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Fifth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
September 11, 2013—No. 53 (202) 785-8430

Fifth 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 fifth year as nine students from across the United States participated in the two-week program held June 19 to July 6, 2013.

During the program, the students 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. Meetings or briefings were held 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 illegal Turkish-occupied area.

“The trip provided a wonderful opportunity for me once again to lead such an exceptional group of students to Cyprus and Greece,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “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 five years ago.”

 

Washington, DC

Prior to their departure for Cyprus, the students gathered for briefings in Washington, June 19-20. 

On Wednesday, June 19, 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.  At the U.S. Department of State, Senior Cyprus Desk Officer Lindsay Coffey and Senior Greece Desk Officer Davida Baxter also briefed the students.

A full day of briefings for the students from top legislators and diplomats on the issues were held on Thursday, June 20.  In the morning, the students learned about the latest on Capitol Hill pertaining to Greek American issues from the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Turning to the diplomatic side of policy issues, the students received briefings from Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos, ambassador of Greece to the U.S., Deputy Chief of Mission Sophia Philippidou, and First Counselor Nicolaos Krikos at the Embassy of Greece; Consul General of Cyprus Neophytos Constantinou at the Embassy of Cyprus, and former U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos.  In addition, Thalia Assuras, former CBS News correspondent, and Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief, Washington Monthly, provided a media training presentation to the students. 

Cyprus

The delegation arrived in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 22.  During their five-day stay, the students met with several government officials including: Ambassador Andreas Kakouris, Minister Plenipotentiary, director of the Division of the Cyprus Question and Turkey, who provided a general briefing; Mr. Michalis Ioannou, Counselor B, Energy and Maritime Policy Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who provided a briefing on energy matters; Lt. Charalambos Papageorgiou of the Cypriot National Guard, who provided a briefing on defense matters; Mayor of Nicosia Constantinos Yiorkadjis; Xenophon Kallis, head of service on Missing Persons; Ambassador Euripides L Evriviades, deputy permanent secretary and political director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Averof Neophytou, chairman, Parliamentary committee on Foreign and European Affairs and a member of the Economics and Budget Committee; and Ms. Katie Clerides, commissioner to the Presidency for Humanitarian Affairs.

The students attended two working luncheons during their visit to Cyprus. The first, held June 26, was hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Michalis Zacharioglou, director, Communication Policy and minister plenipotentiary; and Ambassador Marios Ieronimides, director, Division for Overseas and Repatriated Cypriots, attended and spoke with the students.

The Republic of Cyprus Press and Information Office sponsored a working luncheon for the students on June 26. Senior Press and Information Officer Miltiadou and Chryso Demosthenous, head, Section of International Relations, Events and Exhibitions; Press and Information Office, attended at the luncheon.

In addition, the students had an audience with American Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus John Koenig and members of his staff at the American Embassy and 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 Kato Paphos.  They also went on guided tours of Kanakaria Mosaics at the Byzantine Museum and old Nicosia Airport-UNFICYP.  Capt. Tomas Ciampor, 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.

Moreover, the AHIF students had the opportunity to discuss the Cyprus question with the dean and students of the University of Cyprus, which was sponsored by the university. Dean K. Christofides led the discussion.  The students enjoyed getting different perspectives on the occupation from students who did not live through the 1974 invasion.

The busy itinerary in Cyprus was not without a respite as the students enjoyed an afternoon beach visit to Agia Napa on June 24.

Visit to Turkish-occupied Cyprus

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.

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. They also witnessed desecrated and looted Orthodox cemeteries.

“When I visited the occupied area in Cyprus, I was able to see the heartbreaking truths of occupation—desecrated churches, looted graves, and run-down homes,” Alexcia Chambers said. “This trip opened my eyes to many things, but most importantly, it made me realize how little the world knows about such an incredible injustice.”

Furthermore, the itinerary included a visit to the ghost city of Famagusta.  They left knowing 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. 

Overall, the Cyprus journey provided the students with a lasting impression about the Cyprus issue. Their 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.

Greece

After an enlightening trip to Cyprus, the students embarked for nine-day visit to Greece.

On their first day in Athens, the students had an audience with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece His Beatitude Ieronymos II.  They were also treated to a private after-hours tour of the Acropolis Museum provided by Mr. Vassilios Chrisikopoulos and dinner at the museum hosted by Mr. Georgios Markantonatos, director general, General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad. The students were encouraged by the support the Greek government showed for the diaspora community.  A welcome reception for the students hosted by Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretagne Hotel, was also held.

Students Meet Greece’s President, U.S. Ambassador to Greece

The students were excited to have an audience with President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace on July 2—a definite highlight of the itinerary in Athens. In the hour-long working dialogue meeting held in a conference room, 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 honored President Papoulias showed interest in what they thought about Greece and the rest of the world, and they were especially thrilled to be welcomed into the president’s inner office (equivalent to the Oval Office) for part of the visit to the Presidential Palace.

Moreover, the students met with U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel B. Smith 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. The meeting with Ambassador Smith gave the students a strong handle on U.S.-Greece relations.  The next day, July 2, the students attended a July 4th Reception at the U.S. Embassy.

Students Receive Tour of Greece’s Naval Fleet Greek Pentagon Operation Control Center

Furthermore, the students gained significant insight about Greece’s military capabilities.  They received a briefing from Brigadier Dimitrios Alevizios, director, Hellenic National Defense General Staff and chief of the HNDGS, General Michail Kostarakos, on July 2.

The students also visited Salamina Island for a presentation on Greece’s navy on July 3. There, they were provided a tour of the frigate, HS Salamis, by Commander D. Dimitriou; and a tour of the submarine, HS Papanikolis, by Commander N. Papadopoulos. Rear Admiral S. Konidaris, deputy commander in chief of the Hellenic Fleet provided a briefing prior to the tours. 

Following the presentation about Greece’s naval fleet, the students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a series of briefings with:  Ambassador Kontovounisios, director of the B7 Department for Energy Affairs; who provided a briefing on Greece’s enery projects with neighboring countries; and Ambassador Avgoustis, director of the A3 Department for Southeastern Europe and Ambassador Zoitos, deputy director of the A3 Department, who provided a briefing on FYROM and the name-recognition issue. 

To conclude the eventful day, the students received a guided tour of the Hellenic Parliament and 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. 

Students Gain Insight on Greece’s Economic Challenges

Greece’s current economic situation, prospects for investment in Greece, and Greece’s overall business climate were discussed in meetings with the following experts in the sector: Dr. Ioannis Sartzis, head of Policy and Planning Unit; and Margarita Leedis, an international stakeholder relations manager, Invest in Greece, which is an agency responsible for seeking, promoting and supporting foreign direct investments into Greece.  A meeting was also held with Mr. Alec Mally, executive director, Foresight Strategy and Communications, to discuss the state of Greece’s economy.

Additional ministry of Foreign Affairs briefings were held July 4.  They were held on Turkey and the Cyprus issue with Ambassador Nancy Vraila, acting director, A4 Department for Turkey; and Mr. Zampouras, analyst for the A2 Department for Cyprus. The officials discussed the relations between Greece and Turkey and the strategic importance of the Cyprus question. A briefing on U.S.-Greece relations was provided by Ambassador Aliferi, director, A7 Department for North America. Ambassador Aliferi 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.

The itinerary in Athens also afforded the students the opportunity to meet with several other Greek government officials, including: Dimitris Tsoukalas, acting president, Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad; Dimitrios Saltaros, acting president, Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs; and Ambassador Ioannis Vrailas, deputy head of the Delegation of the European Union.

They also received general briefings from academicians, including Dr. Van Coufoudakis, who is president of the Hellenic Quality Assurance and Accreditation Agency.  Dr. Coufoudakis is an expert and scholar on foreign policy issues as they relate to United States relations with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.  ELIAMEP—the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy, also hosted a briefing for the students with Professors Theodore Couloumbis and Director General Dr. Thanos Dokos. The professors gave their perspectives on contemporary issues facing Greece.

In addition, a working luncheon sponsored by Theodossis Georgiou, president of the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation and a member organization of the Atlantic Treaty Association and NATO organization in Greece, provided further insight and perspective to the students about developments in Greece.  Dr. Aliki Mitsakos, dean and co-founder, The International Center for Leading Studies, joined Mr. Georgiou at the luncheon.

A meeting with Aristotelia Peloni foreign affairs contributor of one of Greece’s leading mainstream newspapers, Ta Nea, provided the students with a journalist’s perspective on the issues being examined by the students.

The busy Greece itinerary did allow for some downtime and relaxation for the students, who enjoyed an outing to the Tatoea Country Club, Kifissia, hosted by Yiannis Mytilineos.  They also enjoyed an all-day excursion to Hydra sponsored by Mrs. Isabella Arvaniti.  Thanks to Mrs. Arvaniti’s generosity, the students enjoyed spending time on her yacht and at her exclusive home, where they were treated to a lavish barbeque.

“We are extremely grateful to Angeliki Frangou, Yiannis Mytilineos and Isabella Arvaniti, upstanding Hellenes who we have been proud to honor in the past, for their generous hospitality and for helping to make the students’ trip a memorable one,” Larigakis said.  “Their selfless contributions to the AHI Foundation program are invaluable.”

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.

