Eighth 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 eighth year as ten students from across the United States participated in the two-week program held June 17 to July 1, 2016.
The student participants were: Allie Martin, a sophomore at Boston University in the College of Arts and Sciences; Anastasia Kourtis, who graduated magna cum laude from Boston University in May 2015 with a B.A. in Classical Studies and Anthropology and a minor in Modern Greek; Anastasia Matiatos, an Honors student at the University of Arizona who is pursuing a double major in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law and Fine Arts with minors in Classics and Spanish; Arthur Dedoulis, a sophomore at the Catholic University of America pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the Busch School of Business and Economics; Eleni M. Papageorge, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, who is double majoring in Speech Pathology & Audiology and Psychology, and minoring in Deaf Studies; Jack Dulgarian, a senior at the University of Arizona earning a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with emphasis in International Relations and minors in Business Administration and Classics/Modern Greek; Kaliopi Batistas, a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University pursuing a major in International Studies with a focus on International Social Justice; Kelly Maria Kollias, a sophomore at Tufts University studying International Relations with a minor in Creative Writing/Journalism; Matt Kokkinos, a junior at Northeastern University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs, with a focus on international security studies and diplomacy; and Philip Bachas Daunert, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History at the University of Miami and is currently enrolled in the University of Miami's Master’s Program in International Administration.
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 Turkish-occupied area.
“The trip provided for an eighth-straight year a wonderful opportunity to lead 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.”
Washington, DC: Former and Current Executive and Legislative Branch Officials Brief Students
Prior to their departure for Cyprus, the students gathered for briefings in Washington, June 15-16.
On June 15, the students assembled at AHI’s Hellenic House in Washington for a briefing by President Larigakis. In the afternoon, they were briefed by Ambassador Tom Miller, former U.S. ambassador to Greece and current chief executive officer of International Executive Service Corps. In addition, they learned about the latest on Capitol Hill pertaining to Greek American issues from Jeremy Pederson, Legislative Counsel and Liz Hittos, Chief of Staff for Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, and his co-chair, caucus founder Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
A full day of briefings from top legislators and diplomats on the issues were held June 16. In the morning, the students met with Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Harris Lalacos at the Embassy of Greece and Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the U.S. Leonidas Pantelidis at the Embassy of Cyprus. The students also had the opportunity to meet with Diana Doukas, director, White House Business Council at the White House; and they visited the State Department to meet with: Larina Konold, Cyprus desk officer, and Amy Reichert, Greek desk officer. In the afternoon, Paul Glastris, editor, Washington Monthly, made a presentation to the student.
Finally, prior to departure for Cyprus on June 17, the students received a breakfast briefing from John Sitilides, principal, Trilogy Advisors, LLC, at the McLean Hilton.
The delegation arrived in Nicosia, Cyprus on June 18. During their five-day stay, the students met with several high-level government officials including: Government Spokesman Nicos Christodoulides, Marilena Raouna with the Diplomatic Office of the President, and President of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs George Lilikas. In addition, the students had an audience with American Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus Kathleen Doherty and members of her staff at the American Embassy, June 21.
With energy finds in the eastern Mediterranean playing a pivotal geostrategic role, the students received a timely energy briefing with George Fokas and Nikolaos Markou, industrial extension officers in the Hydrocarbons Service at the Ministry of Energy Commerce, Industry and Tourism, June 21. In addition, the students received a briefing on defense matters that day from Lt. Col. Charis Georgiou of the Cypriot National Guard, Defense Policy Directorate. The students attended a working dinner that evening with the Cypriot Press and Information Office, which sponsored it on June 21. Vaso Chrysantho and Melina Demetriou represented the press and information office at the dinner.
The students also had a meeting with Commissioner to the Presidency for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots Fotis Fotiou and Xenophon Kallis, director of Service for Missing Persons, June 22. Also that day, the students met with Ambassador George Chacalli, former ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S., and the ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a luncheon for the students. There, Michalis Zaharioglu, director of Communication, ministry of Foreign Affairs, provided a briefing on the Cyprus issue.
They also went on a guided tour of old Nicosia Airport-UNFICYP, June 22. Capt. Maj. Robert Sczakszon, 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.
In between days where meetings were held, the students visited Fylakismena, a memorial to those who died in Cyprus’s struggle against British colonial rule, the Church of St. Lazarus, and took a beach trip to Agia Napa.
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 19. 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 the city of Kyrenia and a village within Kyrenia called Bellapais. Travelling through the occupied area they saw 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.
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.
After an enlightening trip to Cyprus, the students embarked for an eight-day visit to Greece.
On their first day in Athens, June 23, the students were treated to a private tour of the Benaki Museum arranged by former Minister of Culture and Tourism Pavlos Geroulanos, who is a descendant of Benaki Museum founder, Antonis Benakis.
