In Their Words: Eight Student Essays
AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip Participants Describe their Personal Experiences
WASHINGTON, DC —The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is releasing eight essays authored by participants of the Fourth Annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.
The students’ insightful essays describe their personal experiences from the trip to Greece and Cyprus 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.
“We had an exceptional group of students participate on this year’s trip,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis. “I truly believe this is reflected in their essays. In many of the essays, the reader can pinpoint the moments that deeply affected each student.”
The American Hellenic Institute is an independent 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.
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org.
The Trip of a Lifetime, by Aletha Vassilakis
I cannot thank AHI enough for the amazing experience the organization provided me through this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cyprus and Greece. I have never learned so much in such a short amount of time and the opportunities I had through this trip were incredible. From meeting the presidents of both Cyprus and Greece to visiting the UN buffer zone on Cyprus; AHI put together an itinerary that I believe no other organization could have accomplished.
This trip changed my life. It opened my eyes to the conflicts that Greece and Cyprus face on a daily basis, and it also changed my level of interest in international conflicts to one of passion that I intend to pursue. Seeing how Greece and Cyprus interact with their neighbors and with the United States convinced me that someday I want to contribute to building these relationships.
The event of the trip that had the most impact on me was the two days we spent visiting the occupied territory in Cyprus and the UN buffer zone. It’s one thing to hear about decades of violence and oppression, but seeing it firsthand was an irreplaceable experience. It showed me the gargantuan effort needed to keep up with day to day functions because of the occupation and to see this country not only overcome these obstacles but to push beyond them to become a successful country was truly amazing. These are things you cannot learn through reading a book or keeping up with the news; only a trip such as the one AHI put together can really show the full scope of the conflict in Cyprus. We saw soldiers standing with guns at the ready at all times, the abandoned airport left to rot at the prime of its day, and the countless number of desecrated churches and abandoned homes. Standing on the beach in Famagusta and looking up at the charred remains of the hotels lining the beach with armed soldiers to my left and blonde tourists playing in the shadows of the ghost town on that beach to my right will be forever etched in my memory. As I stood there, I couldn’t see the tourists playing in the surf but instead I could see all the friends we made on Cyprus as children, running onto the beach with their families in nothing but sandals and shorts, to escape the paratroopers and bombs close behind them. Seeing the conflict that Cypriots are forced to face on a daily basis for nearly forty years was deeply moving and since my return I have given three lectures to help educate others on the issues regarding Cyprus and I intend to continue spreading awareness of this issue.
The time we spent in Athens was just as eye-opening for me. I was amazed that we were able to get such an up-close look at the issues Greece currently faces and the inner workings of the Greek government. I left Greece with a greater appreciation for the difficulty of coming to decisions when there are so many people that need to agree and so many unknown variables that could render the decision useless or even damaging. What I learned in my time in Greece will not only help me with my upcoming senior thesis which I plan to focus on the Greek economic crisis, but it also helped me realize that international politics is not just something I want to focus on in college, but instead it’s a passion that I intend to follow in my career as well.
I am extremely grateful to AHI and Nick Larigakis for all the hard work they put into making this trip such an incredible experience. Even with all of the political turbulence leading up to the trip, AHI was able to put on a trip that went above and beyond all of my wildest dreams. I know the friends and memories I made on this trip will last a lifetime.
Aletha Vassilakis is a rising senior at University of California, San Diego studying political science major with a focus on international relations and a minor in biology. Aletha participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
How Do We Drive Interest in the Region? by Alexis Angelo
As our small group of young Greek American university students entered the buffer zone dividing the nation of Cyprus, I immediately felt the pressure of the Turkish forces. One by one we lined-up for a type of “border” check where Turkish troops recorded our passport information. To them we were entering the “borders” of the so-called “Turkish Northern Republic of Cyprus,” a pseudo state of Turkey. It was an intimidating process and continued to be as we drove into the occupied territory. Every twenty kilometers or so, we passed another Turkish military outpost and military signs with an image of a solider stating “forbidden zone” were passed about every ten kilometers. The presence of the Turkish government was inescapable with every turn. We visited leveled gravesites where the headstones of Cypriots who had lived in the north over forty years ago had been completely discarded. Property rights no longer exist in the occupied area of Cyprus where settlers from Turkey live in the abandoned homes of those who were forced south in 1974. We visited an Orthodox church, which had been completely stripped of its interior and anything worth monetary value. All that could be found inside was a single plaque with the name of the holy space—now used as a shelter for pigeons.