Student Testimonials and Reflections…In their own words…

Alexandra LillyIn a wonderfully unique way, the AHI trip is unlike any study abroad trip I have ever heard of before. The program is about bringing together like-minded students with common ethnic backgrounds and similar academic interests to learn first-hand about issues in Greece and Cyprus. All of us on the trip are inherently passionate about what is going on in these countries because of our ethnic background, but the fervor was amplified after meeting with so many gracious people that genuinely wanted to help us learn. We met with so many important, influential people that actually deal with these issues every day. There is such a difference between hearing about these experiences first-hand and asking questions about the issues rather than reading an article about them online.  Prior to this trip, I was amazed by how huge the scope of the Cyprus problem is and how little most Americans know about it, me included. Cyprus is a Westernized country that is a part of the European Union, and it is mind-blowing to know that a country like this is still dealing with an illegal occupation with very limited outside understanding. When we visited occupied Cyprus, we saw desecrated churches, churches that charged money because they have been turned into museums, homes that were destroyed and plundered Greek Orthodox graves, all of which made discussing the politics and atrocities so much more impactful. Also, going to Greece in the middle of the economic crisis and observing the effect it has had on the people of Greece lead to interesting discussions. The AHI Foundation trip provided a wonderful, unique educational experience that I will cherish for years to come. I would highly recommend it to anyone. — Alex Lilly

Alexcia ChambersAHI’s foreign policy trip was truly an incredible experience. Through meetings, discussions, and visits to different sites, I was exposed to every facet of Greek and Cypriot foreign policy. With such an impressive itinerary, we were able to meet with high-level officials of Cyprus and Greece, allowing us to ask serious questions and receive real answers. Each meeting helped me to view thechallenges facing Greece and Cyprus in a completely different way and has made me passionate about the issues. This passion will undoubtedly carry over to all of the work I do in the international relations field, and my hope is that I will be able to inform others in the same inspired way. As Greek Americans, we are in a very unique position to effect change in the way the United States relates to Greece and Cyprus, and the AHI Foreign Policy Trip taught me how to start doing just that. — Alexcia Chambers

Angeline ApostolouAs a student of international relations, the only way I can describe this trip is as a one-of-a-kind experience. The opportunities afforded us on this trip far exceeded any classroom knowledge I have attained. We were talking to real experts who live and work with these foreign policy issues on a daily basis. I have graduated from this trip with a much more in-depth understanding of the policy issues surrounding Greece, Cyprus, and the U.S. I can use everything I have learned to enhance the rest of my academic experience and hopefully my career in foreign policy as well. — Angeline Apostolou

Despina VastakisThe AHI Student Foreign Policy Trip provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see Greece and Cyprus in a new light.  On my first trip to Cyprus, I was truly able to see the conflict gripping the country with our trips to the UN Buffer Zone and the occupied area.  In Athens, we were able to meet with officials to discuss the economic hardships that face the country today.  These experiences have given me the knowledge and showed me how important it is to share this knowledge with others.  I know that I will use this knowledge as I finish school and begin my future career. —Despina Vastakis

Elissa BowlingThe American Hellenic Institute Student Foreign Policy Trip is one of the best opportunities available to Greek and Cypriot American college students. As an International Relations and History double major, the decision to apply for the program was obvious. However, I could never have predicted how comprehensive, well-run, and fun the trip would be. Not only did we meet with top officials, but we were also able to hold long discussions with them on top policy issues and then walk away from the meetings and see those same policies taking shape in the real world. It is one thing to read about issues like the occupation of Cyprus, and quite another to meet with Cypriot officials working on the problem and seeing the occupied side for yourself. The trip also provided venues for a wide range of discussions; we did not meet only with politicians, but also military leaders, newspaper journalists, Orthodox Archbishops, and members of the private sector. Although I went to Greece and Cyprus knowing that my interests lie in international relations and politics, the trip helped me hone in on my specific interests within those broad disciplines, which will in turn inform my decision in classes and afterwards in my career.—Elissa Bowling

George GabrielThe American Hellenic Institute Student Foreign Policy Trip is a fundamental trip in which all Americans should take part. The type of awareness and educational experience is one that cannot be matched by any organization specializing in eastern Mediterranean foreign policy. By taking us to Washington D.C., Greece, and Cyprus, we became entrenched in the foreign policy making decisions made by various international actors. Given the vast depth at which I was able to examine foreign policy issues related to the illegal occupation of Turkish forces in Cyprus, adherence to international laws (specifically in the Aegean Sea), the FYROM name dispute, energy explorations in the Aegean Sea, and the effect of economic crises; I feel the responsibility to educate my American counterparts to live up to our values in the eastern Mediterranean.” — George Gabriel

Panayiota LarigakisThe American Hellenic Institute Student Foreign Policy Trip was an unbelievable experience that I would strongly encourage every Greek American student to participate in. There were absolutely no disappointments throughout the entire two-week program.  I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I, or any participant, will never forget. — Panayiota Larigakis

William FassuliotisThe American Hellenic Institute Student Foreign Policy Trip was a life-altering event. I learned more in the two weeks on the trip than I could have hoped for in months at home or at school. To experience the issues in person, conversing with those whose job is to deal with these issues, provides an understanding impossible to get any other way. — William Fassuliotis

Yianni Constantine KarangelenThe American Hellenic Institute Student Foreign Policy Trip on which I had the opportunity to participate was a once-in-a lifetime experience.  From traveling into the occupied zone in Cyprus, to meeting with President Karolos Papoulias of Greece, it felt as if we had done it all.  We had the opportunity to meet with high-level officials who were all willing to pass on vast amounts of information to us in the effort to enhance our knowledge on the issues affecting foreign policy in the region. — Yianni Karangelen

 

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