By Dean Lomis, PhD
Special to the Hellenic News of America
Two generations ago, in 1964, Julie Andrews starred in the memorable Hollywood production: “The Americanization of Emily,” the story of a World War II bride experiencing America with her American husband she married in Britain.
Ten years later, in August of 1974, following the dastardly Turkish invasion of Cyprus in mid and late July, began the Hellenization of now-United States Vice President Joe Biden.
Immediately after the internationally-illegal Turkish invasion, then-Archbishop Iakovos called for the Greek Orthodox Community of our nation to mobilize against the humanitarian disaster that the Turks were creating on Aphrodite’s lovely island.
On the next Wednesday morning, after Wilmington, Delaware Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church Parish Council’s emergency meeting the night before, I received a telephone call from our then-priest, the Reverend Stamatios Ganiaris, having been asked by the Council’s President, Peter Coustenis, to contact me and inform me that the Council had appointed me to be the leader of our Cyprus effort, since I was a veteran United States Air Force intelligence officer and now in international education. Graciously I refused due to my heavy work schedule at the University, both in my directive capacity and in my teaching. The very next Wednesday, I received a similar call, practically demanding that I accept. Again I refused, for the same reasons.
On the third Wednesday, by then early August, Father Ganiaris showed up in my office, practically ordering me to accept. After
repeatedly refusing his “I won’t leave until you accept” threat, I decided on a diplomatic solution to end the issue. I informed him that if he would get me Mr. Basil Savopoulos, a past President of the Parish Council to be my ‘assistant,’ I would accept. The reason for my offer was that Basil Savopoulos was – and is — a devout Greek Orthodox Christian with no interest whatsoever in politics which he abhorred. To my shocking surprise, however, Father Ganiaris telephoned me that same afternoon informing me that Basil was “honored and delighted” to be my assistant. The reason for his immediate acceptance was that his father and mother were Greek refugees from the Greek holocaust of the ‘great catastrophe of Smyrna’ in 1922, of whose background I was unaware.
Under the circumstance of having given my word, I accepted.
Within the week, we established the United Hellenic American Action Societies (UHAAS) of Delaware, encompassing individuals from our Hellenic American Community in general, the Order of AHEPA, the Hellenic University Club of Wilmington, and the Young-at-Heart senior citizens group.
Within the next week, we had secured appointments, in order, with our Congressional Representative Pete du Pont, and senators Bill Roth and Joe Biden, the latter a rookie Senator a year and a half in office.
Our meeting with Congressman du Pont was useful and quick, for he had already joined the coalition to stop aid to Turkey, under the direct leadership of then-Congressman Benjamin Rosenthal. Likewise, we experienced quick and positive action from Senator Bill Roth for, as member of the Senate’s NATO Representative, he had already sided with the call for cutting off aid to Turkey.
On an early Monday afternoon just past mid-August, thirteen of us met with Senator Biden in his office at the Federal Building in Wilmington. Since he already knew what the meeting was to be about, he had requested and received information from the U.S. Department of State. Also — and very significant, he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he held for the next 35 years. Thus, as we proceeded in our discussion, Senator Biden kept bringing up details that were both contrary to ours and wrong. It soon became clearly evident to us that the State Department has fed him with its own twisted, pro-Turkish objectives. Let us be reminded that Dr. Henry Kissinger was the Secretary of State at the time, and Turkey was his darling.
At one point, when frustration set in due to the wrong information given to us, I, being our group’s designated speaker, quite upset requested that the Senator refrain from opposing us and just listen to our issues. I asked if he would bring into the room his Secretary to take ‘shorthand’ notes of what I would say “for just ten minutes,” at which time we will depart. I asked that he check all our details and that “if we are wrong, never speak to us again; if we are right, you decide what to do next.”
We proceeded explaining to him that Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus was an internationally-illegal act, contrary to the United Nations and the NATO charters, the guarantee treaty of Cyprus independence, and U.S. laws prohibiting the use of American military weapons and equipment other than for defensive purposes. Turkey was in violation of all, and the United States should act accordingly.
Three days later, on Thursday afternoon, Basil Savopoulos received a telephone call from Vince d’ Anna, one of Senator Biden’s staff, that
the Senator would like to meet with Basil and me in his office the next morning, Friday, at 9:00 o’clock. We were there on time, with coffee and donuts available, and with seven members of his staff.
