The legal status of fields in Kastellorizo

This article is about the legal status of the arable land in Kastellorizo, which has recently been clarified by the Appeal Court of Rhodes (Dodecanese). The case involved a dispute between individuals who considered themselves to be the private land owners, and the Greek Government who considered that they held legal ownership of the land. The case was won by the individual land holders; creating a ruling which helps maintain private property rights for arable land, in the rural areas around the Kastellorizo town.

The Court case started because Greek Government appropriated the land in order to build a reservoir-lake in Kastellorizo. The Greek Government claimed it did not need to pay compensation, because it was already the owner of the land. The individual land holders filed a judicial claim for legal compensation. They claimed that they were entitled to compensation because the land was privately owned by them. The case lasted three years and finally vindicated the land owners by recognising that privately owned arable land existed, and still exists in Kastellorizo. Ultimately, the individual land holders received compensation from the Greek Government.

The basis of the Greek State's allegations
The Greek state claimed to be rightful owner, among other things, of all the arable land of the Dodecanese islands, except Rhodes and Kos.

The Greek Government’s argument was based on its interpretation of the legal history of the region. The cadastral regulation of the Dodecanese, established by the decree number 132/1929 of the Italian Governor, remained in force after the incorporation of the Dodecanese to the Greek State. This regulation preserved the land classification of the Ottoman Law on land of the 17th Ramazan 1274 (1856). According to the original Ottoman Law, land is classified (among other classifications) as private (Mulk) and public (Arzi Miri). In all countries conquered by war, the Sultan also confiscated the arable land. These arable lands were considered public lands (Arzi Miri) and the individuals cultivating them were never their owners, but acquired a right to use and dominate (tessaruf). The owner of these lands was always the Sultan, namely the Ottoman State.

The successor of the Ottoman State was the Italian State, which in turn was succeeded by the Greek State by the Peace Treaty of Paris of 10.2.1947. According the Greek State asserted that it had acquired, by succession, all the property of the Italian State. This included all the Public Lands held by the Ottoman State and Italian State, which in turn included all the arable land in Kastellorizo.

Therefore, the Greek State considered that it acquired ownership of all arable lands in the Dodecanese (except Rhodes and Kos, where lands were attributed to individuals by specific legislative provision).



The ruling of the Court.

The private land owners did not agree with the Greek Government’s interpretation and retained Ioannis Vrouhos of VrouhosLawOffice to argue their case in the Court. The private land owners argued that when the Ottoman State took sovereignty over Kastellorizo, it had not acquired ownership of the arable land on the Island.

The Single-Member Appeal Court of the Dodecanese vindicated the owners’ argument, accepting that public arable lands never existed in the islands of the Dodecanese (except Rhodes and Kos).

This is because the Ottoman State had only conquered Rhodes and Kos by the “sword and spear”. On the other islands of the Dodecanese, such as Kastellorizo, the Ottoman State had taken sovereignty without military conquest. Accordingly, Suleiman the Magnificent granted benefits to the people of these other islands. These benefits included that the arable land would continue to be held as private lands (mulk), and therefore continue to be owned directly by the individuals that cultivated them.

The following historical data also supported the above ruling:

Immediately after the occupation of the Dodecanese by Italy (1912), the Greek Foreign Minister (Lambros Koromilas), wrote to the Greek consul in Rhodes, (Panagiotis Papadakis). He asked to be sent the documents, kept in the consular archive, which showed the special privileges, the struggles and the Greek character of the islands. The consul selected 18 documents, which together with a special memorandum written by Michael Kalavros of Neoclis, he sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

According to this memorandum:

After a long siege and persistent resistance the island of Rhodes submitted in 1522 to the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The neighbouring Islands, perceiving the fatal end of the besieged Rhodes, speedily sent their representatives to the Sultan, to declare their voluntary submission too and, to safeguard themselves under the express provision of the Sacred Turkish Law, according to which in countries not conquered by blood and voluntarily submitting to the Sultan, privileges and various other concessions are granted, thus ensuring a relatively comfortable and free life for their people.
Therefore the Sultan Suleiman by his firman set out that the twelve islands, Kalymnos, Ikaria, Patmos, Leros, Astypalea, Nisyros, Halki, Symi, Tilos, Karpathos, Kasos and Kastellorizo by paying a lump stated sum as an annual tax on servitude (Maktu), would remain discharged of any other obligation.
The Sultan intended to allocate the proceeds of this servitude taxes as revenue of Charitable Institutions established by him in Rhodes (Suleymaniye). The administration of the islands was left unto their own residents, who by electing their rulers amongst themselves would be governed on the basis of their own morals and customs. The successors of Sultan Suleiman, following the sacred decision taken by him, continued to respect the regime of the 12 Islands, issuing firmans which were ratifying previous ones”
The above memorandum is published in the book“ΔΩΔΕΚΑΝΗΣΑ ΣΕΛΙΔΕΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑΣ 18”, published by the prefecture of Dodecanese in 1996..

Therefore the Court ruled that the arable land that the reservoir-lake of Kastellorizo was to be constructed was privately owned land. The ruling meant that the land belonged to the absolute ownership of its private owners, and thus the Greek State had to fully compensate them for the expropriation of their property.

This judgment has had a very significant impact on property cases in the Dodecanse. The judgement has now been adopted by a further decision of the Single-Member Court of Appeal of the Dodecanese regarding another property in Kastellorizo.


* This article is the copyright of Ioannis Vrouhos. The author agrees that the article can be distributed and reproduced as long as the author continues to be credited with having written the article. 


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