WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI), in cooperation with the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, hosted an online event, “46th Commemoration of the Illegal Turkish Invasion of Cyprus,” July 22, 2020. It was the third and final forum hosted by AHI in July dedicated to issues pertaining to Turkey’s illegal invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The webinar allowed 13 prominent members of Congress as well as the ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus an opportunity to express their perspectives on the matter, as well as discuss current developments and legislation regarding Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus far, the webinar has garnered over 2,000 views on facebook.
AHI President Nick Larigakis moderated the briefing along with AHI Legal Counsel Nick Karambelas. Larigakis thanked the speakers for their continued support of reunification efforts and their advocacy for Cyprus in legislation. He also took a moment to reflect on the tragic events of 1974 and the ongoing occupation that has plagued the island. Larigakis recalled how the invasion spurred to action the late Gene Rossides to establish the American Hellenic Institute. He also vowed to continue fighting for a just solution for Cyprus in Rossides’s memory, saying, “…And within the context of his memory that this organization will continue to advocate and to fight for the rule of law, and for a Cyprus that will ultimately be whole, free, and at peace as we all want to see.”
Featured speakers of the event included: Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Alexandra Papadopoulou; Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the U.S. Marios Lyssiotis; Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues and Hellenic-Israel Alliance; Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), member, House Committee on Appropriations; Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; Senator Chris Van Hollen, (D-MD), member, Senate Committee on Appropriations; Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD); and Congressman Charlie Crist (D-FL), member, House Committee on Appropriations. In addition, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA) and Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) provided prerecorded video remarks, and Congressman John Rutherford (R-FL) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), ranking member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered written statements.
Ambassador Lyssiotis: An open wound
Ambassador Lyssiotis described the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus as an “open wound” that plagues the entire island. He explained how Cypriots must still live with the consequences 46 years later. Through continued Turkish aggressions that violate international law, such as human rights abuses, destruction of cultural heritage, illegal settlers, etc., the reunification efforts have become a struggle. Ambassador Lyssiotis called on the assistance of the United States, saying, “We believe that the United States which is a permanent member of the Security Council and a key player has a particularly important role to play in exerting its influence to Turkey, giving a clear message so that they deescalate…” He added that it is in the best interests of the U.S. to have a unified Cyprus and peaceful Eastern Mediterranean. Despite the ongoing stalemate, the ambassador reiterated his determination to find a solution and expressed his desire to see the Greek American and Cypriot American communities champion the cause.
Ambassador Papadopoulou: A knife in our hearts
In her remarks, Ambassador Papadopoulou described the events of 1974 as a “knife in our hearts.” She said that memorial events are necessary to honor the dead, the tragic figures of the invasion, and to pay homage to the Cypriot people. While it is a day of mourning, the ambassador explained that it is also a time to look forward. Despite its struggle, the Republic of Cyprus emerged from the invasion and rebuilt into a prosperous democratic state. Ambassador Papadopoulou expressed hope that with renewed determination, Cyprus can forge a path toward reunification and peace. She closed by expressing her solidarity with Cyprus, saying, “Greece and Cyprus stand together in bringing unity and freedom to the whole island. Nicosia cannot be the only divided capital in Europe.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)
“Congressman Smith explained that the Eastern Mediterranean is in the midst of a difficult situation, mainly due to the provocative actions and hegemonic ambitions of Turkey. He stated that Turkey’s continued violation of international law in Cyprus, its attempts to homogenize its culture by changing the status of Hagia Sophia, and the death of secularism cannot be dismissed simply because it is a NATO member. Labelling the State Department’s response to Turkey as inadequate, Congressman Smith noted Turkey’s attempts to change the status quo in the region cannot be allowed. Despite his displeasure with the State Department’s handling of the issue, he stated that Congress has made the Eastern Mediterranean region a priority, “…there is a good bipartisan group of members who understand the problems associated with Turkey and Cyprus, and speak out on those issues all the time.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
“As the co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, Congressman Bilirakis expressed his commitment to strengthening U.S. partnerships in the Eastern Mediterranean. He also praised AHI’s commitment to the issues, saying, “AHI has been the champion of this issue from the very beginning.” Congressman Bilirakis called the Republic of Cyprus a steadfast ally of the U.S. which deserves a solution. He explained how ending Turkey’s illegal occupation is in the best interest of the United States as it would make Cyprus a stronger ally and bring peace to a trouble region. He also expressed the dangers of turning a blind eye to Turkish behavior as it has become increasingly authoritarian and an unreliable ally.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
“The founding co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, Congresswoman Maloney stressed the need for the U.S. to send a clear message that the Republic of Cyprus is a vital partner and to actively promote reunification efforts. She explained how a unified Cyprus positively impacts everyone, saying, “A stable and reunified Cyprus benefits the United States, the entire Eastern Mediterranean, and most of all, all Cypriots themselves who deserve to live without the looming presence of the Turkish military.” Additionally, Congresswoman Maloney stated the U.S. must condemn aggressive Turkish behavior, defend Cyprus from external threats, and prevent legislation from passing that would undermine the U.S.-Cyprus relationship.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
“Despite a resolution remaining elusive so many years later, Senator Van Hollen reiterated that there is an unwavering commitment to continue the struggle. He stressed the importance of all sides coming together to work through the issues that have plagued reunification talks. Despite the increasingly hostile and deteriorating U.S.-Turkey relationship, Senator Van Hollen positively noted the growing partnership between the Republic of Cyprus and the United States, stating, “The good news is that bilateral relations and ties between the United States and Cyprus are strong and getting stronger.” In closing, he once again stressed the need for cooperation to help bring a resolution to the Cyprus problem.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA)
“Congressman Sherman expressed his goal to foster closer ties not only with the Republic of Cyprus, but also with all the Hellenic world. He explained how Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean are important to the U.S. and EU, saying, “Both our partnership with Cyprus and our trilateral dialogue with Israel, Greece, and Cyprus are critical to not only our security, but to energy security for Europe.” Congressman Sherman also stated his displeasure with Turkey’s insistence on including military intervention rights pertaining to Cyprus in any reunification agreement, as well as its continued illegal occupation of an EU member.