Fresh from the AHI program I felt driven to make a difference with the Cyprus issue but now that it’s been a bit of time since the program, I’m feeling more discouraged. During our visits, the perspective I tried to take on was that of an American interest. But I look back at my experience now and ask myself, “Where is the American interest?” If there was substantial American interest then there would already be American support and initiatives with the Cyprus issue. But compared to America’s other allies in the region (yes I’m speaking of Turkey) Cyprus is an irrelevant country, so there is no American interest.
The question then is how do we alter this process and add interest where currently there is little? Are violations of human rights enough to engage American interests? I think not. Policymakers and politicians use “human rights” for political expediency and “political punch lines” as Nick Larigakis pointed out. All the Cypriots we spoke with seemed to draw a similar scenario–What if the Cyprus issue was happening in America? What if America was split at the Mason Dixon line and everyone north was forced south and lost their property? What if American religious establishments were desecrated and stripped down to skeletons? What if there were still a significant number of missing persons from an event that occurred nearly 40 years ago? What would the U.S. expectations be for their own population? Why are these same standards not applied to the Republic of Cyprus? I have come to the disappointing and frustrating conclusion that these standards are expected for Americans because we are a great global super power. But Cyprus is a small, powerless country whose geostrategic value doesn’t seem to be enough to be its saving grace. The disappointing truth I have come to believe is that the U.S. turns a blind eye to gross injustices and human rights violations unless they involve its own citizens or have strategic relevance to U.S. interests. Only then is action deemed necessary. I find myself discouraged in American policies. Not because my country is looking out for its own interests, all countries should be weary of their own interests, but because we are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations.
How then can we increase American interest in the real problems of Cyprus? Why should the U.S. government act to help Cyprus or reprimand Turkey when the action of changing the stagnant status quo of the last 38 years would potentially jeopardize American relations with Turkey? The hope that remains is the recent discovery of hydrocarbons off the coast of Cyprus and Israel, and Cyprus’s current relations with Israel. This discovery is very promising. For the European region it means they will no longer have to rely on Russian resources. For Cyprus, it can provide—the strategic economic leverage that they have been desperately seeking to finally solve the Cyprus issue for both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. However this future is still undetermined and hazy. Despite these recent discoveries and relations, Turkey claims that Cyprus has no continental shelf and has no rights to discoveries in the ocean. Therefore Turkey claims the entire ocean off its coast extending its sea border to Libya. Turkey is the only country that has made this claim and other countries have not agreed with this declaration. Nonetheless the future of the Republic of Cyprus has the potential to be altered and resolved with the new opportunities provided by this recent hydrocarbon discovery and business alliance with Israel. The Cypriot problem may be solvable yet, especially with the interest of Israel and the potential for American interest due to the two countries close ties.
Alexis Angelo is a senior at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She will be graduating in May 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a political science minor with a concentration in the Middle East. Alexis participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
A Call to Action, by Andrew M. Pernokas
Irrespective of borders, enemies, critics and pessimists, Hellenism faces a threat that is unlike any foe it has ever encountered. Greece has been crippled by a deep political crisis for the last two decades. Their government “leaders” have brought their nation to a tipping point as they struggle to pursue a future in a country that is beginning to decay. The virtues of equality, integrity, honesty, and morality have been abandoned for the gratification of nepotism, greed, and pork barreling. Economically speaking, Greece has a GDP to debt ratio of 165.3%, the largest in the Euro Zone, and has yet to implement the majority of austerity measures they have been required to by the Troika.1 S&P’s projection of the Greek debt crisis is “negative” and with an 11% shrink in GDP, Greece is not moving towards job creation (in the private sector) or growth.2
While Cyprus shares a similar economic prediction, the “Cyprus Question” is the most real threat to Hellenism our world faces. Almost 40 years of illegal occupation of Cyprus, ethnic cleansing, and illegal settling of the occupied territory, Turkey threatens the identity of Cyprus and its Hellenic heritage. Turkey is guilty of crimes against humanity and is in violation of at least half of the Geneva Convention prohibitions cited in Article 154 of the fourth Geneva Convention, of which, Turkey is a signatory.3 Despite the clear and brazen violation of international law on behalf of Turkey, the Cyprus issue has stagnated and is quickly rendering a generation that is apathetic to the condition of their country and has accepted the status quo.
