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In Their Words: Student Essays
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
October 27, 2014—No. 57 (202) 785-8430

In Their Words: Student Essays

AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip Participants Describe their Personal Experiences

WASHINGTON, DC —The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is releasing nine essays authored by participants of the Sixth 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 20 to July 4, 2014. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 21-25 and Athens, June 26 to July 4. Prior to departing for overseas, the students spent two days in Washington, DC, June 18 and 20. 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,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “I truly believe this is reflected in their essays, which are exceptionally detailed. In many of the essays, the reader can pinpoint the specific moments that deeply affected each student.”

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

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For additional information, please contact 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 and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.

 

Cyprus: The Unknown Problem

by Alexandra Veletsis

2014alexandra veletsisAlexandra Veletsis.Just having arrived at the airport in Larnaca, Cyprus, I could feel the heat in the air. The heat stemmed not only from the island’s hot climate, but from the tensions between its two ethnic groups, Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The Cyprus problem is a mystery to many people. It is an ethnic and political cleavage that fails to be taught in school. It is a human rights violation that does not get the attention it deserves. It is an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved if the world wishes to have stability in that geographical area of the world. As we drove towards Nicosia, the Pentadaktylos Mountains loomed in the background. On the side of the mountains were two large flags of the self-proclaimed state of Turkish-occupied Cyprus. The flags were painted there to taunt the citizens of the true Republic of Cyprus. Walking through the city of Nicosia you can feel the tensions in the air as you come up to the crossing checkpoint. Nicosia is the only capital city in the world that remains geographically divided. It is a travesty to have a major capital city that is not only ethnically divided but also geographically divided in the 21st century. This reality of a divided Cyprus is a problem that is not well known around the globe. People are not educated well on the Cyprus problem and they are also unaware of the potential Cyprus has. Cyprus’ geopolitical location is a major factor in the way it conducts its foreign policy. What is not emphasized, however, is the division of the island and how it negatively affects Cyprus’ ability to fully participate and conduct foreign relations.

Visiting the occupied side of Cyprus was truly eye opening. Never in my life have I felt so uncomfortable or been anywhere so eerie. Walking around the dead city of Famagusta, I felt as if I was constantly being watched. The guards in the watchtower looming over the beach watched us like hawks as we innocently strolled by the water. There were signs posted everywhere stating that pictures were forbidden. What type of place was this? I felt as if I was in an oppressed village. Seeing with my own eyes a desecrated Greek Orthodox Church and cemetery truly brought to light my experience. This tragedy is something I will never forget.

The Cyprus problem is a human rights violation that does not get the attention it deserves. It a multi-faceted issue: cultural, political, and religious. The division of the island impacts the everyday lives of Cypriots. The United States needs to help advocate for a united Cyprus, not only because it is in Cyprus’ best interests, but it is also in the world’s best interests. A fully united Cyprus could help provide peace and stability in a volatile region. A unified Cyprus has much to offer the world. It is our job as Greek Americans to advocate for the unification of the divided state of Cyprus.

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Alexandra Veletsis will begin her sophomore year in the fall of 2014 at the University of Miami studying towards a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a Spanish Language Minor. Alexandra participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip: Utilizing the Geo-Strategic Importance of Cyprus

by Peter Milios

2014peter miliosPeter Milios.One only has to look a map to understand the very strategic location of the island nation of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus sits at the oceanic crossroads between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Located just a few hundred miles from the capitals of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon, the island provides great access to various important cities. This isn’t exactly the safest neighborhood in the world to be situated in, however. With recent violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a bloody three-year long civil war in Syria, political and military turmoil in Iraq with ISIS, and political tensions in Turkey and Egypt, Cyprus is surrounded by instability. Even so, the Republic of Cyprus has remained politically stable despite all that goes on around it. Its admittance into the European Union only further serves to create stability on the island. There is only one issue with the island of Cyprus: Turkey.

