Mr. President, I rise today to draw the attention of my colleagues to the legacy of the July 20, 1974, invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and its ongoing occupation of that island nation. Thirty-six years later, the human dimension of the conflict and the artificial division of the country is evident in many areas. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am particularly mindful of the violations of human rights stemming from the occupation. I have walked along the U.N.-monitored buffer zone that cuts through the capital city of Nicosia. A visitor to Cyprus need not look far to discover the scars left by the artificial division of a capital and a country.
A year ago this week, the Helsinki Commission held a public briefing, ``Cyprus' Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril,'' to draw attention to this aspect of the legacy of the events of 1974. Experts at that briefing documented the scope of the destruction of sites in the north, including Orthodox churches, chapels and monasteries as well as those of other Christian communities. According to Archbishop Chrysostomos II, leader of the Church of Cyprus, over 500 religious sites in the area have been seriously damaged or destroyed. Subsequent to the briefing that Church of Cyprus filed a formal case with the European Court of Human Rights regarding its religious sites and other property in the north. A report prepared by the Law Library of Congress, ``Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law'' was released at the briefing.
Helsinki Commission staff traveled throughout the region, visiting numerous churches, each in various stages of deterioration, all plundered, stripped of religious objects, including altars, iconostasis and icons. Other sites have been turned into tourist resorts, storage warehouses or other purposes, including stables, shops, and night clubs. Among photos on display at the briefing were those showing the desecrated ruins of graves with all of the crosses broken off of their bases and smashed. A nearby shed was stacked with broken headstones. A number of Jewish cemeteries in the region, according to reports, have likewise been vandalized and left in shambles. Finally, even the rare occasions when Orthodox services that are allowed to be conducted in the north such exceptional events are occasionally marred by security forces preventing worshipers from crossing into the area or the disruption of religious services.
The Commission recently received an update from Dr. Charalampos Chotzakoglou, one of the experts who testified at our 2009 briefing. He reports a number of disturbing developments over the past year, including road construction through a church yard; transport of grave markers robbed from desecrated cemeteries, reportedly to be recycled as scrap metal; the further looting of artifacts from churches; and the known conversion of another church building into a night club. Dr. Chotzakoglou also reports on the continued difficulties in securing permission to conduct religious services at some of the sites in the north.
The events of 1974 have taken a tremendous toll in so many areas, including Cyprus' rich religious cultural heritage. As we mark this 36th anniversary, let us join in the hope that a resolution of the Cyprus question hammered out, by the Cypriots and for the Cypriots, will be found.
Mr. President, I rise in remembrance of a deeply tragic anniversary for the Cypriot-American community, their friends and relatives in Cyprus, and for people everywhere who believe in timeless values such as liberty and human dignity. Thirty-six years ago today, the armed forces of Turkey invaded Cyprus in flagrant violation of international law, occupied the north of the island state, and put in place a heavily armed force that continues to occupy nearly 37 percent of Cyprus' territory.
There are more than 43,000 Turkish troops on Cyprus--that is approximately one Turkish soldier for every two Turkish Cypriots. Meanwhile, the occupation, expropriation, and destruction of Greek Cypriot-owned property in the north of the island continues unabated. Indeed, thousands of U.S. citizens of Cypriot descent have claims to such properties. So too continues the egregious desecration of Greek Orthodox churches and sacred religious artifacts that are not only sacred to hundreds of millions of faithful believers but beautiful and historic sites and objects of inherent cultural value to all of humanity.
The international community, speaking through resolution after resolution by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, has since 1974 called for an end to the division of Cyprus and the return of refugees to their homes. After 36 frustrating years of diplomatic stops and starts, a cavalcade of U.N. special representatives and envoys, and untold hours of negotiations, the time has come for Turkey to concede that the Cyprus question is one that can only be resolved through mutual agreement on a solution, not the imposition of one. It is essential for Turkey to contribute practically and substantively to the negotiating effort and embrace in concrete terms a reunified and prosperous Cyprus where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots can live together in peace.
Unfortunately, in a world that has witnessed the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism, Cyprus remains as the last divided country in Europe. Yet despite a generation of suffering such injustices, the Greek Cypriot community continues to demonstrate remarkable magnanimity in seeking a fair solution to the division of the island. Cyprus and the U.S. share a deep and abiding commitment to upholding the ideals of freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, and the international rule of law. We must, in our solemn role as a nation that champions human rights and adherence to the rule of law, stand with the Cypriots to bring peace and stability to their island.
I therefore urge my colleagues to join me today in bearing witness to the 36 years of injustice wrongfully brought upon the people of the Republic of Cyprus, and in recommitting ourselves to the urgent task of fairly and finally reuniting the island.
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