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PSEKA and CEH to Host Annual Cyprus & Hellenic Issues Conference
by Eleni Kostopoulos
This year marks the 41st anniversary of Turkey’s brutal invasion of Cyprus, an island that continues to suffer from division and military occupation. Efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem have been long and strenuous, but Greek American and Cypriot American leaders from across the country and Hellenes from around the world have not given up on the fight; from June 3 through June 5, they will gather at the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC for the 31st Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference, hosted by the International Coordinating Committee “Justice for Cyprus” (PSEKA) and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH).
“It has been 41 years since the invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus, and, unfortunately Turkish troops are still on the island,” said Philip Christopher, president of PSEKA. Against UN resolutions, Turkey maintains 40,000 troops on the island and has imported 250,000 settlers from Anatolia. “Though we still have refugees and we have not seen much progress, the Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, it is a strong ally of the United States, and Cyprus and Israel are the only pure democratic countries in the Middle East,” he continued. “We will be pushing very hard for a policy that mandates Turkey withdraw its troops and allows refugees to return to their homes.”
[sws_blue_box box_size=”620″] We will also discuss how Turkey is essentially aiding ISIS, a terrorist organization, and how it has not served as a reliable ally to the United States. Our job is to educate and to change the direction of the State Department, which has always had a foreign policy that tilts toward Turkey. [/sws_blue_box]
Conference participants will meet with high-level administration officials who form US policy toward Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. “We will be joined by a number of dignitaries, including Cypriot government spokesperson Nikos Christodoulides and Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Fotis Fotiou,” said Christopher. “We also expect members of the parliament in Greece and members of the house of representatives in Cyprus, more than 50 US congressman and senators who serve on pertinent committees and subcommittees, and other influential people to attend.”
In past conferences, participants met with Vice President Joe Biden, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Suzan Johnson Cook, as well as dozens of other officials from the White House and State Department.
“To raise awareness, we must work to educate our freshman congressmen,” said Christopher. “We will have panel discussions on those who have been missing, on the human rights of the European Union and on how Turkey violates these human rights. We will also discuss how Turkey is essentially aiding ISIS, a terrorist organization, and how it has not served as a reliable ally to the United States. Our job is to educate and to change the direction of the State Department, which has always had a foreign policy that tilts toward Turkey.”
PSEKA and CEH have worked closely with many organizations to amplify their efforts, including the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and for the past two years, the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), whose executive director Endy Zemenides has used social media to raise awareness and obtain signatures regarding Cyprus and other national issues. These organizations have also coordinated with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which recently commemorated the centenary of the Armenian genocide, on Capitol Hill.
“We have not been able to pass a resolution that recognizes the Armenian genocide, and it is unfortunate that President Obama, time and time again, has promised to pass such a resolution,” said Christopher, who attended the April 22 demonstration. “Although it is history, it is a fact that cannot be denied, as many other countries already have acknowledged. Along with the Armenian genocide, we also have the Pontians, the Greeks and the Assyrians, who suffered the same fate between 1915 and 1923. We stand by the ANCA, which has been fighting for so many years to pass this resolution. This fight is a true testament to how powerful Turkey is; Turkey spends millions of dollars to prevent this resolution from being passed, and we as Greek Americans do the best we can on a volunteer basis with our own funds and with our own money to help Greece and Cyprus.”
Christopher urges Greek American organizations throughout the country to register for the conference. For more information on registration, contact Elizabeth Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (202) 393-7790, or reach out to Sophia Cotzia, the Executive Director of PSEKA, at PsekaUSA@aol.com or at (718) 545-7202. The deadlines for registration are as follows: before May 26, standard price; May 26-29, $25 late fee charged; May 29, registration closes and no forms will be accepted.
“We have not given up, and we will not give up,” said Christopher. “I have had people ask what are we accomplishing with our efforts, and I tell them that if we had not worked hard, Turkey probably would have by now occupied whole island, the Republic of Cyprus probably would not have been a part of the European Union and the Republic of Cyprus probably would not have been a strong ally of the United States the way it is today.”
PSEKA was founded in 1975 by the late President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios.
The association’s mission is to pursue a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, “which will see the people of Cyprus free from the tyranny of an invading force- that of the Turkish Armed Forces- which occupies over 35% of its territory.”