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37th Anniversary of The Turkish Invasion of Cyprus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to mark the dark anniversary of July 20, 1974, when Turkish military troops illegally invaded the sovereign nation of Cyprus.

In the gray pre-dawn hours, heavily armed Turkish troops began the military operation named ``Operation Atilla'', implementing their strategy of ``clearing'' the territory in northern Cyprus, a community whose population was previously 80 percent Greek Cypriot.

As a result of these attacks, violent conflict erupted and over five thousand Greek Cypriots were estimated to have been killed; an additional sixteen hundred Greek Cypriots were reported missing; and over two hundred thousand Greek Cypriots were forcefully expelled from their homes.

Unfortunately, this tragedy which began that morning of July 20 continues today, as over 43,000 Turkish military troops occupy almost 40 percent of Cyprus' territory.

That amounts to one Turkish soldier for every two Turkish-Cypriots.

During the thirty-seven years the Turkish military has occupied northern Cyprus, illegal immigrants from Turkey flood into northern Cyprus, with some reports indicating at least 800 illegal migrants each year.

In total since 1974, this influx has resulted in more than 160,000 Turkish mainland illegal immigrants settling in the occupied territory, to the extent that these settlers now outnumber indigenous Turkish-Cypriots two to one.

Many claim that these immigrants are ``encouraged'' to settle in Cyprus by the Turkish government as part of a cynical strategy to alter the demographic statistics on the island and gain more property in any eventual settlement.

In addition, under the Turkish occupation, hundreds of religious and cultural sites have been desecrated.

Icons, manuscripts, frescoes and mosaics have been looted from Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite and Jewish religious sites in northern Cyprus.

Over five hundred Orthodox churches or chapels have been demolished or vandalized.

Seventy-seven churches have even been converted into mosques, twenty-eight churches are being used by the Turkish military as hospitals or camps, and thirteen churches have been turned into barns.

For thirty seven years, the Cypriot people have endured conflict, division and foreign occupation.

It is long past time for their liberation.

The United Nations Security Council has passed seventy-five separate resolutions calling for Turkey to allow Greek Cypriots to return to their homes and to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.

In 1976, 1983 and again in 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey was illegally occupying Cyprus and must return all seized properties to their Greek Cypriot owners.

Yet, to date Turkey continues to ignore such condemnations of its actions.

Meanwhile, two generations of Cypriot youth have now grown up knowing no other reality than the division of their homeland, the segregation of their people, the militarization of part of their country by foreign troops, and the ever present threat of another outbreak of violence.

Many have, or are beginning to, abandon hope of a peaceful settlement.

Unfortunately, the limited progress achieved in the reunification talks since 2008 heightens this general sense of despair.

In fact, a few weeks ago U.N. Special Advisor for Cyprus Alexander Downer even stated, ``It could not go any slower without stopping altogether. The last three months have been the worst three months we've ever had since these negotiations began.''

This lack of constructive movement can be directly attributed to the behind-the-scenes interference from Ankara and the new hard-line representative from the Turkish community, Dr. Dervish Eroglu.

It is apparent that there are some both in Turkey and in the leadership of the Turkish-Cypriot community who believe that continued obstruction of the talks serves their best interests by garnering domestic political support.

I would argue that such a mercenary approach to these talks in fact prevents the Turkish-Cypriot people from attaining that which is in their long-term best interests.

Until there is the reunification of the country, the Turkish-Cypriot community cannot fully benefit from the economic and social benefits derived from Cyprus' membership in the European Union.

As a result, Turkish-Cypriots endure a far lower standard of living, reduced foreign direct investment, and other limitations on their overall development.

Therefore, I urge the representatives of the Turkish-Cypriot community to promote their own community's interests rather than their own by working for reunification of the island.

In that regard, I was encouraged by the recent pledge by both parties, President Dimitris Christofias and Dr. Dervish Eroglu, to commit once more to the talks with the aim of making substantial progress this year.

In order for these talks to succeed however, Turkey must grant the Turkish-Cypriot community full autonomy in the reunification negotiations and to publicly commit to abiding by any terms agreed upon in a Cypriot developed reunification agreement.

That includes the full, permanent withdrawal of its troops of occupation from Cyprus.

I will continue to do what I can in my role in Congress to support such reunification efforts, until that long-awaited day when the next generation of Cypriot youth realize the hopes of their predecessors for a sovereign Cyprus--independent, unified, and at peace.

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