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Nicosia,
21 April, 2019
 
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The influence of Greek Americans and relations with Turkey

The power of the diaspora should not be discounted

Athanasios Ellis

Athanasios Ellis

The presence of the Greek-American community is an intrinsic factor in any equation that concerns Greece. The power of the diaspora – which is sometimes evident publicly and officially and, at others, discreetly – should not be discounted by any party who poses a direct or indirect threat to Greece or Cyprus. Despite personal grudges or even deep divisions within the community, Greeks and Cypriots in America are a force to be reckoned with.

The annual celebration at the White House of Greek independence may be mostly symbolic in nature – even though only a handful of communities in America can boast such a ceremony – but the influence of the Greek Americans is by no means negligible.

Many often complain that is it not blatant or effective enough, but those who know how the American political system works – and unfortunately there are only a few in Greece – know that despite the acknowledged weaknesses, things are being done and results are being produced.

This has been apparent in recent months in the case of the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Obviously this is mainly a case about America’s strategic interests and geopolitical priorities, not Greek or Cypriot concerns. Nevertheless, Greek-American – as well as pro-Greek – senators and congressmen in Washington have been at the vanguard of the effort to stop the jets from being delivered to Turkey, making bold interventions that reflect their influence and interest in not upsetting the balance of power in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have been distancing himself from the United States with his behavior, but he does not have the luxury of being able to engage in an all-out confrontation with Washington. In this regard, he needs to consider that when he makes threats against Greece and Cyprus, he is not only exacerbating tension in an area where he believes himself to have the military advantage, but also damaging Turkey’s image in the United States, with everything that entails for his country.

It’s not just the military dimension that Turkey needs to deal with and be more cautious about. A few months ago, US President Donald Trump was moved to threaten Turkey quite openly and practically bring the country’s economy to its knees over the incarceration of an American pastor. Like it or not, the world’s biggest economic and military power has the ability to make a lot of things happen.

Hence, anyone who looks at Greek-Turkish relations as one-dimensional is gravely mistaken. There is a lot more at play. The equation is a complex one that often includes other, powerful players.

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