For those unaware of the situation, in the early 1970’s the Greek military junta, which had just seized power in Greece, attempted another coup d’état in the Cypriot government. Although it failed to seize power, Turkey utilized its standing as a guarantor power as an excuse to invade and subsequently occupy the island. Ethnic Turkish Cypriots, who had lived side by side with ethnic Greek Cypriots for hundreds of years, made up fewer than 20% of the population at the time of the invasion. Turkey invaded under the false pretense that they were protecting the Turkish minority from harm. They invaded with thousands of troops, bombing cities along the way. The Turkish invasion forced more than a quarter of the population from their homes and land. Nearly 4,000 persons were killed and 37% of the island remains occupied by Turkish forces to this day. The capital, Nicosia, remains the only divided capital in the world. Turkey was accused of atrocities and human rights abuses by the European Commission for Human Rights for the displacement of persons, deprivation of liberty, ill treatment, deprivation of life, and deprivation of possessions, not to mention the cost of destruction. Yet their presence on the island as an occupational force remains.

Seeing the aftermath of this first hand was appalling. The remnants of the 1974 invasion were visible throughout the Turkish occupied portion of the island. Ghost towns and bombed-out buildings litter the land. Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches alike were desecrated and left as rubble, ammunition storages, houses and bird wastelands. The graves of Greek Cypriots lay in rubble, while a multitude of victims from the invasion remain missing and without a proper burial. It was truly an awful scene to witness. The Turkish Cypriots and illegally occupying Turkish settlers live amidst this horrible scene as if nothing ever happened; yet they know. The city of Famagusta, which once prospered as a great cultural and tourism center on the eastern part of the island, lays bombed out with barbed wire fences and signs depicting a blinded soldier that read ‘Forbidden Zone’. The Turks living near the city go about their daily lives like it never happened and lay on the beach with this military controlled zone just 50 feet behind them. The surprising thing is that Turkish residents know what has happened and the majority sees nothing wrong with it.

In order for the United States to fully utilize Cyprus as a geo-strategic partner for surveillance and counter terrorism efforts, it must first encourage a dialogue between Cyprus and Turkey toward a full resolution to the occupation. A full, united Cyprus would lead to an immense explosion of investment and commerce in the island nation. Surveys show that rich oil and natural gas reserves may lie in the waters of Cyprus’ EEZ only helping to further encourage investment by American companies. With economic and political stability fully achieved, the United States could realize the full potential of increased, closer ties with the Republic of Cyprus, which located in an increasingly uncertain region in the world.

The Turkish occupied area, which is claimed to be an autonomous government only by Turkey and no other nation, offers little protection against crime and trafficking. The occupied region of the island is a safe haven for international drug traffickers, human traffickers, and terrorist alike. They are able to capitalize on the geo-strategic importance of Cyprus, creating increased instability on the island. If the United States helps to resolve the Cyprus issue, it can prevent these criminal and violent networks from growing and would instead allow the U.S. government to capitalize. Cyprus remains the perfect solution for stability in the region and should be utilized as such. This solution can only be achieved by first ending the Turkish occupation and finally achieving, after 40 years, peace on the island.

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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. He served as an intern for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican Party of Florida, and former Florida Senate President Tom Lee during his first two years in college. He is a member of the Florida State University Honors Student Association and was elected to the Student Government Senate in the summer of 2014. Peter participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

Cyprus: A Sovereign Nation under Occupation

By Matthew Moramarco

2014matthew moramarcoMatthew Moramarco.Growing up, I was vaguely aware that Turkey had invaded the Republic of Cyprus in 1974, yet upon visiting this past June on a trip sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute, I was shocked to learn that such a strategically positioned member of the EU has been virtually ignored and abandoned by the U.S. It was also hard to believe that Turkey, a country that aspires to be a member of the EU, can occupy a sovereign land, which, by treaty, agreed to forego all claims to the island nation of Cyprus.