At first glance, the Greek (Hellenic) condition seems fatal and absent of any saving grace. However, Greece and Cyprus have perhaps the greatest untapped resource in the world. The Greek Diaspora has resulted in a greater population of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th generation Greeks living outside Greece than there are Greeks in Greece. In the United States, this represents a large, active, and extraordinarily successful group of people numbering in the millions. As Greek-Americans, we have an obligation to assist and address the concerns that face the Greek community.
A frustrated morale in Cyprus has led to the appearance of surrender. However, Cyprus is a nation that is the victim of negligence on behalf of the United States and the leaders of the world, who have failed collectively to uphold the responsibilities of their positions and enforce the laws of the international community. Over the last four to ten years, Turkey has risen to a level of priority in U.S. foreign policy and has been the recipient of attention, support, and protection from the United States government. This comes at the expense of a country like Cyprus or a long-standing ally such as Greece. Yet, the question has been posed, why help a country whose citizens do not want to help themselves? It is such a question and such a mentality that risk the possibility of a resolution to the Cyprus Question and serves as an excuse for a lack of action. Consider the converse, as Americans would we accept a policy which tells an oppressed and restricted people to, “Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters."4 That’s not to say that action on the Cyprus Question should be purely unilateral; however, it falls on the shoulders of the Greek American community to be sure our government is aware, and willing to inform our politicians that their policy is misguided and Turkey is a nation with which the United States does not find common interest in the rule of law. Unfortunately, the Cypriot government in and of itself, even with the backing of the European Union, cannot combat the influence of Turkey with the same magnitude the United States would be able to.
The crisis in Greece is one of greater complexity and cannot be aided by political persuasion but rather public opinion. Greek Americans can be a part of a rebirth in Greek enterprise. We need to encourage business, investment, and tourism and combat the negative and false representation of Greece in the news media. It would be overreaching to imply that the Greek political machine can be changed so easily but by promoting the image of an open Greece, perception will change in the country’s favor. Lastly, those in need, those who are struggling to feed their families and are unemployed, can be assisted by a Greek American effort with ease, and should be.
Andrew M. Pernokas is a rising junior at Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. He will receive a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in International Relations/Pre-Law. Andrew participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
“The Military-Industrial Meltdown,” by Anna Tsiotsias
Greece desperately needs a lifeline. In his last visit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Greece about their precarious economic future. In order to receive this next, much needed, tranche, Greece needs to convince the European Commission that it can, and will, cut 14.5 billion Euros from its spending over the next two years. However, after cutting bailout after bailout check, Greece’s promises are looking as empty as their coffers. Should Greece fail to receive the next installment from the troika, the country will not be able to inject essential capital into its banks, the government will be unable to pay salaries and pensions for all those working in the public sector, and the economy will freeze. Should this happen, Greece’s exit from the Euro would be imminent, leading the economies of the European Union, United States, and the rest of the world farther into recession.
The shaky coalition government, yoked by the unpopularity of austerity measures, has attempted to accomplish these reforms. The administration has made some headway on the most recent round of budget cuts. On Tuesday, August 7, 2012 Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras reported, "We are not there yet. We still need EUR3.5 billion to EUR4 billion." However, for a country that has already gutted most of their budget, 3.5 to 4 billion Euros is no small feat. As Greece comes closer and closer to the deadline, the task Mr. Samaras faces is daunting—but it can be done.
Austerity has left the defense budget largely untouched. In just this past year, Greece spent about 4.6 billion Euros on defense, making up about 2.1 percent of its economic output, in contrast with other European NATO members, who spend about 1.6 percent on average, with Germany spending 1.4 percent.
After attending a briefing at the Hellenic Ministry of National Defense by Colonel Dimokritos Zervakis, receiving a briefing in the Control Room at the Ministry, and attending another briefing at an Army tank training facility organized by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus, it is evident that Hellenic armed forces are extremely committed to regional security and defense.
With 1,300 tanks, Apache helicopters, state of the art submarines, warships and F-16s, let there be no mistake, the Hellenic Armed Forces are ready and waiting.
