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College Students Complete Third Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece And Cyprus
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Demetra Atsaloglou
September 11, 2011—No. 60 (202) 785-8430

College Students Complete Third Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Study Trip To Greece And Cyprus

The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus completed its third year as thirteen students from across the United States participated in the two-week program which took place June 8 – 23, 2011.  The students received first-hand experience about the foreign policy issues affecting Greece and Cyprus, their relations with the U.S., and the interests of the U.S. in the region. The trip began with briefings in Washington on June 8 - 10, which were followed by a series of policy briefings and cultural activities in Cyprus, June 12-16, and Athens, June 17-23.

“Leading such an exceptional group of students to Cyprus and Greece was a wonderful opportunity,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis.  “It was rewarding to see them gain firsthand experience about the foreign policy issues that concern U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus.  The AHI Foundation looks forward to offering this program annually as interest and support for it has grown and participation nearly doubled since its inception three years ago.”  He added that this year, AHIF received 27 applications for the program.

Washington, D.C.

The program began June 8 at AHI’s Hellenic House with a briefing by AHI President Nick Larigakis and AHI Legal Counsel Nick Karambelas. A briefing at Qorvis Communications followed that provided the students with information about how to write opinion editorials and submit them to their local papers.

The next day the Embassy of Greece hosted a briefing with Deputy Chief of Mission Ioannis Vrailas and Military Attaché Col. Taxiarchis Sardellis.  A briefing at the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus followed featuring Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades, who provided background about the Turkish invasion of 1974 and its consequences 37 years later. Moreover, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a meeting with Besian Bocka, program manager and research associate to the New European Democracies Project.

On June 10, 2011, the students visited the U.S. State Department and met with Adam Scarlatelli, country desk officer for Cyprus and Christopher Snipes, country desk officer for Greece, before departing for Cyprus.

Washington, DC photos

Cyprus

The students arrived in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 11, 2011. They went to Ledra Street, which is a viewpoint of the Buffer Zone. There, the students saw the distinct, forcible division between the free, government-controlled areas of the Republic of Cyprus and the area of the Republic of Cyprus that has been under illegal military occupation by Turkey since 1974. On June 12, 2011, the students visited the archeological sites of Kourion, “Petra to Romiou,” the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, and the archaeological sites of Kato Paphos. The next day, they visited the Turkish occupied area, allowing them to experience firsthand the state of the area. Their observations included a strong visible Turkish presence and desecrated Greek Orthodox churches. The students also drove along the fenced-off area of Famagusta, allowing them to personally experience the “ghost city” and abandoned property that belong to Greek Cypriots. Later that evening, the students visited with the mayor of Nicosia, Eleni Mavrou.

The next two days consisted of meetings with several government officials including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Ambassador Andreas Kakouris who is Ministry Plenipotentiary, director of the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and former ambassador of Cyprus to the United States; Hon. Yiannakis Omirou, president, House of Representatives; Ambassador of the U.S. to the Republic of Cyprus Frank Urbancic; Mr. Georgios Tasou, president, House of Representatives Committee of Foreign Affairs; Mr. George Iacovou, presidential commissioner; and the Director of Service on Missing Persons Xenophon Kallis. Foreign Minister Markos Kiprianou also met with the students to gain feedback and hear about their experiences. The students also met with His Beatitude Archbishop Chyrsostomos II at the Archbishop’s residence and attended guided tours of old Nicosia Airport-UNFICYP and the Kanakaria Mosaics at the Byzantine Museum. The students also had a working luncheon with Miltos Miltiadou, senior press and information officer, Press and Information Office (PIO) of the Republic of Cyprus, which was hosted on behalf of Eleonora Gavrielides, PIO director. After two busy days of meeting with government officials and attending guided tours, the students recapped their visits and recounted their experiences with Ambassador Kakouris and discussed how more can be done in the United States to raise awareness about Cyprus.

The final day in Cyprus consisted of a meeting with the mayor of Famagusta, Hon. Alexis Ghalanos on June 16. Soon after, the students departed from Nicosia, Cyprus for Athens, Greece.

Cyprus photos

 

Greece

The students attended a briefing at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 17 with: Ambassador Chryssoula Aliferi, director, A7 Department for North America, Foreign Ministry; Ambassador Dimitris Yannakaki, director, A2 Department for Cyprus, Foreign Ministry; and Ambassador Dimitrios Touloupas, director, A4 Department for Turkey, Foreign Ministry. A briefing with Mr. Dennys S. Plessas, vice president of Business Development Initiatives for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., followed at the Grand Bretagne.  The students also enjoyed welcome reception hosted by Mr. Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretagne Hotel.