By outward appearances, the inhabitants of the free zone of this relatively small and seemingly happy island carry on despite the lawless occupation of nearly 40% of their country. Evidence of the occupation is obvious, including the divided capital city of Nicosia. It was disturbing to learn that forty years ago, as Turkish troops invaded, the British did nothing despite having two bases on the island, one of which is only about 100 meters away from the now-occupied land. It was especially disconcerting to learn that the U.S. government, under the supervision of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, looked the other way while Turkey blatantly violated international law using American weapons. To this day, there are still 43,000 Turkish troops on Cyprus.

In crossing the checkpoint to enter the Turkish occupied area, it was immediately evident that the Republic of Cyprus is in reality two very separate lands. The free zone appears fairly normal during the day with streets that come alive at night. In direct contrast, on the occupied side it feels as if one is being watched closely.

Beyond the lawlessness of the occupation, it was disconcerting to see desecrated churches and cemeteries. As if that were not enough, we observed that the occupiers constructed a Turkish cemetery adjacent to a decimated Greek cemetery. The dead have been violated and the churches and treasures of Greek Orthodox Christians have been ravaged and stolen along with the religious freedoms of the people of a sovereign nation.

Further into the occupied area is the city of Famagusta, now known as the “dead city.” This once bustling and thriving tourist attraction was bombed and destroyed in the invasion. What is puzzling is how it has not been altered in any way since its destruction. A fence constructed around its boundaries keeps people out. This causes one to wonder why the Republic of Cyprus was invaded in the first place? If Turkey had no intention of utilizing or developing their conquest, then why were they so compelled to take it by force in the first place? The free versus the occupied areas evoke a striking contrast.

Since the invasion, Turkey has encouraged and sent illegal settlers to Cyprus in an effort to manipulate the balance of the population. This could potentially result in additional problems for the Cypriots if the Turkish occupied area is ever rightfully returned. This means that the damage that began forty years ago continues in a more subtle, systematic way. The illegal occupants should not stay, but no action has been taken to address this issue either.

It is unfortunate that the United States government has not stepped in to assist the Cypriots and hard to imagine how things will ever return to normalcy unless there is substantial influence and assistance from a major super power. The problems of Cyprus are relatively unknown to most people. Raising awareness for this issue is critical for the people of Cyprus living in an occupied land. Without heightened awareness it appears little will change.

It would be beneficial for the United States to take an interest in the area not only for the well-being and rights of the Cypriots, but also because of its strategic location and potential for future offshore energy exploration. It is unjust that this issue has been ignored for the past forty years and that the rule of law appears to have no relevance when it comes to the people of Cyprus.

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Matthew Moramarco is 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. Matthew participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

AHI Foreign Policy Trip 2014

by Tiffani Wills

2014tiffani willsTiffani Wills.

The AHI Foreign Policy trip is unlike any other. We experienced things that are beyond imagination and met with high officials in a once in a lifetime experience. The issue that impacted me the most was the invasion of Cyprus and ongoing occupation of the island.

Before the trip I did not know what to expect other than what previous participants had told me. Yet nothing they told me could really explain what we would experience. It is hard to describe the feeling of traveling into occupied northern Cyprus. I remember getting off the bus and having to go to passport control and seeing the signs that said “Welcome to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” It was very odd and I didn’t know what to think or feel. After driving through passport control, you enter what looks like a normal city that is pretty thriving so you do not feel as if you’re in an “occupied area” so to speak. Then we visited sites such as a desecrated church which, as a Greek Orthodox Christian, was so sad to see. The church was completely destroyed and there was trash everywhere. The worst part was seeing the Orthodox grave yards completely destroyed and dug up. The tombstones most of the time were nowhere to be found or all thrown together.

The other issue is that of missing people who, forty years after the invasion of the island, have not been found. This is a major issue and problem because so many families are still unaware of where their loved ones are. We were fortunate to be able to talk to someone who deals with reports of missing people. It was sad to learn what the families have to deal with. With technology improving, they are finding new ways to be able to identify the missing, many of whom were soldiers. I cannot even imagine the pain and suffering of those families but also the relief that they feel when their loved one has been found.

