Washington D.C.- GreekNews
A bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Michael Bilirakis, Co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, addressing the US House of Representatives, highlighted the continuing plight of Cyprus as they marked the 31st anniversary of the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus’ northern third.
In his speech, Bilirakis voiced intense objection to the illegal occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops and declared his “grave concern for the future of the island”.
He said “the Turkish incursion into Cyprus, 30-plus years ago, has rendered a legacy of internal division, and should worry those in this Chamber who cherish freedom and espouse the virtues of democracy”.
Referring to the rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots in 2004, Bilirakis said that he and his colleagues had warned that the plan, as written, was not viable and did not assuage the Greek-Cypriots’ security fears.
He remarked that the plan did not include a thorough removal of foreign troops from Cyprus and provided for the continuation of the Treaty of Guarantee, maintaining the guarantor powers, the right to unilaterally intervene in order to preserve the ”constitutional order” of the United Cyprus Republic and its constituent states.
Additionally, the Annan plan did not provide for a property recovery system that would recognize the rights and interests of displaced Greek-Cypriots, nor did it include a satisfactory property compensation system. It also called for Greek-Cypriots to pay for the loss of their property.
Bilirakis remarked that had the concerns of the Greek Cypriots been addressed, “I have no doubt that the Annan plan would have received an overwhelming positive vote”.
He noted that Greek-Cypriots should not be blamed for voting against a plan that they believed did not meet the interests of their country and their futures. It is one thing for others to comment on the terms and conditions for settlement, but it is the Cypriots who must live with whatever plan is adopted”, he stressed.
Furthermore, he reminded that the Government of Cyprus continues to emphasize that it remains committed to reunify Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with democratic and human rights for all Cypriots.
He cited the Cypriot Government’s announcement of a series of measures aimed at assisting those Turkish Cypriots residing under the control of the occupying Turkish army and enhancing their ability to enjoy many of the benefits that the Republic of Cyprus offers to its citizens–including benefits which result from its European Union membership.
Bilirakis mentioned that the occupying Turkish regime partially relaxed restrictions that limited travel across the Green Line. Since then, there have been more than five million incident-free border crossings by Turkish and Greek Cypriots to visit areas and homes that were inaccessible to them for over 30 years.
However, Bilirakis stressed that neither the Cyprus government’s benefit package for Turkish-Cypriots, nor the limited lifting of restrictions by Turkey’s occupying regime, substitutes for a comprehensive resolution to end Cyprus’ divide.
He urged the Bush Administration, the United Nations the European Union, and the Congress to “respect the democratic decision of the Cypriot people, to remain engaged in efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem, and to work toward a fair and lasting reunification of Cyprus”.
Bilirakis further stressed that as Cyprus works toward reunification it is imperative that leaders and diplomats from the United States and other nations respect and observe Cypriot law and international law in their dealings with Cyprus.
He reminded that he has sent letters to President George W. Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing concern regarding the legality of US citizens, US government personnel, and members of Congress flying directly from Turkey to the airport at Tymbou in the occupied northern part of Cyprus.
”I think they need to be reminded that the United States recognizes the Republic of Cyprus as the only government of Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus has not authorized flights into the northern airport, and the Republic of Cyprus and the United States are signatories to the Chicago Convention”, he said.
Such actions, he added, do little more than undercut the reunification efforts.
New York Democrat member of House Carolyn Maloney said she represents the organizations which believe that peace will come to Cyprus, and they have been strong advocates against the division of Cyprus and the human rights violations perpetrated by the Turkish army in Cyprus.
“While we must remember this black anniversary, we also need to look to the future. Cyprus’ accession to the European Union was an historic achievement. As an EU member, Cyprus represents European values and policies, and at the same time is working toward even stronger transatlantic ties with the United States”, she noted.
In her speech, Florida’s Republican Member of the House Ileana Ros – Lehtinen said that as a “Cuban political refugee, the values of liberty and democracy are very dear to my heart. I personally empathize with the Greek Cypriot community and share their plight to achieve a fair end to the Turkish occupation”.
She underlined that the “emergence of a strong, vibrant and justifiably unified Cyprus would promote stability both politically and economically to the entire Mediterranean region and would provide a strategic ally for the United States at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia”.