Also on the first day, the students received a briefing from Ambassador Dimitri Alexandrakis, director, A7 Department for North America, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Periklis Ghicas, first counsellor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 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.
Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretagne Hotel, hosted a Welcome Reception for the student group on June 27.
Students Receive Tour of NSA Souda Bay, Crete
The students departed on a day-trip to visit Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay, Crete, June 24 They toured: the NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI) and received a briefing from Major Emmanouil Fragiadakis and Brigadier General Konstantinos Koutras; visited the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC) and received a briefing and presentation from Captain Corrado Campana, director of Training Support and Transformation; and Captain Nikolaos Kapokakis, director of Staff Operations; and toured U.S. facilities at Souda Bay. The students also received a briefing at the 115th CW by Col. Konstantinos Zolotas, 115th CW Operations and Training director. Before departing Crete, the students were treated to dinner at the Officers’ Club.
Upon their return to Athens, the students continued to learn about Greece’s defense and military capabilities with a briefing they received from Rear Admiral Ioannis Pavlopoulos and a “Meet and Greet” with Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chief, Hellenic National Defense General Staff, at the Ministry of Defense (Greece’s Pentagon), June 30. They also met with Vice President of the Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs Dimitris Emmanoulidis.
The previous day, June 29, the students arrived at Salamis for a Greek Naval Fleet presentation, including a visit to a Greek naval frigate and submarine. They met with Commander in Chief of the Hellenic Fleet Vice Admiral K. Karageorgis, H.N. and received a briefing from Captain Michael Naoum. A tour of the H.S. Spetsai, a frigate, was provided by Commanding Officer Sotiris Biskos. Lieutenant Commander Nikolaos Mamounas, commanding officer, H.S. Pipinos, provided a tour of the submarine.
Students Meet Greece’s President, Testify before Parliament Committee
The students were excited to have an audience with President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos at the Presidential Palace on June 28—a definite highlight of the itinerary in Athens. During the hour-long meeting, President Pavlopoulos wished the students success in their studies and engaged in a Q&A discussion where he stressed his views about the importance of U.S.-Greece relations. The students were honored to meet the president and appreciated the generous amount of time he afforded them.
Also on June 28, the students received a briefing from Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Steven Bitner and Political Officer Mary Frangakis at the U.S. Embassy. They also met with Alternative Minister of Tourism Elena Kountoura.
The students received a guided tour of Hellenic Parliament and met with Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament Nikos Voutsis, June 30. Also while at Hellenic Parliament, Alexandros Triantafyllidis, president of the Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad, met with the students, who also were able to attend a Special Permanent Committee on Greeks Abroad hearing. In a unique and thrilling highlight for the students, each one was invited to testify before the committee about their experiences on the trip and their personal views as Greek Americans. Some students even took questions from the committee members through the assistance of interpreters.
Students Meet Archbishop of Greece, Foreign Ministry Officials
In addition, the students had an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece, June 29. That evening, the students were treated to a tour of the Acropolis Museum followed by a dinner hosted by Secretariat General for Greeks Abroad Michalis Kokkinos. Earlier that day also afforded the students the opportunity to learn more about Greece’s economic crisis when they met with George Michelis, chairman, Hellenic Financial Stability Fund.
Briefings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs resumed June 27. Topics included: Turkey with Ambassador Dimitris Chronopoulos, A4 Directorate for Turkey; and the Western Balkans with Ambassador Apostolos Baltas, deputy director, A3 Western Balkans Division. Foreign policy and contemporary issues facing Greece were the topics when the students visited the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) to receive a briefing from ELIAMEP’s Director General Dr. Thanos Dokos.
Additional meetings and briefings were held with: Government Spokesperson Olga Gerovasili, June 27, Member of Parliament for Athens and Vice President of New Democracy Kostas Hatzidakis, June 27, and prominent Greek American Businessman C. Dean Metropoulos, June 28. Captain Panagiotis Tsakos arranged a luncheon and tour of Tsakos facilities, June 28.
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, June 25. That evening, AHI Member George Mermelas sponsored a dinner for the students at Mirtia restaurant in Nea Smyrni. An enjoyable time was also had when the group toured Karaiskakis Stadium, home of Olympiakios FC, June 26 which was sponsored by the club and Evangelos Marinakis. They also sponsored dinner that evening at the exclusive Vammos restaurant. Veroushka Georganti represented Mr. Marinakis.