At about 9:05, Senator Biden walked in, extended his hand to greet us, saying — in what we became used to later to his usual Biden lingo: “You guys were completely right, and if someday the Greeks beat the Hell out of the Turks they’ll be right.”
This special meeting lasted until 11:55, when the Senator was informed by his staff that is was time to go to a scheduled luncheon.
It is now very important to review what took place during the almost three hours we were together, which was the beginning of solidifying our Community’s position on the Cyprus tragedy and the ‘Hellenization of Joe Biden.’
Our position was to stress the value and reliability of Cyprus and Greece to U.S. regional interests and to Western defense, and that America’s values were being compromised in disregarding Turkey’s invasion and occupation of one of America’s best friends, an act accomplished with the illegal use of American military equipment and weapons provided to Turkey solely for defensive purposes.
In introducing the topic, we brought forth a short Cypriot historical background, emphasizing that Cyprus was an integral part of the Hellenic world which provided the West with its heritage, and that during the two world wars of the Twentieth Century, Cypriots of Greek ancestry had joined the British forces fighting against the Central Powers of World War I and the Axis Powers of World War II.
We then proceeded to discuss the current at-the-time values, and the importance of Cyprus as a geopolitical location and ‘associate.’
From the 1950s, while still a British colony, a U.S.-Cyprus special relationship was established, with the presence on Cyprus of CIA-operated monitoring stations. These stations monitored broadcasts of the entire Southwest Asia (Arab/Persian Gulf regions), Southeast Asia, Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean. Analysts working for this CIA-operated Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) used the collected material, as well as translated the local press, and produced the DAILY REPORTS: Western Europe, Middle East & North Africa, Southwest Asia. These reports were distributed daily by the Service to all branches of the U.S. Government, and they formed the daily link to American policy-makers as to what was happening.
When in 1960 Cyprus gained its independence, the U.S. monitoring stations continued to function with the agreement and the consent of the Republic.
The 1960 birth of the Republic of Cyprus permitted the still-now operating two British sovereign base areas: the Royal Air Force Base at Akrotiri and the Army Base at Dhekelia. They comprise 99 square miles. In addition to the two bases, there are numerous auxiliary facilities throughout the country. The most important is the Radar Base at the Troodos Mountains. The radar and the auxiliary facilities are not part of the bases. They belong to the Republic. So is the water supply to the bases, and the roads and the telecommunications linking them, as well as the territorial sea that surrounds them. In other words, only in a friendly Cypriot environment can these bases function. In a hostile Cyprus they can be neutralized. Furthermore, the use of these bases for other than British purposes requires the consent of the Cypriot Government. NATO use is also excluded, unless the Cyprus Government consents. Thus far, the Cypriot Government has not raised any
objections. The strategic and military importance of the facilities on Cyprus is of major significance:
- The Akrotiri Base is the largest Royal Air Force Base in the world, and larger than any in Britain.
- Strategic and nuclear weapons were stored on Cyprus during the Cold War for use by British bombers for attacks against the southern industrialized areas of the then-Soviet Union, in the event of war.
- The radars on the Troodos Mountains were – and perhaps still are – operated by Americans. They performed or perform two functions:
- Conventionally, they are located on top of a 6,400-foot peak that allows monitoring of the entire Eastern Mediterranean, all the way to Sicily.
- Strategically, they have over-the-horizon capabilities, and they were used to monitor Soviet ICBM launches, as well as other Soviet nuclear experiments. There radars were so important and sensitive that during the Turkish invasion and the ensuing fighting, the U.S. considered lunching a pre-eminent strike to destroy them, lest they may have fallen into the wrong hands of the Turks.
It was also important to discuss the significance of the Cyprus Government’s consent for U.S. U-2 flights from Cyprus, used to overfly the Soviet Union; Turkey refused U-2 flights from its territory.
It was also of major importance to review the significance of the 1970 Cyprus Government consent for the U.S. to fly out of Cyprus, over the Soviet Union, and land in Japan, the intelligence-gathering, super-
Secret SR-71 aircraft, the “Blackbirds.” Turkey refused SR-71 flights from its territory.
We also stressed the strategic value of the early-1974 Cyprus agreement, along with Egypt, Israel and Syria for U-2 flights from Cyprus to overfly the Middle East to ensure compliance with the Disengagement Agreement worked out by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
We reminded Senator Biden, to his understanding and agreement, that despite the internationally-illegal Cyprus invasion by Turkey, a U.S. and NATO ally, Cyprus refrained from altering its policies toward the U.S., despite U.S. disregard for the Cypriot agony: 1,614 Cypriots and 5 Americans – still missing to this day – being taken hostages to Turkey.
