ECHR makes landmark ruling on Greek property in Istanbul

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights (ECHR) yesterday upheld the right of Greek nationals to inherit property in Istanbul, which is denied under Turkish law.

The ruling on a case brought in 2002 by Ioannis and Evangelos Fokas – two brothers from Katerini in Macedonia, Greece – relates to three apartment blocks left to them by their sister, Polyxeni Pistika, who lived in Istanbul.

The court found that current Turkish law, which denies any person not holding Turkish nationality the right to inherit property in Turkey, violated the plaintiffs’ right to “peaceful enjoyment of their property”. The ECHR also found Turkey guilty of racial discrimination on the grounds of the plaintiffs’ ethnic origin and religion.

The plaintiffs were represented by three lawyers: one Greek, one Turkish, and Greek Cypriot, human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades.

Since Pistika had herself inherited the three apartment blocks from her parents, Demetriades said yesterday that “this ruling essentially opens the way for anyone with inheritance rights in Istanbul, at least, to register a claim on property previously owned by their parents or grandparents.”

The two plaintiffs are also claiming €19 million in damages from the Turkish state for being deprived of use of their property. If the Turkish government refuses to pay this amount, there is a second claim for €5.5 million, equivalent to the estimated value of the property.

A crucial component of the plaintiffs’ case was the argument made in the successful application to the ECHR made by Greek Cypriot Titina Loizidou, which clearly established the inalienable right of refugee property.

Demetriades said that the Loizidou ruling established the notion of continued violation. “Despite the fact that a state in its own opinion takes possession of a property, this seizure is not legal; and since it is not legal, and the court confirms this, then the plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for income he has been deprived of.”

If Turkey does not appeal against the ECHR ruling within three months, then the court will award damages.