New York.- Vicki James Yiannias
When Congressman John Sarbanes opened the HALC-sponsored televised call, “Biden/Harris with Ambassador Nicholas Burns,” he said that organizing and bringing together people in our community to make sure we share who Biden is, and what he has done for our community, is going to be so critical on the issues of concern to us. “Because we all know in politics you can’t take anything for granted, we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to put someone in the White House who will be a true friend when it comes to the Greek and Cypriot American community.”
His father, Senator Paul Sarbanes, and Joe Biden, serving together in the US Senate for many years, shared a perspective on what our “values and principles as a country should be, how we conduct ourselves around the world on the international stage,” said Sarbanes, “and that’s the kind of perspective that Joe Biden is going to bring as President of the United States.”
Biden was praised for his principles, foreign policy capabilities, affinity for and understanding of critical Greek and Cypriot issues, and his empathy, compassion and openness.
Participating in the call with Congressman Sarbanes were Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Tsakopoukos-Kounalakis, Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada, Congressman Charlie Crist of Florida Congressman Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, and Thanos Davelis, Director of Public Affairs of HALC, callers Philip Christopher, president of PSEKA, former Congressman Zack Space, and epidemiologist Dr. Linos All thanked Endy Zemenides, Executive Director of HALC, for having put the call together and for honoring them with his invitation to participate. Likewise, he thanked all for participating.
“This is about the presidential election, what our community can do to help Vice-President Biden become that next president 70 days from today,” Zemenides said, introducing Congressman Charlie Crist, from Florida (the first member of Congress of Greek descent).
Congressman Crist named “what Vice President Biden has done for Cyprus.” He was the first sitting United States Vice President to visit the island of Cyprus and hosted social events—receptions and dinners among them—at the Vice President’s residence in Washington. “He has always had that empathy and concern for Greece and Cyprus as well, going back to the days when he was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the United States Senate for so many years.” Concurring with Ambassador Burns that “the current occupant of the White House” has not been friendly to Greece but is extremely friendly to Turkey and “the personality who is now the leader in Turkey,” Crist said, “What we know about Joe Biden is exactly the opposite… he’s been a dear friend to both Greece and Cyprus, knows world leaders and cares about it, actually reads—is a brilliant man, and understands how to run government.”
Crist reiterated the family tragedies Biden has experienced, and stressed Biden’s compassion and empathy. “What better bona fides or experience to be President of the United States than Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, a former governor and Lieutenant Governor. “The “rollout of Kamala Harris, “a wonderful person,” on the ticket with Joe Biden “has been exceptional and extraordinary… that’s why I think it’s so important that our community gets behind this ticket. The future of the country is at stake for Greek Americans—for all Americans and for the world. As the candidate himself says, ‘The soul of the nation is at stake here.’”
The first respondents to the RSVPpresented questions for the Q&A. First, Thanos Davelis introduced former Congressman Zack Space, former Ohio Congressman under the Obama administration. Space thanked HALC for its great work, John Sarbanes, and all the participants, and thanked Ambassador Burns for the “credibility and extensive contribution he brings to this campaign. It’s comforting to know that our next president is being advised by someone of your caliber.”
When he served in Congress under President Obama, said Space, “it was common for the administration to exert pressure on Turkey when Turkey would misbehave, which seemed to be something that would happen on a regular basis. The willingness of that administration paid dividends in all relevant respects. For example, ensuring citizenship for the Orthodox hierarchs that preserved the Patriarchal succession… things like that matter to our community in profound ways… This administration has failed to exert any kind of pressure. My question is: How does a Biden administration reestablish that type of leverage and pressure to ensure that Turkey does the right thing?”
Burns replied that the US had been working with Greece and Turkey—both members of NATO— since 1952.” Every administration has tried to be balanced yet has been clear when Turkey has violated the rules of the road, as they have done in the eastern Mediterranean.” But right now, he doesn’t think that “President Erdogan is feeling the least bit of pressure.”
“The State Department has put out some very fine statements pointing out the illegalities of what Turkey is doing,but when the President of the United States never repeats them, and when he gets on the phone with, and goes along with President Erdogan, and you know what message our president is listening to…” ” he said, in contrast to “Vice President Biden, who is unafraid to speak truth to power. He can be friendly with someone… will want to be friendly with Turkey obviously, but he’s going to speak up when Turkey acts illegally, as it has done in the eastern Mediterranean, as it’s doing on Aghia Sophia… just look at the statements that candidate Joe Biden has made—they’re as clear as a bell about what’s right and what’s wrong. Every president has to have that capacity to be clear about the rule of law, and I’m confident Joe Biden will be that president.”
Burns named the major problems Turkey has caused, the civil war in Libya for the United States and the west European allies and has been a major problem for the US in trying to protect the Kurdish populations of both Syria and Iraq, Turkey’s purchase of the Russian air defense system. “Right now, if you had to ask me: Of all the American allies in the world in NATO and in east Asia, which one is the most troublesome for the United States, the big problem is Turkey.”
Entering the discussion, Congresswoman Titus said that another difference between this administration and a Joe Biden Presidency would be “Biden’s experience in Congress as well as on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which right now has no relationship with the administration… and you’ve got a State Department that’s been demoralized.”
