Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
July 22, 2008
Ms. SNOWE. Mr. President, I rise to mark a dark anniversary for the Hellenic-American community, and its Cypriot members in particular. Thirty-four years ago this week, the armed forces of Turkey violated the sovereignty and territory of the Republic of Cyprus by illegally invading and ultimately occupying its northern third.
The continued division and military occupation of Cyprus by Turkey remains a gross violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Cypriots and a blatant disregard for the rule of law. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly condemned Turkey for violating fundamental rights of Cypriots such as the right to life, the right to liberty and security, the right to the protection of property and the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment—rights we as Americans also regard as sacrosanct.
Throughout these decades of injustice, the Greek Cypriot community has sought a just resolution to the "Cyprus Question.'' And we are certainly at a potentially historic crossroads in the effort to end this tragic division. With the February election of President Christofias and his focus on engaging the Turkish Cypriot community, the coming months may turn out to be among the most consequential in the island's long history. Certainly, for the people of the Republic of Cyprus, the illegal occupation of the north cannot come to an end soon enough.
Meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou in early April, I was therefore heartened to hear in detail about the progress made at President Christofias' March meeting with Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, which resulted in the establishment of working groups on the outstanding substantive issues to be resolved between the two communities. Shortly thereafter, the two communities opened a critical border crossing on Ledra Street in the heart of Nicosia in early April. The two leaders have met twice more to review the progress of the working groups, and are scheduled to again meet at the end of this week.
These efforts only strengthen my long-held commitment to work to ensure that the United States stands by its close ally, the Republic of Cyprus, to achieve a resolution to the tragic division of the island that is fair to Greek Cypriots. As we learned from our experience with the justified rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots in 2004—the Cyprus Question is one that can only be resolved through mutual agreement on a solution, not an imposition of one.
The magnanimity of the Greek Cypriot community in seeking a fair solution to the division of the island despite the injustices they have suffered for nearly three and a half decades was also highlighted for me in October, when I met with the Mayor-in-exile of Famagusta, Alexis Galanos, concerning the Republic's hope for the orderly resettlement of the "ghost neighborhood'' of Varosha by its rightful inhabitants under U.N. administration, which would also open the harbor for use by both communities. Support for this plan—which the international community called for in United Nations Security Council Resolution 550 of 1984—demonstrates not only the willingness but also the wisdom of the Greek Cypriot community in seeking just and workable outcomes to seemingly intractable problems on the island. I am pleased to be working with Ambassador Andreas Kakouris of Cyprus to garner congressional support for this initiative.
Moreover, the United States should be doing its part to address one of the most devastating effects of the occupation on Cypriot-American families by providing the means for U.S. citizens with claims to property in the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus to seek redress for the homes that have been destroyed or taken from them. The invasion by the Turkish troops in 1974 forced nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots—nearly one-third of the Cypriot population at the time—from their homes, making them refugees in their own country. A large proportion of the properties from which the Greek Cypriot owners were expelled was unlawfully distributed to the tens of thousands of illegal settlers from Turkey. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 U.S. citizens of Cypriot descent have claims to such properties.
That is why my colleague Senator Menendez and I have introduced the American-Owned Property in Occupied Cyprus Claims Act, which would direct the U.S. Government's independent Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to receive, evaluate, and determine awards with respect to the claims of U.S. citizens and businesses that lost property as a result of Turkey's invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus. The bill would further grant U.S. Federal courts jurisdiction over suits by U.S. nationals against any private persons occupying or otherwise using the U.S. national's property in the Turkish-occupied portion of Cyprus. The act would expressly waive Turkey's sovereign immunity against claims brought by U.S. nationals in U.S. courts relating to property occupied by the Government of Turkey and used by Turkey in connection with a commercial activity carried out in the United States.
More than just providing redress to Cypriot-Americans who have had their ancestral homes taken from them, this legislation would uphold the larger shared values of justice and personal dignity that the citizens of both the United States and the Republic of Cyprus value so highly. It is my hope and pledge that, whatever progress is made in the current talks between the two communities on the island, the United
States will continue to stand by its close ally to ensure that fairness is not sacrificed in the interest of expediency. For it is not just the rights of the Greek Cypriot community that are at stake, but the viability of the human and civil rights that all democracies—that most enduring of Hellenic institutions—hold most dear.