Fourth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success
Students Gain Firsthand Experience about Eastern Mediterranean Region
The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus completed its fourth year as nine students from across the United States participated in the two-week program held June 13-29, 2012.
During the two-week program, the students were in Athens, Greece June 22-29 for a historic election and in Cyprus, June 16-21, just prior to it taking the helm of the EU Presidency on July 1. They received firsthand 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. There were meetings or briefings with American embassies, officials from various ministries, including Foreign Affairs; parliament members, religious leaders, think-tank organizations, and members of academia and the private sector of both countries. In Cyprus, the group visited the Turkish-occupied area.
“The trip provided a wonderful opportunity for me to lead such an exceptional group of students to Cyprus and Greece,” 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 support for it has grown and student interest remains at significant levels since the program’s inception four years ago.”
Prior to their departure for Cyprus, the students gathered for briefings in Washington, June 13-14.
On Wednesday, June 13, the students assembled at AHI’s Hellenic House in Washington for a briefing by AHI President Nick Larigakis and AHI Legal Counsel and Board of Directors Secretary Nick Karambelas. They also met with Thalia Assuras, former CBS News correspondent, who provided a media training presentation to the students.
On Thursday, June 14, the students attended a breakfast and briefing with Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president, B’nai B’rith International at the organization’s headquarters. They also had an audience with Antonis Papakostas and Nikolaos Krikos, first counselors, Embassy of Greece and Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades, ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S. In the afternoon, the participants attended a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution titled, “The Greek Election and the Future of the Euro.” Among the featured panelists was former American Ambassador to Greece Daniel V. Speckhard, who is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. Their busy day ended with a briefing at the State Department held with Lindsay Coffey, senior Cyprus desk officer and Christopher Snipes, senior Greek desk officer. In addition, they met with Ambassador Tom Miller, former U.S. ambassador to Greece and State Department Cyprus coordinator, and president & CEO, International Executive Service Corps (IESC) for an informational session.
The delegation arrived in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 16. This was the first time any of the students visited Cyprus.
During their stay in Cyprus, the students met with several government officials including: Ambassador Andreas Kakouris, Minister Plenipotentiary, director of the Division of the Cyprus Question and Turkey; Ambassador Tasos Tzionis, director of Division of Energy, Maritime Policy and Policy Planning; Lt. Col. Tasos Georgiou of the Cypriot National Guard; President of the House of Representatives Yiannakis Omirou; Miltos Miltiadou, senior press and information officer; Mayor of Nicosia Constantinos Yiorkadjis; Xenophon Kallis, head of service on Missing Persons; Ambassador Euripides L Evriviades, political director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou.
The Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office sponsored a working luncheon for the students. Senior Press and Information Officer Miltiadou represented Chryso Demosthenous, head, Section of International Relations, Events and Exhibitions; Press and Information Office, at the luncheon.
In addition, the students had an audience with His Beatitude the Archbishop of Cyprus, Chrysostomos II at the Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus.
In between meetings, they visited the ancient archeological site of Kourion and other archaeological sites in the surrounding Limassol area. They also went on guided tours of Kanakaria Mosaics at the Byzantine Museum and old Nicosia Airport-UNFICYP. Capt. Michael Harnadek, UNFICYP military public information officer, led the students on the airport tour. For the students, visiting the old Nicosia airport brought the Turkish invasion of the island to life. The students made the observation that the airport, which was once a hub of travel and a monument to the modernity and prosperity of Cyprus, is now wrought with bullet holes, barbed wire, and crumbling walls. It stands as a decrepit monument to the horror of the Turkish invasion.
The students also attended the U.S. National Day reception at the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus, which was attended by many high-level officials, including President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias. The students were able to meet with President Christofias at the reception.
Moreover, U.S. Charge d’affaires Andrew James Shoffer and members of his staff hosted the students at the ambassador’s residence for a roundtable discussion.
Moreover, the AHIF students had the opportunity to discuss the Cyprus question with students from the University of Cyprus, which was sponsored by the university. The students enjoyed getting different perspectives on the occupation from students who did not live through the 1974 invasion.
Visit to Turkish-occupied Cyprus
Furthermore, the itinerary included a visit to the ghost city of Famagusta. They left with the impression that what was once a busting port city is now a haunting testament to the realities of the Turkish occupation. They were shocked to see brand new resorts juxtaposed against abandoned, dilapidated properties once belonging to Greek Cypriots. The student delegation also met with Mayor of Famagusta Alexis Ghalanos.
