Washington, D.C. By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Greek American leaders of major organizations, along with leaders from organizations from UK and Canada gathered last week in Washington for the 24th Annual Cyprus, Hellenic, and Orthodox Issues Conference to draft their future strategy on Cyprus.
The delegates met with more than 50 key members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, along with State Department officials.
One of the important decisions that will be materialized later this here is the creation of a Greek American political action committee with the participation of all major organizations. This committee will promote Greek national issues and will provide support to philhellenes and Greek Americans into politics.
During the conferenceʼs first day, the delegates met with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs and other officials, who briefed them on U.S. policy on Cyprus, Greco-Turkish relations and issues concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The conference was also attended by Cypriot Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou, as well as by a delegation from the Greek Parliament headed by the Chairman of the Hellenic Parliamentʼs Permanent Inter-Party Committee on Greeks Abroad, Nikolaos Tsiartsionis; Member of the Hellenic Parliament Also present were Grigoris Niotis; Member of the Hellenic Parliament, Spyridon Georgiadis; Senior Political Advisor for PASOK President George Papandreou, Demetri Dollis.
Mayors of Occupied Kyrenia, Maria Ioannou, Occupied Morphou, Charalambous Pittas, and Occupied Akanthou, Savvas Savvides also participated in the works of the conference.
In his opening remarks, at the opening, Stephanos Stephanou informed delegates about the latest developments in the Cyprus issue and President Demetris Christofiasʼ moves to promote a solution since he was elected President in February this year.
Referring to the significance of Christofiasʼ meeting on Friday with Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, Stephanou said that it comes at a very crucial time as far as the ongoing discussions between teams of experts from the islandʼs two communities are concerned.
“We believe that our good intentions will meet up with Mr. Talatʼs good will”, the Spokesman said, pointing out that “the aim is to open the road for fully-fledged negotiations, but a pre-requisite is to be certain of the basis of a solution.”
He said “we are committed to try our best to achieve tangible progress at a working level, to justify and support that kind of political negotiation, which, in a spirit of good will, will solve those disputes that cannot be resolved at a lower level”.
The Spokesman dismissed any notion of tight deadlines in the ongoing effort to find a negotiated settlement that will reunite Cyprus, divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Teams of experts from the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities have been engaged in talks for the past month on issues including governance, territory, property, health and humanitarian matters, the economy and the environment.
The conference was opened by PSEKA President Philip Christopher, Andrew E. Manatos, President, National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH) and Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) President Stephanos Tamvakis, SAEʼs US regional Co-ordinatior Ted Spyropoulos and other overseas Greeks and Cypriots chair persons and organisation representatives.
In their speeches, they underlined their commitment to continue the struggle and upgrade efforts in the US capital.
Christopher noted that the US should not always depend on Turkeyʼs support since this has proved to be on a number of occasions unreliable. He also stressed the need to develop cooperation with other countries of the region.
Andy Zemenides, Director Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chairman of the “Greeks for Obama” Committee, addressing the conference he stressed the importance of the conference and lobbying the members of Congress.
“Someone said the other day, ʽPersonal relationships donʼt matter.ʼ That is wrong; that is absolutely wrong. There couldnʼt have been a more wrong statement in American politics. If you establish personal relationships, that gets us support.”
Cypriot Ambassador in Washington Andreas Kakouris hosted a reception in honour of the delegates, which was also attended by Greeceʼs National Minister of Economy and Finance George Alogoskoufis.
In his speech, Kakouris congratulated the PSEKA representatives because despite the lack of progress in the Cyprus issue, they have not stopped working towards the resolution of the Cyprus problem.
“We do not have the luxury to turn our disappointment into apathy,” he added.
Addressing the reception government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou has said, President Demetris Christofias, from the very first day of the assumption of his duties, made efforts for the achievement of a just solution to the Cyprus problem, adding that ”towards this end, we urge our friends in the United States of America to encourage Turkey to be constructive, both in words and deeds during this crucial period.”
Stephanou said that ”the election to the Presidency of the Republic of Mr. Demetris Christofias, on the 24th of February 2008, has opened a new era for Cyprus, an era which will be characterised by the further intensification of our efforts to reach a just, viable and functional solution to the Cyprus problem.”