On June 18, the students attended a guided tour and dinner at The Center for Hellenism Damianos Foundation, Schinos Loutraki. There, they were able to see various historical statues and dedications of ancient Greek civilization as well as assortments of roses from around the world.  In addition, Spiros and Antonia Milonas, chairman of Ionian Management hosted a luncheon for the group and treated the students to a day of rest and relaxation at their pool in Sounio on June 19. The venue also provided the students to enjoy the beach that was nearby.

“We are extremely grateful to Damianos Constantinou and the Milonas family for their generous hospitality and for helping to make the students’ trip a memorable one,” said Larigakis.  “Their selfless contributions to the program are invaluable.”

ELIAMEP – Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy hosted a briefing with Professor Theodore Couloumbis and Ambassador Alexandros Philon, former Greek ambassador to the U.S. on June 20.  The students experienced high-level meetings with President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Demetri Dollis at the Presidential Palace.  President Papoulias took this opportunity to thank President Obama for support and assistance during Greece’s difficult period. A briefing with Professor Dimitris Keridis, associate professor of International Politics, University of Macedonia, followed.  The Foreign Ministry hosted a dinner for the group at Divani Palace Acropolis that evening.

The students met with U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel B. Smith, Political Counselor Dan Lewton, and Economic Counselor Paul Malik at the ambassador’s residence on June 21. After this meeting, the students went to the Grand Bretagne Hotel to meet with Ms. Aristoteliapa Peloni, journalist, Ta Nea. Also that day, the students received a briefing at the Ministry of Defense with Brig. Gen. Dimokritos Zervakis, director, Hellenic National Defense General Staff before traveling to the American College of Greece to meet with Mrs. Eve Geroulis, director of Integrated Marketing and Communications.  The students also received a tour of the campus.

On June 22, the students attended a briefing at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Ambassador Franciscos Kostellenos, director, A3 Department for Southeast European Countries, Foreign Ministry. On the final day of the foreign policy trip, the students met with Dr. Miranda Xafa, alternate executive director, Board of the International Monetary Fund, to discuss Greece’s current economic crisis. They continued on to the Hellenic Parliament for lunch, a tour, and to meet with MP Ilias Karanikas, chairman, Committee for Greeks Abroad and MP Spyridon Taliadouros, first vice chairman, Committee for Greeks Abroad. The students were also interviewed by Ms. Stefania Kasimi, journalist, Real News, at the Grand Bretagne Hotel, resulting in a full-page feature story that appeared in the newspaper’s Sunday edition.  The AHI Foundation hosted a farewell dinner at which various individuals the group met during its stay attended. Enlightened and motivated after a successful trip, students departed from Athens, Greece.

Greece photos

Student Participants

The thirteen students who participated in the 2011 AHIF College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus include: Irene Adamopoulos, a senior at St. Edward's University, pursuing a BA in International Relations; Alexi Antoniou, who is working towards his Juris Doctorate at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law; Constance Baroudos, who is completing her MA in Political Science at the California State University, Fullerton; Aspasia maBartell, who graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies in 2009 with a focus on the European Union; Ariane Centrella, who is a junior at the University of Connecticut pursuing her BA in English Dramatic Literature; Yianni Floropoulos, who is a graduate student studying Law and Governance at Montclair State University in New Jersey;  Joanna Kocani, who is currently pursuing a Certificate in Paralegal Studies at Georgetown University and received her BA from the University of "New York" Albania; Alexander LaBua, who received his BA from George Washington University, with a major in International Affairs and will attend Columbia University to pursue a MA in International Affairs at the School of International & Public Affairs in fall 2011; Cassandra Papas, who is completing her second year of her BA in International Studies at American University in Washington, DC.; John Petsagourakis, who is a sophomore working towards his BA, majoring in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) at the University of Pennsylvania with a minor in Classical Studies;  Margaret Skourlis, who is a MS candidate studying Computer Science at Queens College. She holds a MA in Political Science, a Masters Degree in Business Administration, an American Bar Association Paralegal Degree, and a BA in Philosophy; Maria Trakas, who is a MA candidate in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies at Loyola University Chicago, and a Juris Doctorate candidate in Law at DePaul University College of Law; Anastasia Tserkonis, who is a junior at Clark University, Worcester, Mass., is pursuing her BS in Political Science with a specialty in International Relations and a concentration in Law and Society.