One of the most eye-opening portions of the trip to Cyprus was the visit to the Turkish occupied area. The students described their crossing over into the occupied area as entering a different world. They observed a strong, undeniable Turkish presence in the occupied area. Monuments to Turkish nationalism, culminating in two giant flags on the side of the Pentadaktylos Mountains, a Turkish flag and the “flag” of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” marked the landscape. They serve as constant reminders of the injustice of the occupations and filled the students with a range of emotions.
Christos Galanis said, “just seeing the flags alone made me want to take action.”
While in the occupied area the students visited a desecrated Orthodox Church. The church was decrepit, filled with pigeon droppings, broken windows, and ruined icons.
"To stand in a place where, for generations, Christians stood in awe and reverence of the Creator of all, where incense and psalmody once rose from earth to Heaven in praise of the God who became man; but now stands abandoned and desecrated, with no respect or honor given to things of the earth or of Heaven, is truly a powerful and moving experience,” Manoli Anagnostiadis said emotionally.
The Cyprus leg concluded with a working lunch and briefing about the students’ experiences hosted by Ambassador Kakouris and Androula Lanitis, director of the Division for Communication Policy. They discussed what could be done in the United States to raise awareness about Cyprus. Ambassador Kakouris urged the students to “become Cypriot ambassadors to the U.S.” and to help change the perception that “might is right” regarding the illegal Turkish occupation. All of the students, energized by their trip, were prepared to advocate for Cyprus in the United States.
Overall, each meeting left the students with a lasting impression about the Cyprus issue. Their first visit to the island was both informational and inspirational, informing the students about the different facets that make up Cypriot foreign policy and showing them the devastating effects of the illegal military occupation by Turkey since 1974.
After an enlightening trip to Cyprus, the students embarked for Greece. They were anxious to see what path Greece would take following Parliamentary elections.
On their first day, the students had a breakfast meeting with Dr. Miranda Xafa, alternate executive director, Board of the International Monetary Fund, to discuss the current economic situation in Greece and possibilities for the future.
The topic of Greece’s business climate was also discussed with Felix Bitzios, CEO, First Mediterranean Investments Corporation during a meeting held at the prominent Libra Group. A two-hour working luncheon with Mr. Bitzios followed.
The first day of meetings also included an audience with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece His Beatitude Hieronymos II.
The fast-paced first day concluded with a welcome reception hosted by Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretagne Hotel.
The next day ELIAMEP—Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy hosted a briefing with Professors Theodore Couloumbis and Thanos Veremis. The professors gave their perspectives on the future of Greece after the most recent elections.
Following the briefing at ELIAMEP, the students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a series of briefings with: Mr. Koundouros, acting director of the B7 International Energy Relations Department and First Counselor Kostellenos and Counselor Vlachakis of the A3 South Eastern Europe Department. Topics ranged from Greece’s energy projects with neighboring countries to Greece’s immigration challenges to the FYROM name recognition issue.
Moreover, Director General of the General Secretariat of Greeks Abroad Ambassador Petros Panagiotopoulous hosted a dinner for the delegation at the Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel. The students were encouraged by the support the Greek government showed for the diaspora community.
On June 26, the students visited the Ministry of Defense where they received a briefing from General Staff Col. Dimokritos Zervakis and Chief of the General Staff, Mr. Kostarakos. The briefing showed the high level of readiness of the Greek military and demonstrated how valuable Greek forces were to many security operations worldwide. The students were surprised to see just how active the Turkish military is in Greek waters and airspace.
One student noted, “Turkish violations of Greek airspace go largely unmentioned in the international media, yet the Hellenic Armed Forces stand ready to protect Greece and the rest of the world. It’s shocking that the international community does not emphasize Greek contributions to international security.”
After also receiving a tour of the control room at the Ministry of National Defense, the students received a guided tour of the Hellenic Parliament where they met with Secretary General of the Hellenic Parliament Athanasios Papaioannou. Secretary General Papaioannou provided insight about how the Hellenic Parliament operates.
In addition, the students were excited to have an audience with President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace. President Papoulias wished the students success in their studies and asked them to tell him their personal thoughts about the situation in Greece, how they see the world, its future, and how the world can be made a better place. The students were thrilled and honored that President Papoulias showed interest in what they thought about Greece and the rest of the world. The meeting with President Papoulias received significant TV and newspaper coverage in Greece.
