Volume 3, Issue 4
AHI President’s Note: The American Hellenic Institute presents AHI’s Capital Report which is a timely synopsis of recent policy discussions in Washington to help keep you abreast of the latest developments. As a service to our membership and constituency, and to gain an understanding of the position of other entities on our issues, the American Hellenic Institute attends and participates at policy forums or roundtable discussions to ensure the policy positions of the Greek-American community are represented.
The content provided in AHI’s Capital Report is for informational purposes only, and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of AHI.
Turkish Americans Screen Documentary About Cyprus
AHI attended a documentary screening organized by the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) in cooperation with The Association of Turkish Cypriots Abroad (ATCA) titled “HOMELAND: The Turkish Cypriots Documentary Screening,” on Friday, July 15, 2011.
The documentary featured individuals who spoke about their experiences in Cyprus before, during, and after the Turkish invasion of July 20, 1974. One Turkish Cypriot man shared his experience as a prisoner of war for 39 days. The documentary showed many drastic images of discovered mass graves. According to the documentary, many different types of brutal methods were used to murder the victims. The documentary also portrayed Turkey and Turkish troops as saviors of the Turkish Cypriots. It included how Turkey would send survival necessities such as bread and other food to the Turkish Cypriots during turmoil. One Turkish Cypriot stated that without Turkey’s involvement, “Turkish Cypriots would not have lasted.”
Toward the end of the film, some Turkish Cypriots shared their views about the current state of the division of Cyprus. One Turkish Cypriot explained how he believed that Greeks and Turks cannot live together “some say we can, but it is impossible.”
After the documentary Gunay Evinch, ATAA president, shared his background stating how his uncle was one of the first set of soldiers that invaded Cyprus. Evinch explained he does not understand why the Greek lobby has pushed for a congressional report about the Cyprus situation to be issued once a year on Capitol Hill instead of every sixty days. He explained the Turkish position which is that both communities should want a sixty-day report. Evinch hopes to encourage young people to understand the situation in Cyprus in the effort to find a solution. Finally, he thanked all of those who attended the screening and acknowledged the presence of members from the Greek lobby.
Mustafa Tunc, a representative of the so-called “Turkish Representative of Northern Cyprus” Washington office also spoke. He stated that he wants to reach a “viable just settlement… we are not living under normal condition.” He cited as an example of not living under normal conditions the claim that individuals living in the northern part of Cyprus are not able to join international organizations.
AHI staff questioned Mr. Evinch during the Q&A. He was asked to explain how the Turkish Cypriots felt about the increased number of Anatolian settlers the Turkish government has been sending over to northern Cyprus. Evinch responded that he did not have any information with regardto the settlers. He said that he will be visiting northern Cyprus and Turkey this summer and that he would be more knowledgeable on this issue once he returns. He added that people are free to move in and out of Cyprus, and stated that “immigration is not illegal.”
Overall, the documentary aims to evoke compassion for Turkish Cypriots, justify the Turkish invasion of 1974, justify the presence of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus to this day, and seek recognition from the international community. It presented in detail the Turkish Cypriot narration of the events that preceded the Turkish invasion in 1974. However, essential historical aspects of the Cypriot questions were understated, especially with regard to the cultural and demographic dominance of the Greek element on the island.
Furthermore, there were almost no remarks about the possibility of reunification of the island. Instead, the comments of the interviewees implicitly questioned whether a unified Cyprus would be a desirable outcome.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Mark-up on Turkish Religious Freedom
AHI attended the mark-up of H.R. 2583: Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 held by the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 20, 2011. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chaired the mark-up. One of the committee debates focused on H.Res.306 introduced by U.S. Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), ranking committee member, which called for Turkey to honor its international obligation by returning stolen Christian churches, stopping religious discrimination, and fully respecting the rights of Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Pontians, Syrians, and others to practice their ancient faith in freedom. This resolution was crafted in the spirit of H. Res. 1631, which called for the protection of religious sites and artifacts in Turkish occupied Cyprus. Several representatives commented on the resolution. Ranking Member Berman stated that this is a bipartisan resolution to stop discrimination against Christian victims in Turkey. He explained that if Turkey wants to enter the free world it must allow its minorities to freely practice their religion. Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) also declared his support along with Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA). The latter stated that the resolution “would add the powerful voice of the U.S.” to allow the practice of religious freedom and referred to former president Bush’s comment that it is a fundamental right to “follow your conscience” and the faith one chooses. Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) also declared his support and explained that he has previously met the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey and he and his wife support religious freedom. He explained that Turkey is a NATO ally and that some of these problems have lasted for over 100 years. Although he supported the resolution and religious freedom, Congressman Burton added that “it is important we do not go overboard with criticizing Turkey” because it is a NATO ally.
Congressman Royce emphasized the importance of allowing clergy to train students and study Christianity and for allowing people to practice their faith freely. He stressed the need for America to speak-up on the matter because of the fear that the religious minorities will decline. Eventually “Turkey needs to provide churches with a legal status and to restore taken property,” he said. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) stated that religious freedom is important to the U.S. and the values it presents throughout the world. Committee members also expressed their concern with Turkey being a NATO ally. Representatives Burton, Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Royce, Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), and Ted Poe (R-TX) all commented on their support of the legislation, but that Congress needs to remember how important America’s NATO alliance with Turkey is. The legislation passed 43 to 1. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was the lone dissenting vote.