But for what exactly are they ready?
Despite participation in a bevy of NATO security efforts, the high degree of Greek defense spending can be attributed to the looming Turkish threat. Since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, Greece has spent upward of 216 billion Euros on armaments alone. Greece also maintains a large number of bases and outposts on the border with Turkey, most recently moving 1,800 officers to the Turkish border to hedge against a possible influx of Syrian refugees. Further, Turkey has also antagonized Greece through numerous violations of Greece’s sovereign air space and brinkmanship in Greece’s Aegean territorial waters.
Each illegal flyover in Greek airspace, each person that crosses the border between Greece and Turkey, and each intrusion into Greek territorial waters costs Greece more in defense spending that it cannot afford.
Greece has been spending billions and billions of Euros defending against Turkey, another NATO member that made a commitment to regional security.
Defending against a supposed ally is a paradox, and a costly one at that. This paradox begs the question—why does Turkey continue to antagonize while Greece flounders on the brink of economic collapse?
The United States, Germany, and France are the three biggest exporters of arms to Greece. 42 % of Greece’s total arms come from the United States and Greece is Germany’s largest European market for arms sales.
It is no secret amongst the European Union and the United States that Turkey continues to exercise its regional power and military might by violating Greek sovereignty, but to stop it would starve Germany and other Western nations of a huge amount of arms revenue. This is revenue that allows their economies to thrive while the Greek one suffers.
With the deadline for the next tranche of funding for Greece quickly approaching and the German vice chancellor saying that the prospect of a Greek exit from the Euro has “lost its terror.” It is time to ask what is more terrifying—a Greek exit from the Eurozone that would cost the economies of the world trillions of dollars in revenue loss and leave a sluggish world economy in its wake, or a loss of arms revenue from arms sales to Greece in order for Greece to meet the requirements for the next tranche of troika funds?
The United States and the rest of the European Union have the political power to send a message to Turkey to stop violations of sovereign air and sea space and to achieve an agreement with Turkey to secure Greek borders.
To invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter, an attack on one is an attack on all. This time, the attack is monetary, not military. These NATO members—Turkey, Germany, Greece, and the United States—need to start acting like allies. The Western world needs to stand up to Turkey to balance their increasing military antagonism in the Mediterranean. With the threat of a Greek exit from the Euro and a resulting world economic downturn, the stakes are too high not to take action.
It is political, not just fiscal, capital that Greece needs. The qualifications for the next tranche can be met and Greece can be saved from the financial cliff, but only with a much-needed injection of capital from the EU and the United States.
Anna Tsiotsias is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics with a concentration in Government and Public Policy. Anna participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
An Afternoon in the Illegally Occupied Territory of the Republic of Cyprus, by Christos Galanis
Experiencing this trip, or better said, this journey was an eye-opener and was ranked among some of the best two weeks of my life. Not only because I had fun and met many brilliant people that I will stay in contact with for a long time, but because I learned more about Greece and Cyprus in the two weeks visiting the two countries, than I ever learned before. We visited many places in Greece and Cyprus and met with many outstanding individuals who genuinely cared about their countries and were sincerely doing everything they could for their homeland. And I applaud them, I admire them. Through their hard work and sacrifice, I know that both countries are in good hands. But they need help, extremely badly. And it is for this reason that I will write this essay about the one thing that struck me and left me speechless: our visit to the illegally occupied area of the Republic of Cyprus by the Turkish military.
We started our visit by passing through the illegal checkpoint and were forced to show our American Passports to which “paper visas” were issued. Again, these are illegal “visas.” As we passed the checkpoint, we saw a normal community, you would think that the people living there had no problem with the fact that the territory they are living on is illegally occupied by Turkey’s army and by the illegal Turkish settlers sent from Turkey. But that was just a casual observation. Another such observation includes the fact that once we went deeper into the occupied area, our cellphones received a message saying “Welcome to Turkey. For details….” This was not the only instance of such mockery by corporations as there were all the recognizable brands there, such as Mercedes Benz, GE, to name a few. But again, this wasn’t what bothered me the most, as corporations are free of some boundaries, especially those coming from Turkey. The trigger that pounded reality into me and made me see the problem was the flag. The giant red and white flag painted on to the Pentadaktylos Mountain that can be seen from the unoccupied area and can even be seen on Google earth. This in-your-face flag is there only to make Cypriot and Greek blood boil for the past 38 years, to remind us every day of the illegality and brutality with which they took one-third of the island. To remind every Cypriot that they can do nothing against this transgression and flaunt it about just to make them feel helpless. But there is something that can be done, from both the Cypriot part and our (American) part. We can become the ambassadors or lobbyists in the US and raise awareness of this violent take-over, while the Cypriots also raise the awareness that Turkey is illegally occupying European Union territory.