Aletha Vassilakis said that she was “shocked that the President of Greece cared about what she, a twenty-year-old college student, had to say about the world.”
Later that evening, the students attended a July 4th Reception at the U.S. Embassy.
June 27 would be another busy day for the students, which began with a breakfast meeting with Aristotelia Peloni foreign affairs contributor of one of Greece’s leading mainstream newspapers, Ta Nea.
Additionally, the students received a briefing at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by Ambassador Yannakakis and Ambassador Touloupas from the A2 Cyprus and A4 Turkey Departments and Ambassador Aliferi from the A7 North America Department. The ambassadors discussed the relations between Greece and Turkey and the strategic importance of the Cyprus question. Ambassador Aliferi also explained her job responsibilities, which include working with American officials to educate them about the strategic importance of Greece’s issues to the United States.
Moreover, the students met with U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel B. Smith, Leah Martin, political officer; and Paul Malik, economic counselor at the ambassador’s residence. The ambassador and his staff answered the students’ questions candidly, articulating the United States position on economic issues, Greece’s relationship with Cyprus, and the future development of Greek natural resources. At the end of the meeting, Stephanos Karavas expressed his gratitude to Ambassador Smith for being so open with his answers and fielding all of the students’ questions. The two-hour meeting with Ambassador Smith gave the students a strong handle on U.S.-Greece relations.
The day’s meetings schedule concluded with Professor Dr. Maros Evriviades, Panteion University.
To conclude the day, Navios Maritime Holdings, Inc. hosted a generous dinner for the students at The Yacht Club. Navios’s CEO/Chairman, Angeliki Frangou, was the 2012 recipient of AHI’s Hellenic Heritage Achievement and Public Service Award in May. Many of the company’s executives, including: Capt. Konstantinos G. Gerapetritis, vice president, Risk Management; Mr. Peter Kallifidas, vice president, Legal Risk Management; and Mr. Alexandros Laios, Legal Counsel attended and spoke with the students.
On June 28, the students took a field trip to the Hellenic Army Tank Training Center. They learned about the facility, were shown different types of tanks used by the military, and were allowed to use some of the training equipment at the facility. An olive tree was planted at the center in honor of AHI President Nick Larigakis and the student delegation.
Later that day, the students were also afforded an opportunity to meet with Mr. Dennys S. Plessas, vice president of Business Development Initiatives, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. He gave a presentation about Lockheed Martin’s business model and its operations in Greece.
The trip concluded with a farewell dinner hosted by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation at the Grande Bretagne. Many of the officials with whom the students met and AHI supporters attended the dinner. Each student gave a speech about his or her experience. The students’ statements differed, but there was a common thread of gratitude to all of the AHI Foundation supporters. All of the students described their experiences on the foreign policy trip as educational and life changing.
The busy Greece itinerary did allow for some downtime and relaxation for the students, who enjoyed an outing on the personal yacht hosted graciously by longtime AHI member Mr. Aris Drivas of Drivas Yachting. They also were treated to a guided tour and lunch 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.
“We are extremely grateful to Aris Drivas and Damianos Constantinou, who is the founder of The Center for Hellenism Damianos and has been an AHI member since 1974, 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.”
Student Testimonials and Reflections
This was the trip of a lifetime, and I learned more in two and a half weeks than a whole year in school. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing experience. —Aletha Vassilakis, University of California, San Diego
This AHI policy trip was such a fantastic opportunity. To be able to meet and speak with so many government officials in the Cypriot and Greek governments was an extremely unique experience for me at such a young age. I was able to see firsthand the effects of the Turkish occupation of Cyprus and the struggle, passion, and distress felt by the citizens of Cyprus. By speaking with various representatives in Greece, I was able to begin to wrap my head around the magnitude of the recent economic crisis and the real effects it has had on the Greek population. The experiences and knowledge I gained in both countries far surmounts anything I could have read in a book or news headlines because it struck a very human cord that is often lacking in second or third person accounts one might read or hear back home in the states.
