In Their Words: Student Essays
AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip Participants Describe their Personal Experiences
WASHINGTON, DC —The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is releasing ten essays authored by participants of the Seventh 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 17 to July 3, 2015. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 20 to 24 and Athens, June 25 to July 3. Prior to departing for overseas, the students spent two days in Washington, DC, June 17 and 18. 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 contend strongly their exceptionalism is reflected in their essays, which are detailed and demonstrate their quick grasp of the policy issues with which they were presented. In many of the essays, the reader can pinpoint the specific moments that deeply affected each student. Their experiences will last with them for a lifetime.”
“How Fortunate is the Person…”
by Zoe Andris
“Do you know anything about Cyprus?”
Since returning from the AHIF Foreign Policy trip a month ago, I find myself asking that question a lot—to my friends, to casual acquaintances, to my hairdresser, to anyone that will listen. The responses that I’ve received so far have been:
“Yeah, that’s near Greece, right?”
“You mean Crete?”
And, the most common one:
“Don’t worry, I didn’t either,” I reassure them. “But I went there and over one-third of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974 and 1600 people are still missing from the invasion and it’s only 65 miles from the coast of Syria. Isn’t that crazy?” I rattle off.
Their eyes widen, and I know I’ve gotten their attention. That’s my cue to go in.
When recounting my trip, the moment I talk about most was our visit to the occupied area.
How when we reached the border, AHI President and leader of our group, Nick Larigakis, told us that if summoned by the police, we were to say that this group of ten college students was here for a trip to the beach and some lunch, rather than to experience one of the most shocking and gut-wrenching moments of our young lives.
How we were told that if border control asked to stamp our passports, we should deny them, just as we deny and disregard the occupied area as a sovereign nation.
How the street signs and billboards suddenly changed from Greek to Turkish in a matter of minutes and a few feet.
How I walked along the beach in Famagusta, and I couldn’t help but stare at the people sunbathing, swimming and laughing when behind them was a fenced out, guarded, dead city—once a bustling and thriving tourist attraction that now sits deserted and untouched since the 1974 invasion.
How I saw a Greek Orthodox and Muslim cemetery side by side—the Greek one desecrated, with crosses smashed in half and littered with trash and the Muslim one, untouched and in pristine condition.
But what surprisingly angered me most, what my father hadn’t prepared me for during my Cyprus History Crash Course over pulled pork sandwiches back home, was the mountain—carved with the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags side by side, with the words underneath translating to “How fortunate is the person who can say ‘I am a Turk.’” I immediately texted my father upon seeing it, saying “You never told me about the mountain!!!” to which he replied, “Wanted you to be just as shocked and surprised as I was.”
And I was. It made me livid to see that kind of branding of home and country. In that moment, I felt for the Greek Cypriot people, who have this overpowering, physical reminder that their land and homes no longer belong to them. Members of their family still missing, landmarks of their faith, history and culture stripped away…and the mountain looms over it all.
I carried that anger and sadness from each of these moments back home and I share it with my peers, in hopes that they will not only understand my sentiment, but that they themselves will feel it as well. While this catastrophe has remained on the backburner of the United States for decades, there are people who still know nothing of the invasion, destruction and current occupation of the island. When I recount my experience to my friends, they don’t get bored or try to change the subject; they listen and ask questions and try to understand the situation themselves. This is the world we are living in. There is so much that we don’t know or talk about, but that does not mean that we don’t want to. After physically being there, it’s personal now, and I will forever take it upon myself to share the Cyprus issue and what I’ve learned with those around me. Thanks to the American Hellenic Institute and this enlightening trip, I proudly now say, “How fortunate is the person who can say, ‘I was there, and I am changed.’”
Zoe Andris, a native of Washington, DC, is a junior and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology at Kenyon College in Ohio. Passionate about her Greek heritage, she is an active member of her church and has spent her summers in her family’s village tucked away in the Parnon Mountains near Sparta. Zoe participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
“Grexit:” echoes of the road not taken
By Corinne Candilis
On July 13, 2015, the question of whether Greece would exit the Eurozone weighed heavy on the minds of Europeans. At the eleventh hour, Greece narrowly escaped another default by striking a deal with its major creditors, including Germany and France. However, the conditions of the deal entirely violated the anti-austerity stance that brought left-wing Greek political party Syriza into office.
