Sixth 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 sixth year as nine students from across the United States participated in the two-week program held June 20 to July 4, 2014.
The student participants were Alexandra Veletsis, a sophomore at the University of Miami pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies with a Spanish Language Minor; Christiana Metaxas, a junior pursuing a double-major in Linguistics and French at Binghamton University, State University of New York; Evan Frohman, a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Legal Studies and Economics at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois; Harry Jacobsen, a rising junior at University of South Carolina pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science; Matthew Moramarco, a native of Andover, Massachusetts and a rising senior at the University of Arizona. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Urban & Regional Development in the School of Geography and Development with a thematic minor in Management Strategies; Paulina Likos, a rising junior at Villanova University pursuing a double major in Political Science and Spanish with a concentration in Communication; Peter Milios, a junior at Florida State University, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in both International Affairs and Political Science with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies; Tiffani Katherine Wills, a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, majoring in Psychology; and Zacharo Diamanto Gialamas, a rising senior at the George Washington University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Creative Writing.
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 to once again 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.”
Prior to their departure for Cyprus, the students gathered for briefings in Washington, June 18-19.
On June 18, 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 visited the Embassy of Cyprus to receive a briefing from Consul General Neophytos Constantinou and Congressional Liaison Eleftheria Aristotelous. From there, the students went to Capitol Hill to attend a Hellenic Caucus-hosted member-level briefing with Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos. AHI Members Mr. and Mrs. Steve Veletsishosted the students for a wonderful dinner at their home.
A full day of briefings for the students from top legislators and diplomats on the issues were held on June 19. In the afternoon, 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 Antonis Papakostas, at the Embassy of Greece. At the U.S. Department of State, Deputy Director of the Office of Southern European Affairs Daniel Lawton, Senior Cyprus Desk Officer Amy Dove and Senior Greece Desk Officer Davida Baxter also briefed the students. In addition, Christine Brennan, columnist, USA Today, provided a media training presentation to the students.
The delegation arrived in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 21. During their five-day stay, the students met with several high-level government officials including: Government Spokesman NicosChristodoulides, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, Greek Cypriot negotiator for the Cyprus problem; President of the House of Representatives Yiannakis Omirou, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Energy, Commerce, Industry and Tourism Stelios D. Himonas.
Additional meetings at the ministry of Foreign Affairs were held with: Giannis Iacovou, director, Service for Overseas and Repatriated Cypriots, ministry of Foreign Affairs; Penelope Erotokritou, Counsellor “A,” Department of Cyprus Question and Turkey, who provided a briefing on the Cyprus issue; Nikos Argerides, attaché, Energy Division, ministry of Foreign Affairs; MichalisZaharioglu, director of Communication, ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Xenophon Kallis, head of service on Missing Persons, ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Moreover, former Foreign Minister Amb. Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis visited the students at their hotel and provided a detailed briefing on foreign policy.
The students received two separate briefings on defense matters from Lt. Konstandinos Kalos and Lt. Siakkallis Stylianos of the Cypriot National Guard; in addition to a briefing by officials of the National Guard Forces. A special thanks to Major General Dimokritos Zervakis, chief of staff, National Guard General staff, who helped arrange and participated at the defense briefing.
The students attended two working luncheons during their visit to Cyprus. The Cypriot the Press and Information Office sponsored the first luncheon, held June 24. The director of the PIO, Dr.Eleonora Gavrielides and the head of its International Relations Section, Chryso Demosthenous, hosted the luncheon. The second luncheon was held June 25. Michalis Zacharioglou, director, Communication Policy, ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Giannis Iacovou, director, Service for Overseas and Repatriated Cypriots, ministry of Foreign Affairs; attended and spoke with the students.
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 economy of Cyprus with Professor Andreas Theophanous, professor of Political Economy, University of Nicosia. The students enjoyed gaining insight about the state of Cyprus’s economy, especially following the banking crisis that impacted the country a few years ago.
In addition, the students celebrated the Fourth of July a bit early with a celebration and reception held at the U.S. Embassy 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, June 23. 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 PentadaktylosMountains, 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.
“Visiting the Turkish occupied region of Cyprus really brought home how devastating the invasion and continued occupation of the island is till this day,” Peter Milios said. “The amount of destruction, desecration of Orthodox churches, and forced upheaval was shocking, and the atrocities committed there have yet to be resolved.”