“We are sincerely grateful to Mr. Marinakis and his staff for a private tour of Olympiakios 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. A special thanks also to Kostas Kardiasmenos for his assistance coordinating the tour and dinner. Kostsas did a remarkable job, and on the whole, 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…
The two weeks I spent in Cyprus and Greece were some of the most memorable and educational in all my life. I can’t think of another program that would’ve given me such an in-depth knowledge of these two tiny countries that often get pushed aside. Boston University, where I study history and international relations, offers neither classes on the modern history of Greece nor the history of Cyprus. The trip offered by the AHI is really a once in a lifetime experience that offers the chance to meet people and have experiences that would have been unthinkable otherwise.
The most memorable experience would have to be the visit to the occupied area of Cyprus. It is the best example of something I never would’ve seen if it weren’t for this trip. It’s one thing to sit at a table with a government official and have them tell you what goes on in the occupied area. It is a completely different thing to go there and see the abandoned cities and desecrated churches yourself. It wasn’t until that visit that I truly started to care about issues I previously thought unimportant.
—Allie Martin is a sophomore at Boston University in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is currently working towards a Bachelor of Arts in History and International Relations with a focus on foreign policy in Europe as well as a minor in Modern Greek Studies.
As a proud Greek American with a strong love for both my Hellenic culture and my American citizenship, this was a transformative trip. AHI quite literally opened doors for us to witness the horrendous wrongs still committed due to the ongoing occupation of Cyprus, and the frustration faced by the Hellenic Armed Forces by daily Turkish invasions of their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zone. This trip armed me and the other participants with the knowledge to speak intelligently for these issues at our universities and communities. I hope to use the knowledge and experience I gained from this trip, and the skills I learn in law school and to weave advocacy for my heritage into my career. While I do not yet have a specific plan for how I might do this, right now being a successful student and a strong attorney is the best way I can use my talents to help bring solutions for these concerns both now and in the future. At our meetings, we were introduced as new “ambassadors,” a word that I believe accurately captures the mission of the trip. I am very grateful to Mr. Larigakis and AHI for this unparalleled opportunity. I hope the investment AHI made in me this summer is not wasted, and that I can be a worthy “ambassador” now and in the future.
—Anastasia Kourtis graduated magna cum laude from Boston University in May 2015 with a B.A. in Classical Studies and Anthropology, and a minor in Modern Greek. During her time at BU, Anastasia served as founding Vice President and President of the Boston University Philhellenes, a student organization with a mission to promote the ideals and appreciation of Hellenism, both ancient and modern, within the BU and greater Boston communities. Anastasia will attend Boston College Law School in the fall.
I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip. Not only did I have the chance to meet and learn from various leaders and experts, but I left the program far more knowledgeable about the issues pertinent to the Greek American community. Furthermore, I now have the confidence to speak and debate openly about these issues.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this trip for me was when I was able to visit Cyprus, the land of my grandparents, for the first time. As an American, it was previously very hard for me to fully grasp what it would be like to have an invading force on your land or to have to be a refugee in your own home country. Visiting the occupied area brought this, as well as the stories of my grandparents, to life. Overall, I am deeply thankful for having had the chance to participate in the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip, and I am passionate about helping to fight for the issues facing Greece, Cyprus, and the Diaspora.
—Anastasia Matiatos, an Honors student at the University of Arizona, is double majoring in "Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law" and "Fine Arts" with minors in Classics and Spanish.
I came on this trip not knowing what to expect. I am pleased and honored to have been a part of it. This trip has been such a great learning experience for me on so many different levels. Not only was I able to reconnect and learn more about my culture, but I was also able to become informed on the different social, economic, and political issues that go into foreign policy making. The experience I had on this trip was incredible; the things that we accomplished were so great I will never be able to forget them. The meetings the American Hellenic Institute gave me access to were so informative and special, I have no doubt that I would not have been able to learn as much as I did without the high end clearance that they provided everywhere we went. This program is really special not only for foreign policy majors but also for any student with a passion for Hellenism and the desire to learn more about the issues that affect Greece and Cyprus. I am blessed to have been a part of this trip, and I am incredibly grateful to the American Hellenic Institute for allowing me to come along for this journey.
—Arthur Dedoulis is a rising sophomore at the Catholic University of America pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the Busch School of Business and Economics.
The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) has changed my life by taking me on this trip. Before leaving for Cyprus and Greece, I was just a Greek American with little insight on issues happening in my homeland, only hearing the occasional news report about Greece’s troubles. I had no idea of the depth and amount of the issues, and I knew barely anything about Cyprus. But now, having experienced and been exposed to the gravity of the international affairs in that section of the world, I have a completely new perspective about Greece and Cyprus. I was able to meet with so many high ranking officials who gave us the complete view of their experience in the government, military, or religious sphere. This is a trip of a lifetime, one that a college student would otherwise never even dream of; one that I know my peers would die for. Although I was not a foreign policy major, I was able to learn about the issues through the perspective of a social justice advocate and a Greek-American. I cannot express my gratitude to AHIF for making this trip possible. I am very excited to go back to my university and share what I learned with my peers and to hopefully bring the issues some much needed media and discussion by the future leaders of the world.