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD)
“Congressman Sarbanes began by saying, “It’s really amazing to me how we sustained this effort because 46 years is a long time and there’s been many frustrations along the way, but we are not giving up…We know what the right result has to be. We know the island has to be reunified. We know that justice has to be brought to bear.” He expressed his optimism that someday justice will prevail and the island will be unified. However, he also stated his disappointment in the aggressive actions taken by Turkey that hinders the reunification process. Congressman Sarbanes stressed the need for the U.S. to take a strong stance against Turkey and a united response to bring Turkey back to the negotiating table.
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL)
“Congressman Crist shared a personal story about his grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Cyprus. Crist explained how his grandfather along with his aunt returned to visit Cyprus in 1974 and were stuck there during the invasion. He recalled the uncertainty that racked him and his family as they anxiously waited to hear what became of their relatives. Luckily, they were rescued by the U.S. 7th Fleet and returned to safety. As a result, Congressman Crist explained, “…this day means a lot to me, and I think about it every year and what my grandfather went through to become an American.”
Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)
“Emphasizing the fact that Turkey is not a good ally, Congresswoman Titus highlighted that Turkey should not be trusted. Congresswoman Titus stated, “…right now, Turkey is just behaving in such a way that the U.S. just shouldn’t tolerate. We can’t let them continue to get away with things.” She also explained how Congress should be united in its efforts to support the Republic of Cyprus because it would advance U.S. interests and be mutually beneficial.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)
“Congresswoman Meng highlighted the importance of commemorating the Turkish occupation as well as the pain and trauma that is felt to this day, stating, “I know the impact of the Turkish invasion is really still deeply felt by families across the region and even right here in the United States, and in my home district in Queens, New York.” She also called attention to the importance of supporting the United States’ partners in the region, namely Greece and the Republic of Cyprus.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
“Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ): In a written statement, Senator Menendez emphasized the importance of not only addressing the Turkish violations that occurred 46 years ago, but also the ones that are occurring today. He explained that Turkey’s interreference still impedes progress for peace at every turn, and its occupation is the source of instability on the island. He called on the U.S. to defend the Republic of Cyprus’s sovereign rights, and stated that a U.S.-Cyprus partnership is the key to bringing peace and prosperity to the troubled region. Senator Menendez also reiterated his dedication to the cause, writing, “I am committed to doing everything I can to make sure the U.S. plays a positive role in supporting Cyprus’s development and its sovereignty.”
Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL)
“In a written statement, Congressman Rutherford expressed his displeasure with Turkey, stating, “Turkey under the leadership of President Erdogan continues to demonstrate aggressive behavior, garnering the world’s attention and concern.” He also emphasized the need for stronger regional partnerships to combat Turkey’s provocations. Along these lines, Congressman Rutherford explained how it is in the best interests of the U.S. to support the Greece-Republic of Cyprus-Israel partnership.
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ)
“In his prerecorded statement, Congressman Payne stated his support for the reunification of Cyprus. It is a stance, he said, that he inherited from his father who was also a strong advocate for reunification. Congressman Payne reflected, “I have supported the independence movement for Cyprus since before my time in Congress. My father Donald M. Payne Sr. was very passionate about the relationship between the U.S. and Cyprus. He believed that the U.S. should take actions to remove the Turkish forces from Cyprus.” He also stated that Turkey has strayed from the path of democracy which emphasizes the need for increased U.S. involvement with its regional allies. In the end, Congressman Payne expressed his desire to see a unified Cyprus that is a model for democracy in the region.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
“In her prerecorded video remarks, Congresswoman Chu spoke in solidarity with Cyprus. She expressed the need to educate people of what occurred in 1974, stating, “And let’s be clear about what happened. That was a war of displacement. Turkey was not defending itself, but rather sought to expand its area of influence by forcing over 150,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, dividing communities, and a nation, and creating a generation of refugees.” Congresswoman Chu also stated that Turkey should face consequences for its violations of international law and its sabotage of reunification talks. She also noted of her hopes to see a settlement rooted in diplomacy and the rule of law.