”President Christofias has been inspired by a life-long vision, the achievement of a just solution to the Cyprus problem and the building of a fairer society. His vision is for a future characterised by peace and stability, security and employment for all, prosperity and progress for the society as a whole, equality before the law, renewal of political life and modernisation of the society and the economy of Cyprus,” he added
”President Christofias has, since the first day of the assumption of his duties as President of the Republic of Cyprus, addressed himself to our Turkish Cypriot compatriots to assure them that he is inspired by a commitment for reconciliation and reunification,” he said, pointing out that President Christofias ”has moreover pledged himself that he will work so that they can enjoy all the rights as equal citizens of a united Federal Republic of Cyprus.”
”As a result of the initiatives that President Christofias has undertaken, there is a movement, which we hope will finally lead to negotiations for a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem,” Stephanou said, recalling that the agreement reached on March 21st between President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat embraces the UN-brokered Agreement of July 2006 and will help the process for a dialogue and negotiations.
”However, it should be stressed that progress on the Cyprus problem depends on the stance that Turkey will maintain”, Stephanou noted, adding that ”towards this end, we urge our friends in the United States of America to encourage Turkey to be constructive, both in words and deeds during this crucial period that we all hope will yield positive results that will allow for full-fledged negotiations to start.”
”Simultaneously,” he concluded, ”we urge the Cypriot and Greek communities in the United States to redouble their efforts and send a strong message of support to the objective of a bizonal, bicommunal federal Cyprus, which will unify the island, its people, the economy, society and institutions, where the people of this island will at last be free of occupation and where the human rights of all Cypriots will be respected and safeguarded.”
AT THE DINNER
Greek Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, Cypriot Government Spokesman Stephanos Stephanou and the AHEPA, were honored at the dinner held on May 23, 2008. AHEPA was honored for its contributions to American society and its work on issues of concern to the Hellenic American community.
“We are honored to receive this special recognition from this collective group of Hellenic organizations that have fought ceaselessly for justice in Cyprus and Hellenic causes,” said Supreme President Ike Gulas. “We applaud the unwavering efforts of Philip Christopher, Andrew Athens, and Andrew Manatos, and weʼre proud that they are all lifelong members of AHEPA.”
He added, “This award is a testament to the hard work of AHEPAʼs leadership and grassroots over the decades.” Prior to the presentation, Manatos credited AHEPAʼs important role in Congressʼ enactment of the 1975 embargo on Turkey.
Supreme Vice President, and Cypriot-American, Nicholas Karacostas received the award on behalf of AHEPA. He evoked poignant memories of his childhood recalling the invasion and subsequent illegal occupation that took place almost 34 years ago and what it meant to him as a boy living in the United States at the time. Karacostasʼ family is from Kyrenia.
“The values and principles on which AHEPA was founded 86 years ago transcend to the issues we confront today with respect to Cyprus, Greece, and our Ecumenical Patriarchate,” said Karacostas, who further elaborated on AHEPAʼs contemporary outreach to become more proactive in Washington.
Also in attendance were Supreme Treasurer Anthony Kouzounis and Supreme Governor Peter Kalidis, both of Houston; Executive Director Basil Mossaidis, and countless local Ahepans from the Metro Washington DC area, including former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes and 97-year-old former Executive Director Arthur Lalos.
SAEʼs president emeritus Andrew Athens characterized the conference as the most significant in many years and plead to all organizations to bring in the younger generation.
Speaking at the dinner Stephanos Stephanou said the election of Demetris Christofias to the presidency of the Republic opened a window of hope for Cyprus, adding that President Christofias is committed to finding a settlement and, as a result of his flexibility and good faith, there is movement and hope.
Stephanou noted that progress must be made in the biocommunal teams of experts (working groups and technical committees) before negotiations begin, adding that Turkey holds the key to progress towards a solution which will reunite Cyprus, divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third.
Those Greek-American organizations represented included: International Coordinating Committee–Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA); National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH); United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC); Cyprus Federation of America; Pancyprian Association of America; World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE); World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), USA; AHEPA; The Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Archdiocesan Council; American Hellenic Council of California; Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC); Pan-Macedonian Association, Inc. USA; Greek-American Chamber of Commerce; Pancyprian Association of Florida; Pancyprian Association of Texas; Cyprus Society of Greater Philadelphia; Michigan Democratic Party Greek Caucus; and the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago. As well those international organizations represented included: PSEKA Canada; National Federation of Cypriots in Great Britain; and Lobby for Cyprus (London).
Also present were Greeceʼs Ambassador to the U.S. Alexandros Mallias; Cyprus Ambassador to the U.S. Andreas Kakouris;; Cyprus Consul General of New York Andreas Panayiotou