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.
Zacharo Diamanto Gialamas, “I specifically remember being on the beach in Famagusta with the Dead City behind us, all yellow and cold, and people laying down on the beach sun-tanning. I didn't even have to take a picture because I was shocked at the site. But then again, these people don't know any better and that may not necessarily be their fault. The Dead City still seemed alive somehow with the memories the Greek Cypriots had in these buildings and streets and that is something no one can ever take away.”
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.
After an enlightening trip to Cyprus, the students embarked for nine-day visit to Greece.
On their first day in Athens, June 26, the students were also treated to a private tour of the Acropolis Museum provided by the Ministry of Culture. A welcome dinner hosted by the Ministry of Culture, was also held at the museum. First Counsellor Nikolaos Yotopoulos represented the ministry of Culture and spoke with the students.
Students Meet Greece’s President, U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Tour Parliament
The students were excited to have an audience with President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace on July 1—a definite highlight of the itinerary in Athens. During the hour-long meeting, President Papoulias wished the students success in their studies and engaged in a Q&A discussion. The students were honored to meet the president and appreciated the generous amount of time he afforded them.
Also on July 1, the students met with U.S. Ambassador to Greece David Pearce at the U.S. Embassy. The meeting with Ambassador Pearce gave the students a strong handle on U.S.-Greece relations. The next day, July 2, the students attended a Fourth of July Reception at the U.S. Embassy for which the students were grateful.
To conclude the eventful day, the students received a guided tour of the Hellenic Parliament and Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretange Hotel, hosted a Welcome Reception for the students.
In a first for the program, the students departed on a day-trip to Thessaloniki, June 27. Upon arrival they departed for Nea Santa, Kilkis, where they reviewed a demonstration of the 71 Air-Mobile Brigade weapons system and its capabilities following a briefing provided by Major General Antonios Nomikos, who is the commander of the 1 Infantry Division. Brigadier General NikolaosChionis, commander, 71 Air-Mobile Brigade, and Colonel Christos Zezos, commander, 595 Air-Mobile Battalion, also participated at the briefing.
The students visited the Vergina archeological site and received a guided tour.
Upon their return to Thessaloniki, they visited the Headquarters for the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps Greece (NRDC-GR) for a briefing with Lt. General Ilias Leontaris, commander, C' Army Corps and HQ NATO Rapid Deployable Corps-Greece.; and Major General Dimitrios Kalogeropoulos, chief of staff, NRDC-GR.
Before returning to Athens, the students met with former Minister of Macedonia and Thrace Theodoros Karaoglou and Mayor of Thessaloniki Ioannis Boutaris at a dinner hosted by Lt. Gen.Leontaris at the Officers’ Club.
“A special thanks to Lieutenant General Leontaris for his support and assistance that helped to make our visit to Thessaloniki a productive and educational one,” Larigakis said. “He really went above and beyond the call to ensure the students had a memorable visit.”
Students Receive Tour of Greece’s Naval Fleet; Briefing at Defense Ministry
The students gained further significant insight about Greece’s military capabilities on July 1 and 2.
General Mikhail Kostarakos, chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, provided a thorough briefing at the Ministry of Defense, July 1.
The students also received a presentation by the Hellenic Navy on July 2. There, they were provided a tour of the frigate, HS Salamis, by Commander Vasilios Griparis; and a tour of the submarine, HS Papanikolis, by Lt. Commander Georgios Karagiannis. Prior to the tours, Vice Admiral P. Litsas, commander in chief of the Hellenic Fleet, provided a briefing.
Following the presentation about Greece’s naval fleet, the students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a series of briefings with: Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos, Counsellor Elina Komini, who provided a briefing on Turkey; Counsellor Nikos Sapoutzis, who provided a briefing on maritime and aviation issues; First Counsellor Maria Zisi and Expert Counsellor Sergios Zambouras of the A2 Cyprus Department, who briefed the group on Cyprus.
The students enjoyed a dinner sponsored that evening, July 2, by AHI Member George Mermelas at Mirtia restaurant.
