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March 5, 2009  

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Letter to Secretary of State Clinton


The Honorable
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC  20520

Dear Madame Secretary:

On behalf of the nationwide membership of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), we are writing to you in advance of your forthcoming visit to Ankara, Turkey and your meetings with key Turkish officials, in order to bring to your attention a number of issues.

While you prepare for your meetings, we would appreciate your taking the time to consider a number of issues to discuss with President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that relate to matters affecting U.S. interests in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The projection of U.S. interests in the region depends heavily on the stability of the region. Therefore, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, and in achieving a just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem. 

Greece is of vital importance for the projection of U.S. strategic interests in the region by virtue of among other factors, its geographic location and by being home to the most important naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, Souda Bay, Crete. 

A key to stability in the region is for Greece and Turkey to have good relations with each other, promote democratic ideals and principles, and maintain growing economies. However, Turkey’s continuing occupation of Cyprus, its intransigence in solving the Cyprus problem, its refusal to recognize Cyprus as a member of the European Union, its refusal to allow vessels or planes registered under the laws of the Republic of Cyprus to enter Turkish ports, its continuing violations of Greece’s territorial airspace integrity, and continuing religious and human rights violations in Turkey, threatens and prevents this stability, and damages U.S. interests.  

Listed below are three items for your consideration.

Aegean Sea Boundary

Turkey has made an outrageous claim to one-half of the Aegean Sea in total disregard of all the relevant international treaties and agreements in force, has engaged in provocative activities in the Aegean and does not agree to the referral to the International Court of Justice of the issue of the delimitation of the continental shelf. Despite the opening of accession negotiations with the EU and Greece’s sincere efforts to achieve complete normalization in relations with Turkey, the latter continues to threaten Greece with war (casus belli) and promotes claims that are unfounded and devoid of any legal basis.

Provoking tension in the Aegean, Turkish military aircraft violate Greek national airspace on an almost daily basis, even flying over Greek islands. One such violation contributed directly to the death in 2006 of a Greek air force pilot who went up to intercept an illegal incursion and collided with a Turkish fighter plane. The Turkish pilot parachuted safely. These are not the actions that promote stability and good neighborly policies.

These activities have intensified recently, undermining Greek efforts for rapprochement. There have been several flights over two inhabited eastern Aegean islands, Farmakonisi and Agathonisi, as well as incidents involving harassment of Greek helicopters within Greek airspace. There has also been an incident involving the sailing of a Turkish frigate in Greek territorial waters, just off Greece’s mainland coast near Athens, in a way which is not in conformity with international law. In addition, late last year, a Norwegian research vessel, acting on behalf of the Turkish Petroleum State Company and accompanied by a Turkish frigate, attempted to conduct research on the Greek continental shelf south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo, in the Dodecanese.

Since Turkey aspires to become a full member state of the EU and is currently a non permanent member of the UN Security Council, she should especially be more respectful of international law and the commitments she has undertaken in the context of the EU accession process, including the full respect for the principle of good neighborly relations. 

Madame Secretary, the situation in the Aegean has become acute and has the potential to trigger a flash point that would be detrimental to the stability of the region.

We call upon you to:

  • publicly state that the United States does not accept the unfounded Turkish claims in the Aegean Sea, which are in contravention of the relevant international treaties.

The relevant agreements are the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, the Italy-Turkey Convention of January 4, 1932, the Italy-Turkey Protocol of December 28, 1932 and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty, under which the Dodecanese Islands and adjacent islets were ceded by Italy to Greece.

The United States is a signatory to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and that treaty is U.S. law. The State Department has refused to declare publicly what the law is and should do so now. The United States should also vigorously repudiate any challenge to the treaty-defined boundary and urge Turkey to:

  • adhere to international law and legal procedures with respect to any dispute it has with Greece in the Aegean Sea; and
  • immediately abandon its provocative actions in its violations of Greek territorial waters and airspace.


President Obama, in a campaign statement released to the Greek American community in October 2008, stated:

“As president, [he] will show U.S. leadership in seeking to negotiate a political settlement on Cyprus. [he] believe[s] strongly that Cyprus remain a single, sovereign country…within a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation…A negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island’s tragic division while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region.”

Since 1974, Vice President Biden has been a leading voice in the Congress in his support for ending the Turkish military occupation of Cyprus and for seeking a just and viable solution to this problem.

