Washington, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) marked the 42nd anniversary of Turkey’s illegal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by hosting a congressional briefing to discuss the current state of affairs on the island at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 14, 2016. The briefing’s forum allowed members of Congress to share their perspectives on the Cyprus issue and prospects for a solution amid the current settlement talks, which would be greatly aided with the removal of Turkish troops from the island. The legislators also called for continued U.S. engagement on Cyprus.
“For 42 years, the people of Cyprus have endured an illegal occupation and massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States,” AHI President Nick Larigakis, who moderated the briefing, said. “It is unfathomable that in 2016 a NATO member currently illegally occupies an EU-member nation, Cyprus. The briefing provided us with the viewpoints of Congress’s leading authorities on foreign affairs, our leaders of the Hellenic Caucus and the legislators who are deeply concerned about the Cyprus issue. We thank them for their insights on the issue and their support for Cyprus.”
The briefing, held in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, featured: U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), ranking member, House Committee on Budget; U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), as speakers.
Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the U.S. Leonidas Pantelides and Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Haris Lalacos, both newly-arrived, as well as AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaidis addressed the audience.
Ambassador Pantelides noted progress with the negotiations, which he described as intensive, but also acknowledged that “difficult issues are ahead.” One such issue, property, is “becoming more complicated every day” and other challenging issues include security, territory, and implementation of a solution. He emphasized the importance of the need to achieve a breakthrough on these difficult issues and cited as an example the removal of Turkish troops. The ambassador stated the objective is to achieve a “Yes” vote on a referendum, but cautioned that if the referendum is not significantly better, a “No” vote will come.
Ambassador Lalacos called Turkey’s actions in 1974 “a military invasion of a fully sovereign nation” by a nation, Turkey, that as a guarantor, is responsible for the sovereignty and independence of Cyprus. In discussing Greece’s role, he stated, “We are not dictating policy, but we are working in close cooperation.” He added that if there is a solution, there needs to be a different approach to guarantees, and separately, a solution would lead to an intensified level of cooperation with Cyprus in the broader Mediterranean. Ambassador Lalacos cited Greece/Cyprus/Israel and Greece/Cyprus/Egypt as examples.
AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaidis reaffirmed AHEPA’s support for Cyprus and also called for the removal of Turkish troops from the island, stating that their use is better served in areas where high-level threats exist from terrorist elements.
Highlights of Members’ Statements
Congressman Gus Bilirakis:
The co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus recapped a recent visit to Cyprus he took as part of a congressional delegation led by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, where they met with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. Congressman Bilirakis stated that “as Americans, we are obligated to help” with regard to the ongoing settlement talks. He called for the removal of Turkish troops from the island and also remarked that seeing Famagusta as a Ghost Town made him sad.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney:
The co-chair of the Hellenic Caucus also recalled the recent visit to Cyprus that she made as part of the congressional delegation led by Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. She stated she was impressed with President Anastasiades’ efforts and leadership. She recalled her approach to the Green Line where she saw devastation from the invasion and called Famagusta and Varosha a “Ghost Zone” that were “stuck in time.” Congresswoman Maloney also noted that Cyprus’ economic potential can be visualized based upon the delegation’s meetings. She added, “the U.S. government needs to support steadfast allies Greece and Cyprus,” and she will ask Secretary of State John Kerry for a meeting in August on the issue of Cyprus settlement talks.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, who led a congressional delegation on a visit to Cyprus in June, stated it was the first time she visited the country. With regard to the settlement talks, she remarked that President Erdogan pulls the strings and that without Turkey’s interference, she believes a just solution can be achieved. “Turkey needs to work to stop the tensions it creates and withdraw its troops and end its illegal occupation once and for all,” she proclaimed. The former foreign affairs chairwoman remarked that a solution would bring economic potential via the natural gas findings as well as security benefits.
Congressman John Sarbanes:
In remarks, Congressman Sarbanes recalled an op-ed he penned as a student at Princeton University for The Daily Princetonian on the 10-year anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. With regard to the current settlement talks, he noted the steady progress that has been made toward a settlement, but also expressed caution given the track record. He noted that the leaders on the ground are being the opportunity to work closely, but the question is, “Where will Turkey come down?” The congressman believes we do not know at this point. He will continue to urge the State Department and the Obama Administration to continue to press Turkey to respect the democratic process in Cyprus. Congressman Sarbanes is circulating a “Dear Colleague” Letter to his fellow U.S. representatives on this issue.
Congressman Chris Van Hollen:
Congressman Van Hollen stated the settlement talks are at a critical moment and that during this time he will “work with the administration to use U.S. influence in a positive way.” He added, “We hope what comes out of the negotiations is able to pass a referendum.” For that to occur, Congressman Van Hollen called for the removal of Turkish troops from the island and for Turkey to no longer intervene as a guarantor. He also pledged to continue to work to strengthen and deepen relations with both Cyprus and Greece.
Congresswoman Dina Titus
Congresswoman Titus pledged her ongoing support for the Cyprus issue and all issues affecting the Greek American community. She devoted her speaking time to hearing and learning more from the audience.