Along with the many sites we visited and people we spoke with, another very special component of the trip was the students who participated on the trip. Every single person was incredible in their own way and our group became very close very quickly. I would like to thank AHI and Nick Larigakis for this once in a lifetime experience. It was something that I will never forget. I will keep advocating on behalf of Greece and Cyprus because it is up to Greek Americans to make a difference.

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Tiffani Wills is a rising sophomore at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, majoring in Psychology. She is fluent in Greek and French and passionate about her Greek heritage. She is a member of the Alpha Phi sorority Beta Mu chapter at the University of Alabama. Tiffani participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

Self-Interest and Cyprus

by Evan Frohman

2014evan frohmanEvan Frohman.It was a beautiful day. As I looked out of the window at the sparkling blue Aegean Sea, a pigeon flew over me, joining its fellows in what was once a beautiful church. Just 40 years ago the building I was standing in was a glimmering monument, adorned with gold and paintings. Today it is a home for birds, the paintings torn down, the walls pillaged, the church desecrated.

Sadly, this is what one sees throughout the occupied zone of Cyprus. I went to the police stations and saw there the seemingly-endless lists of missing people. Since Turkey invaded in 1974, it has sent settlers from the mainland to Cyprus and set out to remove all traces of Greek or Christian culture. This violates international law. Michalis Zacharioglou, the Cyprus Director of Communication, has described Turkey as having “an a la carte approach to international law.” Regarding just the Cyprus situation, Turkey has violated the Zurich Agreement, the Geneva Conventions, the International Law of the Sea and the Treaty of Guarantee by sending settlers, desecrating culture, invading a member of the EU, and reselling the stolen property of Cypriots. However, despite both the human suffering and the clear illegality of Turkey’s actions, the international community has done nothing.

This summer I went on a foreign policy trip hosted by the American Hellenic Institute, traveling to Cyprus and Greece and meeting ambassadors from the US as well as going to the Cypriot occupied zone. Like many of you reading this article, I knew very little about what had happened in Cyprus before going on this trip. The trip made an emotionally powerful and strategically rational argument for the reunification of Cyprus. The foreign policy trip afforded me amazing opportunities. I met the Greek president, head commander of armed forces and many other diplomatic figures. I became connected to the Greek-American community and I strongly encourage all Greek Americans who are interested in international politics to apply.

As I met with people who had lost everything—family, property, possessions—during the invasion 40 years ago, I realized how strong the moral argument was for Cyprus. However, when I met with delegates and ambassadors, I began to understand that governments aren’t motivated by morals but rather are driven by self-interest. The moral argument can be productive when it affects powerful individuals such as Vice President Biden, but that’s all it captures, individuals. Despite being emotionally powerful to individuals, moral arguments are largely ineffective in motivating global actors to alleviate situations.

On the last day of the trip I sat in a room filled with military generals and many other Greek figures giving my closing remarks and expressing my appreciation for the incredible trip. I spoke about the physical discomfort I felt in the church and the sadness at the abandoned cities. As I looked into the crowd I saw sad nods and tears from some of the older members who had lived through this. My statements most affected the people I needed least to persuade. I was preaching to the choir, to individuals with stakes in the conflict, rather than to those who needed to be persuaded—governments. Human rights violations occur continually across the globe. The list of active human rights issues supported by moral arguments stretches endlessly, and yet with the exception of KONY 2012, the U.S. government has tended to respond only when there is self-interest at play. America’s support for Ukraine against Russia or its bombing of ISIS are two examples. In the past 40 years of Cypriot discussions there have been arguments made supported by moral issues and international law, but so far results have been non-existent. Kissinger’s realpolitik is what got Cyprus into this station, and appealing to realpolitik is what will help Cyprus get out of this mess.