Ambassador Thomas Miller Briefs AHI Interns at Hellenic House
Ambassador Thomas Miller, former American ambassador to Greece, provided a briefing to AHI interns at Hellenic House on July 21, 2011.
On Cyprus, Miller explained that when the country entered the European Union, the U.S. took a pass and that America “lost our hook.” He believes that the U.S. will stay out of the Cyprus problem no matter what lobbying is done on Capitol Hill. In Ambassador Miller’s opinion, the European Union is not capable of handling the Cyprus problem even though Cyprus is a member. Although it is illegal to have Turkish troops in the occupied area, it is difficult for the U.S. to tell the troops to leave because they would have to reprimand Turkey if it chose not to listen. At the end of the day, he said that what is needed is a negotiation between the two communities in Cyprus.
According to Ambassador Miller, the only issue worth focusing on is the economic crisis in Greece. Miller explained that Greece is a nation of ten million people that is in debt $500 billion. The measures that need to be taken by the prime minister and his party in order to recover from the economic crisis will have to go against the will of the people. With regard to investment, the former ambassador to Greece argued that Greece is currently not a competitive country and must become one. Although there is a lot of corruption in the country, there are structural problems as well, he added.
On a positive note, Ambassador Miller stated that the banking system is run well in Greece and not part of the economic problem. In his view, banks are actually the victim. The banks in Greece are smaller compared to other banks in the world, which prevents them from being big enough to have power. He also shared that terrorism in the past in Greece was an issue, but is no longer so. He views this as a big success story. In regards to Turkish and Greek relations, Miller iterated that they are good. The example he used to illustrate this was when both countries suffered from a huge earthquake. The fact that Greece and Turkey provided assistance to each other showed that not everything is a zero-sum game in the region and also changed the mind set in one another. It is a “big marker in history that is going to stay there for a long time.”
During the Q&A, Ambassador Miller was asked to share his views on the process of policy making within the U.S. government ranks. Miller used former Vice President Dick Cheney as an example to illustrate how he is well-versed on the strategic importance of Turkey. Once an issue reaches a talking point with the Secretary of State or Defense, what needs to be thought about next is the question: what are the consequences of not making a decision or taking an action on an issue? While the U.S. may be concerned about a particular issue, it is difficult making it doable. He explained that the U.S. dismisses some issues, like how foreign relations committees are not big on Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus and how the committee is currently struggling with administration. He continued adding, “the problem with Greece now is attention span.” He explained that there are no huge plays in Greece in regards to foreign relations. Yes, there is the economic issue, but not much else that there is to do in regards to foreign relations. He explained that FYROM, the Aegean Sea, and Cyprus are the “circle of the dragon.” Miller explained that desk officers focus on other issues under the radar such as, trade and human rights. He explained that the State Department gets very hung up on language so policy takes very long to be formulated. Discussion further evolved around Cyprus’ geostrategic role as well its military expenditure defense ties to Russia.
Greek Finance Minister Addresses The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
AHI attended a presentation by the Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos at the Peterson Institute of Economics titled “The Greek Debt Crisis: Challenges and Opportunities” on July 25, 2011.
The minister presented Greece’s current economic situation as the 27th largest economy in the world, which represents 3% of debt and 2.5% GDP in the Eurozone. He added that an ambitious plan to fix Greece’s economy has been in development for the past year and a half and noted that a fiscal problem is a political problem. The common currency of the EU, the euro, plays an international role. He explained that the decision making process in the EU is not the same as in the U.S. The EU has seventeen different governments, seventeen parliamentary systems, and other institutional features that make it different from the U.S. Greece has regained credibility through policy making and an ambitious program, resulting in in lower rates for Greece to borrow money to pay back its debt. Minister Venizelos said the plan made with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to make improvements the sectors of energy, tourism, and real estate. He explained that U.S. support is vital and the U.S. plays a critical role in the IMF by stating, “We are partners and allies.” To further prove his point, he explained Greece’s involvement in the fight in international terrorism and the assistance it has provided in Libya and Pakistan. To all Greeks in the world, including the Greeks of the Diaspora and Greek Americans, he stated, “together we will work on rebuilding our country.”
During a panel discussion, Minister Venizelos explained it is necessary for the government and the opposition to come together to fix the economy. Although it is difficult to cut revenue and reduce pensions to organize new opportunities for employment, and others, what is needed is “national unity, political cohesion, and a strong policy with perspective” with a future in Greece, he added. “This meeting is a great opportunity for me to send this crystal clear message to my people,” Minister Venizelos said emphasizing that Greece needs master implementation, commitment, and delivery for the success of this program.
