NEW YORK – Forty one years have now passed since Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Cyprus. At memorial services around the world and across the country, congregations chanted – “eternal be their memory” – and those words were supplemented by declarations of “never forget,” from community leaders and diplomats.
Archbishop Demetrios of America presided over the main memorial service in the New York area at the Church of the Archangel Michael in Port Washington, NY on July 19 which was organized by the Federation of Cypriot American Organizations (FCAO), the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA), and the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York under the auspices of the Consulate General of Cyprus.
Indeed, it is a dark anniversary, but recent developments suggest to some seasoned observers that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
The Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), Endy Zemenides, briefed community members through a special conference call on July 20, the actual date of the “first” invasion,” of 1974.
The second attack on August 14, 1974 cut the island almost in half, a wound that still bleeds with 1587 people still missing and hundreds of thousands unable to return to their homes.
New York State Assemblywoman was moved by the service. “It is very important that we, as Greek and Cypriot Americans, never forget,” but she said it is particularly important for parents “to help children learn the history of what happened, the human right violations, and continue to fight for justice in Cyprus.”
Simotas was deeply moved by the film about the plight of the Cypriots that was screened at the Church. The 20 minute film titled Home featured interviews with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots anxious to return to their homes – but there were also devastating images of the destruction of Churches and attempts to eradicate the 3000 year-old Hellenic heritage on Cyprus.
She that with films like Home “It becomes very real,” and in her experience, when non-Greeks are exposed to the truth of “such a violation of human dignity, which everyone can relate to…they become as passionate as any Greek and Cypriot-American.
Simotas praised Phillip Christopher, the founder and president of PSEKA, and other organizations “that have made sure for decades that we don’t forget.”
Christopher had just returned from attending meetings in Washington, DC with Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Amanda Sloat. There were also representatives of the offices of the National Security Advisor and Vice President Biden.
Also at the meeting were of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), Andy and Mike Manatos, and Savas Tsivikos representing AHEPA’s Cyprus Hellenic Affairs Committee.
“We told the State Department there is an opportunity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots” to reunify Cyprus,” but he is concerned that as in the past, Turkey will torpedo it.”
He said U.S. officials agree that Erdogan’s unpredictability is an issue, “but they also believe this is the right time and they are encouraged by the statements of the New Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.”
He is pleased “The U.S. is demonstrating its support for the Republic of Cyprus” but
added, “As long as there are 43,000 Troops on the island and 350,000 illegal settlers…the 90,000 Turkish Cypriots who have passports from the Republic of Cyprus will not be able to do anything.”
The most important development is Akinci’s statement that the EU’s acquis communautaire , the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions which constitute the body of European Union law, should apply in a re-unified Cyprus.
Christopher emphasized there should literally be a two-way street. “Today there are Turkish Cypriots moving to the south, but no Greek Cypriots are moving to the north,” he said, and is concerned that could be the foundation for taking over the whole island.
Christopher spoke to TNH about the importance of the work of HALC and expressed his appreciation for its funding by industrialist Nikos Mouyiaris, who is modest about his role. “He will probably be angry that I said this,” he told TNH.
During the HALC conference call Zemenides also noted Ankara’s past obstructionism, but he pointed out the recent positive statements by Akinci would have been unimaginable a year ago.
He highlighted conditions that give cause for optimism, including a deepening of relations between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, and a growing distrust of Turkey.
“There is a case to be made we are trending in the right direction, and that we are in a substantially different context for the peace process. The first new element is that unlike the time of the Annan plan that was rejected in 2004, Cyprus is an EU member, not just a candidate,” the second is a substantial shift in Turkish Cypriot leadership beyond just Akinci, fueled by fears that their identify is being overwhelmed by both the Asia Minor setters and Erdogan’s AKP party.
The third is the energy discoveries, but he added that the statements about “the EU acquis is huge.”
He also noted that Erdogan may want a solution because his recent international and domestic political crashes and problems in the Turkish economy may have made joining the EU a priority again, and the Republic of Cyprus holds a veto.
In attendance at the memorial service were Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the UN, Ambassadors Vasilios Philippou and George Iliopoulos, Consuls General of Cyprus and Greece, respectively, FCAO president Costas Tsentas, and New York City Councilman Costas Constantinides, who has roots in Cyprus.
Constantinides said, “I thank all who attended the Cyprus Federation of America and PSEKA’s memorial service to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus. The somber occasion recognized the importance of the lives that perished, renewed the spirit of our fight for human rights and justice for Cyprus, and provided an opportunity to educate our younger generation about this journey. It is time for Cyprus to be united. “