Realpolitik is essentially a cold, rational, self-interest based way of analyzing international situations. To employ it is to appeal to a nation’s self-interest, and recently Cyprus has gained that ability. From a geostrategic standpoint, Cyprus is the closest ally the EU and NATO have to the Middle East in the Mediterranean. This has been used in the past, such as the 2006 evacuation of Lebanon in which Cyprus took in 160,000 refugees. The only other contender for this role is Turkey; however, its president, Erdogan, has threatened Israel with naval war and denied its right to exist. Furthermore, Turkey is trending toward authoritarianism and is becoming anti-Western. These recent actions lend Cyprus to be the more secure and reliable ally in the Middle East.

The other appeal Cyprus has is economic. Recently, hydrocarbons have been discovered in its—and Israel’s— economic zones, and European and American companies are interested in developing it. This discovery, while not game-changing for Europe, would reduce reliance on Russia and is pivotal. The United States recognizes this as well as evidenced by Vice President Biden’s trip to Cyprus, the most senior U.S. official to visit Cyprus since Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1962. However, the pipeline for this gas must go through Turkey, which is why it is essential that a solution be found. The need to reduce reliance on Russia, highlighted by the chaos in Ukraine is a very real one. In addition, given the instability of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Cyprus is becoming a very viable spot for the US military. Realpolitik would argue that the US should intervene regardless of whether or not they are acting in the right.

The Cyprus problem needs to be resolved. Morally, there are families who are still not allowed back to their homes or into northern Cyprus to search for their missing loved ones. Legally, the occupation violates half-a-dozen international treaties of which Turkey is a part. Economically, there would be an enormous benefit to reunification in addition to the gas reserves recently found. Strategically, Cyprus represents an excellent base for US operations in the Middle East. As an individual, you should be shocked by the desecration of half of a country. Tell your friends, spread the moral outrage. To institutions, present your reasons. Act in your best interests and know that you are doing good as well. It is the U.S. that needs to act. Russia wants NATO weakened and Europe reliant on its energy. Therefore, I do not believe Russia will help. The U.S .must put public pressure on Turkey to find a resolution. More importantly, the U.S. must act now. As Turkish settlers continue to arrive, the solution will only become more difficult to find.

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Evan Frohman is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, Legal Studies and Economics at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. On campus, he serves as an NU Senator, lobbying for student’s rights and is a member of a fraternity. The past two summers he has spent interning in a District Attorney’s office and going to Greece to visit his family. His grandfather, a former military commander and current think-tank member, has exposed him to Hellenic issues; his current focus, the Smyrneans’ Association, is on the 1922 events in Smyrna, which have parallels to 1974 Cyprus. Evan participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

Cyprus and Greece: An experience that I will never forget

by Zacharo Diamanto Gialamas

2014zacharo gialamasZacharo Diamanto Gialamas.I would like to begin by explaining why I wanted to participate on the AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus. I grew up in Athens. Although I know Athens and Greece quite well, I wanted to see Athens through the eyes of others, especially eight other students who had been to Greece only for vacation or who were coming for the first time. I had never been to The Republic of Cyprus before, and although I knew the history I wanted the opportunity to learn about it and the current political situation first-hand.

The trip was full of exciting and very informative briefings. I would say a few specific briefings made an impact on my thoughts and ideas about the political world and the world in general.

We visited the occupied area of Cyprus, which was an incredible experience. I specifically remember being on the beach in Famagusta with the “Dead City” behind us, all yellow and cold, and people lying on the beach sun tanning as though the situation were normal. I didn't even take a picture because I was so shocked at the site. But then again, these people don’t know any better and the fact that they don’t know better may not necessarily be their fault. The Dead City still seemed alive somehow with the memories of Greek-Cypriots who once lived there. Those memories are something that no one can ever take away.

