24th Annual PSEKA Conference ends in success. AHEPA Honored for its contributions to the Hellenic American community
Washington, D.C..- By Irene Zoupaniotis
Key members of U.S. Congress reaffirmed last week their commitment to continue their support for Cyprus, the Macedonian issue and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and expressed their appreciation for the work done by the Greek American Community in lobbying for their causes.
According to a statement issues by the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, during the 24th Annual Cyprus, Hellenic and Orthodox Issues Conference, hosted by PSEKA and CEH, some of the commitments secured by the participants included:
A U.S. Helsinki Commission investigation into the destruction and desecration of Greek Orthodox churches in the occupied area of Cyprus — committed to by the Commissionʼs Chairman, Congressman Alcee Hastings;
An accelerated effort to end the military occupation of Cyprus — committed to by individuals who are top candidates for Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense in an Obama, Clinton or McCain Administration: Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden; Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin; and Chairman of a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee, Senator Joe Lieberman. Last year Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain addressed this conference.
Even-handed treatment of Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots and no American efforts to force a settlement on Greek-Cypriots during possible coming settlement talks — committed to by the State Departmentʼs second-highest ranking official, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (a Hellene) and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Dan Fried.
Helping Turkey understand the value of ending its military occupation of Cyprus and of allowing the Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots to find a settlement on their own – committed to by the Founder and Co-Chair of the U.S. Congressʼ Turkey Caucus and the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committeeʼs Europe Subcommittee, Congressman Robert Wexler.
A recommitment to Cyprus, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Macedonian issue – pledged by the overwhelming majority of all the U.S. Senators and Members of Congress who are in charge of Congressional policies toward Hellenic and Orthodox issues.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Following are summaries from the speeches of members of Congress at the Conference.
Congressman Albio Sires: The NJ Congressman was presented with an award, with a piece of the barbed wire from the green line in it. In his speech he stated that barbed wire is more than barbed wire but what it represents. When he first came to Congress he found himself being very attracted to Cyprus because he sees a lot of similarities to Cuba. On his first trip in Congress to Cyprus, he was insulted when he went to the Green Zone and saw the insensitivity in placing the flag of Turkey on the hill. “To me insensitive, provocative and unnecessary.”
Congressman Donald Manzullo: Discussed the Armenian Bill and how he was put in a position to choose between Americans. However, the more he was becoming informed by Greek American constituent Steve Theofanus, the harder it became for him not to vote on the Bill.
“I canʼt be put in a position to deny history.”
However he asks people to be cautious when thinking of bringing up these kinds of resolutions. Eventually he was being called by high officials on the executive level as to vote against the bill, and Mr. Theofanus told him “The Turks are going to do, what the Turks are going to do.” Which ended up being true, with the Turkish incursion in Northern Iraq. He said he is very thankful to have someone like Steve Theofanus, and you must have close relations with your members of Congress.
Congressman Charles Rangel: “I got to understand that I have a commitment and that you have a friend for life. Iʼll never forget the commitments of the Greek-Americans in America and in Cyprus.”
Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart: Sometimes you get desensitized when you hear of so many issues, but after going to Cyprus he says how his experiences there were profound. “Perseverance is not only admirable, but necessary.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney: She states they are committed in working with Cyprus to open up Famagusta as confidence building. He also spoke about Resolution 620—to end military occupation of the Republic of Cyprus.
Congressman Donald Payne: Congressman Payne was also presented with an award. He states to have been working for the return of the Parthenonʼs marbles and will continue to fight for that issue.
Congressman Howard Berman: “Isnʼt it strange that there are more Turkish troops in Cyprus now than American troops in Afghanistan? It is time for the Turkish troops to leave.” “Sometimes you have to push friends and partners to do the right thing.”
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Discussed Cyprus, FYROM, and Ecumenical Patriarchate. She also brought up the U.S.-Visa Waiver Program. She has co-sponsored the design and the participation of Greece in the waiver program. There have been some hurdles raised by the EU, but hopes for travel from Greece without visa soon.
