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to President Obama
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
On behalf of the nationwide membership of the American Hellenic Institute
(AHI), we congratulate you on your historic inauguration. We wish you every success
as you embark on your noble mission of leading our nation during this very difficult
As you begin to formulate and advance your foreign policy agenda, we look
forward to working with you and your administration in continuing to strengthen
the historic bonds of friendship between two long-time allies, the United States
and Greece, and to improve upon the good relations between the United States
Your pre-election statements on matters of concern to the Greek American community
were well received by the community.
At this time, we write to more fully address in detail our community’s
core issues of concern in Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean based
on what is in the best interests of the United States.
The projection of U.S. interests in the region depends heavily on the stability
of the region. Therefore, the United States has an important stake in fostering
good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, and in achieving a
just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Greece is of vital importance for the projection of U.S. strategic interests
in the region by virtue of, among other factors, its geographic location and
its role as home to the most important naval base in the Eastern Mediterranean
Sea, Souda Bay, Crete.
A key to stability in the region is for Greece and Turkey to have good relations
with each other, promote democratic ideals and principles, and maintain growing
economies. However, Turkey’s continuing occupation of Cyprus, its intransigence
in solving the Cyprus problem, its refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus
and its veto to the accession of Cyprus to international organizations, its continuing
violations of Greece’s territorial waters and airspace, and continuing
religious and human rights violations in Turkey, threatens and prevents this
stability, and damages U.S. interests.
As your administration forges ahead on these issues, we hope that you will
draw on past policy positions that you and Vice President Joe Biden have supported
as they relate to these important issues.
Mr. President, in a statement that your campaign released to the Greek American
community in October 2008, you stated:
“As president, [I] will show U.S. leadership in seeking to negotiate
a political settlement on Cyprus. [I] believe strongly that Cyprus remain a single,
sovereign country…within a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation…A negotiated
political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus
and repair the island’s tragic division while paving the way to prosperity
and peace throughout the entire region.”
Since 1974, Vice President Biden has been a leading voice in the Congress in
his support for ending the Turkish military occupation of Cyprus and for seeking
a just and viable solution to this problem.
On July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus with the illegal use
of U.S.-supplied arms and equipment in violation of the U.S. Foreign Assistance
Act of 1961, as amended, the United Nations Charter article 2 (4), the preamble
and article 1 of the NATO Treaty and customary international law. Turkey occupied
about four percent of Cyprus during the initial phase of its invasion. Turkish
pilots flying American planes dropped American-made bombs (including napalm bombs),
terrorizing and killing innocent Greek Cypriot civilians in Nicosia, Famagusta,
Kyrenia, and elsewhere.
On August 14, 1974, three weeks after the legitimate government of Cyprus
was restored, consistent with the applicable treaties, Turkey launched the second
phase of its invasion of Cyprus. During this second phase, Turkey grabbed another
33 percent of the island, expanding its land grab to over 37 percent of Cyprus’s
The Turkish army has continued to occupy this territory ever since. It is
an affront to the international legal order and a continuing threat to regional
The invasion and Turkey’s continuing occupation have drawn universal
international condemnation, as reflected in U.N. resolutions, statements by members
of Congress, The Council of Europe and from many nations, and various court decisions
in Europe, with a notable exception -- the Executive Branch of our government.
Turkey contributes more than $350 million annually in direct economic support
to the regime in the occupied parts of Cyprus, and it is estimated that the total
cost to Turkey of its illegal occupation amounts to $1 billion annually. To secure
its land grab of Cypriot territory, Turkey has illegally settled northern occupied
Cyprus with more than 180,000 Turks from Anatolia in violation of the Geneva
Convention of 1949, section III, article 4, which prohibits colonization by an
occupying power. These colonists are beholden to their Turkish sponsors whose
heavy annual outlays subsidize them. As money is fungible, U.S. economic aid
has subsidized Turkey's occupation of Cyprus for decades.
