By Aleco Haralambides, President American Hellenic Institute
Some Greek-American news organizations have recently taken up a critical review of the so-called “Greek American Lobby” and the players that are involved, including organizations like ours—the American Hellenic Institute. The articles make some valid points; however, they fail to mention perhaps the most pressing problem facing these Greek American organizations and perhaps the greatest threat to Hellenism itself—Indifference. It’s not that Greek Americans simply don’t care if Greece or Cyprus exists, but for one reason or another, these foreign policy issues do not seem to be a priority for the average Greek American. The following are a couple of common themes.
Is there Disunity on Foreign Policy?
Some say that there is a lack of organization or that the Greek American community lacks a unified message. In fact, on an annual basis AHI releases a policy statement that is endorsed by 8 other leading Greek American organizations. This policy statement clearly sets forth our collective position relating to the foreign policy issues affecting all Hellenes—whether they are the Greek minority in Albania and Turkey, or a Thracian living on the border with Bulgaria. The fact that at least 9 Greek American/Canadian organizations agree on foreign policy is perhaps an unprecedented demonstration of unity in the Greek community. Moreover, it clearly demonstrates that disunity is not our biggest obstacle when it comes to foreign policy.
Are we out of touch with Athens and/or Lefkosia?
Another theme is an ostensible lack of communication or perhaps disharmony with the homeland—Greece or Cyprus. Generally speaking, I think that it’s important to narrow the gap between Greece/Cyprus and America and the best way to avoid this problem is to visit the homeland. Our organization makes a formal trip annually to meet with different government officials in Greece and in Cyprus, which helps avoid a disjointed message on foreign policy. We also make sure to meet regularly with the Greek Embassy and Cypriot Embassy in Washington and I would say that we have developed some particularly good relationships with the Greek military. In fact, in March we attended the unrolling of twenty five F-16 fighter planes that the Greek government purchased from Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth. So, disharmony with Athens and Nicosia are really not the culprit.
Who is the culprit?
The culprit is indifference. So I recently asked a prominent Greek American friend about this indifference that I perceived and he said “Greece and Cyprus just aren’t being threatened right now; things are pretty good over there….” My friend may have described the crux of the problem; I only wish his statement was true.
The following are a few examples of international issues affecting Greece and Cyprus vis-à-vis United States foreign policy:
1)Cyprus: Turkey still has about 43,000 troops in occupied Cyprus and, although they seek entry into the European Union, they have given no indication whatsoever that they intend to demilitarize. As recently as June 17th of this year, Turkey sent military ships to thwart U.S.-based Noble Energy from performing oil and gas explorations that Noble had contracted to perform with the government of Cyprus.
2)Turkey: The Obama administration seems intent on creating a “special relationship” with Turkey, which is why one of the President’s first official visits was to Turkey. While he was there, it was laudable that the President made reference to the re-opening of the Halki Theological Seminary and Erdogan’s visit on August 15th to the island of Prinkipo with His All Holiness Patriarch Batholomew gives us reason for hope. However, Turkey continues to refuse to remove its illegal troops and settlers from Cyprus and it refuses to provide full religious freedom for the Patriarchate.
So, what would happen to someone in Turkey if they were to point out the hypocrisy in Erdogan’s recent public statement that the Chinese killing of 150 Uighurs (ethnic Turkic people) in China’s Western Xinjiang province was “genocide”? In 2005, Orham Panuk, the Nobel Prize winning ethnic Turkish author, was indicted under Turkish Article 301 for mentioning that one million Armenians were killed in Turkey. For similar reasons, Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist, was prosecuted and later killed by extremists in Turkey.
As Americans of Greek descent, we can not sit back and accept the current trajectory of U.S. foreign policy towards Turkey, which is not in the best interests of the U.S.
The good news is that it is easier than ever to take action. In seconds, we can research objective news sources on the internet; we can fire off emails capable of reaching people all over the world; and we can reach all of our friends and acquaintances simultaneously on Twitter or Facebook (I confess that I still don’t know how Twitter works). One of my favorites is Wikipedia—if you find an inaccuracy on any subject, you can log on and correct it yourself! We could never do this with our college history books or an encyclopedia. It is time to make it known that 2 million Greek Americans refuse accept the status quo.