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ABA Publishes AHI’s Work to Oppose Turkey’s MoU on Cultural Property

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this April 25, 2020, file photo, is an aerial view of the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshipers Friday, July 24, for the first Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia in 86 years, weeks after a controversial high court ruling paved the way for the landmark monument to be turned back into a mosque. (AP Photo, File)

WASHINGTON, DC – An American Bar Association (ABA) publication published an article authored by American Hellenic Institute (AHI) Legislative Director Elias Gerasoulis on AHI’s firm stance for religious freedom in opposition to Turkey’s proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States on cultural property. The American Bar Association Art & Cultural Heritage Law Committee, which is under the auspices of the American Bar Association Section of International Law, published the article in the fall 2020 edition of its newsletter.

Gerasoulis’ article, American Hellenic Institute Stands Firm for Religious Freedom; Against Proposed MoU Between the U.S. and Turkey, lays out detailed arguments against Turkey’s proposed MoU on cultural property with the United States.

Gerasoulis points out in the article that the MoU with the U.S. gives the Turkish government an excuse to “justify future conversion, destruction, or confiscation of minority religious sites and property.”

AHI has been at the forefront and actively engaged on this issue throughout the year.

The article also highlights the broader context of the Turkish government’s mistreatment of religious minorities, in particular the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and minorities within Turkey.

In September 2020, Gerasoulis presented AHI’s work in opposition to Turkey’s proposed MoU to the ABA’s Art and Cultural Heritage Law section after which the committee invited Gerasoulis to submit the article for publication.

“AHI is committed to promoting the rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “A key component to meeting that commitment is opposing any and all cultural property agreements between the governments of Turkey and the United States that would reward, or empower, the Turkish government in their abuses of religious minorities.”

“I am deeply grateful and honored to have our work published in the American Bar Association’s Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee fall newsletter,” Gerasoulis said. “Furthermore, I appreciate this important and prestigious platform gave us the opportunity to share our viewpoints on this vital issue.”

Peter Tompa, executive director, Global Heritage Alliance, added: “Elias Gerasoulis and the American Hellenic Institute have been instrumental raising awareness of how a proposed cultural property agreement with Turkey will only give license to the Erdogan government’s efforts to control Greek and other minority cultures.  Extra vigilance is essential now because the bureaucracy often likes to drop controversial regulations at the end of presidential terms.”

The ABA newsletter which features Gerasoulis’ article on pages 3-4 is available online: https://bit.ly/2KSAxda.

The Delphi Economic Forum’s 2nd Southeast Europe & East Med Conference featured AHI President Nick Larigakis as a panelist on the discussion topic, "Diaspora Organizations in International Affairs,” on December 16.

President Larigakis discussed AHI’s role to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus through substantive policy programs and initiatives that advocate for the rule of law. Larigakis highlighted both AHI’s educational programs such as the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) Student Foreign Policy Trip, as well as AHI’s efforts to educate policy-makers in Washington, DC. Larigakis also relayed his insights regarding the incoming administration of President-Elect Biden, and discussed the role that AHI and its early leaders such as former AHI Chairman Dean Lomis had in educating then-Senator Biden on issues regarding the Eastern Mediterranean since 1974.

“Thank you to the organizers of the conference for the opportunity to present to a distinguished international audience on the importance of organizations such as AHI in the international relations space,” Larigakis said.

AHEPA Supreme President George Horiates also participated on the panel with President Larigakis. Symeon Tsomokos, founder of the Delphi Economic Forum, served as the panel’s moderator.

The entire Delphi Economic Forum’s 2nd Southeast Europe & East Med Conference is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BB-94DH_3S8.

More information about AHI is available online: https://www.ahiworld.org/.