I need not tell anyone in this room that this Conference is taking place at a time of historic trial for the people of Greece. Not a day goes by without more terrible stories and images of the difficult situation there. My sympathy goes out to the Greek people in their time of struggle, for which there is no end in sight yet.
While many in the U.S. watch these events in the belief that they are taking place in a far-away country that has little to do with us here, I believe that the outcome is likely to determine the fate of Europe and thus will inevitably have a major impact on us, especially our economic future.
That is why the U.S. must use its enormous influence to ensure that Greece has access to all of the resources that it needs to confront this crisis, that it is not bullied by Europe or anyone else, that international institutions deal with it fairly and generously, and that markets around the world remain open so that it can earn its way to prosperity by its own efforts.
Yet, while many are predicting doomsday scenarios, I believe that one key aspect is not being given sufficient weight, namely the spirit of the Greek people that has been shaped by centuries of struggle against impossible odds.
Even at times when the situation appeared to be hopeless, they never gave in to fear and thus have repeatedly rescued their country, for their eyes have always been fixed on the future.
That spirit is illustrated best in the old Greek proverb that:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” [END As the Greek people face the difficult decisions they must take, and endure the painful reforms to come, they will do so not only to address the immediate emergency but also to lay the groundwork for their own future and that of their children and the generations to come.
Of course, we are all concerned about the impact of this and other challenges on Cyprus, which continues to suffer from artificial division and foreign occupation.
We must not allow the world’s attention to be diverted from the intolerable situation on that island.
It has been four decades since Turkish military troops invaded the Cypriot homeland and imposed an artificial division on the two communities.
As we all know, the landing of Turkish troops was quickly followed by a systematic campaign to drive out Greek-Cypriots from the northern region.
Over five thousand Greek-Cypriots were killed, sixteen hundred Greek Cypriots were reported missing, and over two hundred thousand Greek-Cypriots were forcibly expelled from their homes and never allowed to return.
This effort to eliminate the Greek-Cypriot population from the north and replace it with a Turkish one remains a Turkish government priority today, a key element of which is the 45,000-strong Turkish occupation force that prevents the return of Greek-Cypriots to their homes.
Since shortly after the beginning of the Turkish invasion, Ankara has encouraged people from Turkey to move to the occupied region and even take over the former homes of Greek-Cypriots who have been driven out.
According to the community administrators in the northern occupied areas, there are an estimated 160,000 illegal settlers from Turkey, although several Turkish-Cypriot media reports indicate the actual number may even be as high as 500,000-800,000.
It was astounding to hear Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan callously state last year to the Turkish-Cypriots who were complaining about this illegal immigration that:
“If you don’t want us to send more people, you need to have more babies.”
These and similar statements support the belief of many that the Turkish government has encouraged this illegal migration to change the demographics of the island in order to gain more territory for the Turkish Cypriots in any reunification agreement and more influence for itself.
We all know that this is but one of the ways that Turkey interferes in Cypriot affairs.
From their beginning, the goal of the Cypriot-led reunification talks has been to develop a settlement that was based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality and a single sovereignty, citizenship and international identity.
However, leaders in Ankara have tied the hands of the Turkish-Cypriot negotiators, imposing their own priorities rather than allowing the representatives of both Cypriot communities to freely negotiate according to their own best interests.
Turkish leaders have gone so far as to publically state that they would maintain their illegal military forces on Cyprus even if the Cypriot communities agreed to a reunification plan that called on Turkey to remove its troops!
Comments such as these indicate that some Turkish leaders do not view Cyprus as a separate, independent and sovereign nation but rather as a subservient country over which they intend to exercise control.
For example, Turkey is using transparently phony excuses to undermine the sovereign right of Cyprus to explore its own energy resources.
Last year Turkey surprisingly declared that it had “nullified” an exploration agreement between Cyprus and Israel, even though it was not a party to that agreement and therefore had no standing to do so.
The Turkish government continued to escalate the conflict by deploying its own energy exploration ships to the northern coast of Cyprus, with a full escort of Turkish military vessels.
Despite the guarantee from President Christofias that all energy resources discovered would be used for the benefit of all Cypriots, Turkish officials claim that they have an obligation to interfere in order to protect the rights of the Turkish-Cypriots.
These aggressive actions only serve to heighten tensions, and strike at the heart of the interests of the Cypriot people as a whole.
I believe that if there is to be peace and reconciliation, at a minimum Turkey must end its provocative actions, support the reunification efforts of the Cypriot people, and permanently withdraw all its occupation forces from the island.
This year provides a valuable opportunity for Turkey to act in a way that advances its own interests, as well as those of the Cypriot people, when Cyprus assumes the Presidency of the European Union in July.
Instead of continuing to issue threats to break off relations with the European Union when this occurs, Turkey could improve its relations with the EU by committing its full support to the reunification of Cyprus and the establishment of mutually respectful ties with its sovereign neighbor.
I believe that the United States should urge Turkish leaders to fulfill their international obligations at every opportunity until the authorities in Ankara respond with tangible results.
That is what I have repeatedly said in meetings with Prime Minister Erdogan, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and many other Turkish leaders.
As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have worked to get our government, regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, to tell Turkey that it must end its hostile policies and its illegal occupation not at some vague date in the future, but now.
And I will continue to do so until Cyprus is once more the united homeland of all Cypriot people who can once again live together in peace.
**** Remarks for Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee