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AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip Participants Describe their Personal Experiences
September 30, 2013—No. 55 (202) 785-8430

In Their Words: Nine 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 Fifth 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 19 to July 6, 2013. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 22-27 and Athens, June 27 to July 6. 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 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. 



For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at 



Bringing the Cyprus Issue to Light

Alexandra LillyImagine a Westernized, European country that is a member of the European Union, and its people live prosperous, peaceful lives. Now imagine your surprise when the headlines show that this country has been invaded by foreigners, imposing their extensive military to take over this country’s land. Countless homes are invaded, civilians are killed, and pushed out of their homes: forced to live as refugees. Churches are burned and destroyed, and eventually a third of the country has been occupied by this invading army and their settlers. Property rights are totally disregarded as foreigners illegally enter people’s homes for generations and live there, using their land and eating from their tables. 

Unfortunately, this tragedy occurred in 1974 with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Cyprus is a member of the EU, comprised of citizens of Greek and Turkish descent that lived together peacefully. The most atrocious aspect of this event, however, is the fact that the occupation is still continuing today. The Turks have claimed the northern part of the country as a pseudo-state that they refer to as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” This illegal territory is in no way a country and is only recognized by Turkey. 

When I applied to go to the American Hellenic Institute’s Foreign Policy study trip, I knew I would learn a lot. I knew I’d be learning about the foreign policy issues that are present in these countries when meeting with high-level officials in Washington D.C, Greece, and Cyprus. I knew this trip would be a fantastic learning experience and the excursion of a lifetime. However, what I did not know was how passionately I would grow to feel about these places and these people, especially the Cypriots. 

I didn’t know that I’d find myself standing at a church in Cyprus that had been utterly destroyed by the Turks and where pigeons were flying near the rafters and the iconography had been stripped. I did not know I would see a graveyard where the one side of Christian tombs were completely destroyed and ransacked; and the other side with Muslim tombs that were intact, ornate, and respected. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, having to pay to get into a holy church that had been turned into an “icon museum” was a shock and a dishonor. The Turks truly treat the occupied territory as their own country. Going to the occupied side felt strange. I knew that it was a part of the same country, but as we passed through the buffer zone and gave the Turkish military our passports, it all felt wrong. We were instructed not to let the Turkish officials stamp our passports because they would try to do this simply in order to consider themselves a legitimate country. As we drove past the buffer zone, our cell phones sent us text messages saying, “Welcome to Turkey” as the networks switched. This was not the same Cyprus that we’d spent the past few days. This part of Cyprus was one filled with military guards at every turn. It was a place where an entire city, Famagusta, could lie as a desolate ghost town exactly as it had been left in 1974. Meanwhile, a beach full of tourists was nearby. We were instructed not to take photos, and we knew the military guards would enforce this rule. On what seemed like every street corner, there were Turkish flags and the flag for the pseudo-state that had been created, flying side-by-side. It was as if the people were convincing themselves that this was their country and instilling a feeling of nationalism. What really hit home was when we went back to our hotel in Nicosia on the Cypriot Republic side. From our window we could see a huge flag for the false “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” painted onto the mountain, facing the Greek side as if to flaunt the Turkish-occupied territory and taunt those on the other side. At night, the flag lit up and flashed like a light show, a constant reminder of the tragedy that happened in 1974 and the control that the Turkish people continue to maintain. Through the AHI trip, I saw the scope of the political issues relating to the Cyprus invasion and was shocked by the outrage that it caused and continues to cause.

As a Greek-American, I feel a particular passion for this country and its people. But every American should be able to identify with the Cypriots and realize what a tragic situation the Cyprus issue is. It is shocking to me how few people know that Cyprus is a country, let alone that Cyprus is faced with these sorts of problems and has been dealing with these absurdities for almost forty years. The American Hellenic Institute has an extremely dedicated staff that is devoted to getting the American government involved in efforts to solve the Cyprus issue. Cyprus is an important ally to America. Cyprus has valuable geostrategic position so close to the Middle East. There is also a new invested interest of natural gas that is in the interest of the United States. Together, with the help of the EU and the United Nations, Greece and Cyprus must continue to strive to end this violation of human and religious rights and solve the Cyprus issue once and for all.


Alexandra Lilly is a rising sophomore in the honors college at the University of Georgia pursuing duel degrees in Political Science and Economics. Her future plans include attending law school. Alex participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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The Cyprus Question does not deserve to be relegated to a frozen conflict

Alexcia ChambersCases of human rights violations, environment exploitation, and other breaches of international law around the world regularly go unnoticed. Unless an injustice makes front-page news, serious issues are left to fester and rarely find resolution. In 1974, when Greece was experiencing a rule by a military junta, Nixon was on trial, and England wanted to extend her presence in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey was implicitly granted a window of opportunity to illegally invade Cyprus. Turkish troops forcibly took Cypriot land, human rights atrocities were committed, and chaos ensued. Forty years later, with northern Cyprus still under illegal Turkish occupation, memories have begun to fade and international attention to the issue has disappeared. 

This July 2013, I had the privilege of traveling with the American Hellenic Institute’s foreign policy trip to Cyprus and to Greece. During my experience in Cyprus I was able to meet with many Cypriot officials to discuss the Cyprus Question—as it is called—along with the current realities of the Cypriot economic and energy sectors. When I visited the occupied area in Cyprus, I was able to see these heart breaking truths of occupation—desecrated churches, looted graves, and run-down homes. This trip opened my eyes to many things, but most importantly it made me realize how little the world knows about such an incredible injustice. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the basics of the Cyprus issue in order to communicate the most important and seemingly misunderstood aspects of the problem. 

As the European Union’s lighthouse in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is a crucial strategic player to sustain democratic ideals in a largely volatile region. Yet despite the fact that the international community acknowledges Cyprus’ strategic importance, the community as a whole has failed to support her since the invasion of 1974. Turkey’s, shall we say, dynamic position on the world stage since the 1970s has managed to subordinate Cypriot sovereignty in the Aegean. As a result, EU nations and countries such as the United States have taken an ambivalent position on the Cyprus issue. The fact is there is no legitimate explanation for the 43,000 Turkish troops stationed in the north along the Cypriot buffer zone, nor is there a legitimate Turkish claim on Cypriot land or the resources below it. True Turkish Cypriots in the northern part of the country are rapidly disappearing as more and more Anatolians are imported to settle there. Because the demographics of northern Cyprus have changed completely since the invasion, misperceptions and misunderstandings about the intricacies of the issue continue to exacerbate the problem. 

Turkey’s presence in northern Cyprus is in violation of the rule of law, of international law, and put bluntly, is a human rights offense. The illegal invasion and occupation forcibly separated and segregated people along ethnic and religious lines, which is a clear breach of international law. To make matters worse, Turkey continues to import settlers into the north, changing the identity of the region almost entirely. For this reason, intolerance between the north and south continues to grow. Before the occupation, there was religious tolerance and understanding. There were shared festivities and mutual respect. However, new settlers do not have this moderate mentality, as they have never known a Cyprus where Muslims and Christians lived side by side in harmony. As U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus John Koenig explained, “the younger the people are, the less willing they are to live with each other,” making the Cyprus issue a time sensitive one. Generations that grow with hate perpetuate hate. 

For these reasons, critics argue that Cyprus will never be reunified as a result of the different cultural values and governments created by the invasion. This makes it more important than ever to make sure that any resolution to this question does not put Cyprus in a “foreign policy straight jacket,” as Ambassador Euripides L. Evriviades of the Republic of Cyprus put it. Unfortunately, previously proposed UN initiatives such as the rejected Annan plan of 2004, put forth by Secretary General Kofi Annan, did just that. Because the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan when it was put up for referendum, some interpreted this as evidence of Greek Cypriot unwillingness to cooperate or to find an equitable solution to the problem. However, it is important to understand the intricacies of the Annan Plan itself and what would have been expected of Greek Cypriots. 

As presented, the Annan Plan stipulated that the new Cypriot government would be comprised of 4 Greek members and 2 Turkish members. All 6 delegates would have veto power, and in order to settle disagreements should anyone invoke that veto, a Supreme Court of 9 members (3 British, 3 Turkish, 3 Greek) would be used. Essentially this meant that the minority, Turkish Cypriots, and the majority, Greek Cypriots, would have had equal weight in the government despite the fact that the Turkish Cypriots are represented by the mainland Turks who illegally invaded and settled in Cyprus in the first place. In addition, stolen Greek Cypriot property had to be bought back individually by the Greek Cypriots themselves. In other words, victims had to pay out of pocket to recover the homes that were stolen from them. Turkish negotiators (then, like now) advocating for the “Turkish Cypriot position” are from Ankara, which is hardly representative of the Turkish Cypriots, but instead of the decidedly foreign new northern identity. So while it might have been confusing to the international community that Cypriot Greeks rejected a plan for peace and unity on the island, it is important to understand the specifics that led to this decision. Two-thirds of all Cypriots voted down the Annan Plan, Turkish and Greek alike. 

The absence of a cohesive foreign policy regarding this issue has hurt the EU as it has not fulfilled its obligations concerning the Cyprus question. Thus, it seems that it is about time that Cyprus begins to take advantage of its alliances within the EU to resolve this issue. Discussion about Turkish accession into the Union has received nothing but positive support from Cyprus and Greece alike, according to Greek Ambassador Nafsi Kaveraela, because it would mean that Turkey would finally be held accountable. Turkey would subject herself to yearly check-ups and, more importantly, would be committed to something. The idea of “full implementation, full accession” is a reoccurring theme in talks of Turkey’s admission to the EU, as the long and tiresome accession process has forced Turkey to do things it never would have done in the past. Daniel Smith, U.S. ambassador to Greece, explains that today’s Turkey is “not the same Turkey we’ve dealt with in the past,” with many positive and negative aspects. According to the ambassador, while there is a new willingness to address the Kurdish issue, there is increasing civil unrest, harsh military crackdowns, and a government that seems to be ignoring its citizens. 

While it is difficult to pinpoint a solution to the Cyprus Question, the only thing that can move negotiations along is the removal of a very obvious double standard. Both the Greek and Cypriot governments ask that the United States and other major players have a more balanced approach to the Cyprus issue, addressing the question outside of the prism of Turkish interests. Until Turkey starts hearing different language (no, for example) from key countries such as the United States, the current situation will not change. The trust that was broken among nations years ago can be rebuilt. However, we as a collective, international community need some entity to discontinue the preferential treatment given to an inconsistent and unpredictable Turkey. 


Alexcia Chambers is studying International Relations with a Hispanic Studies minor at The College of William & Mary. Alexcia has held regular internships at WTOP, a top-rated news-radio station in Washington, D.C., under the mentorship of the national security correspondent. Alexcia participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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A Cypriot-American Experiences All of Cyprus for the First Time

Angeline Apostolou
The AHI Foundation foreign policy trip has been truly been the experience of a lifetime. When you are spending your days in meetings with foreign officials, celebrating the Fourth of July at the U.S. embassy and receiving an audience with the Greek president, it is hard to pick just one aspect of this trip that has been more amazing or impressive or exciting than the others. However, there is one part that has left a deeper imprint than the others, and that, hands down is the five days we spent in Cyprus, particularly in the occupied side and the U.N. buffer zone.

I had the unique experience on this trip of being the only Cypriot-American. My eight companions knew of the so-called “Cyprus issue,” and some of the history and issues relating to it, but as outside observers. I have grown up with the Cyprus issue with Cypriot parents and numerous visits to the island since I was young. The Cyprus issue is a part of my Cypriot identity and the struggle is one that we all bear as Cypriot-Americans. And while I have taken part in many dinner table discussions of Cyprus’ plight, whether it be commentary on recent news, assertions that something needed to be done about Turkey, or the rare story about the invasion, it could also be said that I, too, was an outside observer. For one, I don’t live in Cyprus, and I do not experience the everyday effects of the occupation. My family is not from the occupied area, and I had not been to the occupied area prior to this trip. However, it is an issue that has always loomed in the background, and this trip gave me the opportunity to experience firsthand, all of Cyprus. 

I consider myself to be fairly well-versed on the Cyprus issue as I have done research and written papers on the topic, but no amount of research, reading, or knowledge could ever compare to the horrifying truths I learned when I crossed the illegal border. I truly believe that no one can fully understand the extent of the occupation unless they see it for themselves. The first word that comes to mind when I think about our visit to Famagusta is haunting. I have never before experienced a place where you drive down a road, and on one side everything is fenced off and abandoned, and the other side is full of residential habitual life. It was as if the road divided two different worlds and two different periods of time. The walled-off city was stuck in its 1974 destruction while the rest of the occupied side was allowed to move forward in time. But to someone who is acquainted with the Republic of Cyprus, the north is still an eerie sight and when you cross the green line it feels like you have been transported to a different place. You drive and see mosques that were clearly once Orthodox churches and homes that you know have illegal inhabitants. It broke my heart when we stopped at a church that had been desecrated during the invasion; graves were exhumed, tombstones broken, and the church looted. What was even more disturbing was seeing a cemetery that on the left side had Christian tombs that were broken and desecrated, and on the right side, there were Muslim graves in pristine condition.

 Perhaps the starkest contrast between these two worlds was the beach at Famagusta. On the narrow strip of land, families are enjoying the beach, just like any other family would anywhere else in the world, except for the fact that a couple feet behind them are bombed out hotel buildings, fenced off and guarded by soldiers ready to ward off anyone who gets too close. It was at this point that I really began to wonder how the people in the north could live like this. How could they go to the beach, have fun and ignore the partitioned city behind them as if it was normal to live next to a frozen war zone? But the fact is, for these people it is normal. The invasion was almost 40 years ago. Generations have grown up learning that this is just the way things are and are not aware of what it was like pre-occupation. This is the reality of Cyprus now. Time keeps moving forward and the conflict remains unsolved. It scares me to think there might come a day when Cypriots and the international community at large will be so far removed from 1974 and are so used to living with a divided Cyprus that no one will care to resolve the problem anymore. That is why I think the work that AHI is doing is so important, and I intend to be an extension of its work in the community. We cannot forget about Cyprus and continue with this tenuous status quo. Doing so would be the utmost betrayal of human rights and dignity. 


Angeline Apostolou is a rising junior at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., studying International Studies with a focus on Security Studies. She is minoring in French and is also studying Arabic. Angeline participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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Hellenic Armed Forces: An Important International Ally

Despina VastakisWith a population of only eleven million and an economic crisis that is crippling the nation, Greece is not thought of as a formidable military opponent. After our briefings with the Hellenic National Defense General Staff and the Greek Naval Headquarters located at Salamina Island, I was able to truly appreciate the significance of the Hellenic Armed Forces, not simply for domestic security, but for the international realm as a whole. Greece is located in a geographical hotspot. Turkey continues with its aggressive naval movements, the conflicts in the Middle East are escalating and threaten to spillover even further into the region, and the conflicts in northern Africa pose a potential security threat. Our meetings proved that the Hellenic Armed Forces are more than capable and prepared to handle any threat that may occur. 

On the AHI Student Foreign Policy Trip, we had the opportunity to meet with the Hellenic National Defense General Staff and visit the Greek Naval Headquarters. Not only did we have the opportunity to discuss the current security issues facing Greece, but we were also able to observe day- to-day operations of the Greek Navy. We were fortunate enough to go on a tour of a submarine and frigate, and hear about the issues that the Greek Navy must deal with on a daily basis. The Greek Navy has an extremely difficult job when dealing with their aggressive neighbors. Turkish ships are constantly crossing into Greek waters with more than two-to three-hundred incidents per year, averaging out to one incident per day. Whenever a Turkish ship crosses into Greek waters, the Greek ships must change the course of their exercises to “chase” the Turkish ships out of Greek waters. This is wasteful in both time and finances, and the Greek Navy submits reports of these incidents to no avail. 

Souda Bay is a vitally important location to American interests, yet few people have even heard of it. Due to its vital strategic location, Souda Bay has been used by NATO for reconnaissance missions and air refueling support for Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Greece has contributed to so many different international events and crises, especially through NATO. However, Souda Bay is not a large topic of discussion in the international community. Greece is one of three NATO countries to meet the minimum defense spending of two percent. Greece continues to be a strong and important country to United States interests, and it should be recognized as such by the international community.

This trip has opened my eyes to the great importance of the Hellenic Armed Forces, not only for domestic security, but for the United States and NATO. The Hellenic Armed Forces has continued to be a stronghold through Greek history despite the current economic crisis that is gripping the nation. With its important strategic location and dedicated armed forces, Greece is a significant international ally that should not be overlooked.


Despina Vastakis completed her first year of graduate school at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where she is majoring in International Affairs. She also completed her undergraduate degree in International Affairs and German at Georgia Tech in 2011. Despina participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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The Greek Crisis and Foreign Policy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Elissa Bowling
The “Greek economy” has become little more than punch-line of a joke or dug up as an example of what not to do. This tendency brushes over the actual causes of the crisis, which are numerous and complex: government corruption and betrayal of the people’s trust, a weak tax-collecting system, the experiment that is the European Union and the Eurozone, etc. This article, however, will focus on the good, bad, and ugly realities of the Greek economic state and what it means for Greek foreign policy now and in the near future.

Let’s start with the bad; it is a worldwide crisis, after all. The statistics speak for themselves: 27.6% unemployment and 64.9% unemployment between the ages of 15-24 as of May 2013. Those most able to provide professional experience, innovation, and growth (recent university graduates and young professionals) are increasingly moving to more stable European countries, mainly Germany.

Greece can also claim the single greatest illegal immigration problem in Europe. Located in an intercontinental crossroad, Greece finds itself as the entry point for many migrants from both Africa and the Middle East trying to reach Europe and a better quality of life. However, most of them are stopped at the border of other European countries, while those who do make it are sent back to where they came from (Greece). This system results in the country with sky-high unemployment for its own citizens given the extra burden of providing for a huge daily influx of immigrants. Like the crisis itself, this immigration issue is not simply a Greek problem: it is a European problem.

The aggregate effect of these issues and others has created a less-than-ideal context for Greece to conduct foreign policy. Many in Europe are inclined to view Greece as the problem, rather than the whole European Union. On one hand, it makes sense that other countries would not want to take responsibility for major economic setbacks and a rampant immigration problem. Before the creation of the EU and the Eurozone that might have been almost acceptable, but not anymore. That is what Greece should focus on in its foreign policy. Not only do other countries in the EU have the responsibility to help Greece as a member state, but it is also in their interest as part of the Eurozone and greater world economy. If Greece goes down, it’s taking them all with it.

Though the good is less easily identifiable, there are some positive outcomes stemming from the crisis. There is an undeniable gradual change occurring in the psyche of the Greek citizens materializing in the ways people are reaching out to one another in a way that had gone out of style in more prosperous times. Sons and daughters are re-strengthening family ties, religious centers and local communities are organizing clothing swaps and food drives to share the collective burden, and landlords are allowing tenants to keep their residences even with no foreseeable end to the months of unpaid rent. Even the road rage on the streets of Athens has decreased. Rather than fighting over what little there is, the Greek people are coming together in the same way they have for generations.

Greeks also always find ways to enjoy themselves. On any night of the week, throngs of people walk the streets of Athens, park themselves at cafes for hours, and hit up the nightclubs. While this might seem counterintuitive, anyone who knows anything about Greek culture would not blink an eye. Greeks tighten their belts by not buying new clothes for a few years or leaving door hinges loose or windows broken for another generation or two, but they will maintain their culture and enjoy life to the fullest. That sense of self sustained them through hundreds of years of occupation, and it will continue to sustain them through this economic crisis.

The communal resiliency and cultural strength is reflected in the Greek government. Despite all of its setbacks, the state has held together and taken considerable motions toward overcoming the ever-towering financial challenge. Start-up companies are popping up in the private sector – some more successful than others – implying attempts at continuing innovation. Other countries and private investors recognize these positive movements. Recently, President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and confirmed America’s conviction that Greece will bounce back and its willingness to aid in the recovery. While Greece has a long way to go to before it is safely out of the fire, there are many positive signs for its future.

That leaves us with the buzz-killing ugly. Chrisi Avgi (in English, “Golden Dawn”) is the self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi political party that won 11% of seats in Parliament in the last election. Like similar groups, Golden Dawn feeds on fear caused by the economic crisis and growing xenophobia brought on by the influx of immigrants competing for jobs and livelihood. Early in their development, Golden Dawn members engaged in “protection” that included escorting the elderly to and from cafes or places of work to their homes. Soon they traveled in roving bands and acted as unchecked policing forces and beating up the closest identifiable immigrant scapegoat when the real police were too slow or unmotivated to get involved. Golden Dawn is completely open about its Holocaust denial and blaming the crisis entirely on the immigrant population and meddling foreign powers. They even sport the Nazi swastika. The ugliest part is that these thugs are sitting in the democratically elected Greek parliament. Greece said no to fascism during World War II– only to vote political thugs with those same ideals into parliament 72 years later.

Golden Dawn, though vocal and present, currently constitutes a small minority in Greek politics and appears not to have had a major effect on Greece’s international relations. However, based on its development and base, the so-called political party is here to stay – at least for a while. If its support increases and it becomes a more effective voice in Greek government, there could be serious repercussions in terms of foreign policy. Germany, the current center of European economic strength and backbone of Greece’s economic recovery, is deeply scarred by its fascist past and could alter its economic policies towards Greece. Similar-thinking countries would likely follow suit, including other EU states and the US, potentially generating tensions within the EU and the pulling out of military personnel. It would essentially amount to political and financial suicide.


Elissa Bowling is a rising junior at Tufts University, Medford, Mass., majoring in International Relations and History. At Tufts she serves as a senior student board member and research/program assistant for the university’s new Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, designed to facilitate research and discussion on the interactions of race and democracy on local, national, and international levels. Elissa participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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Once in a Lifetime Experience

Panayiota Larigakis
The amount of times I have been to Greece in my lifetime is almost double my age, 20. I can tell you absolutely anything you want to know about how Greeks live--the nightlife, the humor, and the atmosphere. I can teach you the language. I can read, write, and speak Greek, even in slang. I can provide you all the latest music hits, and I can tell you where the hot spots are. I can inform you about anything involving contemporary Greek life and culture. However, what I cannot tell you is the history of Greece and what the current issues are that Cyprus and Greece face today. Isn’t it ironic? How I’m the daughter of the president of the American Hellenic Institute, and I know extremely little amount about what is going on in the eastern Mediterranean. To be honest, I never really followed the news or information on what my father, Nick Larigakis, does as a career. I had always been around the environment but never was proactive. 

I was terrified to do the AHI Foundation two-week trip because of my lack of knowledge. I am a psychology major, nothing close to political science, or international affairs. I was nervous. I had every reason to be as during the many briefings we had I was the only one that did not say a word. I never asked a question because I thought my questions were too “stupid” to ask in this type of setting. So, I sat there and listened. It worked out for me though because I learned a tremendous amount of information by just listening in the meetings and the tours.

The day that made the greatest impression upon me during this two-week journey was the day we visited the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus. As we drove to this “border” control looking area signs appeared saying, “UN buffer zone. Keep out.” The 10 minutes we were there giving our passports one-by-one, I felt the pressure from these Turkish forces from all around me, and it seemed like it took an eternity. I was extremely intimidated and the intimidation did not end there. I felt it the whole way to where we stopped to see the desecrated church. Along the way, we saw every so often signs that stated, “no cameras or video cameras.” 

We finally make it to where we are in sight of a church. At first glance, it appears beautiful, but as we got closer, I saw how damaged it was. To my left, there were the cemeteries. The Orthodox cemetery was desecrated and there is almost nothing left of it because it had been dug up and torn. The cemetery where Muslims are buried appeared untouched and lively. Before getting off the bus, I remember my dad saying, “Let’s do this quickly. We don’t want anyone seeing us and thinking anything.” At that moment, I thought to myself, “Are we serious right now?” I felt a sense of fear come across me. I’m not used to having to be careful with something as simple as seeing a church. Waking in, seeing the destruction of the walls, the icons ripped off the wall, the filth that was in this beautiful church was sobering. It brought tears to my eyes. We kept going with our journey that day to another small church that was also known as an “icon museum.” 

That day will stick with me until the day I die. I couldn’t process everything that day. It was such a shock to me. Again, I had heard about the occupied area, but never knew any of the detail like I saw that day. 

This was one of many life-changing experiences that I had while on this two-week journey. Being a Greek American is important to me and should be to every Greek American. Even if you are not majoring or have any interest in international relations or political science, it is still a great experience because as Greek Americans, it’s our duty to at least be informed on what is going on and to try to use the information in our everyday lives. 


Panayiota Larigakis is a rising junior at American University in Washington, DC, majoring in Psychology. She is fluent in Greek and passionate about her Greek heritage and the Greek Orthodox religion. Panayiota participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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America’s Rather Visible Hand in Greece and Cyprus

William Fassuliotis
AHIF’s Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus was a remarkable experience that has left me in wonderment about the many different people, events, and situations with which we were involved. There were many [issue areas dealt with, but one particularly intriguing [observation was the American presence in Greek and Cypriot policy and politics. A tangential but humorous example occurred while I waited in line to enter the American embassy’s Fourth of July celebration. We were next in line to shake the ambassador’s hand when the woman in charge of the line asked us to wait one minute as an entourage passed the whole line without waiting. Resentful, I stewed until a friend noticed that one of the men was Evangelos Venizelos, the deputy prime minister. My resentment turned to amusement thinking about how we were just cut by the second most politically powerful man in Greece.

Such a story may seem meaningless but would the reverse situation happen? Would Vice President Joe Biden go to the Greek embassy on OXI Day or March 25th? (A Google search indicates no.) One will find a range of public officials at this type of celebration from top military officials to members of Parliament.  While it may seem obvious why a smaller country (i.e. Greece or Cyprus) seek to play themselves up to a stronger country (i.e. America), this anecdote is a vivid demonstration of the important role the United States plays in the eastern Mediterranean, it also shows how easy it is for the United States to forget how big its impact is. 

I was fascinated to learn how a potential invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1964 was stopped not by action on the United States part, but instead inaction. When it seemed invasion was inevitable, the Lyndon Johnson administration informed the Turkish government that if the Soviet Union decided to take military action in response, the United States would not aid Turkey. When Turkey invaded in 1974, it coincided with the Watergate Scandal, with the United States essentially without a government. One doesn’t have to stretch their imagination very much to think this was no coincidence. 

The United States can help Greece and Cyprus the most by practicing what they preach and not ignoring the values America holds dear when it is convenient or for nefarious “national interests” reasons. Many American officials with a focus on the region made it clear that they do not see U.S. relations with the region as “zero sum.” That is to say, to have good relations with Greece, the the U.S. must have bad relations with Turkey or vice versa. While relations certainly should not be zero-sum, some of the issues are. Most obvious is territorial control. In addition to occupying one-third of Cyprus, Turkey insists that Greece and Cyprus restrict their Exclusive Economic Zones (read as claims to potential energy resources) to a fraction of their legal rights with thinly veiled threats. Turkey also claims several formerly undisputedly Greek islands as “gray zones” of undetermined sovereignty. 

In these disputes, American policy does not take sides, which is a calculated decision that essentially takes Turkey’s side and makes it more difficult for Greece and Cyprus to sustain their position. In a “Strategic Beauty Contest” between the nations, deferring to Turkey seems to be logical. Geographically, it is in a decidedly strategically advantageous area. During the Cold War Turkey provided another front towards the “soft underbelly” of Russia Currently, it has military bases that could strike throughout the Middle East. It is, however, no longer the Cold War and Turkey no longer borders Russia. For all of the power projection potential of bases in the area, Turkey refused to allow American forces to invade Iraq from the north. Not that the United States shouldn’t seek close ties with Turkey, but closer inspection shows that the current assumed benefits as they stand are not quite so great. 

While my words may seem to be pro-Greek/Cypriot with the result of being anti-Turkish, it is not what I advocate. Instead, it is a desire for the United States to match its words with its deeds. Whenever there is a chance of increasing U.S. “national interests,” no matter how marginally, U.S. policy seems to be to seek it. This calls into question America’s true commitment to building democracy, liberty, and promoting stability based on those principles, and creates a credibility gap in the eyes of the world. The U.S. State Department’s mission is: “Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” Trust is paramount in bringing about this goal. Trust is hard to keep and build when seeking every national interest advantage possible. In a nation as big as the United States, such slights may be easy to forget, but to smaller nations like Greece and Cyprus, they can radically change the domestic landscape.


William Fassuliotis is a rising junior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in Government and minoring in Biology. He is a life-long resident of Woodcliff Lake, N.J. where he received his Eagle Scout award. William participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip: The Divided Zone

Yianni Constantine Karangelen
The Foreign Policy Trip set up by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, Washington D.C., was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of which I was fortunate enough to be a participant. Within the two weeks starting in Washington D.C., Cyprus, and ending in Greece, we were lucky to have had the opportunity to meet with high-level officials and increase our knowledge of the foreign policy issues between Cyprus and Greece with the United States of America. From experiencing the division in Cyprus first-hand, to meeting President Papoulias in Greece, it felt as if it was a surreal dream and we were living it. It certainly enhanced my understanding on foreign policy that Greece and Cyprus face today, and I plan to spread the wealth of information I obtained with my fellow peers at Virginia Tech, my church, and the community as a whole.

One of the most moving and eye-opening experiences of my life was when we entered the Turkish-occupied zone. Standing in line with our passports out, I had never witnessed anything like this before. People were glaring us up and down from a far, watching every little move that we made. Entering this territory was very moving for me as a Greek-American. Reading about the history of the occupied zone can be powerful, but experiencing it with your own eyes and being in the heart of it all, takes it to a different level. Immediately, it felt as if we had entered a different world. The noticeable differences between the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied territory were vast and were instantly heartfelt. Desecrated churches, bombed out cities, and the Turkish flag were just some of the few things that we came across in the occupied zone. Some might think that it is normal for Turkey to wave its flag in a territory that does not belong to them and it is downright outrageous how the Turks have taken it to a whole different level. The painted Turkish flag upon the mountain, large enough for everyone to see everyday and lit up flashing at night was just painful and malicious to see. The fact that they light up the flag every night is something that I will never be able to let go. Another experience that was quite moving was when we had the privilege of seeing the graveyards where men and women were buried after fighting for this cause. Side by side separated by a cinderblock wall, there was a Greek-Cypriot gravesite and a Turkish-Muslim gravesite. On one side you saw a destroyed graveyard, crushed tombs, and smashed crosses. On the other side, the Turkish-Muslim graveyard, you saw an extremely well kept graveyard with plush tombs. It truly exemplifies their genuine feelings of the cause and how nothing is being done in an attempt to amend the relationship they once had almost 40 years ago. 

Greece also has an unsettling relationship with Turkey. We were fortunate enough to be invited to meetings with the Hellenic National Defense General Staff in Greece where they provided us with a wealth of information concerning Greece and its naval fleet. Did you know that Turkey illegally crosses into Greece’s water almost everyday? There is a great amount of animosity between the two naval fleets but nothing is being done because no one wants to engage in disputed talks with Turkey due to the alliances that have been created through NATO. 

A main topic that we were briefed upon in Cyprus that will hopefully be a spark for Cyprus as well as Greece economically is the Hydrocarbon project. Although Greece has not signed its Exclusive Economic Zones yet, Cyprus has and it has split it into 12 different blocks. Reports indicate Greece is in talks to sign its EEZ in the near future but no one knows if and when it will actually happen. Cyprus, having signed its EEZ with Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel, is moving in the right direction. The Turks have claimed three pillars dealing with the EEZ of Cyprus. These consist of: two types of equal people, claiming the sea around the south, and the fact that they do not accept the median line for the Mediterranean Sea but they have accepted it for the Black Sea. This LNG process would consist of taking natural gas and liquefying it for transport. By 2020 there is hope that LNG should be running exports from Vasiliko, the regional energy hub where the natural gas will be liquefied. Obviously, there will always be consequences with projects of this standard but Cyprus is doing what it can to make foreign companies submit environment processes to ensure no major problems will occur. 

In conclusion, these were a few of the experiences I gained and benefitted from on this summer trip with the American Hellenic Institute. I would like to extend my many thanks to Nick Larigakis and AHI for this memorable experience to Cyprus and Greece. I am extremely humbled that I had the opportunity to be a part of such a trip and will cherish these memories for life. This trip has motivated me to spread my knowledge on these foreign policy issues to my fellow peers with hopes of broadening their perspectives. It is imperative that we make the changes happen and assist Greece and Cyprus with the issues that they face. It will make for a better world and will stop the suffering of our fellow Hellenes.


Yianni Karangelen is a sophomore at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Yianni is pursuing a Business Information Technology degree and will be graduating in May of 2016. Yianni participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation. Yianni participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.

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American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip: A Call to Live Up to American Values in the Eastern Mediterranean

George Gabriel
One of the more unique characteristics of United States foreign policy is that it is predicated on the American value system. These values stem from what the founders set forth in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 but have large consequences in today’s international setting. Whether it is declarations of war, billions of dollars in foreign aid, or diplomatic relations with foreign countries, the United States has a large arsenal at which it can express and reinforce its values upon foreign nations. This type of vast influence is uncommon and is a responsibility that the United States must carefully articulate to enhance credibility on those values in the international realm.

The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 clearly expresses the idea that U.S. foreign policy must embody American values. After traveling to the eastern Mediterranean on a foreign policy trip sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, it required me to answer the question, “How does United States foreign policy reflect American values in the eastern Mediterranean?”  

To answer this question shortly and frankly, it does not. While American values are limitless and difficult to determine, I have sought to look at values such as: State sovereignty and ethnic self-determination, rule of law, and religious freedoms as critical American values that the U.S. government fails to adequately act upon in the eastern Mediterranean.   

State sovereignty and ethnic self-determination. Cyprus is a sovereign nation that has been occupied by Turkey since July 20th, 1974. Using American weapons, Turkey stormed the island of Cyprus under the pretext of protecting Turkish Cypriots they felt were ‘endangered.’ Currently, a UN buffer zone divides the Republic of Cyprus from an illegitimate government Turkey has created on the northern third of the island. Since World War I, the U.S. has advocated a principle that supports a supreme independent authority over certain geographic areas and the ability for ethnicities within that area to determine their authority. Turkey has violated that value in a multitude of ways that includes: 1) encouraging the settlement of 180,000 Turkish settlers, 2) establishing a puppet regime in the northern third of the island (solely recognized by the Republic of Turkey), 3) altering the demographics to undermine the interests of Turkish Cypriots and prioritize the interests of the Republic of Turkey. In the 39 years since the invasion, the U.S. has stood idly by and exerted little pressure on Turkey to remove its 43,000 troops from the island of Cyprus. 

Rule of Law. The goal of law at its most basic level is to provide a framework for parties to distinguish what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable. When countries sign and ratify international treaties, in spirit each country is bound to carry out the duties and obligations of each treaty. Nevertheless, over the past 100 years Turkey has chosen to ignore their obligations under international law. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, established that Turkey would renounce all claims to Cyprus. Fifty-one years later, they changed their mind and blatantly ignored a longstanding international treaty. 

On July 20, 1974, Henry Kissinger (then United States Secretary of State) was aware of Turkey’s impending violation of international law and saw it as an advantageous development for the United States. He stated, “There is no American reason why the Turks should not have one-third of Cyprus.” If I were alive and present when Mr. Kissinger made that statement, I would respond, “American values are enough to justify an American reason.” If America fails to uphold valid longstanding international treaties regardless of whether they are signatories, then Americans lose their credibility to establish and enforce international laws in the future.  

Religious Freedoms. Since Turkey’s inception as a nation, its treatment of religious minorities has always been controversial and particularly harmful to Greek Orthodox Christians. So much so that the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul (also known as Constantinople), the Ecumenical Patriarch, is treated as a second-class citizen. This is primarily due to the limitations on candidates eligible to succeed him, the expropriation of Church property, and the enforced closure of the Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. In addition, once Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the Turks desecrated Greek Orthodox churches by pillaging them, stealing their valuable inventory, and selling it on the black-market throughout Europe. All of these acts have limited the ability of minority religions to freely express themselves—a fact reaffirmed in legislation passed by the U.S. Congress.  The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) requires the United States to oppose violations of religious freedoms, but it has been hesitant to strictly enforce the legislation. 

While efforts have been made to advance American values, greater efforts need to be made. Strategic relationships (in particular, with Turkey) that aim to advance U.S. influence in the Middle East have made the eastern Mediterranean a region that requires significant attention be paid to it.   However, that trust with various nations in the region has caused complacency that has stifled the facilitation of real action to advance American values. 

In President Obama’s State of the Union speech of 2013, he called for ‘a return to American values.’ The eastern Mediterranean provides ample opportunity to do just that. It’s time for American values to not simply be used as a talking point to garner political capital. Instead, American values need to be placed as a legitimate means to adhere to foreign policy goals.


George Gabriel is a Greek American graduate student at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He is currently a candidate for a Master of Public Policy degree specializing in international relations. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, with a major in Political Science and minor in History. At Pepperdine, he presented on how Greece can recover from the economic crisis and examined how Greece conducts public diplomacy globally. George participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.