Students Meet Archbishop of Greece, Rest of Itinerary
In addition, the students had an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece, June 30. Also on that day, they received a tour of one of Greece’s leading shipping companies, Tsakos Group of Companies, which was conducted by one of its executives, Nicholas Logan. Captain Panagiotis Tsakos also hosted a luncheon for the students. The day culminated with a dinner hosted by Ambassador Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, former president, 2004 Athens Olympic Committee, at a beautiful restaurant in the Plaka overlooking the Acropolis. She was represented by Michalis Zacharatos.
Additional ministry of Foreign Affairs briefings were held July 3. Topics included: Energy issues with Vasilis Sitaras, first secretary for Economic and Commercial Affairs, B7 Department for International Energy Issues; the Western Balkans with Christoforos Psilos, expert counsellor; and Greek-American relations with Periklis Ghicas, first counsellor, A7 Department for North America. Ghicas explained his 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: Savvas Anastasiades, president of Parliament, Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad; Kostas Tsiaras, president of Parliament, 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 Director General Dr. Thanos Dokos. The academicians gave their perspectives on contemporary issues facing Greece.
The busy Greece itinerary did allow for some downtime and relaxation for the students, who enjoyed an all-day boat outing compliments of Aris Drivas, an AHI supporter, on June 28. An enjoyable time was also had when the group toured Karaiskakis Stadium, home of Olympiacos FC, June 29, which was sponsored by the club and Evangelos Marinakis. They also sponsored dinner that evening at the exclusive Vammos restaurant.
“We are sincerely grateful to Mr. Marinakis and his staff for a private tour of Olympiacos Museum and the stadium,” Larigakis said. “He granted our students exclusive access to the entire complex, opening it up for their sole enjoyment, including the exquisite Vammos restaurant. Again, the students received a truly memorable experience.”
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.
“We are extremely grateful to all of our sponsors, both in Cyprus and in Greece, 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.”
Student Testimonials and Reflections…In their own words…
My experience on the AHI foreign policy trip was both enriching and life altering. The knowledge I gained and the experiences I encountered will help me so much with my future endeavors. The trip really made me feel as if I have a strong connection to Greece.
-- Alexandra Veletsis, a sophomore at the University of Miami pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies with a Spanish Language Minor.
Quite simply, the AHI Foreign Policy trip is invigorating. On our trip we had students that varied greatly on how connected they were to Greek culture…Regardless of where we started, by the end of the trip we all felt amazingly connected to our homeland. The trip inspires you to do more with what you were given at birth, your Greek identity. The people you meet are astonishingly important and the information you learn is extremely interesting. I would absolutely recommend this trip to anybody who wants to gain a perspective on how public policy, foreign policy or how Greece operates at any level. I will never forget what I learned on trip, the people I met and the memories I’ve created.
-- Evan Frohman a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Legal Studies and Economics at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois.
The AHI Foreign Policy trip provided an unforgettable experience which allowed valuable insight into foreign policy and government which would be impossible to attain from any book or lecture. The Greeks and Cypriots were incredibly warm and welcoming. To be able to learn and interact with others who share a passion for their heritage and gain incredible new friends while doing so was a part of the trip that will always be especially memorable.
The economic challenges facing Greece are well known, yet being able to observe firsthand allowed for an understanding I never expected. The time spent in Cyprus was especially insightful for me because prior to the trip I was only vaguely aware of the history and current problems of the country. I have always been proud to be Greek and now that I am more well-informed, I can share my newly acquired wisdom with others in order to help raise awareness.
I can’t say enough about what a fantastic experience AHI provides and all the good work Nick and the entire team do to raise awareness and advance issues that are important for Greeks, Cypriots and Greek Americans.
-- Matthew Moramarco a native of Andover, Massachusetts and a senior at the University of Arizona. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Urban & Regional Development in the School of Geography and Development with a thematic minor in Management Strategies.