—Eleni Papageorge is a sophomore at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is double majoring in Speech Pathology & Audiology and Psychology, and minoring in Deaf Studies.
No person—Greek, Cypriot or American—can have the same access to the diplomats, experts, officials as we did through the American Hellenic Institute. This is truly a unique experience as any individual who wishes to gain insider knowledge in Southeastern Mediterranean affairs and policy will have a first-hand account plus a life time of memories.
—Jack Dulgarian is a senior at the University of Arizona earning a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with emphasis in International Relations and minors in Business Administration and Classics/Modern Greek.
I have no doubt that the American Hellenic Foreign Policy Trip is one that all collegiate students will gain tremendously from in one-way or another. I went into the trip with little confidence in the role that I could play as an advocate for these issues. However, the trip and all the opportunities it provided, allowed me to realize the importance of my role as a Greek American. Discussing and seeing these issues first hand gave me the passion and confidence that I can bring what I learned to America and its Greek American communities. The AHI foreign Policy Trip taught me to be both proud and displeased with America, Greece, Cyprus, and their current relations. The experience instilled a passion in all of us to want to advocate for these issues.
Thanks to the American Hellenic Institute for bringing me closer to my country far from home. But most of all, I’m thankful that this program instilled in me a greater passion for the “rule of law” between all countries.
—Kaliopi Batistas is a sophomore at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is a prospective Global Development Studies major.
The AHI foreign policy student trip exposed me to sides of Greece and Cyprus I had never seen before, and allowed me to see these countries through the eyes of not a tourist, but a young diplomat. It brought me closer to my heritage through visits to historical sites, meetings with top government officials, and lifelong friendships among my peers and group leaders. It reminded me that we as young people have a responsibility to not only the people we met, but to ourselves, to spread awareness. We need to take a stand for what is just, especially with the power we hold not only as Greeks, but as visiting Americans. In my opinion, the AHI foreign policy student trip is the ultimate embodiment of the word philotimo; in other words, loyalty to one’s people, and a deep desire to do right. There are many issues in Greece and Cyprus that will still take years to resolve; however, by using our newfound experiences, educating, and encouraging more Greek American millennials to get involved regarding Greek and Cypriot affairs, I am confident that we can shorten the time needed, reach solutions sooner, and ultimately find peace.
—Kelly Kollias is a sophomore at Tufts University studying English with a minor in Media Studies and a minor in Business.
The opportunity to attend the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus is one which I feel so fortunate to have been given. Being able to meet, speak with, and question officials of the Cypriot, Greek, and American governments is an experience which is not available to so many individuals - the access to such senior officials was simply unparalleled - and having partaken in this program has given me knowledge and information regarding a variety of issues facing Cyprus, Greece, and the Cypriot and Greek American communities, as well as the U.S. and the American community at large.
One visit which struck me was our visit to the occupied Cyprus, specifically Famagusta and the edges of Varosha. To see so many people going about their daily life in such close proximity to bombed-out buildings and a deserted city was eerie, and the constant presence of the Turkish military only added to that feeling. But most importantly, having the chance to be the first person in my family to go to the occupied territory since before the invasion was eye-opening for me and my family as I was able to share my photos and experience with them.
—Matt Kokkinos is a junior double-majoring in International Affairs and Political Science at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Beginning in August, Matt will work for the European Public Law Organization in Legrena, Greece until December, where he will be supporting the organization in developing and promoting environmental, human rights, and comparative law initiatives and policies.
One word that perfectly summarizes my experience during the AHI Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus is “enlightening.” I am currently enrolled in the University of Miami's Master’s Program in International Administration. I frequently took courses where we received lectures, read material, and wrote research papers on security issues the world over. The AHI Foreign Policy College Student Trip gave me practical experience in these matters; practice that very few people in the midst of their studies receive.
I got to meet and discuss policy issues with ambassadors, admirals, generals, and even the President of Greece. The other delegates and I did not just meet with these esteemed individuals in nondescript offices. We held meetings in such locales as at the two American Embassies, Salamis Naval Base, the various bases in Souda Bay, the Old Royal Palace, just to name a few. These individuals not only opened their minds to us, but they frequently would open their hearts to as well they would make regularly make jokes and talk about their personal lives. I holistically learned about foreign policy from true difference makers, all while being in stunning settings. The AHI Foreign Policy College Student Trip enhanced my understanding on foreign policy; an understanding that will enhance my education and my future career prospects.
—Philip Bachas Daunert is currently enrolled in the University of Miami's Master’s Program in International Administration.
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.
Eighth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success