A Call to Live up to American Values in the Eastern Mediterranean

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) has released nine essays authored by participants of the Fifth Annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.

The students’ insightful essays describe their personal experiences from the trip to Greece and Cyprus held June 19 to July 6. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 22-27 and Athens, June 27 to July 6. They received firsthand experience about the foreign policy issues affecting Greece and Cyprus, their relations with the U.S., and the interests of the U.S. in the region.

The National Herald will publish three of the essays, beginning with the following:

By George Gabriel

One of the more unique characteristics of United States foreign policy is that it is predicated on the American value system. These values stem from what the Founders set forth in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but have large consequences in today’s international setting. Whether it is declarations of war, billions of dollars in foreign aid, or diplomatic relations with foreign countries, the United States has a large arsenal at which it can express and reinforce its values upon foreign nations. This type of vast influence is uncommon and is a responsibility that the United States must carefully articulate to enhance credibility on those values in the international realm.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 clearly expresses the idea that U.S. foreign policy must embody American values. After traveling to the eastern Mediterranean on a foreign policy trip sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, it required me to answer the question, “How does United States foreign policy reflect American values in the Eastern Mediterranean?”

To answer this question shortly and frankly, it does not. While American values are limitless and difficult to determine, I have sought to look at values such as: State sovereignty and ethnic self-determination, rule of law, and religious freedoms as critical American values that the U.S. government fails to adequately act upon in the eastern Mediterranean.

 

 

 

 

STATE SOVEREIGNTY AND ETHNIC SELF-DETERMINATION

Cyprus is a sovereign nation that has been occupied by Turkey since July 20th, 1974. Using American weapons, Turkey stormed the island of Cyprus under the pretext of protecting Turkish Cypriots they felt were ‘endangered.’ Currently, a UN buffer zone divides the Republic of Cyprus from an illegitimate government Turkey has created on the northern third of the island. Since World War I, the U.S. has advocated a principle that supports a supreme independent authority over certain geographic areas and the ability for ethnicities within that area to determine their authority. Turkey has violated that value in a multitude of ways that includes: 1) encouraging the settlement of 180,000 Turkish settlers, 2) establishing a puppet regime in the northern third of the island (solely recognized by the Republic of Turkey), 3) altering the demographics to undermine the interests of Turkish Cypriots and prioritize the interests of the Republic of Turkey. In the 39 years since the invasion, the U.S. has stood idly by and exerted little pressure on Turkey to remove its 43,000 troops from the island of Cyprus.

Rule of Law. The goal of law at its most basic level is to provide a framework for parties to distinguish what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable. When countries sign and ratify international treaties, in spirit each country is bound to carry out the duties and obligations of each treaty. Nevertheless, over the past 100 years Turkey has chosen to ignore their obligations under international law. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, established that Turkey would renounce all claims to Cyprus. Fifty-one years later, they changed their mind and blatantly ignored a longstanding international treaty.

On July 20, 1974, Henry Kissinger (then United States Secretary of State) was aware of Turkey’s impending violation of international law and saw it as an advantageous development for the United States. He stated, “There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus.” If I were alive and present when Mr. Kissinger made that statement, I would respond, “American values are enough to justify an American reason.” If America fails to uphold valid longstanding international treaties regardless of whether they are signatories, then Americans lose their credibility to establish and enforce international laws in the future.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS

Since Turkey’s inception as a nation, its treatment of religious minorities has always been controversial and particularly harmful to Greek Orthodox Christians. So much so that the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul (also known as Constantinople), the Ecumenical Patriarch, is treated as a second-class citizen. This is primarily due to the limitations on candidates eligible to succeed him, the expropriation of Church property, and the enforced closure of the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. In addition, once Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the Turks desecrated Greek Orthodox churches by pillaging them, stealing their valuable inventory, and selling it on the black-market throughout Europe. All of these acts have limited the ability of minority religions to freely express themselves – a fact reaffirmed in legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) requires the United States to oppose violations of religious freedoms, but it has been hesitant to strictly enforce the legislation.

While efforts have been made to advance American values, greater efforts need to be made. Strategic relationships (in particular, with Turkey) that aim to advance U.S. influence in the Middle East have made the eastern Mediterranean a region that requires significant attention be paid to it. However, that trust with various nations in the region has caused complacency that has stifled the facilitation of real action to advance American values.

In President Obama’s State of the Union speech of 2013, he called for “a return to American values.” The eastern Mediterranean provides ample opportunity to do just that. It’s time for American values to not simply be used as a talking point to garner political capital. Instead, American values need to be placed as a legitimate means to adhere to foreign policy goals.

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George Gabriel is a Greek-American graduate student at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He is currently a candidate for a Master of Public Policy degree specializing in international relations. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, with a major in Political Science and minor in History. At Pepperdine, he presented on how Greece can recover from the economic crisis and examined how Greece conducts public diplomacy globally. George participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.