Congressman Mark Kirk: We have to educate people. The American people, voters and grassroots are the most important.
Congressman Danny Davis: He is the representative of Greektown in Chicago, and thus has a large number of Greek constituents. Discusses his involvement in resolution 620—to end Turkish military occupation in Cyprus, his work with the resolution involving FYROM and that the name Macedonia is associated with unification of greater Macedonia by Stalin and Tito and is linked with policy that has claims on Greek territory.
Congressman Ed Royce: Discusses FYROM, Ecumenical Patriarchate, and Cyprus. Reminds us of the role Hellenic ideals had on this country.
Congressman Jim Langevin: One of his top priorities is settlement of Cyprus. It is absolutely essential foreign policy for us to support Cyprus so that we are in line with our values.
Congressman Russ Carnahan: American image abroad is the lowest weʼve ever seen.
Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.: Speaks of the idea that our participation in democracy has changed our definition of what it means to be an American. “Not find ourselves fixed in stone or in time. Fight to expand the definition of what it means to be an American.” “When we make America better, it puts us in a position to do something about the Patriarchate, to do something about Cyprus, to do something about Macedonia.”
Congressman Steve Rothman: He has written Secretary Rice for assistance in the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Congressman Alcee Hastings: “Stay strong, stay vigilant, keep the banner high”
Congressman Frank Pallone: Feels the administration has not been helpful in unifying Cyprus, but that the opportunity has risen again and we cannot tip our hand to the Turkish side.
Congressman Maurice Hinchey: Also sent a letter to Secretary Rice concerning Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Congressman Joe Knollenberg: “Youʼre being here is the most important”
Congressman Chris van Hollen: He is impressed with the initiatives taken.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart: He states that when we talk about border crossings, that is not acceptable: The issue is no border.
Congressman Eliot Engel: He was also given an award. Elliot Engel drafted the first resolution on Cyprus “Cyprus Missing.” He says, “It is not only politically right, it is morally right.”
Congressman Zack Space: “As long as we are in this House, they will continue to fight for human rights and justice, as long as the situation remains in Cyprus.”
Congressman Gus Bilirakis: He will not rest until FYROM is resolved.
Congressman John Sarbanes: “Idea of home is so strong in our community. So many refugees cannot go back and cannot have experience being connected to place of origin. Maybe tomorrow will be the day we return.”
Senator Barbara Mikulski: “Make the Lydra crossing-point not another Checkpoint Charlie.” Discusses excitement for recent positive moves towards Cyprus solution, FYROM, and Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Senator Jack Reed: “These symbolic gestures that seem irreversible, when some of what Turkey is doing is quite the opposite.” We must point to Ankara to take real steps not just symbolic.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: He said how significant is for a small state Senator to be close to the Greek community and he praise Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis and veteran power breaker George Paniches for their contributions to the state politics.
Senator Carl Levin: He was presented with the “Frezis Award”. In his speech he praised Greece as strong ally of the United States and he promised to continue working close with our community for our concerns.
Senator Joe Leiberman: No people sympathize more tellingly than the U.S. Progress towards peace in Cyprus and to protect the rights of all religions.
Senator Joe Biden: Addressing the conference after he received the “Livanos Award” he said he felt guilty that Cyprus is still not united. “It is my hope that I think a truly committed president willing to take some chances could move process to culmination.” He goes on further to say “Self-interest of all parties is converging.” And ends by saying, “A promise made is a promise kept. Youʼve kept every promise to me and I hope I keep all my promises.”
Senator Robert Menendez: He assured Greek Americans that we have had great successes, although not the ultimate success. He does not think of Hellenic issues as mere Hellenic issues, but broad based issues. Speaking to the Macedonian question he said he will refuse to allow to use the name Macedonia in any bill, since NATO does not refer to FYROM as Macedonia.
Speaking on Cyprus he said “We cannot have a solution imposed on Cyprus but solution by Cypriots.”
He ends by stating, “When we have a President and Senators that will pressure Turkey, that will end occupation in Cyprus.”
Among the participants of the conference also were, NY State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis and former NY State Assemblyman Matthew Mirones.