Featured Speaker Greek Cypriot Chief Negotiator Ambassador Mavroyiannis
WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) marked the 43rd anniversary of Turkey’s illegal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by hosting a congressional briefing to discuss the current state of affairs on the island at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 19, 2017. The briefing allowed prominent members of Congress to convey their viewpoints and perspectives on the Cyprus issue and prospects for a solution amidst the collapse of the Conference on Cyprus in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. The legislators also discussed opportunities for the United States to work on this matter.
AHI President Nick Larigakis moderated the briefing. He reflected on the ongoing struggle of the people of Cyprus who, he expressed, have endured an illegal occupation and massive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States, for 43 years. He thanked those who attended for their insights on the issue and their support for Cyprus.
Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, the Chief Greek Cypriot Negotiator, who was one of the central figures at the Conference on Cyprus; Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the U.S. Leonidas Pantelidis; and Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Haris Lalacos, all attended and addressed the audience.
The briefing, held in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, featured: U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chair, Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues; U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD), U.S. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Brad Sherman (D-CA), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats; Ted Deutch (D-FL), co-chair, Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance, and member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Brad Schneider (D-IL), as speakers.
Ambassador Mavroyiannis: Failed talks a “big disappointment”
In his address, Ambassador Mavroyiannis thanked AHI and the work of the U.S. Congress for their continued work and support regarding Cyprus. He expressed the importance of U.S.-Cyprus bilateral relations, highlighting that Cyprus is an important partner to the U.S. and “is working to be a reliable and serious partner on a global scale, especially regarding Cypriot membership within the European Union.”
Turning to the issue of the Cyprus problem, Ambassador Mavroyiannis was well positioned to discuss developments following the Conference on Cyprus in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. He highlighted several ongoing issues that proved detrimental to securing successful peace talks: the continued arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus, the occupied nation, and the oxymoron considering the lack of arms embargo on Turkey, the occupying nation; the continued presence of 40,000 Turkish troops on the island; Turkey’s claim to the right to intervention in Cyprus; and Turkey’s claim to “control the island.” Mavroyiannis stated the recent failed talks were a big disappointment and were “indicative of the difficulties between Cyprus and Turkey.”
Furthermore, Mavroyiannis explained the talks began with a local ownership of the negotiations, using a UN framework whose methodology was to discuss all aspects of the Cyprus problem interdependently. This led to some positive outcomes with progress made on internal problems in Cyprus such as the island’s participation in the EU and property rights for Greek Cypriot displaced persons. Mavroyiannis supports the UN framework, outlining that it is the only acceptable framework, contrary to the Turkish position. He quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who, according to Mavroyiannis, during the talks in Crans-Montana, stated “the UN framework was not valid.” Mavroyiannis stated Turkey currently is pushing for a different framework to be considered, specifically that of achieving either a de-facto state of Turkey (“the Northern Republic of Cyprus,”) or a two-state solution. The ambassador offered that such frameworks would lead to the disappearance of the Turkish Cypriot community and are completely unacceptable. Mavroyiannis urges the international community not to support any other framework aside from that of the UN. Despite the setbacks, he insisted that for Greek Cypriots, it is not the end. They are committed to keeping the peace process alive through the adoption of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cyprus. He also thanked Greece for its consistent and unwavering support over the years.
Cypriot Ambassador: Will continue Cyprus’ valuable work as partner to U.S. in region
Ambassador Pantelides, in his remarks, reflected on the problematic nature of the talks, especially as Turkish troops continue to occupy 37 percent of the island. Nevertheless, the ambassador emphasized the work of the embassy to ensure the Republic of Cyprus is viewed as an important, valuable player and partner in the region for the United States, acting as a bridge-builder and geostrategic partner and is not just perceived through the lens of the Cyprus problem.
Greek Ambassador: Greek government remains committed to reunification
Ambassador Lalacos added the Greek government remains committed to the successful reunification of the Republic of Cyprus. Moreover, the Greek government continues to support President Anastasiades and the lawful authorities of the Republic of Cyprus. In particular, the security and guarantees chapter of the negotiations is where Greece holds firm: “Greece has been clear on its position for years in that it wants Cyprus to be a fully independent country without international third-party guarantors, alongside wanting all foreign troops removed from the island.” The ambassador said Greece’s stance on the matter is gaining ground within the international community, and Greece remains determined to see a continuation of international efforts for reunification talks. Moreover, he stressed the importance of the international community in refuting any future suggestions by Turkey for alternative negotiating frameworks outside the scope of the United Nations.
