WASHINGTON (July 19, 2016) -- John W. Galanis, supreme president, American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading membership-based association for the nation's millions of American citizens of Greek heritage and Philhellenes, issued the following statement on the 42nd anniversary of the illegal invasion and subsequent occupation of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey that occurred July 20, 1974:
"Tomorrow, we mark a somber day--the 42nd anniversary of the illegal invasion and occupation of the Republic of Cyprus by the Republic of Turkey, a NATO-member country. This was, and remains to this very day, an intolerable act; one that is a gross violation of the rule of law, human rights, and democratic ideals. We pause to remember the innocent civilians who lost their lives and the thousands who went missing, including four American citizens whose investigations remain incomplete. The illegal invasion and occupation caused the displacement of 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who to this day are unable to return to their homes which is also a violation of human rights as determined by the European Commission on Human Rights. Moreover, Turkey's restrictions upon religious freedom and destruction of Cyprus' cultural and religious heritage in Turkish-occupied Cyprus have been well-documented by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the Law Library of Congress, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and several media publications.
"Since the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot community resumed settlement talks in May 2015 after Turkish provocations in Cyprus' exclusive economic zone caused a six-month hiatus in the talks, we have been encouraged by the effort of each side's leadership to promote reconciliation between the communities, which we hope, will pave the way for just and viable agreement. We also recall Vice President Joe Biden's words of encouragement for a settlement that he conveyed on his historic visit to Cyprus.
"However, engagement by high-level U.S. officials may be needed now more than ever with the goal of reunifying Cyprus under just and viable terms. Amid intensive talks that have yielded progress, the two sides must achieve a breakthrough and resolve difficult issues such as property, territory and security, among others, that would lead to a positive outcome in a referendum. Furthermore, uncertainty in Ankara reigns in the wake of last week's failed coup attempt in Turkey, which leaves the direction of the country in question and the Turkish military divided. Despite this unforeseen development, we once again call on the U.S. government, as we do every year at this time, to convey a strong message to Turkey that it must provide the Turkish Cypriot community with the necessary freedom to negotiate a solution within the United Nations framework. Equally important, Turkey must play a constructive role in the movement of confidence-building measures and facilitate the removal of 40,000 of its troops from the island. Thus, on this somber anniversary, we again call on Turkey to remove its troops from Cyprus. We contend these troops would serve a better purpose, especially to NATO, in another theatre or perhaps along Turkey's porous border where aspiring jihadists flock to Syria to join ISIS, as opposed to Cyprus where there have been more than 18 million incident-free crossings by Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
"Therefore, we restate our call for a reunified Cyprus with a single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship; and with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded as described in the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. We contend that such a solution is in the best interest of all Cypriots, and must emanate from Cypriots themselves without arbitrary timetables.
"We call for these actions in the best interests of the United States. A just and viable solution to the division of Cyprus will strengthen the eastern Mediterranean and bring peace and security to the region. This is especially important with the discovery and potential exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves within the exclusive economic zones of the Republic of Cyprus and Israel by energy firms, including an American one, that could provide the EU and other United States allies in the region with energy security.
"We say 42 years is too long. Our hope is that we will no longer need to observe this 'black anniversary,' but instead, celebrate the anniversary of a settlement. AHEPA remains committed to doing all within its power, and pledges to continue to work with all organizations, to keep the Cyprus issue in the public eye until a just and viable solution that benefits all Cypriots is realized. "