An example of the vicious and inhumane brutality of the invasion includes the defacing and desecration of every church and cemetery in the illegally occupied area. Whatever the excuse they may have had 38 years ago to invade does not excuse their callousness and cruelty of the desecration of over 500 churches and the exhumation of thousands of dead Christian bodies. We visited such a place where they did such an inhumane and revolting act. Tombstones were piled up in a corner, cut down from their graves and broken to pieces to be forgotten. Graves were dug up and bodies were missing. The church on the side of this desecrated cemetery was mostly intact on the outside, but was completely empty inside except for the pigeon droppings that covered the entire floor. This was not just an invasion. This was and still is ethnic cleansing. No human being would do this; no matter how cruel and malicious someone is, you don’t disrespect the dead. Whoever did this is not human. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This was planned from the start. These were my first thoughts as we walked into the defiled cemetery. The anger and searing pain that I felt were overwhelming. I couldn’t control my tears.
Apart from the defilement of such sacred places comes the ghost-town of Amochostos (Famagusta), an inaccessible area that has hundreds of abandoned houses and bombed out buildings. In some of these houses you could still see the grimy and shredded curtains fluttering out of the shattered windows, and then turn to the walls and see them filled with bullet holes. And not only was this all fenced-off, but there were signs saying that no pictures or videos were allowed. On another section of the ghost-city, there is an adjacent beach. At this beach, thousands of people swim everyday as if they are completely oblivious to the abandoned, bombed out buildings behind them. As if the history and the ruthlessness with which this place was seized doesn’t bother them. As if they actually enjoy the view.
As I alluded to in a previous paragraph, there are many things that can be done to help out the situation in Cyprus. First, it cannot be allowed to become the status quo. Second, we as Americans have influence. We can send articles to our local newspapers. We can call upon politicians in our respective states and inform them of the inhumane bloodshed that was allowed 38 years ago and insist that they take action. Lastly, awareness needs to be raised among the public, not just in the U.S., but in the world. This could potentially be our most powerful weapon.
Christo Galanis was raised as a Greek American in Mexico City. He is currently a graduate student at Rutgers University, where he is pursuing a Master’s in Business and Science. He earned his B.A. degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in 2012. He has researched medical breakthroughs, been invited to attend at national leadership forums, and plans to contribute internationally throughout his career. Christos participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
The Greek Economic Crisis in Proper Perspective, by Stephanos Karavas
“It is certainly desirable to be well-descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors.”
Many who have studied Greek history have made the following observation: that the Greeks of the present vary greatly from their predecessors of antiquity. Most of those who provide such commentary present it in a highly negative light – that the Greeks of the present are but a shadow of their ancestors, or that the only thing modern Greeks share in common with their ancestors is their name. I tend to believe that the Greeks of present aren’t very different from their forefathers. Plutarch would support this argument, as he observed in antiquity what many others including myself have observed today: that Greeks value their place in history to such an extent, that the past often obscures the present.
If you’ve ever listened to a Greek cab driver discuss historical matters, you will understand exactly what I’m talking about. He will talk about Plato as if he saw him speak in a televised interview yesterday, and will tout Alexander’s conquests as if they happened a few months ago. The past, no matter how far removed, is always of the utmost relevance. Greeks undoubtedly have a right to be proud of their historical inheritance, but this seeming obsession with the past strikes many in the West as over the top while begging the question, “well, what of the present?” Yet, in reality, this obsession is completely understandable and right, while simultaneously constituting something Westerners may have great difficulty in fully understanding. It is the fact that Greeks, like many modern successors to ancient civilizations, have a vast breadth to their historical memory that informs their present-day mentality on the societal level and their decision-making on the political level.