Another lasting impression was the Tour of the Old Nicosia airport by a UN officer. For some reason, the smashed windows of the airport had the most impact on me. Although buildings are known to deteriorate, it was obvious that these windows were broken and smashed with anger. The UN officer was asked several questions about the UN’s goals and whether the troops are scared to be stationed there. He answered yes, and that he could die at any minute but yet he stays. Officers and soldiers from all over the world stay, without any weapons to defend themselves, because there is always hope. It made me think that these UN officers are the reason why peace isn't impossible. Fighting violence with peace is more powerful than fighting violence with violence, no matter the cost.

We then met with the Greek Cypriot negotiator for the Cyprus problem, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis. For me, it was not so much what he said that made an impact, but how he looked while he was explaining the difficulties of his job. I had the privilege of sitting right across from him and simply put, his eyes were stressed. I couldn't imagine the amount of pressure and stress he feels every time he goes into a negotiation meeting to discuss the future of the Republic of Cyprus. This briefing showed me how much people care in this world, and how much they try to make a difference. He explained that he didn’t feel like he was making much of a difference but it seemed like he wouldn't stop trying regardless of the outcome.

After Cyprus we headed to Greece. We flew to Thessaloniki and visited the military base in Kilkis. It was interesting to see all these young men and women training for their country. It made me proud to see Greeks believing in a common cause. We were also able to meet the Mayor of Thessaloniki, Mr. Boutaris, which was very exciting for me. I remember when he was asked for his thoughts about the number of immigrants coming into Greece, he simply said that we are all one people.

In Athens, we had the privilege of meeting the President of Greece, Mr. Papoulias, a person I never thought I would get to meet. I, personally, got very emotional as he talked about the future of Greece and especially the future of the younger generation. I want to move back to Greece because it is my home. I believe studying in the United States will give me the ability to implement my strong ideas and feelings about Greece through my writing. Greece deserves to get through this and I believe we will because it is only a matter of time and patience. Mr. Papoulias seems to believe the same thing, which made me very happy.

I would love to write every lasting impact the trip had on me but there is only so much room. However, I will mention Ms. Elina Komini, Counselor at the Foreign Ministry briefing on Turkey. She excited me with her brilliance and interesting outlook on the relationship between Turkey and Greece. She said that we should never forget the past but the reality is that we need to be at peace with Turkey and we should be. She was not advocating for Turkey, she was simply advocating for peace in a world of violence. We should all strive to advocate for peace and stop creating enemies. We should be civil because at the end of the day, we live on the same Earth and we are all humans striving to live in joy.

I thank AHI for giving me an opportunity to learn and to meet people who are trying to make a difference in the world.

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Zacharo Diamanto Gialamas is now a senior at the George Washington University in Washington D.C., majoring in Political Science and minoring in Creative Writing. In the summer of 2014 she worked at the Kathimerini newspaper in Athens, Greece and plans to continue her graduate studies in Creative Writing in the U.K. She is from Athens, Greece where she would like to end up working and living. Zacharo participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip: Best Foot Forward

by Paulina Likos

2014paulina likosPaulina Likos.

The cultural adventure that I embarked on during my time in Cyprus and Greece included an educational journey of heightened emotion and optimism. Standing in the occupied territories in the Varosha district of Famagusta, I was surrounded by barbed-wire, desecrated buildings, businesses, and demolished churches. The area lays in eerie silence yet these images voice a need for imperative action. My optimism stems from my confidence in the Republic of Cyprus’ potential— the potential of a nation recognized by its European counterparts and the rest of the world.

As the Cyprus question still remains unresolved, the Cypriot government’s main priority is to achieve a viable solution that will restore territorial sovereignty and unity of the Republic of Cyprus. I was moved from our first briefing in Cyprus at the Shacolas Tower where we were given a presentation on defense matters. This observatory showed a beautiful panoramic view of old Nicosia from both sides of the Green Line. In the Turkish-occupied area, one can see the flag of northern Cyprus, a flag which strongly resembles the flag of Turkey, painted on the Pentadaktylos Mountain range. I viewed this as an offense to Greek Cypriots and their community. In my opinion, this is an action of provocation, territorial damage, and does not respect the human rights of Greek Cypriots.