Renowned economists from Joseph Stiglitz to Paul Krugman have argued the merits of a Greek exit from the euro, or “Grexit,” on the grounds that austerity measures are dramatically stunting economic growth. Stunted growth makes the outrageous Greek debt burden even more onerous by decreasing the amount of revenue available to pay it off. Although Greeks continue to receive loans from the IMF, ECB and European nations, the loans are not true relief since they come with conditions and a maturation date. The European prescription of simultaneous austerity and crushing debt make even a potentially catastrophic euro exit appear like an attractive option.
In the end, Tsipras gave up a cherished political ideology to stay with the euro. Was it the right choice? Let us explore some of the potential repercussions of a Grexit for Greece, the Eurozone, and the US.
Greece: If the nation controlled its own currency, the drachma would be significantly devalued compared to the euro. Severe devaluation would necessarily lead to debt relief because the high exchange rate would make it nearly impossible to pay back euro debts in drachmas. Creditors would ultimately have to write off some debt. However, this debt relief would not be comprehensive. Furthermore, with the Greek economy dipping into recession, the government would not receive sufficient tax revenue to pay its bills; it would be compelled to continue borrowing. Not only would Greece continue to take on more debt outside the euro, but the interest that it paid on its debt could be even greater than the interest it pays now: the troika actually gives Greece extremely low interest rates and prolongs the maturity of their holdings thereby decreasing their value. In other words, the debt relief from defaults may not be enough to spur recovery.
But now that Greece would control its own fiscal and monetary policy, it would be able to promote expansionary policy that stimulates growth, right? Not quite. At least not in the short run. The combined hardship of a stagnant economy and a dearth of lenders mean that Greece would need to reel in its spending, even with its own currency. The bad news is that austerity is the solution both in the Eurozone and out. The effects of austerity would likely be less harsh outside the euro, but either way, expansionary policy would have to wait.
Now, what about the expected growth from more competitive exports and cheaper tourism? While it is true that the drachma would be substantially devalued compared to other currencies, Greece has already experienced internal devaluation from dropping wages, so these gains would be minimal. Furthermore, most Greek exports depend on imported raw materials, so the rising costs of imports would impose an enormous hardship even for the export industry. Perhaps Grexit is not quite the solution its supporters describe.
EU: For the Eurozone and the EU, the results of a Grexit are anything but desirable: a Grexit would invite investor uncertainty since it would signal that the euro is not permanent. The larger lesson to investors would be that the currency cannot manage crises in a way that preserves the union. The resulting drop in confidence would almost certainly lead to depreciation. Nonetheless, the prospect of Grexit is an opportunity for the Eurozone to implement the reforms necessary to weather another crisis. While a passive response to the Greek crisis could threaten economic strength, a strong European response could reinforce it.
The geopolitical implications are similarly unpredictable. One certainty is that Greece would be pressed to borrow from Russia, which would strengthen their budding relationship. However, a struggling Greece with weaker obligations to Germany or France may be less amicable at the negotiating table of a European political body that requires consensus. Greece’s new Russian dependence could undermine EU sanctions against Russia and the EU’s ability to influence Russian politics through negotiation. Here, then, are geopolitical as well as economic hazards.
U.S.: In the world of international markets and global finance, anything that affects the euro affects the dollar. First, if a Grexit led to speculation that the euro was less stable, markets would demand more U.S. dollars because of the dollar’s historic stability. This would lead to the dollar’s appreciation. Appreciation would affect numerous sectors of the economy: inflationary pressures, if they existed, would certainly be mitigated. Imports would become cheaper, making basic necessities more available to lower income consumers. However, the dollar’s appreciation would also exacerbate the current U.S. account deficit and counteract job growth as consumers increased the number of goods they purchased from abroad.
Overall, it appears that Tsipras initially made a wise economic decision to push back against austerity. This summer, though some economists supported Grexit economics, Tsipras once again may have made the wise economic choice when he firmly rejected the Grexit, at least for now.
Corinne Candilis is a junior at Swarthmore College pursuing an Honors degree in Economics with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies. Her studies and interests led her to publish several articles on fiscal policy and debt restructuring in her local paper and the American Hellenic Institute Foundation Policy Journal. Corinne participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
The Invasion of Cyprus and the Tragedy of Power Politics
By Jerry Christodoulatos
In 1960, during the apex of the decolonization movement, Cyprus gained its independence from Great Britain signing the Treaty of Guarantee. The treaty required the signatory powers Greece, Turkey and Great Britain to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus; it gave the guarantor powers the right to use force should any states infringe upon the sovereign rights of Cyprus. So the Republic of Cyprus was born in 1960, but it did not resemble an independent state. In its brief 55-year history as a sovereign state, external powers have often undermined the sovereign rights of Cyprus, rights which the Treaty of Westphalia established as sacred in 1648. Powerful nations have continuously used Cyprus as a pawn in the international game of power politics. The consequences of external intervention in Cyprus are clear even today.
In July 1974 the Greek government, a military junta, perpetrated the overthrow of the Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios III. The Greek junta presumably initiated the coup in order to precipitate the annexation of Cyprus. When the Cypriot government fell, Makarios appealed to the United Nations for aid and Turkey subsequently used the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee as a pretext to invade the island. Turkey expressly invaded with the objectives of restoring order in Cyprus and protecting Turkish Cypriots from rebel forces, but after signing a ceasefire in late July 1974, it launched a second invasion wave just weeks later. By the end of the second invasion, Turkey controlled 37 percent of the island. Michalis Zacharioglou, the Cypriot Foreign Ministry’s Communications Policy Director, noted in a June 2015 meeting with the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) foreign policy group that Turkey had devised a plan to partition the island as early as 1954. Cyprus remains divided to this day, with no clear path to reunification; the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a Turkish puppet state recognized only by Turkey, now controls the 37 percent of the island that Turkey conquered. About 40,000 Turkish troops remain in Cyprus, illegally occupying the northern region of the island. Over 1500 Cypriots are still missing. The Cypriot government suspects that many of these people have been buried in mass graves located within the occupied area.
During the 1974 conflict all of Cyprus’ three guarantor powers violated the Treaty of Guarantee. Greece infringed upon Cypriot sovereignty by instigating a coup, while Turkey invaded and claimed a large portion of the island for itself. Great Britain also did not fulfill its duties as a guarantor power, simply standing by as Greece sparked a war and Turkey claimed 37 percent of the island. Additionally the Turkish invasion violated international law and given the suspected presence of mass graves, the invasion may have also violated international human rights laws. Turkey has continuously blocked attempts by the Cypriot government to search for missing persons in the occupied region.
The international community did little to aid the Republic of Cyprus in the wake of the invasion and occupation. Although the United Nations Security Council denounced Turkish actions as illegal, it did not take any tangible action to remove the Turkish invasion force from the island. Even the United States, one of the world’s two superpowers and the self-pronounced defender of international self-determination and liberty, did not act when the guarantor powers destabilized Cyprus. According to former US ambassador Patrick Theros, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger allowed the Turkish invasion to occur. Kissinger, perhaps the most famous practitioner of realpolitik, was far more concerned about the Cold War power balance than Cypriot independence and sovereignty. Realpolitik, power politics, holds state survival and relative gains as the key objectives of foreign policy. Every single foreign policy decision made under Richard Nixon and Kissinger had the Cold War power balance in mind and the objective of making relative gains at the expense of the Soviet Union. With regards to Cyprus, a Turkish presence there would theoretically benefit the US, as Turkey was a close NATO ally. In the view of Kissinger and other realists, an occupied Cyprus would serve American objectives in the Cold War better than an independent Cyprus.
The Republic of Cyprus has been a victim of power politics. When the Greek junta and Turkey both intervened in 1974 they had their own interests in mind, seeking to enhance their relative gains and thus their positions within the hierarchy of the international state system. Realist political ideology influenced the US to allow the illegal Turkish invasion and occupation to occur. More recently, Turkey has played an increasingly aggressive role in Mediterranean politics. Turkey has repeatedly violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), illegally claiming many of the economic exclusive zones (EEZs) off the shores of Cyprus. Turkey has also illegally sent settlers from Anatolia to Cyprus, attempting to eradicate any traces of Greek-Cypriot culture from the occupied area. The international community has seemingly ignored these actions. The US continues to support Turkey, hailing it as an ally and a bulwark against Islamist extremism in the Middle East. The Cyprus problem still lingers unresolved and for over forty years the people of Cyprus have not received just treatment from the international community. Perhaps the sad reality of the international state system is that small states will always be at the mercy of more developed and more powerful states. As political theorist Hans Morgenthau once noted, “International politics, like all politics, is a struggle for power.” That is why the tasks of organizations like AHI are monumentally difficult; bringing light to issues that the world has forgotten or simply ignored requires patience, effort and persistence.
Jerry Christodoulatos is a recent graduate of Villanova University in Pennsylvania, having received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Classical Studies and History. He hopes to attend graduate school to study international relations within the next year and eventually wants to pursue a Ph.D. Jerry interned at AMEC Environment & Infrastructure each of the past three summers before visiting Greece. Jerry participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
by Kristina Demolli
Traveling to Greece and Cyprus with the American Hellenic Institute Foundation was a tremendously educational experience for me. Pursuing a degree in Human Biology for almost four years was so time consuming that I never had the chance to gain as valuable insight into foreign policy and diplomacy as I did when I became involved with the AHIF program. I chose to study Human Biology because I am passionate about human welfare and I aspire to play a role in improving it and leaving my footprint. Throughout the trip I realized that it is important to be aware of the implications of national foreign policy issues because they are deeply intertwined and can heavily influence welfare and cause significant humanitarian issues. When I first got off the plane and stepped foot on that beautiful little island that is Cyprus, I never thought that I would experience so many contrasting feelings at the same time: anger, sadness, happiness, and guilt…
Let me start by saying that I lived in Greece until my teen years. Sadly, I left the country without ever having visited Cyprus. I always thought of Cyprus as an extension of Greece. I wasn’t even aware of the illegal occupation by the Turks. I always wanted to visit Cyprus because I imagined the island to be just as beautiful and culturally rich as Greece. The beauty of the island was truly enchanting but the excruciating history of the island was what captivated my attention the most, and filled me with so many mixed feelings that I want to share. When I first researched about the invasion, it was truly unfathomable to me that the term invasion is not even accepted. I was disgusted that a country like the United States, the land of the free, always at the forefront in the fight for peace and liberty, refused to call it by its name: an illegal occupation that seized the most basic human rights. I was horrified, disgusted, and frankly a little ashamed to present myself as an American, something I have always been proud of.
Learning about the Turkish invasion in Cyprus was absolutely horrendous. When I first stepped foot on the island, I thought that the media was exaggerating the situation as is usually the case, and that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as portrayed. However, I was absolutely blown away to be proven wrong with each and every site we visited: the desecrated churches; the destroyed Christian cemeteries right next to the immaculate and well-maintained Muslim resting sites; Famagusta—the widely known ghost city; and to top it all off the Turkish flags that lit up every night on the side of the Pentadaktylos Mountains serving as a constant reminder of their presence to the Cypriots. One of the most dramatic moments for me was at the checkpoint when we were about to enter the occupied area and there was a column of touristic pamphlets listing the touristic sites worth visiting. That to me was simply tragic and I couldn’t help but laugh at the dark irony that I was about to be a part of. I actually kept that and I have framed it and put it in my room to serve as a reminder of the value of freedom and how lucky I am to live in a free country.
Each of those visits independently would be enough to enrage anyone and provoke gut-wrenching feelings. For me however the most upsetting moment was when I found out that there are still missing people from the time of the invasion. We found out from the Ministry of Missing People that since the invasion of 1974, there are 1,619 soldiers and civilians who are still unaccounted for. We just commemorated the 41st anniversary of the invasion, yet there are still people who live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are dead or alive. To me, murder is a disgraceful, disgusting act of cowardice, but now I strongly believe that imposed disappearance is the worst crime against humanity. The only thing worse than living with doubt is being forced to do so right across from the people responsible for causing it in the first place…
The circumstances in Cyprus are even more infuriating because this is a humanitarian issue that we can all relate to. We all have people we care about and we all deserve and have the right to know the fate of our loved ones.
I am a pretty cynical person as a result of having left my home at such a difficult age. Thinking that I had seen and heard everything, I am seldom shocked or speechless. However, after having listened to Mr. Fotiou at the Ministry of Missing Persons, I was actually shocked and speechless! I couldn’t believe that I had to travel all the way around the globe to Cyprus to learn about an issue that should be publicized all over the world. I am deeply disappointed and angry that this issue does not get enough media coverage. This isn’t a political issue, it’s not a question whether this is an illegal occupation or not. This is an act against humanity and the absolute least we can do is have the decency to cover it in the media. Ever since that meeting, I am ashamed and I feel so much guilt for feeling as if I’m sitting on the sidelines in one of the countries with the most power to press for stricter human rights legislation. I am thankful beyond words to AHIF for opening my eyes and showing me parts of the world that require our immediate attention and giving me the knowledge I need to make change happen myself.
Kristina Demolli is a Senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz pursuing a Bachelor of Sciences in Human Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. She hopes to study international law with a focus on Human rights. Kristina participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
Greece and the European Project
by Orlando Economos
In the world of international politics, the last 70 years have been marked indelibly by various attempts to promote unity through experiments with transnational government apparatuses. Following World War II, the victors saw that they had to learn from their mistakes in the wake of World War I and help everyone heal instead of exacting vengeance upon those who had transgressed. Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations was the first modern attempt at a supranational government, and despite being hamstrung by the U.S. Congress’s refusal to ratify the treaty, served as a precursor to the United Nations. The most successful of these experiments has been the European Union and its accompanying monetary union, the Eurozone – although, in the wake of recent events, that does not seem to say much. Using Greece as a lens, let’s take a look at why building a workable international government structure is so desirable and simultaneously so difficult.
The benefits of greater international cooperation are numerous. For example, when Greece joined the Eurozone in the early 2000s, it benefited from much lower interest rates on loans due to the fact that Greece was suddenly considered to be about as safe an investment as Germany. Joining NATO, often closely linked to the EU and as much a vital part of the broader “European Project” as the EU and the Eurozone, provided Greece with the guarantee that if any belligerent nation ever attacked it, it would have the aid of the rest of NATO in defending itself. This guarantee is crucial for Greece because it sits in the unstable Balkans, serves as Europe’s maritime gateway to the Middle East, and is bordered along long-time geopolitical rival Turkey to the east. Being an EU member, too, comes with its own package of benefits, such as increased ease of trade and travel among member states and a stage on which to settle disputes diplomatically.
In the broadest sense, the national interest is the same for basically every country: prestige, protection, and prosperity. Countries should therefore cooperate to achieve those goals. However, no two countries in the world have national interests that align 100 percent of the time and often end up competing to achieve the same things. In the school of international relations, there are two schools of opposing thoughts about national interest: realism, which assumes the world is a zero-sum game (any gain for me is a loss for my rivals and vice versa); and liberalism, which posits that the world can be a positive-sum game where there are such things as win-win scenarios. To make projects like Europe work, you must assume that there are at least some instances where helping your neighbor also helps you. The problem is that in a world where anyone believes in realism, it’s safest to be a cynic.
There are also times where the national interest of two countries directly oppose each other. In the case of Greece, European sanctions on Russia provide a vivid example. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea drew the condemnation of the global community, and the EU, at the behest of the U.S., placed a series of harsh sanctions on Russia in order to punish the belligerent nation economically. However, at the same time, Greece has been struggling to recover in the wake of the 2009 economic crisis, and has been forced to swallow the bitter pill of austerity. Russia, a long-time ally of Greece and cultural/religious brother nation, made a tempting and very vague offer of economic assistance to Greece. However, for Greece to take such an offer from Russia completely undermines the political unity of the European Union. The EU has long tried (and failed) to create a comprehensive and consistent foreign/security policy because of issues just like this. When a member state sends its head of state to meet with the leader of a nation under general condemnation by the EU, the unity of the apparatus is threatened.
Does this make Greece a bad ally? Yes. It is undermining the goals of the Union as a whole. However, it is also just smart foreign policy on a strictly national level for Greece to keep its options open. Russia is a powerful friend to have, especially if all it costs Greece is a few visits from Tsipras and a couple of photos with Putin.