The implications of this reality are significant when juxtaposed and applied to the present economic crisis afflicting Greece. Many commentators see Greece as the Gordian knot of the global financial crisis, while even many Greeks themselves view it as a dark tunnel without a ray of light in the end. Yet, if one maintained a worldview informed by a historical memory along Greek lines, the economic crisis would seem like a mere hiccup when considering the disasters that have befallen Greece in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact, Greece’s present standing in the world should seem remarkable given what this small country has endured in “recent” times.
When Greece concluded its struggle for independence in 1832, it was emerging from an Ottoman rule that had decimated its economic competitiveness and prowess in the Eastern Mediterranean. The industrial revolution bypassed the highly rural and decentralized Ottoman Empire, and Greece was virtually without a means to sustain its fledgling state outside of the agricultural sector. Political turmoil coupled with the intervention of the Great Powers resulted in the importation of its political leadership from Northern European monarchies, and Greece slowly paced towards more representative forms of government as the century progressed. Misguided in its priorities and driven by irredentist ideology, the political class of Greece set the state on a collision course with the Ottoman Empire and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria – the result being four wars from 1897 through the First World War. Though Greece managed to quadruple its territorial expansion from what it was immediately following independence, it was sending generation after generation to the battlefield instead of the workforce.
After launching a disastrous campaign against the Ottoman Empire in 1919, Greece was compelled to carry out a population exchange with the newly founded Republic of Turkey in which its population of roughly four million was to absorb over two million refugees. Less than two decades later, Greece would become engulfed in the Second World War. Despite defeating Italy, Greece was eventually conquered and brutally subjugated by Germany; and after managing to rid itself of the Nazi yoke, civil war ensued through 1949 and Greece became a proxy battlefield of the Great Powers yet again. After nearly two decades-worth of mostly double digit growth rates, Greece fell under the control of a right-wing, U.S.-backed military dictatorship that lasted through 1974.
Though a quick stroll through Modern Greek history may seem tedious, it is highly necessary when it comes to understanding Greece’s present condition and crisis. When most people think of Greece, they assume some level of continuity and stability in its history by nature of its association and inclusion with the camp of the industrialized, first-world nations of Western Europe and North America. Yet, even the cursory historical glance that this article provides inevitably leads one to the conclusion that Greece has endured nearly two centuries-worth of subjugation, war, famine, poverty, oppression and decimation prior to the adoption of its constitution in 1975. To put it in comparative perspective, Greece has been a free and democratic society a mere decade and a half longer than the states that comprised the former USSR.
Despite this reality, Greece is continually set against the standard of Western Europe and North America along economic lines, both in the world media and in the European political arena. While this is only natural to an extent given its membership in the European Union and its inclusion in the Eurozone, Greece is unfairly compared to countries that have been more privileged by history. Following its independence, Greece has had to endure struggles and overcome obstacles without the military and economic help of larger powers and without the benefit of natural resources. And having done so, it has only been free from the constraints of oppression to pursue the creation of a first-world economy and society for less than four decades. Remarkably, it has succeeded in many ways. Greece is firmly within the camp of first-world, high-income industrial countries when it comes to its citizens’ quality of life, educational attainment, literacy rate, infant mortality rate, life expectancy and other such key indicators. In fact, it is the only country in its geographic neighborhood (with the exception of Cyprus) that rates “Very High” in its rating on the Human Development Index.
None of the content in this article is groundbreaking or new information. Yet, how is it that the world media and the political leaders of Europe have been highly critical of Greece to the point of coercion, bordering on racism at times? Is it the only country that is undergoing a financial crisis at present? Is it the only country that has engaged in irresponsible economic and political practices in recent times? Despite its trials and struggles in modern history, Greece has triumphed over the adverse circumstances afflicting her. In a way, Greece’s treatment by the media, the E.U. leaders, and the Troika is recognition of its triumph. It is, after all, the distinct and earned honor of a given country to be set against the standard of the most prosperous nations in the world and be realistically expected to attain to it.
Undoubtedly, as with any country, Greece’s faults on the political, economic, social and geopolitical level are too numerous to count. The purpose of this article has not been to discuss them, but rather to merely provide a different lens through which to interpret and assess developments in the Greek economic crisis – one that exceeds the limited interpretative and chronological prism of contemporary world media in favor of one that is more thoroughly historically informed, and therefore balanced. Thus, Greece’s economic crisis shouldn’t continue to be treated with the sensationalism that has plagued its coverage in past years, but rather it ought to be viewed for what it is: the economic growing pains of a recently free, progressive and driven society. If the Argentineans and the Turks can overcome similar crises in recent decades, then why not the descendants of Plutarch?