Nick Larigakis, the president of the American Hellenic Institute, led the trip along with his assistant, Maria Stavrou. Stavrou graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and double majored in Government and History.

“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of the Embassies of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus in Washington who helped to make this trip a success,” said Larigakis. “We also thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus’ Press and Information Office; and the A7 Department for North America of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens for all of their assistance.”

Student Testimonials and Reflections

AHI has provided a unique experience for students interested in foreign policy to actually meet the people who make and implement policy in three countries. The AHI delegation hit the ground running, thrusting the students into the world of foreign policy first in Washington DC, then in Cyprus and finally in Greece. The trip was structured in a way that first informed the students on the relevant issues between the three countries and then allowed the students to discuss and, on some occasions, debate the issues with high level government officials.

By being on the ground, in the countries with the actual officials, foreign policy took on a different dimension. Once the delegation visited Cyprus and saw the ghost city of Famagusta, the Cyprus problem was no longer about a line on a map; it was a very real dispute. Arriving in Athens to see the civil unrest unfold before our eyes was an experience that cannot be gained through study alone. AHI was able to show us the actual effects that foreign policy can have on a country. Truly, the access to the officials, the locations, and the group itself combined to make an eye-opening experience.  -  Alexander Antoniou

The AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus was a unique program that exposed me to some of the difficult realities that face these two countries today. As a Greek American I have always identified closely with the plight of the Cypriot people. This trip gave me the opportunity to not only go to the island I had only read about, but to meet with and learn from some of the most prominent Greek Cypriot politicians. While it was depressing to be staying in the world’s only remaining divided capitol in Nicosia, our group’s tour of the self-proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” was even more overwhelming.

Indeed, the focus of our time in Athens was the country’s financial crisis, which was boiling over as we arrived. The program took us to the Greek Parliament where we had discussions with Greek members of Parliament at such a crucial time in the county’s politics.

I would like to sincerely thank the American Hellenic Institute for giving me this extremely unique opportunity. The efforts of Nick Larigakis have inspired all of us to be passionate about our Greek ancestry and to do what is in our power to help bring about change. This has been a remarkable experience. - Alex LaBua

The 2011 AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus was truly an extraordinary experience. We were able to form fast friendships because of our common academic and cultural interests; these connections helped us to experience the sometimes difficult moments, such as our visit to the occupied area of the “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.” We also had the chance to develop our perspectives regarding the sensitive issues in Greece and Cyprus, to form our ideas of how provide support for both countries from here in the United States, and discuss them with the other students. Together, I think we should be a formidable force in the world of foreign policy as it pertains to Greece, Cyprus, and the United States.

This trip was a remarkable, incomparable opportunity to grow and to begin to make our mark in the world. AHI worked so very hard to give us every experience that was crucial to our understanding of the issues, and then some. Their tireless efforts left us with a study trip that none of us shall ever forget; in fact, I believe each of us has learned a great deal about Greece, Cyprus, the United States, foreign policy, and even ourselves as a result of this trip.

I must also mention how fortunate we were to have been staying in Syntagma Square for a portion of the demonstrations. The opportunity to discuss the issues Greece is facing while they are physically manifested outside our windows was an unparalleled opportunity.

The experience certainly changed my life, and gave me a cause worth fighting for. The issues in Greece and Cyprus are serious, and they need more of a voice in the United States. I intend to become a part of that voice, as I know the other students will as well. Hopefully together we can begin to make a difference, and begin to bring these issues to the notice of the American people as well. I thank AHI for bringing this group of students together, and for helping to connect the Greek-American communities throughout the United States. - Ariane Centrella

The AHIF student foreign policy trip can be described as nothing less than a powerful and exceptional experience. During the trip we were briefed on policy by high-level officials from the governments of Greece and Cyprus, professors, business leaders, as well as a world-renowned economist. Following the briefings we had a unique opportunity to ask questions and thus achieve a thorough understanding of the many dimensions of the issues.  As a result of these meetings, and our visit to the occupied area of Cyprus, we will bring key findings back to our communities. We have developed a deep understanding of the issues AHI fights for on a daily basis, an understanding of which is far beyond what can be gained through books and university lectures. - Aspasia Bartell

Before AHIF’s Foreign Policy Trip, my knowledge of Cyprus came mostly from short encyclopedia descriptions and my knowledge of Greece from family stories and visits to historical sites. This trip informed me about the pressing issues in each country. In Cyprus the political debate surrounds the topic of unification of the two sides. Of all the information I brought home about Cyprus, the one fact that surprised most people is that Turkey still plays an active role on the island by replacing the voices of Turkish Cypriots with Anatolian settlers. Furthermore, when Cypriot officials ask superpowers such as the U.S. to help expel Turkish influence, most deny that they know anything about a Turkish role in Cyprus. Really, the ‘Cyprus problem’ is a simple one when you hear each side: Cyprus controls two-thirds of its island, Turkey controls the northern third and refuses to leave, and third parties protect their own interests by ignoring the numerous laws and treaties that Turkey violates by occupying part of another (EU) nation.

In conclusion, though one can comment that Greek and Turkish populations have had tensions throughout history, the Greek foreign ministry official said himself that there “has been much progress in Greek-Turkish relations recently.” Surely in Cyprus, the governments have their own issues with each other but in Greece, relations with Turkey remain largely peaceful. The big topic on the table there is the economic crisis. - Cassandra Papas

As a participant of the AHIF Policy Trip, I had the honor to meet with various foreign policy officials. These meetings increased my awareness of foreign issues effecting Greece and Cyprus and increased my confidence in communicating these issues.  The trip has motivated me to take a leadership role in my community, such as giving presentations on my school campus and in classes and using various media outlets to bring awareness of the issues that affect Greece and Cyprus.

I had the pleasure of working side-by-side with extremely intelligent peers who, together, can make a difference in the Greek American community. Each peer had unique characteristics that enhanced the group and meetings with foreign officials.

This trip was an experience of a lifetime, one that I will never forget. I highly recommend all Greek American students who have an interest in political affairs to participate in this foreign policy trip in the future.  - Constance Baroudos

There is no doubt that this trip was an opportunity of a lifetime. Meeting representatives of the United States, Greece and Cyprus is something that many of us could never have dreamed of doing at this point in our life. Having the ability to visit the occupied area of Cyprus and Famagusta are two things that I will never take for granted. The emotions this trip evoked were not something that could have been brought out with pictures and stories. We had to go and see what had happened years ago but, more importantly, what is still happening today. This is an opportunity that one can never forget.

Many of us have been questioning the thought process of the political figures working to establish a united Cyprus or even those that are trying to resolve the multitude of issues in Greece. The conversations that we had with the officials helped us better understand how each person approached his/her work. In some cases, we were disappointed to see how various issues were being resolved but these situations showed us that if we wanted to see change, we had to act. As Greek Americans there are a multitude of issues that we face. Through this experience we have learned how much power we have as citizens of the United States and that we can help Greece, the nation that many of us still identify as home. We have been taught the struggles of Greece and Cyprus over the past several decades and with the opportunities that this trip had to offer, we can now see ourselves becoming the change we wish to see for Greece, Cyprus and maybe someday, we can teach the world. - Irene Adamopoulos

The AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus was an invaluable learning experience. The program armed me with appropriate knowledge on the current situation in Greece and Cyprus. The meetings were informative, the speakers were passionate, and the issues are severe. I realized that as a Greek-American I have a great responsibility and role to play in my community. US foreign policy has a considerable role to play on the outcome of the current situation of Greece and Cyprus and it is my duty as a citizen to use my power to influence my representatives. The country of my heritage needs my help and the help of all Greek-Americans, and it is important that my voice is raised, that my words are heard, and that change is made. Greece and Cyprus have provided me with a background to be proud of, now it is my turn to return the deed, and I ask all of my fellow Greek-Americans to do the same. - Joanna Kocani

The AHIF foreign policy trip to Greece and Cyprus was of tremendous personal value to me and I would eagerly recommend it to any student at the undergraduate or graduate level.

As a Greek, I came to realize the current strength and future potential of the Greek American community to incite change in U.S. foreign and domestic policy. I was further enlightened not only by the program’s focus on illuminating the concerns behind key Greek and Cypriot issues, but also by its emphasis on the pivotal role they play on the international stage.

As a student, I was given an extraordinary opportunity to be exposed to diplomats who, both in the United States and abroad, represented the pillars of actual policymaking. Interactions both on and off the record with the various speakers were indispensable additions to any academic understanding of diplomacy as well as invaluable resources for information about the issues.