Determining that the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and its subsequent occupation of 37% of Cypriot territory were internationally-illegal actions and detrimental to United States national interests, Senator Biden pledged to seek justice for Cyprus by removal of Turkish forces and respect of and for Cypriot territorial integrity. In the Fall of 1974, he joined the critics on erroneous American foreign policy toward Cyprus and, along with Senator Bill Roth and Congressman Pete du Pont, all of Delaware, voted for the American embargo on military aid to Turkey, for the Turkish illegal invasion was accomplished with American weapons provided to Turkey strictly for defensive purposes, per the U.S.-Turkey bilateral agreements.
We Delawareans consider it of major significance that in all 41 years of the Cyprus issue, all three our elected congressional leaders have votes with us on every issue legislated. Delaware is the only State in our Union that can claim this success.
Then-Senator Biden carried out his pledge in support of Cyprus throughout his senatorial career, and now as Vice President of our United States, always considers Cyprus both a friend and of major significance to America’s national interests.
From then on, the relationship of our Community and the then-Senator grew and solidified. We often called and were often called to meet to discuss issues and how to approach them. We visited with him in his office in Delaware and in Washington, and were invited to his house on several occasions.
In late 1974, after the Turkish Embargo was enacted under the intense lobbying efforts of the American Hellenic Institute Public Affairs Committee (AHIPAC) – now the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), in Washington, our UHAAS of Delaware organization converted to AHIPAC – Delaware Chapter, today’s AHI-Delaware Chapter.
In 1983 I was “drafted” to become AHIPAC’s national Chairman, a position to which I was elected in four two-year consecutive terms. This increased our communications with Senator Biden even more, as our Washington staff was in constant contact with the Senator’s staff. Also, our very close association with him and his staff brought us even closer with our two Greek American senators and very close colleagues of our Senator, Paul Sarbanes and Paul Tsongas, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The three made a formidable team on Senate foreign relations legislative matters.
In 1987, Senator Biden introduced the bipartisan Biden-Pressler Senate Bill to reinstate the Turkish Embargo, for Turkey continued to defy American and United Nations resolutions to end its Cyprus occupation. Unfortunately, the Bill failed by three votes due to the
intense pressure by the Administration through its Kissinger-supporting State Department advocates.
From late 1989 to early 1990, Senator Biden introduced and held Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings of the Cyprus issue, with Matthew Nimetz – the same Nimets who has been seeking to force Greece to accept a formula for FYROM to contain the name “Macedonia” – at the time representing the State Department.
During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Confirmation Hearings in October 1990 for a new U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Senator Biden lectured that the U.S. should make it crystal clear to Turkey at the highest level that the status quo in Cyprus was unacceptable. Turkey “overstepped its bounds” when it invaded Cyprus and should leave. He also criticized the behavior of successive U.S. administrations “over the past 16 years” (at the time), and called for change of approach. “The President’s policy essentially guarantees the status quo on Cyprus, and does not provide any incentive to Turkey to move on Cyprus. Therefore, the Turkish Cypriots are not going to get into any meaningful talks.”
During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Confirmation Hearings on October 2, 1991 for a new U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Senator Biden criticized Turkey for its unwillingness “to accommodate any change” in its Cyprus policy, and warned of serious consequences “if they (the Turks) are unwilling to go to a conference.”
During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Confirmation Hearings on September 28, 1993 for a new U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Senator Biden remarked that “Cyprus remains illegally divided; its northern sector occupied by Turkish forces in defiance of the U.N. Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. The Cyprus Government has demonstrated that it
is prepared for peace, but the stubborn resistance of the Turkish Cypriots stands in the way of a final settlement.”
On July 6, 1994 Senator Biden joined three other senators and three members of the House of Representatives in a bipartisan letter to then-Ambassador of Cyprus, Andrew Jacovides, praising Cyprus for its “extremely courageous forward thinking…[and] positive move toward bringing peace and stability to Cyprus…commending Cypriot President Glafkos Clerides for his initiative to try to promote demilitarization [of the island]…[which] could lead to substantial progress toward settlement of the Cyprus dispute.” It is significant to emphasize that Turkey rejected the demilitarization plan.