Stephanos Karavas is a member of the Class of 2013 at Tufts University majoring in History and minoring in Political Science. He is currently researching constitutional reforms in post-revolutionary Tunisia through the Institute for Global Leadership. Stephanos participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy Student Research Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
History is Perception, Perception is Reality, by Manoli Anagnostiadis
In the town of Styli in the occupied territory of Cyprus rises a bell tower and a small church, surrounded by a grassy lawn filled with stones. As we drive closer, we see more clearly; the bell tower is overgrown with weeds, the windows and doors of the structure no longer keep out the elements, and the stones in the overgrown grass are, in truth, fragments of crosses dashed upon the ground. Entering the church, one finds not the solemn and sacred melodies of Byzantine chant, nor the smell of incense, nor the sight of icons, nor the fervent faith of worshippers, but only pigeons, and their droppings which coat the floor and the table of Preparation in the Sanctuary. The Holy Altar, around which priests and people, young and old, rich and poor alike once gathered in prayer, is gone, its spot now covered, like the rest of the church’s floor, in excrement. Ironically, the church is dedicated to the Prophet Elijah, whose feast day (July 20) is the day on which the first Turkish troops invaded Cyprus in 1974. Standing there, I did not think of Turkish artillery rolling across the plains and mountains of Cyprus, but rather called to mind old photographs of the churches in Russia destroyed by brutal heel of communism and stories of the destruction of holy places in Greece under the Ottomans. Yet this was not a past memory, not a footnote in a textbook, nor the focus of a Sunday morning sermon, but rather an all-too-real assault on all my senses. 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, desecrated, with no respect or honor given to things of the earth or of Heaven, is truly a powerful and moving experience, one which cannot be forgotten or unmade.
However, to paraphrase the History Channel show Life without People, how long will it stand? How long until the ravages of time, the slow wear of Mother Nature and further destructive acts on the part of man bring structures like the Church of the Prophet Elijah or the buildings of the ghost city of Famagusta crashing to the earth? How much have we already lost? Visiting the Museum attached to the Archiepiscopal Palace of the Church of Cyprus, we saw the vast and varied nature of the history of Cypriot Orthodoxy. Yet the power of that exhibition, once one has fully appreciated the beauty and majesty of Orthodox iconography, lies in understanding the magnitude of what has been lost compared to the tiny percentage which remains. Every part of the historical heritage of Cyprus, from the most ancient relics of human habitation up to the modern era, has been looted and destroyed by Turkish forces. Even worse, the lives of so many millions of people, innocent Turkish and Greek Cypriots, has been irrevocably altered or cut short by this invasion and occupation. And the true loser in this rape of an ancient isle is the world, for it has lost more of its history, its shared heritage that defines the past and present of the human race.
What then, can we as average people, do? Most of us will never sit at a table with leaders of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, trying to negotiate an end to hostilities and the occupation. Most of us will never sit in the halls of Congress, or in the Oval Office, making decisions that will affect the lives of men for generations to come. What, then, is left? We can pray for all those involved. We can pressure our leaders not to align ourselves with powers that commit such heinous crimes against human decency, much less set them up as examples for other nations to emulate. However, the most important thing for us to do, as a nation, as a people, is to remember. If we learn the facts, if we know what truly happened, that truth can never be taken away from us. History, far from being a collection of random factoids about battles and kings, is the fundamental story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and how we got from the former to the latter. It is our anchor and guide towards tomorrow; without it, we are cut adrift from both past and future. The most dangerous thing, as is happening in Cyprus right now, is how easy it is to change the perception of what happened and what is happening, through both destruction of past relics and teaching falsehoods to younger generations. What actually happened in the past is far less important than what people believe happened in the past, and those perceptions shape our realities and, even more importantly, our futures, and those of our descendants. Therefore, arm yourself with knowledge and truth so that, God-willing, we can solve the Cyprus problem and prevent another one from ever arising again to the detriment of mankind.