There is no legal distinction between Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus and Iraq's
invasion of Kuwait. The Cyprus problem is one of invasion and occupation by Turkey. The
European Court of Human Rights in Cyprus v. Turkey found that Turkey committed
massive violations of human rights. Viewed objectively, Turkey in 1974 committed
war crimes in Cyprus in view of the evidence presented to the European Commission
of Human Rights and the findings of the Commission in its report of July 10,
1976. The London Sunday Times on January 23, 1977, published excerpts
of the report (page 1, col.1) which stated: “It amounts to a massive indictment
of the Ankara government of the murder, rape and looting by its army in Cyprus
during the Turkish invasion of summer 1974.”
Cyprus is an important nation for U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean
and Middle East. The so-called “Sovereign British Bases” on Cyprus
and the British listening posts on Cyprus are on Cypriot territory and have been
of significant importance to the United States. Cyprus is a member of the European
Union (EU) and a Western-oriented country. It is important to U.S. interests
that it remain so.
The government of Cyprus and the Greek Cypriots, under the leadership of the
late former, President Tassos Papadopoulos, played an exceptional role in evacuating
14,000 Americans from Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006.
President Papadopoulos’ initiative with Secretary-General Kofi Annan
on February 28, 2006, and the subsequent agreement of July 8, 2006, between President
Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat initiated by U.N.
Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, included a “commitment
to the unification of Cyprus based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and
political equality, as set out in the relevant Security Council resolutions,” and
an “agreement to begin a process immediately, involving bi-communal discussion
of issues that affect day to day life of the people and concurrently those that
concern substantive issues both of which will contribute to a comprehensive settlement.”
Since September 3, 2008, when the new round of negotiations began, there have
been 19 meetings held between President Demetrios Christofias and the Turkish
Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. We welcome these developments. However, unless
Mr. Talat is allowed to negotiate solely on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots, without
the external pressures that are being placed on him by Turkey, there will be
little chance for progress to be made.
We support a settlement of the Cyprus problem through negotiations based on
a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in a state with a single sovereignty and international
personality, incorporating the norms of a constitutional democracy embracing
key American principles, the EU acquis communautaire, U.N. resolutions on Cyprus,
the pertinent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and of other European
Courts--as in the best interests of the United States.
Mr. President, we call upon you to ask Turkey to:
- demilitarize Cyprus;
- withdraw its 40,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus;
- return to Turkey the 180,000 illegal settlers/colonists from Turkey in violation
of the Geneva Convention of 1949;
- tear down the green line barbed-wire fence across the face of Cyprus which,
together with Turkey’s 40,000 occupation forces, is the cause of the alleged
isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied northern part of Cyprus; and
- warn Turkish leaders not to manipulate the current talks or restrict Mr.
Talat at the bargaining table.
The removal of Turkey’s troops, colonists and barbed-wire fence would
end the Turkish Cypriot’s economic isolation caused by Turkey and go a
long way to solving the Cyprus problem because the Greek and Turkish Cypriots
could then work out a fair and effective agreement.
Advocating these policy decisions would underscore support for the rule of
law and respect for international law. This would illustrate that the United
States truly wishes to advance the cause of solving the 35-year-old Cyprus problem.
Continuing former failed policies that promote a double standard in applying
the rule of law to Turkey and the continuing appeasement of Turkey does not serve
Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate and its violations of the rights of non muslims communities
Mr. President, in a statement that your campaign released to the Greek American
community in October 2008, you stated:
“[You were] one of 73 Senators who signed a letter to President Bush
in 2006 urging him to press Turkey to restore the full rights of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate of the Orthodox Christian Church in Istanbul. [And that you had
sent] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter.
[You called on] Turkey to respect the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rights
and freedoms, including its property rights. Turkey should allow the reopening
of the Patriarchate’s school of theology on Halki Island and guarantee
the right to train clergy of all nationalities, not just Turkish nationals.”
