American Hellenic Institute


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AHI Sends Letter to President Barack Obama Regarding His Forthcoming Meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey
November 30, 2009—No. 85 (202) 785-8430

AHI Sends Letter to President Barack Obama Regarding His Forthcoming Meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey

WASHINGTON, DC—On November 24, 2009 the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) sent the following letter to President Barack Obama regarding his forthcoming meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on December 7, 2009.


November 24, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the nationwide membership of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) and in the interests of the United States, we write to bring to your attention and consideration a number of issues as you prepare for your forthcoming meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on December 7, 2009.

Our letter of February 17, 2009 to you addressed in detail the core issues of concern to the Greek American community and reasons why support of the rule of law, U.S. laws and international law are in the best interests of the United States.

The projection of U.S. interests in the southeastern Mediterranean region depends heavily on the stability of the region. Therefore, the United States 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.

However, Turkey’s continuing occupation of Cyprus, its intransigence in solving the Cyprus problem, its refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, its veto to the accession of Cyprus to international organizations, its continuing violations of Greece’s territorial waters and airspace in the Aegean Sea and continuing religious and human rights violations in Turkey, prevents this stability and damages U.S. interests.

During your visit to Turkey in April, we commended you for raising the important issues of Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate when you spoke before the Turkish Assembly on April 6, 2009.


Regarding Cyprus you said:

“Advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern Mediterranean. And here there’s a cause for hope…The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.”

However, we are disappointed that you did not make any mention of the continuing ongoing illegal Turkish occupation on Cyprus the way you did in your October 2008 campaign statement. At that time you said in part:

“…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.”

Further, if the United States is truly “willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work towards a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus,” as you stated, you can begin by your asking Prime Minister Erdogan to immediately:

  • demilitarize Cyprus;
  • withdraw the 43,000 occupation troops illegally in Cyprus (Turkey’s troops can be more useful if deployed in Afghanistan);
  • return to Turkey the 180,000 persons whom Turkey has settled in occupied Cyprus, in violation of the Fourth Protocol to the Geneva Convention of 1949;
  • tear down the green line barbed-wire fence across the face of Cyprus which, together with Turkey’s 43,000 occupation forces, is the real cause of the alleged isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied northern part of Cyprus; and
  • stop his efforts to manipulate the current talks or restrict Mr. Talat at the bargaining table.

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.

It is also important to note, the October 14, 2009, Commission of the European Communities “Turkey 2009 Progress Report” regarding Turkey’s progress for accession into the European Union. While this report acknowledges that Turkey “continued to express public support for fully fledged negotiations,” it, however, goes on to say:

“ underlined by the Council conclusions of 8 December 2008, and in line with the negotiating framework, Turkey is expected to support actively the ongoing negotiations and to take practical steps to contribute to creating a climate favourable to a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework, in accordance with the relevant UN SC resolutions and in line with the principles on which the Union is founded.

Since the Council’s decision of December 2006, Turkey has made no progress towards fully implementing the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement and ahs kept its ports closed to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus despite several calls by the EU. As pointed out by the December 2008 Council conclusions it is now urgent that Turkey fulfils its obligation to ensure full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol.

Turkey has made no progress on normalizing bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. It continues to veto Cyprus’s membership of several international organizations and arrangements such as the Wassenaar Agreement on the Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and on Dual-Use Goods. Civilian vessels prospecting for oil on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus were hindered by the Turkish navy on several occasion during the reporting period.“

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

We congratulate and commend you for your support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch.  By receiving His All Holiness Bartholomew I at the White House on November 3, 2009 you underscored the important stature and recognition His All Holiness deserves as a well respected and admired world religious leader.

Your support was further illustrated when in your speech before the Turkish Assembly on April 6, 2009, you said:

“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthen the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people.”

And of course, once again, when in your October 2008 campaign statement, you said:

“[I 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 I sent] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter. [Calling 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.”

However, as pointed out by this statement, there are a number of serious issues facing the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not just Halki.

The Turkish government has tolerated assaults against the remaining 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christian religious minority and the Ecumenical Patriarchate; continues the illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology and refuses to return 7,000 church properties which were illegally seized.

The “Turkey 2009 Progress Report” states:

“Non-Muslim communities-as organized structures of religious groups-still face problems due to lack of legal personality. Restrictions on the training of clergy remain…The Halki Greek Orthodox seminary remains closed, although its re-opening was widely debated over the reporting period…”

The Ecumenical Patriarch is not free to use the ecclesiastical title ‘Ecumenical’ on all occasions. In June 2007 the Court of Cassation ruled that persons who participate and are elected in religious elections held in the Patriarchate should be Turkish citizens and be employed in Turkey at the time of the elections. However, Turkish and foreign nationals should be treated equally as regards their ability to exercise their right to freedom of religion by participating in the life of organized religious communities in accordance with the ECHR and case law of the ECtHR..

Attacks against minority religions still occur.”

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.”

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 Christian 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, Mr. President, to impress upon Prime Minister Erdogan 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 Turkey will recognize the legal personality of 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 properties which were illegally confiscated from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936; and
  • calls for the respect for human and minority rights in Turkey
  • is prepared to implement provisions of the  IRFA if necessary if these actions are not implemented by Turkey.

The Aegean Sea

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 refer the issue of the delimitation of the continental shelf to the International Court of Justice. Despite the opening of accession negotiations with the EU and Greece’s sincere efforts to achieve complete normalization in relations with Turkey, Turkey continues to threaten Greece with war (casus belli) and promotes claims that are unfounded and devoid of any legal basis.

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.

To this effect, the “Turkey 2009 Progress Report” states:

“The threat of casus belli…the resolution adopted by The Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1995 still remains. According to the Council conclusions of December 2008, ‘Turkey needs to commit unequivocally to good neighbourly relations and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, having recourse, if necessary, to the International Court of Justice. In this context, the Union urges the avoidance of any kind of threat, source of friction or action which could damage good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes.’

A considerable number of formal complaints were made by Greece about continued violations of its airspace by Turkey, including flights over Greek islands”

Mr. President, 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 on you, Mr. President, to impress upon Prime Minister Erdogan 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.

The issues discussed above and the recommendations presented for their successful resolution are all embodied within the fundamental principles of democracy and are founded on the rule of law and based on what is in the best interests of the United States.

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

cc: Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns
Chief of Staff to the President Rahm Emanuel
National Security Advisor Jim Jones
Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Philip Gordon
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Kurt Donnelly
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Tina S. Kaidanow
Director of Southern European Affairs Kathleen Fitzpatrick
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel V. Speckhard
U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Frank C. Urbancic, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James F. Jeffrey
Department of State Senior Greece Desk Officer Adam Scarlatelli
Department of State Greece Desk Officer Ilan A. Goodman
Department of State Cyprus Desk Officer Terry Netos
Department of State Turkey Desk Officer Denise M. Marsh
The Congress


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