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AHI Sends Letter to President Bush Regarding January 8 Meeting with Turkish President Gul
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
January 4, 2008—No. 2 (202) 785-8430

AHI Sends Letter to President Bush Regarding January 8 Meeting with Turkish President Gul

Washington, DC—The American Hellenic Institute sent the following letter today to President George W. Bush regarding his January 8 meeting with the President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul.

January 4, 2008

President George W. Bush 
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 are writing to you in advance of your forthcoming meeting on January 8, 2008 with the President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, in order to bring to your attention a number of issues.

While you prepare for your meeting, we would appreciate your taking the time to consider a number of issues to discuss with President Gul that relate to matters affecting U.S. interests in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The projection of U.S. interests in the region depends heavily on the stability of the region. Therefore, the U.S. 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 by being home to the most important naval base in the 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 Cyprus as a member of the European Union, its continuing violations of Greece’s territorial airspace integrity, and continuing religious and human rights violations in Turkey, threatens and prevents this stability, and damages U.S. interests.

Listed below are three items for your consideration.

Aegean Sea Boundary

Turkey has made an outrageous claim to one-half of the Aegean Sea and refuses to take its maritime boundary claim to the International Court of Justice at the Hague for a binding ruling. The U.S. should publicly state that it accepts as final the treaty-defined demarcation of the maritime border between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea. The relevant agreements are the Lausanne Treaty 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 U.S. is a signatory to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and is obligated by U.S. law to carry out its provisions. The State Department has refused to declare publicly what the law is and should do so now. The U.S. should also vigorously repudiate any challenge to the treaty-defined boundary and should urge Turkey to submit its claim to the International Court of Justice in the Hague for binding arbitration.

Only a few days ago, another incident took place close to the Imia islets between Greek and Turkish fishing boats which created tensions between Greece and Turkey.

Also, although not completely related to the Sea Boundary, Turkey continues to violate almost on a daily basis Greece’s territorial airspace. These incidents have increased dramatically in recent years and in one case, contributed directly to the death of a Greek air force pilot in 2006 when he went up to intercept the 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.

Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

While we commend your administration for your support of the universality of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, very little progress had been forthcoming on behalf of Turkey regarding safeguarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its affiliate institutions in Turkey. On the contrary, in view of Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, 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:

  1. recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its nonpolitical religious mission;
  2. 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;
  3. provide for the proper protection and safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarchate personnel; and
  4. 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.”

Under the International Religious Freedom Act 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.

U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) 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, its continuing illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and its illegal seizure of Greek Orthodox Church property. We call on you, Mr. President, to impress on President Gul that the U.S. government will not tolerate such violations from an ally and call on him to have Turkey immediately implement and enforce strictly the guarantees of religious freedom set forth in the Treaty of Lausanne, the UN Charter, and other international agreements.

Cyprus

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 UN 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, 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 nearly 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 UN resolutions, statements by members of Congress and from many nations, and various court decisions in Europe, with a notable exception—our government.

Turkey contributes over $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 one billion dollars annually. To secure its land grab of Cypriot territory, Turkey has illegally settled northern occupied Cyprus with over one hundred forty thousand Turks from Anatolia in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, section III, art. 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 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. 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 U.S. 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 President Tassos Papadopoulos, played an exceptional role in evacuating 14,000 Americans from Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

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 Alt Talat initiated by UN 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.”

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, UN 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 endorse and call upon you to impress on President Gul to have Turkey:

  • demilitarize Cyprus;
  • withdrawal its 40,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus;
  • return to Turkey the 140,000 illegal settlers/colonists from Turkey in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949; and
  • tear down the green line barbed wire fence across the face of Cyprus which, together with Turkey’s 40,000 occupation forces, isolates the Turkish Cypriots in occupied northern Cyprus.

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.

Mr. President, in March of 2005, you called for the immediate removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Last year the U.S. actively supported UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which called for the removal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon, in effect telling Syria to get out of Lebanon.

Getting Syrian troops out of Lebanon was in the best interests of the U.S. Getting Turkish troops out of Cyprus is also in the best interests of the U.S.

The failure to call for the removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus is a striking example of the double standard in Turkey’s favor. It is particularly distressing as the Turkish troops which invaded Cyprus caused substantial loss of lives, 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees and huge destruction of property. The reasons to call for the removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus are as compelling as getting Syrian troops out of Lebanon and Iraqi troops out of Kuwait..

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in a speech in Washington on March 5, 2005 at the American Hellenic Institute’s annual dinner, called for an end to “the continuing presence of Turkish troops on the island. They’ve got to go,” she said.

Mr. President, you should call for the removal of Turkey’s illegal troops and colonists from Cyprus and the tearing down of Turkey’s Green Line barbed wire fence as President Reagan called for the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall. The rule of law must be applied now if the U.S. truly wishes to advance the cause for solving the 33 year old Cyprus problem. Continuing a failed policy of a double standard on the application of the rule of law to Turkey and the continuing appeasement of Turkey does not serve U.S. interests.

The arguments set forth above are based in each case on the question of what is in the best interests of the United States and are drawn from the issues that concern Americans of Hellenic descent.

Finally, in the interest of regional stability and dispute resolution, the U.S. should promote Turkey’s emergence as a fully democratic state whether or not she enters the EU. This will require fundamental changes in Turkey’s governmental institutions, a significant improvement in its human rights record, the settlement of the Cyprus problem on the terms referred to above and publicly acknowledging the existing boundary in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey established by treaties. Past and current U.S. policy has not had this effect and needs to be critically reviewed.

A good time would be to begin with the visit of President Gul. 

We appreciate the opportunity to bring these issues to your attention and thank you for your consideration of them.

Sincerely,

Gene Rossides Nick Larigakis 
President Executive Director

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For additional information, please contact Georgia Economou at (202) 785-8430 or [email protected]. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.