New Jersey Democratc Steven R. Rothman said that it is “the proper role of the Members of the United States Congress to not only condemn the brutal Turkish invasion of 1974, but also to urge the next step in addressing the issues of the past”.
“We must promote a plan for reunification that addresses the serious concerns of all Cypriots. We must encourage Turkish-Cypriot leaders and their Greek-Cypriot counterparts to negotiate in good faith. We must show the world that the reunification of Cyprus is a priority for the United States”, he Rothman stressed.
His Democrat colleague of New York, Joseph Crowley, commended the United States Government, the European Union and the United Nations for encouraging a solution to the problem plaguing Cyprus.
“I sincerely hope that by taking a stance today, we can promote a renewed effort for direct negotiations and help the Greek Cypriotes get back what is rightfully theirs”, he noted.
New Jersey Democrat Member of Congress Robert Menendez said the “illegal occupation of Cyprus persists today, infringing upon principles of national sovereignty and violating the Cypriots’ natural right of self-determination”.
“I urge my colleagues and the world to support the Greek Cypriot concerns about the reunification process. Greek Cypriots want Cyprus united under a plan that will provide a just, fair, and long-term solution to the Cypriot problem. And they deserve nothing less. Any reunification plan must uphold democratic and human rights for all Cypriots”.
Menendez underlined that “a plan that is unacceptable to 76 percent of Greek Cypriots cannot be acceptable to the United States or to the international community”.
Florida Republican Lincoln Diaz-Balart said the goal of the process must be to attain a just and lasting solution, not a rushed or imposed solution.
“Currently, the Republic of Cyprus is seeking a plan that truly reunifies both its society and economy, while allowing each community to retain its own identity and culture, without foreign occupation”, he said, promising to remain committed to achieving a solution to this problem “so that we never have to gather again to commemorate an anniversary of this condemnable and unjustifiable invasion. Mr. Speaker, I pray that this will be the last year of a divided Cyprus. It is my fervent hope that, 31 years after Cyprus was torn asunder, all Cypriots can be reunited, living in peace and freedom forever.
PALLONE FOCUSES ON CYPRUS PROPERTY CONCERNS
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), tracked the history of the Turkish regime’s defiance of United Nations’ resolutions and court decisions regarding property in the occupied territory, and said this defiance must be considered by both the U.N. and the United States when negotiations for a settlement resume in the future.
“Turkey’s intransigence is unacceptable and must come to an end. Earlier this year, I joined Congressman Bilirakis and Congresswoman Maloney, the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, in introducing legislation that would put this House on record in support of the European Court’s decisions and expressing our desire that the Court hear more cases regarding illegal seizures of Cypriot property by the Turkish-Cypriot regime. Turkey’s refusal to comply with these court decisions should not go unnoticed by this House, and that’s why it’s important that we pass this important resolution”.
Pallone states that Cypriot-Americans are among the refugees that are being denied access to their property by Turkey.
“Since these Americans cannot return to their illegally-seized property, I believe these Cypriot-Americans should be allowed to seek financial remedies with either the current inhabitants of their land or the Turkish government itself.
“Earlier this year, I introduced the bipartisan American Owned Property in Occupied Cyprus Claims Act. The legislation authorizes the president to initiate a claims program under which the claims of U.S. nationals who Turkey has excluded from their property can be judged before the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. If this commission determined that Cypriot-Americans should be compensated for their property, negotiations would then take place between the U.S. and Turkey to determine the proper compensation. My legislation would also empower U.S. district courts to hear causes of action against either the individuals who now occupy those properties or the Turkish government.
“Passage of this legislation is particularly crucial today as reports show sharp increases in the number of unlawful investments of occupied properties and a construction boom on land that continues to be owned by approximately 170,000 Greek-Cypriots, many of whom are now U.S. citizens. The source of this disturbing trend is the decision of the Turkish occupation regime to permit current possessors of property to “transfer” such properties to third parties. Today there is a mistaken impression among buyers of such properties that unlawful investments in occupied territories will be safeguarded in the future.
“As a result, a secondary market involving transactions in illegal property has arisen, as illegal occupiers of the land have begun to sell their alleged ownership to third parties—including corporations and Europeans.
“These actions only exacerbate the difficult property issues that must be addressed before the Cyprus issue can be solved”.