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 period.
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 and Cyprus.
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 sovereign territory.
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 stability.
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 U.S. interests.
Turkey's Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its violations of the rights of non muslims communities in turkey
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 of Turkey:
- 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 of Paris;
- 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; and
- 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 treaties.
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. policy goals.
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 Balkans.
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 relations.
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 parties.
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.