Three weeks later, on July 27, on the twentieth year sad anniversary of the internationally-illegal Turkish invasion of and subsequent illegal occupation on Cyprus, Senator Biden entered the following statement in The Congressional Record: “The continued stalemate of the Cyprus question cannot be attributed only to Turkish Cypriot obstinacy. The continued occupation on the island, and the economic support provided by Turkey, sustain the illegal regime in northern Cyprus, and this is critical to the continuation of the status quo…Given these facts, it should be obvious that United States diplomatic pressure should be focused on Ankara, the recipient of significant American economic and military assistance.” It was imperative to emphasize at that point that after Israel and Egypt, Turkey was the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since the end of World War II.
During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joint Confirmation Hearings on September 23, 1997 for new U.S. ambassadors to Turkey and Greece: Mark R. Parris and Nicholas Burns respectively, Senator
Biden took the leadership and severely criticized the Ambassador-designate to Turkey for his inaccurate and misleading opening statement.
During Senate Foreign Relations Committee Confirmation Hearings on June 9, 1998 for designate U.S. ambassadors to Albania, Bosnia, and the FYROM, Senator Biden stated that “Southeastern Europe is critically important for the United States,” and invoked the Cyprus issue as significant example. “…August will mark a sad anniversary: an entire quarter-century since the Greek inhabitants of Northern Cyprus were ethnically cleansed from their homes by the Turkish Army…But until now…no one has been able to move the Cyprus process significantly forward.” He entered the following specific details on the issue:
“The end of the Cold War has offered the opportunity
for peaceful solutions on several conflicts once considered
perpetual: the Arab-Israeli, Bosnian, and Northern Irish.
Bucking this trend is the unresolved illegal occupation of
Cyprus by Turkey. The continued division of Cyprus is a
dispute of high national security importance to the United
States (emphasis mine). The ‘cold peace’ status quo on this
troubled island is simply not an option…Stubborn Turkish
Cypriots set two preconditions for substantive talks: first,
recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,’
and second, withdrawal by the Republic of Cyprus of its
membership application to the European Union…Turkish
Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is not only continuing to
perpetuate the illegal occupation of the island, but he
is acting more in Ankara’s interest than in that of his
own constituency…Recognition of a ‘Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus’ would…be recognition of an illegal
act of aggression…Meanwhile, Washington needs to
make it clear both to Denktash and Ankara that we
expect better cooperation from them.”
The next day, June 10, attending “The United States and Cyprus: The Challenges for American Foreign Policy” Conference on Capitol Hill, Senator Biden reiterated the facts of Turkey’s illegal presence on Cyprus, and the responsibility of the United States to make it clear to Turkey in no uncertain terms that its behavior in the Cyprus issue was unacceptable, and that a positive and constructive attitude was to be expected.
As then the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in October 1999, Senator Biden refused to release a $5 billion aid package to Turkey, if the Turkish Government under its Premier Bulent Ecevit did not work toward a Cyprus solution. When visited in his office by the Turkish Prime Minister who defiantly charged the Senator: “You can’t do that,” in his usual style Senator Biden replied: “The Hell I can’t!”
On August 24, 2001 the U.S. Department of Defense tentatively approved a $1.6 billion deal with Turkey for co-production of U.S. attack helicopters, setting the stage for a legislative tug-of-war between
supporters and opponents of the controversial issue…An aide to the Senator “stressed Senator Biden’s interest in the issue,” and noted in particular the Senator’s desire to see the Turkish Government support a peaceful settlement of the Cyprus issue.
On October 25, 2006, congratulating the Cyprus Brotherhood of Philadelphia for its 50th Anniversary, Senator Biden commended the Brotherhood for its “commitment to solidarity with the Cyprus people…and his admiration for the island…as again this summer Cypriots opened their arms to assist thousands of Americans fleeing from Lebanon. This exceptional display of Hellenic hospitality reaffirmed Cyprus’ importance as a key partner for the United States and a safe harbor amid the unsettled waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. Especially in the context of these events, I remain deeply committed to forging a just political settlement to end the island’s partition.” Turkey did not provide refuge for the Americans.
Senator Biden was signatory on the November 23 letter by 73 senators to President George Bush, expressing deep concern on Turkish Government detrimental policy toward the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Constantinople.