We commend you for your support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, very
little progress has been forthcoming on behalf of Turkey regarding safeguarding
the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million
Orthodox Christians around the world, including about 6 million in the United
States, and its affiliate institutions in Turkey. On the contrary, in view of
Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU, one can argue that there has been
regression regarding any progress concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Turkish government has tolerated assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian
religious minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and continues the illegal
closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.
These actions violate U.S. principles on freedom of religion and U.S. law
as expressed in Section 2804 of the Omnibus Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
Act of 1998 (PL 105-277). The law states that the “United States should
use its influence with the Government of Turkey to suggest that the Government
- recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its nonpolitical religious mission;
- ensure the continued maintenance of the institution’s physical security
needs, as provided for under Turkish and international law, including the Treaty
of Lausanne, the 1968 Protocol, the Helsinki Final Act (1975) and the Charter
- provide for the proper protection and safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch
and the Patriarchate personnel; and
- reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese
in North America, led a panel discussion at the U.S. Helsinki Commission on March
16, 2005, which presented a clear picture of how religious human rights violations
by the Turkish government have been working to exterminate the Ecumenical Patriarchate
and the Orthodox Christian community in that country. The panel briefing highlighted
Turkey’s systemic efforts to undermine the Orthodox Church, violating numerous
international treaties to which it has agreed.
Archbishop Demetrios and Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander, The Order
of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “detailed
the severe restrictions on property ownership which have allowed the government
to confiscate nearly 7,000 properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate since
1936. Behind them stood placard-size photos of the most recently seized property,
an orphanage on Buyukada island which once housed hundreds of homeless children.”
Former U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, Congressman Christopher H. Smith
(R-NJ), has stated: “The concern of this Commission is the protection of
religious rights and freedoms. Turkey’s treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
violates its obligations under international human rights law.” Mr. Smith
blamed Turkey for systemically attempting to prevent the activities of the Patriarchate
by disallowing the opening of the Halki Theological School forcibly closed in
1971, destroying churches by creating hurdles preventing their repair, denying
the Patriarchate the opportunity to purchase and or sell property and not recognizing
the Patriarchate’s “Ecumenical” status, in effect, denying
its universal status.
Turkey’s restrictions on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
reveal that democratic norms have still not taken root. In view of Turkey’s
horrendous human rights record, U.S. policy toward Turkey should be driven by
forceful incentives for democratic reform.
We condemn Turkey’s toleration of assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian
minority, the limited progress so far on the protection of the human and minority
rights of the non Muslim communities in Turkey, its continuing illegal closure
of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and its illegal seizure
of property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox minority of
Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos.
Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IFRA) of 1998, the President
of the United States is obligated to oppose violations of religious freedom in
any country whose government “engages in or tolerates violations of religious
freedom and promote the right to religious freedom in that country”. The
Act further obligates the President to take one or more of 15 enumerated actions
with respect to any such country.
We call on you, Mr. President, to impress upon Turkey that our government:
- will not tolerate such violations from an ally and calls on Turkey to immediately
implement and enforce strictly the guarantees of religious freedom and human
and minority rights set forth in the Treaty of Lausanne, the UN Charter, other
international agreements, and U.S. laws;
- expects that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be safeguarded and that legal
personality will be granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
- calls for the immediate reopening of the Halki School of Theology and the
lifting of restrictions to the elections of the Patriarch;
- calls for the immediate return of the nearly 7,000 illegally confiscated
properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936;
- calls for the respect for human and minority rights in Turkey
- is prepared to implement provisions of the IRFA if necessary if these
actions are not implemented by Turkey.
The Aegean Sea
Turkey has made an outrageous claim to one-half of the Aegean Sea in total
disregard of all the relevant international treaties and agreements in force,
has engaged in provocative activities in the Aegean and does not agree to the
referral to the International Court of Justice of the issue of the delimitation
of the continental shelf. Despite the opening of accession negotiations with
the EU and Greece’s sincere efforts to achieve complete normalization in
relations with Turkey, the latter continues to threaten Greece with war (casus
belli) and promotes claims that are unfounded and devoid of any legal basis.