The IMF and others have realized that Greece has many assets it can privatize to increase revenue. Minister Venizelos explained that the privatization process involves structural change in which Greece needs to be a cleverer, less expensive state. He also discussed the three main pillars of the new recovery program, which include: new official support from ECB, IMF, the Eurozone, and others; private sector involvement, and Greece’s own contribution of privatization. By July 2014, Greece needs a total of 28 billion euros. He is aware that the “list of privatization is very ambitious, but functional” and acknowledged that the government has a lot of property and that real estate is important for foreign investors in Greece. He explained that the new recovery program is very attractive to tourism and energy. Venizelos said, “We can sell, but we need buyers.”
Moreover, Minister Venizelos explained that “austerity” is a bad name for “structural changes” and added, “We need a sustainable public debt.” Now, Greece has new instruments, measures, and guarantees for the program. Without these new elements and instruments, it would be hard for Greece to make a breakthrough. On a question regarding the areas that Greece will be focusing on to kick-start growth, the minister explained that there are new EU rules that allow Greece to use European funds to help with the budget and the economy. That would include releasing funds from the European Investment Bank without the participation of the Greek state--something that had been proposed on various occasions in the past by Greece and other southeast European countries with productivity deficits.
The new challenge facing Greece is generating interest from the American private sector. Minister Venizelos stated, “We are here for talks with political figures and for the American private sector.” The minister is fully aware that the financial programs will not succeed without the American private sector. Venizelos stated, “We must now implement a totally new model… what we need is expertise and we are in America to build relations.”
Furthermore, Minister Venizelos elaborated on some of the changes that need to be made. He explained that legislation is unstable. According to studies, administration costs are 10 percent of GDP and structural overspending is 30 percent compared to the best western country. He believes Greece needs a more efficient judicial system with more flexible procedures, which are important for every investor in Greece. He stated that Greece needs a disciplined and systematic approach to preserve and modernize the Greek mentality with tools. While they have complex targets to meet, Greece must work on public administration, national mentality, fiscal policy, and others. This means that Greece must change various aspects of the nation all at once. “I am here in order to win this war,” he concluded.
MEP Discusses His Book Skeptic at Large, Remarks on Greece’s Financial Crisis
AHI attended a presentation by Roger Helmer at the Heritage Foundation on the realities of the European Union on August 3, 2011. Helmer has been a conservative member of the European Parliament since 1999. He discussed the effects of European integration in his book Skeptic at Large. He discussed the details of a lack of democracy in the EU, citing as examples how members of parliament lack accountability and concern for the common people and have no idea about democracy. He also discussed the European currency problem and the assistance provided to Greece.
In his remarks, Helmer explained that Europeans who are confronted with a currency problem defend themselves by stating that the U.S. also has financial problems. According to Helmer, the problems of the U.S. and EU are different because the U.S. financial problem is a “political problem” while the euro currency is a “solvency problem.” He stated that “Greece is effectively bust,” and due to the fact that Europe insists on keeping the euro, it is not able to fix its currency problem. In regards to today’s EU financial struggles, Germany is looked at as “a payer of last resort.” Helmer doubts that “Germans who retire at age 66 will keep wanting to bailout Greeks who retire at the age of fifty.” First, Greece was bailed out and now the European Union is considering bailing out other countries.
Helmer was more optimistic on the dollar than the euro, which was illustrated when he stated that “the dollar will survive and the euro will not.” Helmer made two distinctions to justify his point: first, that there is more labor mobility in the U.S. and less labor mobility in Europe and secondly that there are differences in fiscal transfers in the U.S. and EU. The U.S. has more labor mobility because if there is a financial problem in one state people can easily move to another state. In other words, the people in the U.S. have more mobile options than in Europe. In regards to fiscal transfers, such transfers are more easily done in the U.S. because it is one country with one flag. This allows the U.S. to allocate money in areas that are necessary without creating a major uproar. Because the European Union consists of several countries, each with their own flag, allocating more money in one country than another can cause serious problems.
AHI Meets with Senior Policy Advisor to Senator Coons
AHI President Nick Larigakis and Demetra Atsaloglou, director, Media Relations, met with Halie Soifer, foreign policy advisor, U.S. Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE) on July 18, 2011.
The meeting highlighted the importance of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s visit to Greece as part of a viable U.S.-Greece relationship. The Cyprus problem was discussed extensively with regard to the expectations out of the Republic of Cyprus’ upcoming EU Presidency. Soifer affirmed the strong U.S. interest to seek a solution to Cyprus problem because Cyprus is the only free country in the region often used as an evacuation route. Therefore, Cyprus is important for the projection of U.S. foreign policy in the region. The close ties of Israel-Cyprus were also addressed as much attention is paid in making this relationship steadfast. The FYROM name-recognition issue was discussed as well as Greece-Turkey relations. Under the latter, the Aegean border and illegal Turkish overflights were discussed. AHI made the point that Greece, in order to safeguard its borders against this daily threat, is a major client for military equipment and contributes to U.S defense equipment industry. Soifer conveyed the support of Senator Coons on the issues addressed, more specifically on restoring U.S. property and the legal rights of U.S. citizens in Turkish occupied Cyprus. She added that the Ecumenical Patriarchate and FYROM name issue are two issue-areas where more work needs to be done on the part of U.S. legislators in order to safeguard the rule of law and restore justice.
Turkish Americans Screen Documentary About Cyprus