Emanuel (Manoli) D. Anagnostiadis is an undergraduate student in the Honors College of the University of Maryland-College Park. A recipient of the Banneker-Key scholarship, he is currently studying Government & Politics and History, with an anticipated graduation date of May 2015. He is also pursuing minors in Religious Studies and Astronomy. Manoli participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprussponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
America’s Responsibilities in Cyprus and Greece, by Maria Romas
Walking through a developed, thriving country, you wouldn’t expect to see rubble all over streets and fields. You wouldn’t anticipate finding desecrated religious buildings and upturned graves. You wouldn’t expect to see an entire city abandoned, worn and torn with age, sitting hypocritically next to relaxing tourists on the beach. Yet this is what people have come to accept when traveling to the occupied area in Cyprus.
Everyone in America knows about the Invisible Children in Uganda, who Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is and why Chinese-made products are less expensive. The Republic of Cyprus has been occupied by Turkey for almost 40 years, yet very few people in America understand that a large portion of land in Cyprus has been forcibly taken over. Thousands of refugees live with a constant reminder of their lost homes, family and friends; the countrywide buffer zone is a slap in the face to those who were unceremoniously thrown out of their lives. Imagine England or France, two fellow EU member countries, having half their land taken over and their people forced out of their homes. It’s hard to picture because it would never happen — the world simply would not accept it. But why do people accept the atrocious occupation of EU member Cyprus?
I visited Cyprus for the first time this summer with eight other students from America and Nick Larigakis, president of the American Hellenic Institute. The most memorable, gut-wrenching experience I have had in my 20 years of life was visiting the occupied area. Seeing the barren landscape, desecrated churches and cemeteries and the abandoned city of Famagusta boiled my blood. I was so aggravated that such a place could exist, and didn’t know how to handle the influx of emotions for the Cypriot people. My companions and I couldn’t understand at first how everyone could live in such an oppressed environment yet seem so normal.
However, after meeting with a number of government officials and some students from the University of Cyprus, I began to understand. The Cypriot people have made the best they could of a horrible situation. When Turkey occupied the country, the world decided to turn a blind eye. With tens of thousands of troops ready to demolish them, the people stood on what little ground they could and hoped for the best. That was 38 years ago. Since then, the Cypriot people brought their country to the status at which it now stands. It is a part of the European Union — and is even holding the presidency right now. The divided capital of Nicosia has some major problems, but rather than give up, the Cypriots made do. They don’t live in an oppressive fear anymore, but it’s always on the back of their minds. They are powerless against the massive Turkish force, so they give life their best effort and hope for some help in the future.
Though the Greek Cypriots have been in negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots, they remain at a stalemate. It is America’s responsibility to pressure Turkey to step back and stop occupying a democratic country. It’s just wrong. If the American people truly care about ensuring human rights are upheld worldwide, they will begin to lobby congressmen to take on this issue and give back to the Cypriots a unified country, effectively handing them their lives back. I know going to Cyprus and seeing how life is there has made me want to actively work to see a better future for Cyprus. I don’t know how anyone can have seen what I saw and not want the same thing.
Then we went to Greece. In all honesty, the country is not as bad as the international media makes it seem. Yes, there are some protests, but the Greek people are just trying to get through this massive recession, as are many others around the globe. Though the economic problems prevail over almost every other issue at the moment, it doesn’t mean Greece is otherwise set as far as everything else goes.
The country lies between three regions — the Balkans, Europe and the Middle East. As such, there is exists a number of problems with countries in the surrounding area that can and need to be resolved. For example, the name issue with FYROM is just silly. The facts are clear — FYROM just needs to realize it cannot claim a history it does not own. With more pressing issues, like the disputes about drilling for energy sources in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Union and the United States — as a world power — should work to help solve these disputes. Greece has remained in a place power and respect in the world for so long, it seems only natural that other countries would be willing to step in and help out in its time of need.
America has a great responsibility in the world. People living in this great country should learn to take it on and urge their government representatives to do the same. Of course, we have our problems, but others across the globe could utilize American influence if only the superpower was willing to offer it more frequently. Please step up and take responsibility for living in the land of the free.
Maria Romas participated in the AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute. She is a junior journalism and English major at the University of Maryland. She interned at USA Today’s Online Money Section this summer. She is the opinion editor for The Diamondback, University of Maryland’s award-winning paper. Maria participated in the fourth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
In Their Words: Eight Student Essays