Provoking tension in the Aegean, Turkish military aircraft violate Greek national
airspace on an almost daily basis, even flying over Greek islands. One such violation
contributed directly to the death in 2006 of a Greek air force pilot who went
up to intercept an illegal incursion and collided with a Turkish fighter plane.
The Turkish pilot parachuted safely. These are not the actions that promote stability
and good neighborly policies.
These activities have intensified recently, undermining Greek efforts for
rapprochement. . There have been several flights over two inhabited eastern
Aegean islands, Farmakonisi and Agathonisi, as well as incidents involving harassment
of Greek helicopters within Greek airspace. .There has also been an incident
involving the sailing of a Turkish frigate in Greek territorial waters, just
off Greece’s mainland coast near Athens, in a way which is not in conformity
with international law. In addition, late last year, a Norwegian research
vessel, acting on behalf of the Turkish Petroleum State Company and accompanied
by a Turkish frigate, attempted to conduct research on the Greek continental
shelf south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, in the Dodecanese.
Since Turkey aspires to become a full member state of the EU and is currently
a non permanent member of the UN Security Council, she should especially be more
respectful of international law and the commitments she has undertaken in the
context of the EU accession process, including the full respect for the principle
of good neighborly relations.
Mr. President, the situation in the Aegean has become acute and has the potential
to trigger a flash point that would be detrimental to the stability of the region.
We call upon you to:
- publicly state that the United States does not accept the unfounded Turkish
claims in the Aegean Sea, which are in contravention of the relevant international
The relevant agreements are the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, the Italy-Turkey
Convention of January 4, 1932, the Italy-Turkey Protocol of December 28, 1932
and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, under which the Dodecanese Islands and adjacent
islets were ceded by Italy to Greece.
The United States is a signatory to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and that treaty
is U.S. law. The State Department has refused to declare publicly what the law
is and should do so now. The United States should also vigorously repudiate any
challenge to the treaty-defined boundary and urge Turkey to:
- adhere to international law and legal procedures with respect to any dispute
it has with Greece in the Aegean Sea; and
- immediately abandon its provocative actions in its violations of Greek territorial
waters and airspace.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)
Mr. President, while in the Senate, you were one of three original
lead co-sponsors of Senate Resolution 300, which urged that the FYROM work with
Greece within the framework of the United Nations process to reach a mutually
acceptable official name for that country and achieve longstanding U.S. and U.N.
In a statement that your campaign released to the Greek American community
in October 2008, you stated:
“…[I] support the UN-led negotiations and believe that there
can and should be an agreement between Skopje and Athens on a mutually-acceptable
name that leads to greater stability in the Balkans.”
Greece is by far the strategic key for the United States in the Balkans and
the most economic and politically stable country in the Balkans. By contrast,
the FYROM is of little or no strategic significance to the national security
interests of the United States.
However, the continuing intransigent and provocative actions by the government
of the FYROM against its neighbor, Greece, poses a potential threat to stability
in the Balkans, to the detriment of U.S. interests.
At the same time, it seems that it has been the U.S.’s policy to take
Greece for granted over the years. The sensitivities and concerns of our most
important ally in the Balkans, and one of our most loyal and long-time allies
have not always been considered. Successive administrations have looked upon
Greece as a Western nation and an ally that will not rock the boat and will follow
what the United States and the major NATO nations desire. This policy has been
unfortunate and has created unnecessary problems -- such as the FYROM name issue.
Greece has made a major compromise by proposing “a compound name for
the country; a name that will distinguish it from both the Greek and Bulgarian
part.” Greece’s position is unambiguous. It has gone the extra
mile. It wants a negotiated, mutually acceptable solution that will be valid
internationally, in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Foreign
Minister Bakoyannis publicly expressed Greece’s readiness to accept a composite
name. This is a serious shift of tremendous importance from Greece’s initial
position. Unfortunately, this gesture was not reciprocated by the FYROM. The
time is ripe for FYROM to demonstrate the maturity and the responsibility that
a state needs in order to become a member of the Alliance.