Finally, as an American, I was brought to understand the importance of United States interests in Cyprus and the Balkans. The value of the U.S. as a champion of international law and order was clearly demonstrated in Cyprus, where it was lacking the most. I was reminded that as citizens we should always be mindful and active of our country’s role in international affairs, and give it the pressure it needs to stay on course when it begins to stray.  - John Petsagourakis

The AHIF Trip was an experience of a lifetime that enabled me to meet with high-level officials and to learn the core of Greek and Cypriot foreign policy issues. As a student Ambassador for AHIF for NY, I hope to get a large involvement of Greek-American students to fight for Greek and Cypriot causes.

Having seen and experienced what many Greek Americans may never see I will do my best to educate Greek Americans as well as non-Greek Americans about the Greek and Cypriot foreign policy issues as well as what they can do in America to help with these issues.

I hope that one day our community will become so unified that they will have the power and strength through unity to help Greece and Cyprus. By being united, Greeks and Cypriots around the world have the power to accomplish endless achievements. - Margaret Louise Skourlis

This trip provided the unprecedented opportunity to learn about the foreign (and domestic) policy issues affecting Cyprus, Greece, and the United States from those who are at the helm. These issues should be especially important to us, and our communities, but, unfortunately, too few people are aware, understand, or seem to care about them. We as citizens, now armed with knowledge, are in a position to affect strategic change through grass roots initiatives focused toward educating our local communities, as well as our representatives in government. - Maria Trakas

This trip was an absolutely invaluable experience. The meetings we had were so informative and getting to know other students who are passionate about these issues was very inspiring. I would recommend this trip to anyone who has an interest in relations between the United States, Greece, and Cyprus! This trip is one of the best things that AHI has going!  It must be continued for years to come. - Maria Christina Stavrou

The American Hellenic Institute’s Foreign Policy Program to Greece and Cyprus has truly transformed and shaped my understanding of foreign policy and conflict resolution. Being a Greek American, AHI offered an opportunity to meet with high level government officials, prominent business personnel, and religious leaders dedicated to major issues in Greece and in Cyprus. Each day was a new experience to be had along with my fellow Greek American student peers within the trip. Given the opportunity to meet with various individuals gave me the chance to understand the Cyprus issue and the situation in Greece from multiple perspectives.

The AHI Foreign Policy Program is an outstanding opportunity to discover one’s roots and lineage from a political perspective. From a country, Greece, that has offered the world democracy, art, philosophy, etc., to Cyprus, a country held in a deadlock because of lack of interest from the international community in regards to offering a meaningful solutions to Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus, no words can describe how wonderful this experience has been. I will continue to advocate for a resolution to the Cyprus issue as well as future plans in regards to aiding Greece politically during this tumultuous period in its history. No program offers such a hands-on approach to educating the youth in regards to some of the most pressing issues the global arena faces presently.  I thank the American Hellenic Institute with all of my heart. - Anastasia Tserkonis

Like the sunsets overlooking the Temple of Poseidon, AHIF’s Foreign Policy Study Trip to Cyprus and Greece is an experience that will remain with me until the end of my horizon. It provided much needed information and first-hand accounts that we can use to better educate our fellow citizens, officials here in the USA, and most importantly ourselves. The situations, problems and calamities differ greatly between Cyprus and Greece, each is unique and indigenous, but what unites Greece and Cyprus are common external threats and a shared cultural and familial DNA.

As members of the greater Hellenic World, we must see the interests of Greece as those of the Greek Citizens and be ambassadors of the nation they want to live in. Steadfast in this ambition the political elite who run the Greek government via “inner circles” and the systemic corruption that plagues businesses and the common citizen will dwindle and a new era can begin. This new era where Greece is reborn is where Greece and Cyprus can enjoy a geopolitical and financial synergy that will be unparalleled.

The Greek nation is a sun-soaked, sea-battered wildflower, on the edge of a cliff.  Its roots run deep and are old with memories of harsher pasts and ruthless winters. But it faces a harsher climate with a new drought – that of a lack of patriots. There are internal diseases making it hard for the wildflower to compete for resources. To make matters worse, the weeds are growing stronger as a result and all around waiting, wishing, wanting for the right time to attack. The flower stands on strong rocks, breathes the most sobering air, and gets hit by an all enthralling and unforgiving sun… and together we will make sure it survives. I call on you the educated, the ambitious, and the unforgiving, together we can use our experiences and make sure there is a better tomorrow. My experience is the following—that with unity, and by working together, anything is possible. - Yiannis K. Floropoulos

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.

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For additional information, please contact Demetra Atsaloglou at (202) 785-8430 or at pr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.