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American Hellenic Institute Statement on
President Obama’s Speech
to the Turkish Parliament on April 6, 2009
April 9, 2009
Prior to President Obama’s visit to Turkey, the American Hellenic Institute
(AHI) wrote to the President on March 26, 2009 in order to bring to his attention
the core issues of concern to the Greek American community as he prepared to
embark on his trip. The background and arguments presented were based in
support of the rule of law, U.S. laws, international law and in the best interests
of the United States.
Ever since President Obama was elected in November and up until the time
of his inauguration, there were several reports issued from think-tanks in Washington,
D.C. They advocate that one of the top priorities for President Obama is
to engage Turkey in order to repair the “strategic relationship between
the United States and Turkey…” One of the reports goes on
to say “…this vital alliance has suffered through serious strains
in recent years, mostly due to ill will generated by the 2003 Iraq War. Today,
this neglected alliance is in critical need of repair.” Further,
the report called on the new President to make “…Turkey one of the
first stops on [the President’s] first European trip…such a visit
to Turkey [should be made] within the context of a European as opposed to a Middle
Eastern trip to demonstrate that the United States considers Turkish membership
in the EU and stronger ties to the West to be an important strategic objective.”
The report, which is titled “The Neglected Alliance – Restoring
U.S.-Turkish Relations to Meet 21st Century Challenges” (December 2008)
was produced by the Center for American Progress whose President and CEO is John
D. Podesta. This is the same John Podesta who was the Head of President
Obama’s transition team and the former chief of staff to President Bill
The other reports had a similar message.
The impact of the foreign policy centered Washington think-tank establishment
should never be underestimated as to their ability to influence and set forth
the foreign policy agenda of any administration.
However, many times, these reports have their own hidden agenda and do not
always serve to guide our policy makers in what’s in the best interest
of the United States.
We understand that the United States, as a major world power, has
a diverse agenda and we don’t view his trip to Turkey within the context
of a “zero sum game,” just because he didn’t also visit Greece. However,
we look forward to monitoring future developments as to when the President might
see it appropriate to visit Greece and if there are any invitations lurking in
the horizon for Prime Minister Karamanlis and President Christofias to visit
the United States.
The President’s agenda in Turkey was to go there in order to seek support
for Afghanistan and Iran, and for an exit corridor for our U.S. troops out of
Iraq. Within this context he also looked to try and heal the strain in
U.S. relations with Turkey.
However, this trip also provided the president with a great opportunity to
send a strong message to Turkey as it relates to stability and U.S. interests
in the region within the context of outstanding issues relating to Greece and
How did he do?
We commend him for raising two very important issues, that of Cyprus and
the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Regarding the Patriarchate he said:
“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant
civil society that only strengthen the state, which is why steps like reopening
the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An
enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security
that comes from justice for all people.”
We would have appreciated a more definitive comment along the lines of his
pre-campaign statement and not one that implies it will be a good “step” to
re-open Halki. In his October 2008 statement, he said:
“[He was] 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 he had sent]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter. [He 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.”
As pointed out by this statement, there are a number of serious issues facing
the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not just Halki. He should have also called
on Turkey to address them as well. Turkey should immediately:
- 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;
- reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Patriarchal School of Theology;” and
- return 7,000 plus church properties illegally taken.
We hope that the President addressed these issues during his private meetings
with the Turkish leaders.
Further, it would have sent a stronger message to Turkey if he had visited
with the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Patriarchate itself rather than in his hotel. We
are certain that if he was in Rome, the President would not have had the Pope
visit him in his hotel. We must remember that the Ecumenical Patriarch
is the spiritual leader of close to 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout
the world, including approximately 5 million in the United States!
Regarding Cyprus he said:
“Advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern
Mediterranean. And here there’s a cause for hope. The two Cypriot
leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the
United Nations Good Offices Mission. The United States is willing to offer
all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement
that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.”
Here again, we commend the President for raising these issues within the context
of a “bizonal and bicommunal federation.”
However, he equates President Demetrios Christofias, who is internationally
recognized as the President of the Republic of Cyprus, except by Turkey, with
that of the leader of the 18% Turkish Cypriot minorit, Mehmet Ali Talat, when
he refers to both as being the “two Cypriot leaders.”
And it is important to note that the president did not make any mention of
the continuing ongoing Turkish occupation on Cyprus the way he did in his October
2008 campaign statement. At that time he said in part:
“…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.”
It would have been extremely useful to the negotiations process had he reiterated
this in his speech.
Further, if the United States is truly “willing to offer all the help
sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that
reunifies Cyprus” it can begin by calling on Turkey to:
- demilitarize Cyprus now;
- withdraw its 43,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus (Turkey’s
troops can be more useful if deployed in Afghanistan);
- 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 real cause of the
alleged isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied northern part of Cyprus;
- warn Turkish leaders not to manipulate the current talks or restrict Mr.
Talat at the bargaining table.
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 continues to create serious problems in the Aegean by almost on a daily
basis violating Greece’s territorial integrity. This is a very important
issue as it also relates to the stability of the region and by extension U.S.
interests there. Yet President Obama did not refer to this issue or make
any reference to the importance of continuing to advance the cause of strengthening
Turkish relations with Greece-two NATO allies.
understand that the President’s main focus in Turkey was to receive support
for our military operations in Afghanistan and other outstanding issues referred
to earlier, there are no indications that would prove that the Turks promised
And what’s worse, the President, in an effort to appease Turkey, referred
to Turkey as being a “…resolute ally and a responsible partner in
transatlantic and European institutions.” How? By occupying
a European Union country? By continuing to threaten Greece, a NATO ally,
with war (casus belli) and promote claims that are unfounded and devoid of any
legal basis? By not allowing our soldiers to advance into northern Iraq during
the Iraqi War unless we gave them 32 billion dollars? We could continue.
Be that is it may, it is still appreciated that the President at least
raised a number of our core issues in a public setting and that he did meet with
the Ecumenical Patriarch. For this, we once again commend and thank him.
However, we now look forward to the President following through and to monitor
Turkey to see if she will heed his suggestions.
To do this, would give further sustenance to the President’s commitment
to advancing his Administration’s agenda within the rule of law and transparency,
not only at home but abroad.
The AHI makes these comments and recommendations for the successful resolution
of the above mentioned issues as embodied within the fundamental principles of
democracy and founded on the rule of law as in the best interests of the United
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