WASHINGTON, DC (April 6, 2009)—Ike Gulas, national president of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), a leading association for the nation’s three million American citizens of Greek heritage, and countless Philhellenes, issued the following statement on President Barack Obama’s visit to Turkey and his address to Turkish Parliament today:
“In a speech before the Turkish parliament, President Obama eloquently framed the issue of freedom of religion and expression by explaining how these basic human and civil rights serve to strengthen a democratic and civil society, allowing a nation to realize progress. In this context, we applaud him for specifically citing the reopening the Theological School of Halki as an example of an important step forward that should be taken by Turkey.
“Also, we welcome President Obama raising the importance of realizing peace in the eastern Mediterranean by reuniting Cyprus into a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
“In addressing these longstanding issues, President Obama drew upon examples from American history to demonstrate how the US had met similar challenges and as a result had become a stronger and more enduring democracy.
“To bring these issues directly to the Turkish parliament was courageous and unprecedented, and the American Hellenic community thanks President Obama for his words of support. We hope that these encouraging words translate into a firm commitment by the US and Turkey to resolve these issues in short order. We view a visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate as a positive next step for President Obama should he plan a future visit to Turkey.”
President Obama’s Remarks [Excerpts from President Obama’s remarks to Turkish parliament on religious freedom, Halki, and Cyprus]:
“These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static – they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.”
“Advancing peace also includes the dispute that persists in the eastern Mediterranean. Here, there is cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the United Nations Good Offices Mission. The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation.”