WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) provided both oral and written testimony to the U.S. Department of State urging the Department to reject Turkey’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which imposes import restrictions on cultural goods originating prior to 1924 or the formulation of the Turkish Republic. AHI President Larigakis submitted written testimony, while AHI Legislative Director Gerasoulis provided oral testimony to both Dr. Sabloff and his colleagues on the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) on January 21st, 2019. Gerasoulis also answered questions from Committee members.
CPAC is currently constituted as follows: Stefan Passantino (Public); Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); James Reap (Public); Karol Wight (Museums); Nancy C. Wilkie (Archaeology); Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology); Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); and Anthony Wisniewski (Sale of International Cultural Property).
In the January 7 letter to the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee chaired by Dr. Jeremy Sabloff, Larigakis contends that Turkey has enabled or tolerated the destruction of cultural property, citing numerous examples including in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.
“It is unconscionable that the U.S. State Department would even consider recognizing the Turkish Government’s rights to the material remains of Turkey’s Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian populations, which were slaughtered en masse or forced to emigrate in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire and the early days of the Turkish Republic,” Larigakis wrote. “In fact the reality is that Turkish cultural policies reinforce and support long-standing policies that deny and work to erase the reality of Greek, Armenian and other cultures that preceded the arrival of the Turks to Asia Minor, Thrace, and Constantinople by thousands of years.”
Gerasoulis stated to Dr. Sabloff and the Committee, during oral testimony, “if the MoU is approved, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will consider his intention to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque to be justified.” Furthermore, Gerasoulis emphasized that Turkish government has had a systematic and historic persecution of religious minorities, and highlighted the plight of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the destruction of over 400 Christian churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, as pre-eminent examples. In addition, Gerasoulis also asserted that the Turkish government would not protect Jewish religious properties, also a topic of discussion, by bringing up President Erdogan’s decision to ally himself with Hamas, a designated anti-Israel terrorist organization, and to host its leader at the Presidential Palace in Turkey in December, 2019.
The American Hellenic Institute is an independent non-profit Greek American public policy center and think tank that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.