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Greek Americans in DC Vow to Continue the Struggle for Hellenic Issues; Christopher: “Dictator” Erdogan would not allow a viable solution in Cyprus!”
by Athena Efter
The 32nd annual Conference of the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) and the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes (CEH) – was held this past June in Washington, DC with the participation of about 100 delegates from the US, Britain, Cyprus and other parts of the world. During the three day meetings participants had the opportunity to talk to and hear from several members of the House and the Senate as well as representatives of the Vice President’s office and the Administration. They also met with key people of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s campaigns. Although sentiments of bitterness and disappointment were openly expressed throughout the meetings, delegates vowed to continue the effort, no matter how much time and money it takes.
NEO had the opportunity to interview Phillip Christopher, President of PSEKA in late August, less than three months before the presidential election. He too thinks that now, more than ever, in light of recent events in Turkey, and the US’s continued leniency toward Turkey, Greeks must continue to raise awareness, to help elicit a favorable outcome, and to effectively change and influence US policy with regards to Cyprus and the rest of the Hellenic issues.
You’ve spent a lot of time lobbying for Cyprus and issues affecting Hellenism. What are your thoughts on this year’s PSEKA and CEH conference?
I have been part of a few dedicated people who have spent over 40 years lobbying for Justice for Cyprus and other Hellenic issues like the Ecumenical Partiarchate, the opening of the School of Halki, the Macedonian issue, Human Rights in Albania and assistance to Greece in view of the financial crisis.
We have all learned over the years that due to military, economic and geopolitical interests, the fixed policy of our country, the United States would always tilt in favor of Turkey. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve:
– Keep the Cyprus issue in the forefront.
– Ascension of Cyprus in the European Union.
– Elimination of Turkish foreign aid.
– Continuous pressure on Turkey.
The annual PSEKA conference has been very effective because it continues to educate Congressmen and Senators, many of which were not around in 1974 and don’t understand that the problem is “Invasion and Occupation” and not a bi-communal issue.
Were you able to get in touch with the two current presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? What are their plans for Cyprus and the rest of the national and economic issues affecting Greece?
We are in touch with both Presidential candidates and our lobbyist in Washington, DC, Andy Manatos and the Executive Director of HALC, Endy Zemenides attended the Democratic and Republican Conventions and are engaged on a daily basis with both campaigns. During the June PSEKA conference, representatives of both candidates attended and responded to various questions. We will continue to monitor the campaigns and as we get closer to Election Day, we will have recommendations.
Do you believe that a solution to the Cyprus Issue is possible before Obama leaves office?
I think the Obama Administration identified the Hydrocarbon gas/energy as an economic factor that could benefit Turkey and is betting that this is an incentive for Turkey to compromise and allow Turkish Cypriots to make their own decisions. I don’t think that there is enough time to come to a solution. Besides Turkey’s foreign policy has always been “say the right thing but implement or execute nothing,” I don’t believe that “Dictator” Erdogan would allow a viable solution!
As far as Turkey is concerned, the solution was the invasion of 1974! They have imported 300,000 settlers and they have changed the demographics and Turkish Cypriots will soon become extinct! More than 500 Historical churches have been destroyed, more than 100 new mosques have been built and the occupied area is being ruled by the iron hand of the military general in charge of 43,000 occupation troops.
What are your thoughts on the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel? Is this good or bad for Cyprus?
Rapprochement between Israel and Turkey benefits Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus has strong agreements with Israel and we are very grateful to the Jewish community in the United States for their steadfast support. Israel wants to provide “energy” to Turkey but the pipeline must pass through the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus. Once again, if Turkey wants to become the energy hub for Europe, it must settle the Cyprus problem. If Turkey really wants to be part of Europe, it must end the occupation and recognize the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the EU.
Are you disappointed that Vice-President Biden, once deemed a good friend and ally of the Greeks? Especially after his recent visit to Turkey where he seemed bow down in appeasement to President Erdogan?
Vice President Biden knows and clearly understands the Cyprus problem as well as other Hellenic issues. We are grateful for his continuous support and yes, we are disappointed that his term of office will come to an end without realizing a solution of the Cyprus problem. We must admit that Turkey has used the Syrian refugee crisis and the ISIS terrorist acts to blackmail Europe and the United States. I feel for the Kurds who were the loyal supporters of the United States and sacrificed many lives to contain ISIS. Their aspiration for a Kurdish state has been torpedoed by Turkey who just invaded Syria on the pretext of fighting ISIS.
Do you believe former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton will keep a promise to help Cypriots and Greeks if elected?
I don’t think the Secretary of State ever committed to help. I think she is sympathetic to our cause but whether she is ready to deal with Turkey in an effective way remains to be seen. As Secretary of State she always said the right things but failed to deliver any substantial progress. Even the opening of the School of Halki could not be achieved.
Do you have any advice to offer the Greek-American community on whom to support during the upcoming election and how to go about doing it?
It is difficult to choose one candidate over the other. We will be engaging with both campaigns and hope to be able to get iron clad promises on a foreign policy that could be based on our Democratic principles and values. A great injustice took place in 1974 and American values and ideals have been compromised for the sake of expediency. HALC will be monitoring both campaigns and will be advising before the election the positions of each campaign.
Are you planning any fundraisers, and has the community been supportive?
Our fundraisers for Congressmen and Senators are continuing on a weekly basis. We rely on the help of Greek-Americans to elect individuals who are committed to Hellenic causes. We are committed to increasing the number of Congressmen in the Hellenic caucus. We are working closely with the American Jewish Committee and the Armenian National Committee.
Have you seen a change in activism and engagement about the Cyprus issue in younger generations, as those who’ve come of age in this millennium? What would be your advice to students in college and recent graduates who want to make a difference?
We saw a much bigger participation of young people in the PSEKA conference last June. HALC is totally committed to building a new generation of Hellenic leaders who are educated and dedicated to the Hellenic causes. The Greek American community owes a great deal of gratitude to businessman, Nikos Mouyiaris who has invested heavily to build HALC into an effective organization for the new generation of Greek Americans. Endy Zemenides and his dedicated group are doing an outstanding job and they are getting more young people involved. I know we are all disappointed and frustrated with the lack of progress and our failure as American citizens to redirect our foreign policy to live up to its ideals and values. During his recent trip to Argentina, President Obama said the following: “Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for.” Certainly the Republic of Cyprus was a victim much like Chile, Argentina, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. to the disastrous foreign policy of the then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. The time has come to stand up for the ideals we believe in. We are hopeful that this last six months of the Obama/Biden Administration will put pressure on Turkey to comply with UN resolutions and withdraw its occupation troops and illegal settlers from the Republic of Cyprus.
Demetrios Rhompotis contributed to this report and interview.