On July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus with the illegal use of  U.S.-supplied arms and equipment in violation of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended, the United Nations Charter article 2 (4), the preamble and article 1 of the NATO Treaty and customary international law. Turkey occupied about four percent of Cyprus during the initial phase of its invasion. Turkish pilots flying American planes dropped American-made bombs (including napalm bombs), terrorizing and killing innocent Greek Cypriot civilians in Nicosia, Famagusta, Kyrenia, and elsewhere.

On August 14, 1974, three weeks after the legitimate government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched the second phase of its invasion of Cyprus. During this second phase, Turkey grabbed another 33 percent of the island, expanding its land grab to over 37 percent of Cyprus’s sovereign territory.

The Turkish army has continued to occupy this territory ever since.  It is an affront to the international legal order and a continuing threat to regional stability.

The invasion and Turkey’s continuing occupation have drawn universal international condemnation, as reflected in U.N. resolutions, statements by members of Congress, The Council of Europe and from many nations, and various court decisions in Europe, with a notable exception—the Executive Branch of our government.

Turkey contributes more than $350 million annually in direct economic support to the regime in the occupied parts of Cyprus, and it is estimated that the total cost to Turkey of its illegal occupation amounts to $1 billion annually. To secure its land grab of Cypriot territory, Turkey has illegally settled northern occupied Cyprus with more than 180,000 Turks from Anatolia in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, section III, article 4, which prohibits colonization by an occupying power. These colonists are beholden to their Turkish sponsors whose heavy annual outlays subsidize them. As money is fungible, U.S. economic aid has subsidized Turkey's occupation of Cyprus for decades.

There is no legal distinction between Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Cyprus problem is one of invasion and occupation by Turkey. The European Court of Human Rights in Cyprus v. Turkey found that Turkey committed massive violations of human rights. Viewed objectively, Turkey in 1974 committed war crimes in Cyprus in view of the evidence presented to the European Commission of Human Rights and the findings of the Commission in its report of July 10, 1976. The London Sunday Times on January 23, 1977, published excerpts of the report (page 1, col.1) which stated: “It amounts to a massive indictment of the Ankara government of the murder, rape and looting by its army in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion of summer 1974.”

Cyprus is an important nation for U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The so-called “Sovereign British Bases” on Cyprus and the British listening posts on Cyprus are on Cypriot territory and have been of significant importance to the United States. Cyprus is a member of the European Union (EU) and a Western-oriented country. It is important to U.S. interests that it remain so.

The government of Cyprus and the Greek Cypriots, under the leadership of the late former, President Tassos Papadopoulos, played an exceptional role in evacuating 14,000 Americans from Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006.

President Papadopoulos’ initiative with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on February 28, 2006, and the subsequent agreement of July 8, 2006, between President Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat initiated by U.N. Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, included a “commitment to the unification of Cyprus based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and political equality, as set out in the relevant Security Council resolutions,” and an “agreement to begin a process immediately, involving bi-communal discussion of issues that affect day to day life of the people and concurrently those that concern substantive issues both of which will contribute to a comprehensive settlement.”

Since September 3, 2008, when the new round of negotiations began, there have been 19 meetings held between President Demetrios Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. We welcome these developments. However, unless Mr. Talat is allowed to negotiate solely on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots, without the external pressures that are being placed on him by Turkey, there will be little chance for progress to be made.

We support a settlement of the Cyprus problem through negotiations based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in a state with a single sovereignty and international personality, incorporating the norms of a constitutional democracy embracing key American principles, the EU acquis communautaire, U.N. resolutions on Cyprus, the pertinent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and of other European Courts—as in the best interests of the United States.

Madame Secretary, we endorse and call upon you to impress on Turkey to:

  • demilitarize Cyprus;
  • withdraw its 40,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus;
  • return to Turkey the 180,000 illegal settlers/colonists from Turkey in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949;
  • tear down the green line barbed-wire fence across the face of Cyprus which, together with Turkey’s 40,000 occupation forces, is the cause of the alleged isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied northern part of Cyprus; and
  • warn Turkish leaders not to manipulate the current talks or restrict Mr. Talat at the bargaining table.

The removal of Turkey’s troops, colonists and barbed-wire fence would end the Turkish Cypriot’s economic isolation caused by Turkey and go a long way to solving the Cyprus problem because the Greek and Turkish Cypriots could then work out a fair and effective agreement.

Turkey’s Suppression of the Religious Freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its violations of the rights of non muslims communities in turkey

President Obama, in a campaign statement released to the Greek American community in October 2008, stated:

“[He was] one of 73 Senators who signed a letter to President Bush in 2006 urging him to press Turkey to restore the full rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Christian Church in Istanbul. [And that he sent] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter. [He called on] Turkey to respect the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rights and freedoms, including its property rights. Turkey should allow the reopening of the Patriarchate’s school of theology on Halki Island and guarantee the right to train clergy of all nationalities, not just Turkish nationals.”