The March 30, 2007 Congressional Record carried Senator Biden’s support of Cyprus’ legitimate international rights to explore potential sources of oil and gas deposits off its southern shores, a plan obstructed by Turkish threats of dangerous activity because the Turkish Government felt that it had the right to those potential sources.
The Hellenic Voice of October 24, 2007 published a letter from Senator Biden expressing his “thanks” for the support of the Greek American Community, restating his support for justice to Cyprus and Security for Greece.
After Senator Richard Lugar and five co-sponsors introduced Senate Resolution 459 in March 2008, positioning the United States officially urging NATO to accept “Albania, Croatia, and ‘Macedonia’ (FYROM)” as full members at the then-forthcoming April Bucharest Summit, Senator Biden joined Senator Robert Menendez in the efforts that stopped the problematic resolution on the grounds that given the state of negotiations between Greece and FYROM, consideration of that resolution would not have been helpful.
In an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini, on September 1, 2008 Senator Biden again called for the “full withdrawal” of Turkish troops from Northern Cyprus, referring to the Cyprus occupation as an “anomaly” in which Washington’s relations with Ankara “will be influenced by how the Cyprus problem is solved, namely the full withdrawal of Turkey, and from how Greek and Turkish differences in the Aegean are settled.”
In the November 2008 national elections, Joe Biden was on the winning team with then-Senator Barack Obama. In January 2009, he became Vice President Joe Biden, and his stand of justice for Cyprus and security for Greece remained intact.
On November 3, 2009, after the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Constantinople, His All-Holiness Bartholomew, met with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden held a Welcome Reception at the Vice Presidential Residence in Washington. Invited among a large number of dignitaries and other attendees was also the Turkish Ambassador to the United States. In welcoming His Holiness, Vice President Biden reiterated his support for the Patriarchate, and expressed his stout support of Hellenic matters.
On his official trip to Turkey, Vice President Biden visited the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate at the Phanar on December 3, 2011, being the first U.S. Vice President ever to do so, and after a lengthy meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch, he visited the Church of St. George where he lit a candle.
In May 2014, Vice President Biden visited Cyprus, becoming “the most senior U.S. official to visit Cyprus in more than 50 years.” Upon arrival, he expressed that “I wanted to come to Cyprus to primarily underscore the value the United States attaches to our growing cooperation with the Republic of Cyprus. This relationship is a genuine strategic partnership which holds great promise.”
Two months later, at the Greek Orthodox Church Biennial Clergy-Laity Conference, on July 10 Vice President Biden spoke on three very serious issues: the relationship between the United States and Greece, the Defense of Religious Freedom and its impact upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Halki issue, and the continued internationally-illegal Turkish occupation on Cyprus.
During his quick two-day official trip to Turkey four months later, Vice President Biden took the time on November 23 to visit the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch. The two had a one-and-half hour private meeting, after which they visited the Church of St. George, where the Vice President lit a candle, as he had done on his previous visit three years before.
On October 21, 2015, a day that will live in deep disappointment to the Greek American Community, Vice President Joseph R. Biden unfortunately ended his quest for President of the United States,
feeling that the untimely loss of his son, Beau, four months ago from cancer had depleted him of strength for the long campaign road. With the Republicans in disarray over trying to find a candidate who might fit their diverse desires and with Donald Trump confusing the issue even more, with Hillary Clinton deservedly and correctly losing trust day-by-day, and with Bernie Sanders advocating a political path even farther left than Barack Obama, Joe Biden was the only viable candidate near the center of the political spectrum. He is experienced in the governing process as the sitting Vice President, has solid knowledge of domestic issues due to 8 years in his position, and possesses enormous expertise on foreign policy matters from 36 years as Senator member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 8 years as Vice President.
Those of us who know Joe Biden for over four decades, are well aware of his down-to-earth personality, his honesty, his truthfulness, his commitment, his patriotism, and his objectives to defend and expand America’s best national interests, in bilateral terms: what’s good for us and what’s good for them, for if the positive is one-sided it becomes negative and thereby inoperative and unproductive.
For us Hellene Americans, devoted citizens to our nation by birth or by choice, and proud of our glorious Hellenic heritage: the Beacon of Western Civilization, would have seriously supported Biden’s candidacy. “Making America Great Again” requires determination, knowledge, expertise, and faithfulness to our society, not merely words of just campaign rhetoric. In considering Joe Biden’s advantages for presidential consideration, one would have gained much perspective from a good look at his 2007 book: Promises to Keep.