However, this trip did not only give me the great opportunity to tackle these issues head on but also gave me the opportunity to meet other Greek American college students who are passionate about international relations. It was an honor to become friends with these students and to now count them among my peers. I have always had great passion for my Greek heritage but this trip has given me the opportunity to understand and value Greece on a different level. I now feel like an educated American on the issues of Greece which I can apply on an international level. —Alexis Konstantine Angelo, Trinity University
The AHI foreign policy trip is an invaluable opportunity to understand the issues that face the Greek American community and provides a forum of discussion with the world’s leading officials. It’s a resource that no book, news source, or class could ever provide. AHI provided an irreplaceable real world experience. – Andrew M. Pernokas, Boston University
The AHIF Foreign Policy trip was a truly amazing and transformative experience. Traveling, learning, and discussing the different issues with my peers exposed me to different perspectives from other Greek American students and provided lasting friendships. The trip to Cyprus allowed me to witness firsthand the multitude of challenges that Cyprus has overcome since 1974, but also allowed me to see the great challenges that the Republic of Cyprus still faces. While burdened with the weight of the illegal occupation of the northern portion of the island, the Republic of Cyprus has grown to become a significant player in the international community as evidenced by their assumption of the EU Presidency in July. The EU Presidency was a reoccurring theme in many of our meetings in Cyprus, however, this great success, a testament to the strength and perseverance of the Cypriot people, could not mask the occupation. The journey to the occupied area showed the true realities of the Cyprus problem. Seeing the desecrated churches, Turkish soldiers, and abandoned buildings on the backdrop of pristine beaches and vacationing Turks impacted the issue in a way that a book or an article never could. Traveling to Cyprus took the way I saw the issue out of a history book and into the present day, giving me a renewed passion for the issue.
The AHIF Foreign Policy trip allowed me to see Greece in a new light. Having been to Greece before, experiencing high-level briefings at the Ministry of Defense, discussing the Euro Crisis with world-renowned economists, and discussing foreign policy with Ambassadors showed me a side of Greece that I had never known. The experience in Greece gave me a renewed faith in Greece; not only the country’s ability to weather any storm, whether fiscal or military, but also in the Greek people and their commitment to Hellenism. Overall, the AHIF foreign policy trip changed the way that I look at the Mediterranean Basin. I will be forever grateful to the American Hellenic Institute for the opportunity. – Anna Tsiotsias, University of Pennsylvania
This trip was absolutely amazing. The opportunity I received through this program to meet so many important and integral people to international relations is a once in a lifetime chance. I recommend this trip to everyone. – Evangelia Psarakis, Rutgers University
This was one of the best trips I have taken and definitely some of the best two weeks of my life. The immersion into the politics and way of life of both countries was eye-opening and most, if not all, of the officials we met were very helpful and were very interested in helping us understand and learn about the countries. I would recommend this program to every Greek American! —Christos Galanis, Rutgers University
This trip was a highly informative one with access to individuals and opportunities that would seldom be available apart from AHIF. Most importantly, the foreign policy trip offers its participants the opportunity to have instilled in themselves the reality that they, as members of the global Hellenic community, have a stake – and thus, an obligation – in the resolution of crucial matters of policy surrounding Greece and Cyprus. It ought to be a game-changer in influencing the participants’ individual professional aspirations. — Stephanos Karavas, Tufts University
To stand in a place where, for generations, Christians stood in awe and reverence of the Creator of all, where incense and psalmody once rose from earth to Heaven in praise of the God who became man; but now stands abandoned and desecrated, with no respect or honor given to things of the earth or of Heaven, is truly a powerful and moving experience. — Manoli Anagnostiadis, University of Maryland, upon viewing a desecrated Church in occupied Cyprus
As corny as it sounds, this trip truly redirected my life’s ambitions. In Cyprus, experiencing the occupied area and the horrible sights of desecration — especially of the churches — was indescribable. In Greece, hearing senior-level officials give me the support I needed to supplement my already-established viewpoints about Greek issues enhanced my knowledge and understanding of Greece and reinvigorated my love for the country. I’ve always been interested in my cultural heritage, and the issues Greeks and Cypriots struggle with daily have been on my mind since I was able to read.
Now, with the help of AHI, I remember exactly why I’ve always been so passionate about these problems. I have now seen firsthand the tragedies that plague our wonderful homeland. Perhaps most importantly, though, I’ve looked at it through the eyes of an American citizen. My fellow students and I can visualize the possible solutions to the Cyprus problem, the FYROM name issue and the newfound energy issues, just to name a few. These solutions are all attainable with the help of the American government.
The answers are simple. Now it’s a matter of whether senior-level officials will deem it necessary to take the steps to fix long drawn-out issues. As an American, I plan to do all I can to make these officials see the importance of helping these countries that are imperative to the world’s progression. I’ve been reminded of my passion through the AHIF trip and don’t intend to let it go to waste. – Maria Romas, University of Maryland
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.
Fourth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success