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Don’t be Indifferent

By on July 30, 2023
Endy Zemenides

by Endy Zemenides

Having marked yet another “dark anniversary” of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, we begin the march towards a grim milestone – a half century of illegal Turkish occupation of Cyprus.

Over the last decade, there have been positive developments to celebrate with regards to Cyprus.  We hear a consistent celebration of the “best bilateral relationship ever” between Greece and the United States, but somehow people miss the fact that the U.S.-Republic of Cyprus relationship is on a similar trajectory.  Security cooperation between the two countries was once non-existent, but today the U.S. Armed Forces and the Cypriot National Guard have institutionalized relations through the International Military Education & Training (IMET) program and State Partnership Program (SPP).  The U.S. helped establish the Cyprus Center for Land Open Seas and Port Security (CYCLOPS).  And a long sought after objective – the lifting of the arms embargo – has been largely achieved and sets the ground for a far deeper security partnership.

Add to this growing economic ties (Exxon and Chevron are major investors in Cyprus’ energy sector), the potential in people to people ties once Cyprus is included in the Visa Waiver Program,  the presence of a star U.S. Ambassador (Julie Fischer) in Nicosia, and a Cypriot President with significant ties to the United States and more than a decade of experience in dealing with the US Administration and the Congress, U.S.-Cyprus relations are certainly trending in the right direction.

That’s the good news.  But there is bad news as well.  Over this same decade – and despite coming as close as ever to a solution at Crans Montana in 2017 – the quest to reunify Cyprus has suffered serious setbacks.  Rigging Turkish Cypriot elections to install an Erdogan puppet (Ersin Tatar) as Turkish Cypriot leader, kicked off this downward spiral, followed by Tatar’s disavowal of UN Security Council Resolutions as a basis for a solution and the opening of Varosha (also in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions).

People are understandably tired and frustrated and often wonder if there is any point.  There is indeed a point.  The bilateral advances listed above became a reality solely because of a paradigm shift in the approach by both the Republic of Cyprus and the Greek American diaspora.  Passion and persistence – ever present in the cause of Cyprus – were now combined with out of the box thinking (e.g., joint advocacy with other ethnic American advocacy organizations; engaging think tankers more consistently and more substantively; pursuing legislation – like the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act – that no one had ever imagined possible).

That same approach must be brought to bear to the Cyprus issue.  And to get there we must overcome indifference disguised as actions.  We cannot be satisfied with American officials (and certain Greek Americans themselves) appearing at a conference dedicated to Cyprus and not mentioning the Cyprus issue.  We cannot simply treat this ongoing crime against humanity as a matter of “history” and memorialize the fallen heroes of 1974 when there are still over 1,000 missing Greek Cypriots (including 4 still missing American citizens) who haven’t even had a funeral.  We cannot just shrug when Archdiocesan encyclicals are inexplicably issued AFTER memorials have taken place, or when Greek and Greek-Cypriot Americans opt to fly Turkish Airlines into the illegal airport in occupied Cyprus – prioritizing as little as $300 dollars over any loyalty to Cyprus or Greece.

Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel proclaimed: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

If we want to even have a chance of preventing 49 years of occupation from reaching 50, we must conquer any creeping indifference that may be popping up in our community.  And the time for vanquishing indifference could not be better.  If Turkey wants reenergized relations with the EU, we can all back Cyprus’ exercise of its veto power as long as Ankara remains intransigent on Cyprus.  With elections coming up in 2024, we must withhold our dollars and our votes until candidates are clear where they stand on Cyprus.  And we must tell our story to everyone we know in the United States.  The American public and political leadership are in the case of Ukraine committed to the very principles we want to see take hold in Cyprus.

The stakes are higher than ever.  If Turkey can get away with its crimes in Cyprus – where it denies not only the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus but its very existence – its positions in the Aegean will only harden.  If Turkey can extinguish Christianity in the very place where the first Christian mission of Paul and Barnabas took place, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s chances of survival in Turkey will decrease dramatically.

After 50 years, we must commit to resolving the Cyprus problem not for the sake of the fallen of 1974, but for the Cypriots, Greeks, Turks and the world of 2074.

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com