Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
July 22, 2008
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Bilirakis) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. BILIRAKIS. Mr. Speaker, I rise not only as a Member of this esteemed body, but more importantly, as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and also as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues. I stand before you today to recall a somber anniversary that has pained the Cypriot and Hellenic communities for the past 34 years.
Mr. Speaker, even though the tragic events of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus took place as long ago as July 20, 1974, believe it or not, the suffering of the victims has not subsided. This anniversary is a time for America to respectfully remember the brutal Turkish military invasion of Cyprus, to mourn those who lost their lives, and to condemn the continued occupation. Five thousand Cypriots were killed in 1974, and more than 1,400 Greek Cypriots, including four Americans of Cypriot descent, still remain missing.
Since the invasion, Turkey has established a heavily armed military occupation that continues to control nearly 40 percent of the island. Forced expulsions of Greek Cypriots on the occupied land have left nearly 200,000 people displaced. These Cypriots were kicked out of their homes, making them refugees in their own country. Those properties have been unlawfully distributed and are currently being used by the tens of thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey. To this day, Greek Cypriots are prevented by Turkey from returning to their homes and properties.
Another tragic result of this 34-year occupation is the division among Greek and Turkish Cypriots, who have been forcibly separated along ethnic lines. This unnatural division of the island Nation is a crime against society and the people of Cyprus that can only be resolved by ending this occupation.
Mr. Speaker, 34 years is just too long. On the occasion of this anniversary, we need to take a long, hard look at our own commitment toward helping Cyprus reach a lasting and enduring peace, free from occupation, division, and oppression.
Last year, the U.S. House had the wisdom and foresight to unanimously pass H. Res. 405, a measure I introduced, which expressed strong support from this body for the implementation of the July 8 agreement. This year, a new President was elected in Cyprus. President Demitris Christofias has followed through on his promise to make the solution of the Cyprus problem his top priority and principal concern. The day of his election, he extended a hand of friendship to the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Talat, and called on him to meet face-to-face to begin implementing the July 8 agreement.
The Republic of Cyprus has also worked alongside its European neighbors to bring about a stronger integration of Turkish and Greek Cypriot interests for the good of the island. This has included a partial lifting on restrictions of movement across the cease-fire line that continues to forcibly divide Cyprus. As a result, since 2003, more than 13 million Greek and Turkish Cypriots have crossed without incident.
Additionally, the per capita income of Turkish Cypriots has nearly tripled in the last 3 years because of an aggressive integration policy by the Republic of Cyprus.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that because of this continued integration between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, and the economic and political successes that the Republic of Cyprus so readily wants to share with its neighbors, it is possible to bring closure to this 34-year occupation.
Cyprus has long been a strong and faithful ally of the United States. It continues to work with us in the global war on terrorism and has supported our efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Aside from providing over-flight rights and port access, the Government of Cyprus has joined only a handful of Nations who have acted on their commitment to cancel Iraq's outstanding debt.
Mr. Speaker, 34 years is long enough. It is not impossible to conceive one day having a Cyprus that is unified under a bizonal, bicommunal federation with a single sovereignty, single international personality, and single citizenship with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Cypriots.
We, Americans, as friends of the Cypriot people, owe it to them to do everything in our power to support peace and an end to this illegal occupation.