Gene Rossides, who passed away last Saturday at the age of 92, was a historic figure in the Greek-American community and the main force behind the US arms embargo against Turkey after the invasion of Cyprus.
Rossides founded the American Hellenic Institute in 1974 with the goal of making the American public aware of what happened in Cyprus and to lobby Congress against Turkish actions. He did so effectively, garnering bipartisan support for the embargo on transfers of US arms to Turkey, which took effect on February 5, 1975 and ended in 1978.
Widely respected for his knowledge and with strong opinions which he defended passionately, Rossides was a force to be reckoned with. Even his adversaries recognized his knowledge, abilities and contributions to Hellenic causes.
He was known to the American public as an outstanding college football player, the quarterback who led his Columbia University team to the victory that broke West Point’s 32-game unbeaten streak in 1947.
After heading Richard Nixon’s New York presidential campaign office in 1968, Rossides was appointed as assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Nixon administration from 1969 to 1973, the first Greek American to be confirmed by the Senate to an Executive Branch office.
During the many years I had known him in Washington, I had the honor of discussing with Rossides all the aspects of the US-Greece relationship. His pain at the continued occupation of part of Cyprus was deep. And although he often seemed rigid in his approach, insisting that Turkey was not such an important part of the regional puzzle in the Eastern Mediterranean, he always offered strong arguments and well-thought-out analyses on Cyprus, the Aegean, or any other given issue, putting a strong emphasis on the rule of law.
As the American Hellenic Institute noted in a statement – he stayed on as a board member into his later years – Rossides was “a proud American who never lost sight of his ancestry” and a champion of the rule of law, Hellenism and justice for Cyprus.
The Greek diaspora is indeed in a far better place because of Gene Rossides, who “understood that United States foreign policy must be grounded on ethical principles and not only national power.” He often upset American officials with his unwavering criticism and strong language, but that was Rossides.