My time spent in Cyprus and Greece was an extraordinary learning experience. The knowledge that I have gained about the Cyprus conflict and the challenges Greece faces, paints a clear picture of the disparity the Hellenic people have been forced to endure. I enjoyed having direct communication with politicians and high-profile government officials, asking them questions about their policy initiatives and predictions about their country’s future…
Having had meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in both Cyprus and Greece, the American ambassador to Cyprus, the President of the House of Representatives, and many more, I understand the role I have to pursue as a Greek American and serve as a voice for my extended family and friends in Greece and Cyprus both in my community and in Washington. Additionally, this experience has enhanced my affinity toward my Greek culture; the more I learned each day the stronger I felt about making a difference to embrace a moral obligation. Looking forward after the AHI Foreign Policy trip, the personal development I have garnered was priceless. I will continue to be a leader in my Greek community, the Hellenic Society on my Villanova University’s campus and praise the rich heritage that I carry.
-- Paulina Likos a junior at Villanova University pursuing a double major in Political Science and Spanish with a concentration in Communication.
The AHIF student foreign policy trip gave me the opportunity to study the foreign policies of the United States, Greece and Cyprus firsthand. Travelling to Washington DC, Cyprus, and Greece, and meeting with government officials, private sector organizations, and other individuals such as professors and journalists allowed us to gain insights into the current and past issues concerning each country. I especially enjoyed that we were encouraged to ask questions at the meetings and that those questions turned into lively discussions…As a Greek American, I value my education and feel very grateful to have had such an opportunity to learn about the political spheres of the United States, Greece, and Cyprus, and how their foreign policies fit into a more global context. I hope to use the knowledge that I gained in a meaningful way in the international community.
-- Christiana Metaxas is a junior pursuing a double-major in Linguistics and French at Binghamton University, State University of New York.
The AHI Student Foreign Policy trip was a unique experience unmatched by any other program. The sheer amount of influential people who briefed us on policy matters in both Greece and Cyprus was incredible. The meetings that we had were a once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity, one that could never be bought with money. These important officials all took time out of their busy schedules running the government, military and businesses to have long, thought provoking discussions with Greek American students on important policy issues. The official meetings were not the only luxury afforded to us; we also visited many important sites, toured the beautiful landscapes of Greece and Cyprus, and were welcomed with extreme hospitality that made it one of the most fun trips of my life. This program provided me with one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Visiting the Turkish-occupied region of Cyprus really brought home how devastating the invasion and continued occupation of the island is till this day. The amount of destruction, desecration of Orthodox churches, and forced upheaval was shocking, and the atrocities committed there have yet to be resolved. In Athens, however, we experienced a more positive note as officials and citizens alike had a fever to them that the economic crisis in Greece was reaching its end and that the road to recovery was beginning. Overall, this program has helped to make me a stronger advocate for a solution to the problem in Cyprus and stronger U.S.-Greek and U.S.-Cypriot relations. It also helped to strengthen my knowledge in international relations and will help with my future career. I would highly recommend this program that AHI so generously provides.
-- Peter Milios is a junior at Florida State University, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in both International Affairs and Political Science with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies.
The American Hellenic Institute Foreign Policy trip was one like no other. It was experience I would never trade anything for. I learned and gained so much knowledge about issues that I did not know much about but are very near and dear to my heart now as a Greek American. AHI and Mr. Nick Larigakis gave us an opportunity to go to Cyprus and Greece and see things that were just absolutely incredible and went to places that I probably will never be able to go again and met and spoke with people and high officials that was also incredible. Along with being able to go to amazing places and meeting incredible people this trip brought me 8 new amazing friends and we were able to make so many memories on this trip. It was definitely a trip that I will never forget.
-- Tiffani Wills, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, majoring in Psychology.
I specifically remember being on the beach in Famagusta with the Dead City behind us, all yellow and cold, and people laying down on the beach sun-tanning. I didn't even have to take a picture because I was shocked at the site…The Dead City still seemed alive somehow with the memories the Greek Cypriots had in these buildings and streets and that is something no one can ever take away…
We also had the privilege of meeting the President of Greece, Mr. Papoulias. This was something I never thought I would get to experience…
The farewell dinner hosted by AHI, gave the students as well as other members to hear about our experiences of the trip with a few words. At the end of the day we learned that politics do matter but that trying to help others who need it, matters even more. I thank AHI, not only for giving me an opportunity to learn and meet people who are trying to make a difference in the world, but for also giving me even more of a reason to come back to Greece and make a difference for my people.
-- Zacharo Diamanto Gialamas a rising senior at the George Washington University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Creative Writing.
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at email@example.com. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.
Sixth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success