The Turkish invasion of 1974 caused an economic collapse in the northern part of the island, which was the richest and most developed part of the country until that time. In addition, much of the rich culture in the occupied areas was destroyed and vandalized. Despite the consequences of the Turkish invasion, the government of Cyprus is determined to find a solution. I present ideas that are parallel with the Greek Cypriot people: to restore the right to their original property, political equality among Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, and complete demilitarization of the Cypriot state.

The potential Cyprus carries is shown through the improvement of their modern economy. Cyprus is a major tourist destination with a growing entrepreneurial community and a highly educated labor force. Furthermore, the recent natural gas findings in its Exclusive Economic Zone reveal rich reserves of natural gas that will serve as a significant revenue source in the years to come. Another important feature that Cyprus has is her strategic location. This is favorable for foreign business and shipping. Cyprus serves as a bridge to the rest of Europe and a gateway to the Middle East. She is considered the primary international business center where foreign investors base many of their ship-management companies. Due to its geographic position, Cyprus has been developed into a shipment center with a large volume of imports and exports going and coming from different world markets. For these reasons I reiterate my point of view of optimism that a Cypriot, unified state can move forward as they are supported by their natural resources, future structural reform, and foreign business that offers progress and stability. These are key entities that unlock the potential of Cyprus.

The Republic of Cyprus knows how to take advantage of and promote its assets. Its European partners recognize Cyprus’ potential. The Republic of Cyprus signed the treaty of Accession to the EU and soon after became a member of the European Union. Despite this success, there needs to be more political momentum from international world leaders who aim to contribute to the prosperity of the Republic of Cyprus.

When we arrived in Greece, I was looking forward to our meeting at the Mobile Brigade Headquarters in Kilkis, Thessaloniki. The army presented their Air-Mobile Brigade weaponry systems and performed demonstrations and exercises. They represented a strong military force that can combat domestic issues using sophisticated equipment. I also enjoyed the Hellenic Fleet presentation when we visited the Greek Naval frigate and submarine. In these presentations I recognized that Greece has a strong military force, which contributes to the stability of the country.

In all of the meetings in Athens, there was a reoccurring theme of the trouble that young adults face after college graduation. Many young Greeks are being educated abroad and have increasingly moved out of Greece to search for a career due to lack of opportunities within Greece. I believe Greece needs to give youths incentives to stay and be educated in their country. The young generation of Greece should create their own ventures in business, entrepreneurship, technology, and science, which can revive the country. I believe Greece’s foreign policy initiatives need to be direct and presented to their allies. This includes making a strategic narrative: the Greek government should show other countries the concrete benefits of engaging in a political relationship with Greece.

I have presented and developed my point of views based on the conversations I had in the meetings and briefings in Washington, D.C., Cyprus and Greece. The foreign policy issues that Cyprus and Greece face are sensitive and complex. Nevertheless, as Greek-Americans, educators, and politicians become well versed in the issues that plague both countries, they can work to secure a promising future.

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Paulina Likos is a rising junior at Villanova University pursuing a double major in Political Science and Spanish with a Theology minor. At Villanova, Paulina is active in the community. Paulina participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

 

The Cyprus Division at Forty Years

By Christiana Metaxas

2014christina metaxasChristiana Metaxas.

Cyprus is a beautiful island nation in the midst of the deep-blue eastern Mediterranean, just 380 kilometers north of Egypt. But my visit there this summer was no vacation in an island paradise. That’s because Cyprus, despite its inherent beauty, is a very sad place. My foreign policy trip to Cyprus, along with eight other university students from across the United States, plumbed the depths of that sadness.

  1. student foreign policy trip was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based American Hellenic Institute Foundation. It allowed us the opportunity to travel to the Republic of Cyprus (as well as Washington, D.C. and Greece) and to study the implications of U.S. foreign policy with Cyprus and Greece. Meeting with government officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Cyprus and a trip to Cyprus’ Presidential Palace, in addition to other visits, gave us an understanding of the history, policies, and general nature of the Cyprus problem.