The United States can easily turn the situation around by informing FYROM
that it supports the Greek government’s major compromise of accepting “a
compound name for their country, a name that will distinguish it from both the
Greek and Bulgarian” part.
The immediate settlement of the name issue, in a way that is acceptable to
Greece, will allow the United States’ strongest ally in the Balkans to
be the driving force for FYROM’s membership to NATO and ultimately to the
European Union. FYROM’s “passport” to NATO and the European
Union is Greece.
It is, however, FYROM, that is the intransigent party in this regard, and
not Greece. FYROM must realize that in order to join NATO, it must focus on the
fulfillment of NATO’s good neighborly relations principle and the immediate
settlement of the difference over the name. Greece is the biggest investor in
FYROM and literally helps to sustain FYROM’s precarious economy and reduce
its large unemployment. Greece is also a leader in investment and economic development
in Southeastern Europe, with over $22 billion invested.
Yet, FYROM continues to provoke Greece and refuses to negotiate in good faith
over the name issue. Unfortunately, actions over the years -- such as distortion
of geographic maps, naming its airport “Alexander the Great,” revisionist
textbooks in schools and inflammatory comments by top government officials --
encourage new generations in FYROM to cultivate hostile sentiments against Greece.
Further, this continuing systematic government policy will hinder FYROM’s
accession to both the EU and NATO. This is the real threat to stability in the
Further, since Prime Minister of the FYROM, Mr. Nikola Gruevski, came to power
in August 2006 he has followed a long-term policy of extreme nationalism and
provocation against Greece, in a manner which is totally inconsistent with European
values. This conscious political decision is being implemented through numerous
actions and statements, which breach essential provisions of the Interim Accord
and undermine the efforts to build a climate of trust, cooperation and good neighbourly
Most recently, Prime Minister Gruevski has:
- named part of the Pan-European Corridor that runs through FYROM’s territory,
after Alexander the Great. It should be noted that this project is partly financed
by Greece which has pledged the amount of $75 million in the framework of the
Hellenic Plan for the Reconstruction of the Balkans
- renamed the main stadium of Skopje after "Philip II, the Macedon;" and
- re-introduced the "Sun of Vergina" as a symbol of his country in
government financed TV spots broadcasted internationally. It should be noted
that FYROM has committed itself to cease to use in any way the “Sun of
Vergina” in all its forms.
Unfortunately, the irresponsible decision by the Bush administration in the
fall of 2004 to recognize FYROM as the “Republic of Macedonia” has
contributed greatly to FYROM’s increasingly intransigent stance and has
served to undermine the negotiations.
In our view, and in the view of many others, U.S. actions since 1992 regarding
the FYROM name dispute have constituted an American foreign policy blunder that
has damaged U.S. interests in the Western Balkans and harmed Greece, our key
ally in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, for no sound reason.
Therefore, we ask that your Administration:
- Persuade FYROM to negotiate in good faith with Greece to resolve the name
issue and to cease immediately their irredentist propaganda against Greece, propaganda
which violates the UN-brokered Interim Accord, as stated in Article 7 paragraph
1 of the Accord, signed in New York on September 13 1995 between FYROM and Greece.
A name that satisfies both countries and the immediate halting
of all provocative actions against Greece will satisfy the interests of all the
Mr. President, you have stated that the cornerstone of your Administration
will be the rule of law and transparency as you forge ahead to deal with the
serious issues facing our nation at home and abroad.
The issues discussed above and the recommendations presented for their successful
resolution are all embodied within the fundamental principles of democracy and
are founded on the rule of law.
We appreciate the opportunity to bring these issues to your attention and
thank you for your consideration of them.
The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization
that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus,
and also within the American Hellenic community.
1220 16th Street,
NW | Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone 202-785-8430 | Fax 202-785-5178 | www.ahiworld.org