by the AK Party rulers has clearly brought Turkey to a stage where its sovereignty is threatened. The AKP has with this law turned Turkey into an open marketplace. It amounts to a de facto mercenary implementation of the loathsome Sevres treaty in favour of foreigners who have begun to buy Anatolia piece by piece, acre by acre. Turkey's borderlands, water sources and mineral reserves are falling into the hands of foreigners and particularly Israelis. Foreigners buying land behind the masks of 'investment' and 'faith' are gradually accomplishing with money what they were unable to do by war. Everyone who loves their motherland, freedom and flag is up in arms at these sales. We the Nationalist Workers are acting as a vehicle for the voice of the people. There has been unbelievable support for our petition.

Discomfort in the AKP ranks

Aziz Işık, stating that former minister of interior affairs Meral Akşener visited the stall to support the campaign and exchange information with citizens, points out that all political parties with the exception of the AKP, notably the Nationalist Action Party, have said 'no' to land sales. Işık, explaining that there has even been discord within the ranks of the AKP, said: 'We were surprised at how many people supporting our petition were known AKP supporters. The rumbling of discontent is evident among the ranks of the AKP. Be it land sales or Cyprus, or be it the silence of the AKP in the face of genocide launched against the Turkmen in Iraq, these are as equally troubling for the ranks of the AKP as they are for us. With Turkey experiencing the most difficult days of its history, it is worth noting that the pomp and splendour with which the AKP leaders surround themselves is even attracting criticism from their own ranks. Our response is clearly right when you see our leaders disassociating themselves from Turkey and putting the future of the Turkish people at risk for a few dollars.'

We need to make our voice heard

Pendik branch chairman of the Nationalist Workers Association, Aziz Işık, also said that all Nationalist Workers Associations in Turkey have started petitions to warn the AKP rulers and to overturn legislation making it easier for foreigners to buy land. Işık, stating that dark forces spurred on by laws enacted for the sake of the AKP's EU dream had begun to pillage the whole country from Edirne to Hakkari, said: 'The fifty thousand signatures we have collected is a sign of the effectiveness of the campaign launched by Yeniçağ. Today valuable land and fields containing natural resources and historical areas are falling into the hands of Jews and Christians who are throwing dollars in all directions. OK, if you talk about tourism then Antalya, Kemer or Kas make sense, but what business do they have in Karaman, Giresun or Bartın? For what purpose are they buying houses and land there? Are they going to set up factories in Şırnak? Ürgüp and Göreme are now crawling with missionary priests, all in the name of faith tourism. Until yesterday those attacking supporters of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus's sovereignty with the words: 'Do you have property there? Is that what you are protecting?' now say in an effort to support legislation permitting sales: 'What's the matter? Turks buy property in America, Italy, France, the UK and Germany.' Those for whom the motherland is their honour are branded 'conspiracy theorists, paranoiacs'. I wonder if the property owned in Europe or America by these self-seekers gives them an irresistible urge to defend this dirty piece of legislation! This gets under the skin of Turkish people. It is unacceptable for the AKP to endanger the future of Turkey for the sake of its EU dream. Selling land to foreigners is part of a game to divide and enslave Turkey. It is the realisation of a plan through their pawns of those longing to break up Turkey's unitary structure in favour of federalism. We as nationalist workers have voiced our opposition to this situation. We have seen that the Turkish people are waiting for a spark. We ignited such a spark in Pendik. All those who love their motherland and people must show their true colours. We see all the recent media debate and all the discussion aimed at diverting attention from the real issues as nothing more than a screen to hide the Jewification of Turkey.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton