The New Year’s Challenges for Greek America


FILE- Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Dimitris Papamitsos)

Greek America enters the 2020s as an affluent and popular community. Despite being a numerically small community, we have an exceptionally high number of national leaders in areas such as science, the arts, medicine, and economics. We also see considerable progress being made in dealing with the corruption and incompetence endemic in the Greek Orthodox Church for decades.  The same rosy scenario, however, is not shared by Greece and Cyprus.

Recep Erdogan’s Turkey is intent on using any means needed to obtain territories and economic rights belonging to Greece and Cyprus. To that end, Turkey does not recognize the UN’s Law of the Seas, scoffs at the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) assigned to Greece and Cyprus, and states the Lausanne Treaty (1923), which set present borders, is invalid.

Turkey’s most recent scheming involves a pact with Libya that claims most of the Eastern Mediterranean as part of their individual EEZ. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has stated Turkey will use military means to stop any drilling in what it self-defines as its national waters. It has already forced Italian and French drillers to back off from areas in the EEZ of Cyprus. Further flexing its military muscle, Turkish warplanes violate Greek air space daily and Turkish warships hover in the drilling zones allotted Cyprus.

The allies of Greece and Cyprus are timid. In response to the Libyan/Turkish unilateral redrawing of sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean, the EU issued a sharp condemnation but did not impose even minor economic sanctions. Moreover, the EU has never commented on the absurdity of Turkey seeking membership while not recognizing Cyprus, a present member state. A major political factor in play is that the EU is terrified by Turkey’s threat to flood with EU with millions of refugees from the Middle and Far East.

The daily violations of the air space of Greece, a NATO member, by Turkey, also a NATO nation, has never been addressed, partly for fear Turkey might respond by moving closer to Russia. In fact, Turkey recently added Russian armaments to its arsenal. NATO did not respond vigorously.

Egypt, a traditional Greek ally, is upset by the Libyan-Turkish EEZ maps and is wary of Libyan ambitions in North Africa. But it is not likely to take any action without an American green light. Israel is more militarily powerful than Turkey and does not take kindly to the threats made against its licensed drilling in the Cypriot EEZ. Like Egypt, however, unless directly attacked, it will not take unilateral action.

The decisive force in the area is the United States. Although three previous presidents blocked earlier Turkish provocations against Greece, President Trump is highly supportive of Erdogan. He facilitated Turkey’s takeover of northern Syria and granted Erdogan a cordial White House visit.

The American military and security agencies have a different mindset. They remember that Turkey refused the use of American bases in the second war in Iraq. They are particularly upset by the abrupt abandonment of our Kurdish allies and the acceptance of Turkey’s acquirement of Russian arms. The military and security professionals do not trust a Turkey that routinely protects extreme Muslim groups, including ISIS. In contrast the U.S. military has excellent relations with its Greek counterparts and considers its base in Crete the major American asset in the Eastern Mediterranean.

This situation results in Greek America having a crucial role in changing America’s present pro-Turkish orientation. Defending Hellenic interest is not a partisan issue.  Conservative Republican Gus Bilirakis (FL) is the most passionate advocate of Hellenic interests in Congress, but he enjoys the support of liberal Democrats such as Carolyn Maloney (NY) and John Sarbanes (MD). Similarly, the successful Armenian Genocide bill was co-sponsored by liberal Democrat Robert Menendez (NJ) and conservative Republican Ted Cruz (TX). The abandonment of the Kurds was denounced by numerous Republicans who would not like to see the same happen to Greece and Cyprus.

An election year gives Greek Americans plentiful means to help the Hellenic cause. There are going to be myriads of opportunities to speak out at town hall forums, to access call-in radio, to meet with candidates, and to engage in other grass roots activities. Such efforts would have considerable impact if organizations such AHEPA and regional societies (not just Cypriot and Dodecanesian) mobilize their membership. Another good action would to send financial donations to organizations like the American Hellenic Institute that directly lobby Congress in a professional manner.

To date, no Democratic presidential hopeful has spoken about the Eastern Mediterranean. Most already are quite hostile to Erdogan, but they need to be prodded to take public positions. Many Republican House and Senate candidates face primary challenges or strong Democratic rivals. Getting candidates on record supporting peace, national security, and international law is mainly a matter of effort rather than persuasion.

Making our cause easier to support is that we do not ask for military intervention or financial assistance to Greece and Cyprus. Our goal is a strong American commitment that Turkish aggression will not be tolerated.  Now, is a time when we must do more than just march in Greek Independence Day parades that celebrate the rule of law.  What we do can really makes a difference for the well-being of Greece, Cyprus, and the United States.