TUESDAY, JULY 22, 2008

  • Mr. PALLONE. Madam Speaker, tonight I join my colleagues on the House floor to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Turkey's illegal occupation of Cyprus.
  • On July 20th 1974, Turkey began its brutal invasion of Cyprus, which forced nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots to flee their homes—making one-third of the Cypriot population refugees in their own country.
  • Today, Turkey occupies the northern third of the island. It is one of the most militarized areas in the world, with more than 43,000 Turkish soldiers trying to maintain the status quo of the illegal occupation. Forty-three thousand soldiers may not sound like a lot, but consider that there is almost one Turkish soldier for every two Turkish Cypriots.
  • When Cypriots were forced to flee their homes 34 years ago, a large number of their properties were unlawfully distributed to tens of thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey. Today, 34 years later, Greek Cypriots, who continue to own these properties, are prevented by Turkey from returning and enjoying their homes and properties. Included amongst this number are approximately 5,000 Cypriot-Americans who own property in the occupied area but who have no legal recourse.
  • This is an outrage. Since Cypriot-Americans cannot return to their illegally-seized property, I believe they should be allowed to seek financial remedies with either the current inhabitants of their land or the Turkish government itself.
  • Last year, I introduced the bipartisan American Owned Property in Occupied Cyprus Claims Act. Through this legislation, Americans who are being denied access to their property and even their ancestral homes will finally be able to seek restitution.
  • Specifically, it authorizes the president to initiate a claims program under which the claims of U.S. nationals who Turkey has excluded from their property can be judged before the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. If this commission determined that Cypriot-Americans should be compensated for their property, negotiations would then take place between the U.S. and Turkey to determine the proper compensation.
  • My legislation would also empower U.S. district court to hear causes of action against either the individuals who now occupy those properties or the Turkish government.
  • The U.S. Government must not idly stand by and refuse 5,000 of its citizens any legal recourse to address the grave injustices committed by the Turkish government. For 34 years, these Americans have been separated from their homes and their businesses. It is time Congress vindicate the property rights of U.S. citizens in Cyprus.
  • While we commemorate the 34th anniversary of this illegal occupation, it is also important to recognize the progress that is being made on the island and some encouraging signs that we all hope lead to a united Cyprus one day soon.
  • Working Groups and Technical Committees have been set up by Cypriot President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Talat to build the framework for possible substantive negotiations between the two leaders down the line.
  • The two leaders have also met—once in May and then again at the beginning of this month—to discuss the progress that the Groups and Committees are making. They will also meet this Friday to conduct a final review of the work that has been completed to date.
  • Another hopeful sign is the integration that continues to take place between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots as a result of the nearly 13 million crossings along the cease fire line that have occurred over the last five years. Over the last three years, Turkish Cypriot incomes have more than doubled, and more than 60,000 Turkish Cypriots have received Cypriot passports, which will allow them to travel freely in any E-U country.
  • Madam Speaker, as we commemorate the 34th Anniversary of Turkey's illegal invasion and occupation of Cyprus, we are hopeful that these recent developments will finally produce something all Cypriots have waited 34 years to see—a united Cyprus.