That problem, in a nutshell, is that Cyprus is a divided nation. More than a third of the island is occupied by around 40,000 Turkish troops which are still there 40 years after their brutal 1974 invasion. Compare that to Australia’s army limit of approximately 50,000. Since the invasion, 200,000 Greek Cypriots were expelled from their homes and sent as refugees to the southern part of the island. In addition, more than a thousand Greek Cypriots from the north remain missing persons to this day, their whereabouts (or remains) unaccounted for by the Turkish authorities who control the northern area. Moreover, Turkish settlers were illegally brought in from Turkey to take the homes and forced to leave their homes and move into the occupied area. Such forcible movement of citizens on such a mass scale is an ugly result of foreign invasion and occupation. That this human suffering has been allowed to go on for four decades is the tragedy of Cyprus. Today a 112-mile long “green line” separates the two sides of the island, running right through the capital, Nicosia.

It was not until we went into the occupied zone that we felt the emotional weight of the situation. Long lines of cars and buses waited to cross the “green line” for the presentation of passports to Turkish officers. This is the reality for any tourist but even more importantly for any Cypriot citizen who wishes to enter the Turkish-occupied area of his or her own country. We knew that we were not entering a legitimate country. We told the authorities not to stamp our U.S. passports, but many of the tourists around us blithely allowed the Turkish soldiers to stamp theirs.

Crossing from the free zone into occupied Cyprus left me with a lasting impression of invasion, foreign occupation, cultural and religious destruction, and human rights violations. Driving through the occupied area we took note of the barren streets. Whatever beautiful views the beaches might have had are overshadowed by the constant presence of uniformed troops, weaponry, and the blackened, bombed out buildings of what used to be a lively city. Armed Turkish soldiers stand guard around every corner, some in plain sight and others hidden. Barbed wire fences line the roads with signs saying “Forbidden Zone” and “To take photos and movies are forbidden.” The eerie feeling of being watched sits like a film of dust on everything you do.

In one area we stopped at a desecrated church in which stray animals had left their feces. In the shed in the back were tombstones with their Christian crosses that had been broken and thrown in a pile. Nearby, a Muslim cemetery lay undisturbed. Its tombstones were intact. We learned with invasion and occupation also came the desecration of more than 200 churches. More than a hundred other churches were turned into mosques, with yet a hundred more turned into hotels, restaurants, stables, and other such buildings.

In the forty years since the invasion, the free area of the Republic of Cyprus has prospered relatively and the country has gained admission into the European Union. But it remains the only E.U. country that is occupied by foreign troops. Despite efforts to negotiate, forty years have gone by and over one-third of Cyprus remains occupied by Turkey. While Greek and Turkish Cypriots used to coexist, they are now forced to live in a divided country. More than 57,000 of 116,000 Turkish Cypriots have emigrated due to economic, social, and moral pressures. The European Court has charged Turkey with tens of millions of dollars for liability and violation of human rights and yet Cyprus remains divided and occupied.

For a short time in the 1970s, the United States Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey because Turkey, a NATO ally, used U.S.-supplied weapons to mount its invasion of Cyprus. But since then a resolution to the Cyprus problem has not been a priority for U.S. policymakers. As an American, I think that should change. The United States should more forcefully speak up in the defense of the rule of law in Cyprus.

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Christiana Metaxas is pursuing a double major in Linguistics and French at Binghamton University, State University of New York. She is on the executive board of her university’s chapter of Phi Sigma Iota, the International Foreign Language Honor Society. She has studied abroad in France, Spain, and Greece. As an intern at the American Hellenic Institute, Metaxas helped organize AHI’s Capitol Hill presentation on the illegal Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Metaxas participated in the sixth annual AHIF Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation. She has been on the Dean’s list each of her semesters at Binghamton, serves as a tour guide for the admissions department and as a student advisor, and was a consultant in the university’s Public Speaking Skills Lab.