Titus believes “Biden will reach out to the relevant committees in Congress and see us as partners, and take advantage of the things that we can do legislatively to back him up, and help him put the kind of pressure he needs to on Turkey, or anybody, and also help him to reestablish some of those broken relations with our traditional NATO allies. We can be a big help if it works both ways [it doesn’t now], and I believe that would happen under a Biden administration.”
Next, Zemenides introduced Philip Christopher, the president of PSEKA, “who has worked as hard and as long for Cyprus as anyone.” Thanking Zemenides for putting together the call, Christopher greeted “my friend Nicholas Burns, the four members of Congress, all Democrats, Angelo Tsakopoulos (who was present with Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis but not in camera range), and saluted “a Republican not here with us, Gus Bilirakis, because he has been very helpful even though he’s in the wrong party, but I love him anyway…” he added humorously.
Christopher said, “Bottom line, I have been in the forefront of the Cyprus problem since 1974.
In 1976 I held the first fundraiser for the then-Congressman Biden, and my father took a picture with him, and on that picture Congressman Biden wrote, ‘If I ever become President, Cyprus will be free.’
Of course, after 46 years, my father has died. He died with a dream of returning to his home in the occupied area, just like the father of Endy, Demetris Zemenides, who passed a few weeks ago, along with thousands of others who have died with that dream, American citizens who lost their homes, lost their properties, he said, citing the grim statistics: 200,000 Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes.
500 Greek churches were turned into mosques, 400,000 settlers were imported from Turkey, and 38% of the island is under occupation for 46 yrs.”
“Administration after administration has given us a lot of promises, and certainly Vice President Biden knows this problem better than anyone. He visited Cyprus. He understands the problem, and when he was Vice President, I confronted him, and he said, “I have a boss,” and of course, he meant President
Obama, who at the time was somewhat in love Mr. Erdogan—let’s call things the way they are.”
Both Democratic administrations Republican administrations have given us broken promises, and it is my hope—and I am supporting Vice President Biden for President of the United States because of that issue.
Addressing Ambassador Burns, who in knowing this problem “bettter than anyone, knows it’s a difficult one,” Christopher spoke of the US Air Force base in Incirlik, nuclear weapons, that “in the early years we used to be told “Turkey is a country that’s very important. Afterward, Turkey became a secular Muslim country ‘that was the example of the world,’ when in fact, Turkey is an unreliable ally. It is a country that violates human rights; it is a country that violates Kurdish aspirations; it is a country that violates everything and blackmails Europe with their 3.5 million refugees.
“So if you really feel that we can step up and put pressure on Turkey to behave as a civilized country, a country that belongs in Europe, and indeed a secular democracy, then this is what I’m waiting for: the dream of my father returning back to Kyrenia is something that I hold dear. Those promises I made to him, that I will fight for this cause until we go back, these are the same promises that Endy Zemenides and so many others in the Greek American community hold dear. So, with that, I urge you, I appeal to you, if you want Greek American support, let us put the pressure on Turkey, and I rely on all of you to get this done. The dream of my father, when he wrote down ‘when you become President, I will go back to my home in Kyrenia in Cyprus’ may come true.”
Zemenides asked Ambassador Burns, whether, understanding Christopher’s message, he would like to respond, and that “maybe soon enough, maybe in January, you may be dealing with him again.”
Burns replied, “I have so much respect for Phil Christopher and for his determination to see a just cause redeemed. I have known him for a long time, and he has never wavered and all I can say is, ‘I think you and I and all of us know Vice President Biden is a man of his word. He’s a man of faith. He’s consistent, and he will be a fighter for justice when he’s President of the United States. It’s going to take the European Union to help the US do this, and President Trump has been the archenemy of the European Union—we’ve never had an American President so critical of the EU, so personally critical of the EU, so I think Vice President Biden will know how the diplomacy works here, but thank you for your statement.”
Congressman Sarbanes said, “I just want to thank Phil on behalf of my Congressional colleagues
for all these years of advocacy, year in, year out, never giving up, and he’s made it so that we’re allies in that cause, as well. He recounted Paul Sarbanes’ and John Brademas’s memorable visit to refugee camps in Cyprus in 1974 where “they heard directly from those who’d suffered from the Turkish invasion, people like Phil’s and Endy’s fathers, and all of us in Congress and Eleni, who are on this call today, want to redeem what happened there. Phil, you keep us ready to seize the moment of opportunity when it presents itself. One way we’re going to get closer to that opportunity is by putting Joe Biden in the White House, because he conducts himself as a man of values, not transactionally, the way President Erdogan does, but based on a set of principles, and those principles encompass justice for Cyprus, so thank you Phil, for all these years of tremendous advocacy.”
Zemenides brought attention to other races coming up, Chris Pappas and Dr. Natalia Linos. “We’ve got to re-elect Chris Pappas, and I’m sure the Biden campaign will tell you that the way Chris Pappas’s election goes in New Hampshire is the way New Hampshire’s going to go. So, it’s a very important two-for-one.”
Another race and candidate with a Nicholas Burns connection is Dr. Natalia Linos’s race in Massachusetts. Linos, endorsed by Ambassador Burns, and endorsed by HALC yesterday, is within the margin of error with 40 percent undecided.
Chris Pappas and Dr. Linos’s participation will be covered in the next issue.