Washington, DC.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
The 40th Anniversary of the Turkish invasion, occupation and division of Cyprus was commemorated in Washington, DC, with a series of events that took place during the 30th Annual Cyprus Conference, hosted by PSEKA and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH), from July 15-17. The highlight event took place in front of the U.S. Capitol Building with over 30 of the most influential Senators and Members of Congress with regard to US foreign policy toward the Eastern Mediterranean, joined Greek-American leaders to call for an end to Turkey’s 40 year division and occupation of Cyprus.
Over 100 prominent Greek Americans participated in the three-day PSEKA Conference.
Minutes before the event, a press conference took place, by the Chairmen of Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee Robert Menendez and Ed Royce respectively, PSEKA President Philip Christopher and CEH President Andy Manatos. Also present were Cyprus Federation President Costas Tsentas, Cyprus` Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, and the Ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus to the United States, Christos Panagopoulos and George Shakallis, respectively.
Opening the press conference, President of PSEKA Philip Christopher said `it is a sad day for us, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Turkish occupation of the 38% of the island of Cyprus`.
`Forty years ago Turkey, utilizing American made arms, in violation of the rule of law of the United States, invaded the Republic of Cyprus; and for 40 years it has been occupying 38% of the island, while 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees are waiting to go back home`, he added.
Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate Robert Menendez said `it is a dark day in history`, noting that `40 years ago Turkey invaded northern Cyprus, in violation of all norms of international law at the time, it has continued to unjustly occupy northern Cyprus and divide a nation that once was a prosperous one, a nation in which Greek and Turkish Cypriots stood side by side with the expectation of a brighter future`.
`That future, particularly for those northern Cypriots has been darkened by the continual occupation of Turkish forces, making it one of the most militarized places in the world, unnecessarily so and it has divided families`, he said.
Menendez said he `visited years ago individuals in the village of Kouklia, which originally was a refugee camp`, noting that `there are still people who lost their homes and had to flee to what continues to be the Republic of Cyprus`.
`It is long past the day in which Turkey should remove its forces. It is long past the day which the international community should be speaking with one voice about the necessity of reuniting Cyprus, with a Cypriot led effort that seeks to reunify the island as once was one nation`, he pointed out.
Menendez said that he `personally, as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will continue to press our administration to be a force for getting to that point`.
`I believe even on this dark day that we commemorate 40 years of unjust occupation and invasion that it can be a bright future. I believe the economic zone shared by Cyprus and Israel where energy abounds can be the key that unlocks a future of hope and opportunity and a driver of understanding, that in fact the nation needs to be reunited`, he said.
He assured that he would `not rest until the last boot of the last Turkish soldier leaves northern Cyprus and we have a process that brings the nation once together reunited as it once was and once again be`.
Concluding, Menendez thanked the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for joining him `in a letter to President Obama to make the case that this is a moment in history he has to commemorate but also to drive American influence to get a just resolution to this unjust reality of the last four decades`.
Congressman Ed Royce referred to the letter he and Menendez sent to President Obama on the reunification of Cyprus, noting that `one of the reasons I feel passionately about this, is because I have been in northern Cyprus and I have seen some the consequences`.
Royce referred to the similarities of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, noting that `the culture is the same, but in the middle of this very beautiful island stretches the barbed wire`.
`On the other side of the barbed wire are these sites that once had vibrant markets, cultural attractions that would bring tourists from all over Europe and the world. Today they are vacant and this is unnecessary. This is frankly an opportunity to create more economic growth and opportunity for the next negation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots`, he said.
Royce said he talked to the Turkish Cypriots about their desire and they said `we are all one culture, we can work together. let us work this out`.
`Yes, let’s let them work this out, let’s have the Turkish forces leave the island and we can work out a just resolution for the future. But, I guarantee you if we can do that, it can be one that guarantees everyone’s rights`, he said.
He added that he was `recently in northern Cyprus and I heard cases of a Maronite ceremony, in which Turkish religious authorities were suggesting to continue while the Turkish military authorities refused to allow it`.
`We have the difficulty in respect with the churches in the north Cyprus. Everyone’s faith must be protected. The interests of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can be protected, if we allow them to work this out`, Royce pointed out.
He noted that this would `require leadership on the part of the United States` and said `that is why I am proud to join with Senator Menendez and call upon the United States Government to get engaged here in helping to resolve this dispute`.
`Forty years are to long for barbed wire to run across this beautiful island`, he said.
President of the Coordinated Effort of the Hellenes Andy Manatos referred to the US stance on the Cyprus problem and efforts to reach a settlement. `We heard from both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots about their desire to end the division and the occupation and we have also heard from the government of Turkey saying they are ready to withdraw their troops. Now with all this in place, we will see if they will follow through that commitment`, he added.
The event wrapped up with the symbolic cutting of pieces of barbed wire.
Some of these key policymakers included:
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee / Chairman, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senate Budget Committee
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Democratic Leader
Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) Chairman, House Middle East Subcommittee
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ranking Member, House Middle East Subcommittee/ Co-Founder, Hellenic-Israel Caucus
Congressman William Keating (D-MA) Ranking Member, House Europe Subcommittee
Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-NY)
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Co-Founder, Hellenic-Israel Caucus / Co-Chair, Hellenic Caucus
Congressman Cheri Bustos (D-IL), House Transportation Committee
Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI), House Foreign Affairs Committee
Congressman Joe Crowley (D-NY), House Democratic Leadership
Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY), House Financial Services Committee
Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), Ranking Member, House Energy Subcommitte
Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI), Ranking Member, House Intelligence Subcommittee
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Appropriations Committee & For. Ops. Subc.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NJ), Co-Chair, Hellenic Caucus
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), House Foreign Affairs Committee
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Ranking Member, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee
Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) House Homeland Security Committee
Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV), Ranking Member, House Transportation Committee
Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) House Ways and Means Committee
Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), House Energy and Commerce Committee
Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL), House Foreign Affairs Committee
Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), House Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee
Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV), House Veterans Affairs Committee
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA),
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), House Democratic Leadership / Ranking Member, House Budget Committee
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), House Democratic Leadership / Foreign Operations Approps. Subc.
During PSEKA Conference:
– The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menenedez (D-NJ) and the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) signed a joint letter to President Barack Obama urging him to increase, even higher, Administration attention toward ending Turkey’s 40-year-old military occupation of our ally, the Republic of Cyprus.
– The Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel, sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry calling on him to encourage Turkey to cooperate in the search for the missing persons in Cyprus.
– Over 20 Senators and Members of Congress put statements in the Congressional Record in support of US ally, the Republic of Cyprus, and Cyprus settlement efforts. By the end of next week, a record number of Senators and Members are expected to have made statements on the Record supporting Cyprus.