(HCS)--Several weeks ago the Cyprus Action Network of America cried "foul" over an award given last fall to Turkish Minister Egemen Bagis at an international conference on religious freedom sponsored by Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. According to CANA and PSEKA (another Cypriot organization), the minister was undeserving of such an award from any group, particularly one concerning human rights, because of his published statements on Greek Cypriots and the Republic of Cyprus which are characterized as discriminatory and derogatory. CANA representatives have labelled the statements of Bagis as "racist."
The outcry arose only a short time ago, according to CANA, when "the National Herald reported on its first page the protest by Philip Christopher (president of PSEKA) and Panicos Papanicolaou (president of the Greek Cypriot Federation of America) calling upon Archbishop Demetrios and the Archons to clarify under which criteria they honoured Bagis." CANA and other groups immediately called for a letter-writing campaign to Archbishop Demetrios and appropriate human-rights groups to protest the ill-conceived award.
CANA reports that the campaign gained "fantastic momentum" and requests that concerned persons register their protest with the Archdiocese, the Patriarchate, and with the Archons. There is danger in not speaking out: a refusal to protest the award will encourage discrimination and reward those who refuse to adhere to the standards of international law, caution CANA officials. "This well prepared Turkish promotion must not be allowed to be swept under the carpet as a 'small silly' incident. The people expect the Archbishop and the Archons to respond to the community leaders’ call and clarify as requested."
An outpouring of condemnation has followed, with a flurry of letters in the U.S. sent to Church hierarchs in protest of these actions. Protesters have claimed that Bagis doesn't recognize the Armenian and Greek genocides, doesn't recognize the Republic of Cyprus, or the rights of Greek Cypriots. Abroad, the protest has spiralled dramatically, making front pages of Greek and Cypriot newspapers, with award-winning journalists in a number of countries picking up the banner to report on the debacle.
One European think-tank, the European League of Geneva, wrote to Archbishop Demetrios in protest. An excerpt from their letter is pointed:
THE EUROPEAN LEAGUE OF GENEVA, a Think Tank for the promotion of the ideals of the European Union expresses its strong disappointment on the initiative of the Diocese in the US to honor by an award the Turkish Minister Bagis. Apart from his various interventions in European circles and his menaces to Sweden and the US the fascist spirit of this gentleman and of whatever he represents was bluntly expressed in a letter published in the International Herald Tribune where this representative of an asiatic State said "Europe is too important to be left to the Europeans." It is evident what will happen if the fascist state of Turkey becomes a full fledged member of the EU and of the European civilisation. We think that the Diocese is, by its action, absolutely engaged to give a detailed explanation of who initiated such decision. This has a further ethical significance when it was vaguely stated that the initiator "was a WEALTHY member" (does that mean that it is money that prevailed in this decision taken by the Diocese? If it is the case, the decision becomes an ethical issue that jeopardises the standing of the Greek Church in the USA and in general).
Another letter, here reproduced without its salutation and closing, was sent by a noted international journalist from London:
However the news that you decided to honour Turkish minister E. Bagis, for reasons nobody in his right mind and a Hellene can comprehend, other than to facilitate Turkey in its accession negotiations to profile a “civilised” image towards the EU covering-up its criminal true face of barbarism against the Greeks and the ongoing Turkish brutal invasion and occupation of part of the Republic of Cyprus, has left people all over the world totally shocked.
On 23rd December 2010 in a statement to the New York based daily “National Herald” Mr. Philip Christopher (president of PSEKA) called upon you and the Archons to come out and clarify whose idea and on whose instigation this shameful honouring took place and under what criteria. When Turkey is brutally responsible for the desecration of 550 Greek Orthodox Churches in the Turkish occupied area of the Republic of Cyprus since 1974, when our Greek Cypriot enclaved people are facing day in and day out the restriction and violation of their religious freedoms by the same power you chose to honour i.e. Turkey . When Turkey is solely responsible for turning these places of religion into disco bars, stables, toilets, and for the looting of the precious icons and selling them in the black market.
Instead of exposing Turkey for these crimes you decided in total disregard of due respect for what you represent, to honour the aggressor and the invaders in the name of E. Bagis who provocatively declares that he does not recognise the existence of the Republic of Cyprus, a member country of the EU Turkey inspires to become a member. And all of this to help Turkey to the detriment of the suffering Greeks in Cyprus.
We are all awaiting to hear you respond to Mr. Philip Christopher’s call which has become a universal call and condemnation of this most shameful act.
And a final short excerpt from a protester living in California:
I am distressed about the award to the Turkish Chief Negotiator, Mr. Egemen Bagis, "...commending him on his efforts on behalf of religious minorities in Turkey.", by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Mr. Bagis' history is one of denial of the Armenian and Pontic Greek genocides, and further he doesn't recognize the Republic of Cyprus and says that the government of Cyprus "does not constitute a state", and that the Greek Cypriots "cannot constitute a state, not even a race." The Turkish government threatens other governments which acknowledge that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians, with grave repercussions, thus holding them hostage to their demands. How can a representative of this country, well known for its human rights abuses, be awarded this recognition from the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate?
The timing of this protest campaign couldn't be more importune for Turkey, coming on the heels of inflamatory remarks made by Turkish diplomats and officials in Europe. Austrian MP Ewald Stadler recently blasted Turkey for these remarks and for her human rights record. In his spirited speech, recorded live and posted to the Internet, he called outright for the dismissal of the Turkish ambassador to Austria amid thunderous applause in the parliamentary chamber. A Turkish retort followed even before the dust had settled, but its coarse vulgarity and hypocritical points only worsened the public-relations snafu for Turkey.
And Greek Cypriots don't show any signs of letting up on the protest, either. CANA continues to call for letters to the Archbishop, to the Patriarchate, and to the Archons, demanding "clarification." Cypriot and Greek news outlets have given the issue front-page attention, calling the award "shameful."