Madame Secretary, you too signed this letter.

We commend the President and you for your support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, very little progress has been forthcoming on behalf of Turkey regarding safeguarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the spiritual leader of approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, including about 6 million in the United States, and its affiliate institutions in Turkey. On the contrary, in view of Turkey’s aspirations to join the EU, one can argue that there has been regression regarding any progress concerning the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Turkish government has tolerated assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian religious minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and continues the illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. 

These actions violate U.S. principles on freedom of religion and U.S. law as expressed in Section 2804 of the Omnibus Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1998 (PL 105-277). The law states that the “United States should use its influence with the Government of Turkey to suggest that the Government of Turkey:

  • recognize the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its nonpolitical religious mission;
  • ensure the continued maintenance of the institution’s physical security needs, as provided for under Turkish and international law, including the Treaty of Lausanne, the 1968 Protocol, the Helsinki Final Act (1975) and the Charter of Paris;
  • provide for the proper protection and safety of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Patriarchate personnel; and
  • reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Halki Patriarchal School of Theology.”

Further, there are severe restrictions on property ownership of the Ecumenical Patriarchate which have allowed the Turkish government to confiscate nearly 7,000 properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate since 1936.

Former U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), has stated: “The concern of this Commission is the protection of religious rights and freedoms. Turkey’s treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate violates its obligations under international human rights law.” Mr. Smith blamed Turkey for systemically attempting to prevent the activities of the Patriarchate by disallowing the opening of the Halki Theological School forcibly closed in 1971, destroying churches by creating hurdles preventing their repair, denying the Patriarchate the opportunity to purchase and or sell property and not recognizing the Patriarchate’s “Ecumenical” status, in effect, denying its universal status. 

Turkey’s restrictions on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate reveal that democratic norms have still not taken root. In view of Turkey’s horrendous human rights record, U.S. policy toward Turkey should be driven by forceful incentives for democratic reform. 

We condemn Turkey’s toleration of assaults against its Greek Orthodox Christian minority, the limited progress so far on the protection of the human and minority rights of the non Muslim communities in Turkey, its continuing illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and its illegal seizure of property of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox minority of Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos. 

Under the International Religious Freedom Act (IFRA) of 1998, the President of the United States is obligated to oppose violations of religious freedom in any country whose government “engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom in that country”. The Act further obligates the President to take one or more of 15 enumerated actions with respect to any such country. 

We call on you, Madame Secretary, to impress upon Turkey that our government:

  • will not tolerate such violations from an ally and calls on Turkey to immediately implement and enforce strictly the guarantees of religious freedom and human and minority rights set forth in the Treaty of Lausanne, the UN Charter, other international agreements, and U.S. laws;
  • expects that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be safeguarded and that legal personality will be granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
  • calls for the immediate reopening of the Halki School of Theology and the lifting of restrictions to the elections of the Patriarch;
  • calls for the immediate return of the nearly 7,000 illegally confiscated properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936; and
  • calls for the respect for human and minority rights in Turkey


Advocating these policy decisions would underscore support for the rule of law and respect for international law. This would illustrate that the United States truly wishes to advance the cause of solving the 35-year-old Cyprus problem. Continuing former failed policies that promote a double standard in applying the rule of law to Turkey and the continuing appeasement of Turkey does not serve U.S. interests.

The arguments set forth above are based in each case on the question of what is in the best interests of the United States and are drawn from the issues that concern Americans of Hellenic descent. 

Finally, in the interest of regional stability and dispute resolution, the U.S. should promote Turkey’s emergence as a fully democratic state whether or not she enters the EU. This will require fundamental changes in Turkey’s governmental institutions, a significant improvement in its human rights record, the settlement of the Cyprus problem on the terms referred to above and publicly acknowledging the existing boundary in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey established by treaties. Past and current U.S. policy has not had this effect and needs to be critically reviewed.

A good time would be to begin with your forthcoming visit to Turkey.

We appreciate the opportunity to bring these issues to your attention and thank you for your consideration of them.


Aleco Haralambides
Aleco Haralambides


Nick Larigakis
Nick Larigakis
Executive Director


Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Daniel Fried
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Matthew Bryza
Director of Southern European Affairs Kathy Fitzpatrick
Senior Turkish Desk Officer Denise Marsh
The Congress


The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

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