Highlights of Members’ Statements
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney: Congresswoman Maloney, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, discussed the strength of the Hellenic Caucus and the scope it has to initiate change. Specifically, Congresswoman Maloney reflected on the progress the Hellenic Caucus has made, standing today with nearly 130 members and having the strength in numbers to oppose any anti-Cypriot or anti-Greek legislation that is put to vote. She remained hopeful regarding the Cyprus talks, despite the most recent setback, and the congresswoman pushed for the need for more legislative proposals to be put through to keep the issue at the forefront.
Congressman Brad Schneider: Congressman Schneider reflected on a recent commemoration event he attended in his home state of Illinois, where he had heard the stories of individuals who had become refugees within their own land 43 years ago to the day. He said this repression must end as 43 years is far too long of a time for the injustice to continue. “The young generation is still affected and carry the burden of their parent’s generation.” Congressman Schneider added that legislation must continue to be pushed for lifting of the arms embargo on the Republic of Cyprus and for a greater pushback against injustice on the island.
Congressman John Sarbanes: Congressman Sarbanes brought to the audience’s attention the peaceful protest that was concurrently occurring in Sheridan Circle, outside the Turkish Embassy. “The peaceful protest was in response to the atrocious attack brought against peaceful protestors by Erdogan’s personal security detail just weeks before, with protestors reassembling in Sheridan circle to reinstate their rights of the first amendment.” Congressman Sarbanes stated the U.S. Congress unanimously condemned the Turkish delegation’s actions, but stated not enough has been done, “…the world has become accustomed to Turkey’s authoritarianism, oppression and aggression.” Congressman Sarbanes stated, “Turkey’s inability to let go of their militaristic impulses can be seen in the most recent failed negotiations.” Moving forward, Congressman Sarbanes emphasized the need for advocacy to be passed on from one generation to the next, and for those advocates to be ready to push when a window of opportunity arises.
Congressman Ted Deutch: Congressman Deutch, co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance, discussed the successful growth of the Israeli-Hellenic Caucus, noting its rising influence. He reflected on the importance of energy collaboration within the region and on the continued support on behalf of the U.S. for finding a bi-zonal, bi-communal solution for Cyprus.
Congresswoman Dina Titus: Congresswoman Titus reflected on the recent failed negotiations and insisted that pressure must remain high. Particularly, the Congress must stay vocal, active, and engaged. She pledged to use her seat on the Committee on Foreign Affairs to make a broader and more persistent case with regard to the Cyprus problem to ensure that work continues until a solution is reached.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen reflected on the importance of continuing advocacy on the issue, but noted that Turkey’s 40,000 troops that remain on the island are a stumbling block. The congresswoman emphasized the need for Turkey to step up and to begin playing a positive role in the negotiations, adding that for as long as President Erdogan continues to pull the strings, there will be no positive progress on the issue. Moreover, she reflected on the importance of U.S.-Cyprus bilateral relations, emphasizing their historical lineage and shared allies. In contrast, the congresswoman argued Turkey is not—and never has been—an important ally to the U.S., and Turkey’s allies are not allies of the U.S. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen also emphasized the need for repealing the arms embargo on Cyprus.
Congressman Brad Sherman: Congressman Sherman, an advocate of the rule of law, brought the audience’s’ attention back to the attack on peaceful protestors by President Erdogan’s own security detail. He argued the U.S. did not respond well enough and that Erdogan is not welcome in the United States, especially when he brings his “thugs.” Congressman Sherman furthered his condemnation, highlighting his opposition of the transfer of any surplus U.S. naval ships to Turkey, arguing Turkey is not a strategic ally to the U.S. Turkey does not in any way represent a democracy, which has been evident during the past two years with the slew of human rights abuse cases. Also, he condemned Turkey’s request for military intervention rights in Cyprus, arguing that this stance is unheard of, especially within the context of the illegal invasion that Turkey initiated.
The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center and think tank that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.
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