Another poignant challenge for such organizations is that a challenge to any member state becomes everyone’s problem, and yet nations are often slow to lift a finger when their own national interest is not at stake. NATO has only invoked Article 5 once in its life – on September 12th, 2001. The current debt crisis with Greece shows the very same. The fact that negotiations came so dangerously close to kicking a member out of the union before helping them recover points to how difficult it is to get the peoples of disparate nations to cooperate. Greeks do not want to undergo further austerity, and Germans do not want to pay for the mistakes of corrupt Greek politicians.
The European Project is a bold idea, and in its ideal form, provides security and prosperity to all of Europe. However, the realities of international politics make it nearly impossible to even come close to realizing that ideal. We have a long way to go before we have any sort of real supranational government. However, it is our duty and mandate to try.
Orlando Economos is a rising junior at Tufts University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Film Studies and Production. He is involved in the student film society, TUTV and in 2014, he represented Tufts at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, where he produced a documentary short film about the influence of one’s culture in assessing international events and overcoming personal bias. Orlando participated in the seventh 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: A Journey of Realization and Responsibility
By Elias Gerasoulis
After we settled down in Nicosia, the American Hellenic Institute Foundation's (AHIF) program began in full force. At the time, I somewhat understood the Cyprus issue on an intellectual level. But it is one thing to understand—it's another to feel. And it was only when we visited the occupied region that I was really able to feel the occupation's ramifications on a visceral level. The first stop we made was at an abandoned church. Beside it was a Christian graveyard, desecrated and ransacked, with the crosses on the headstones specifically broken off. Inside the church, birds were flying across the room, staring across what once was a magnificent establishment. The walls, covered with anti-Christian graffiti, were decaying not only from natural forces but also from the spirit of hate. Once we left, we departed for the city of Famagusta. The Turkish government fenced off Famagusta during the 1974 invasion, hoping to use it as a means of obtaining immediate concessions. However, the city is still walled-off to this very day. What was once a magnificent city and a mecca of tourism has become a hostage to history. Walking on the beach of Famagusta, I was in awe of the water, clearer than crystal, gently kissing the sand. Behind us, though, were several decaying hotels unoccupied since 1974. After walking for a while, we came upon a barbed fence and a soldier carrying a gun. Beyond the fence, there were miles of buildings, standing but unused for decades. The dichotomy between the natural freedom of the shore and the signs of oppression that surrounded us defined the fundamental essence of the injustice that we were dealing with.
The facts of this current situation are very powerful and stark. Today, 37% of Cyprus still remains occupied by Turkish troops, and the capital, Nicosia, remains the only divided capital in the world. Though I have always been fond of international politics, until my visit to Cyprus, I did not truly comprehend the urgency of its situation. This essential program instills students with an appreciation for the gravity of the issue, so much so that many prior participants of the AHI program are interning in places such as the State Department or the American Embassy in Athens. Gaining knowledge through books allow us to understand the history given to us, but applying and engaging that knowledge allows us to create our own history.
After a week in Cyprus, we flew off to Greece. AHIF organized meetings with everyone from the head of the Hellenic Stability Fund to icons such as Nicholas Gage, my father's childhood hero. The hotel we stayed at, the Grande Bretagne Hotel, is the de facto national hotel of Greece and is strategically located next Constitution Square and parliament. This enabled us to witness in person what millions around the world were watching on television. When I was walking in Constitution Square toward the hotel, I saw dozens of people lining up behind ATMs, scrambling to withdraw whatever they could. Even the hotel manager stated that twenty five people canceled their reservations in a day, something that almost never happens. Fear was in the air. And during that evening, after having dinner and drinks with friends, I decided to come back to the hotel to go to sleep early. While I was walking, I passed by a fine shoe store and noticed a rather well-dressed man sleeping right outside of it. After a jarring minute, I continued onward toward the hotel. I thought to myself about the contrast between that man's current situation and that of just a few years ago, when he could have been a corporate employee. It seemed as if no one was spared in this Greek tragedy. However, once I walked back into the hotel, I was removed from this hard reality. It was a surreal experience, and reminder of how easy it is to forget about the struggles and tribulations of the world outside our own circles.
The question then became what can we do as students and as Americans to better this situation, and how can we advocate for Greece and its people? In this sense, the meeting with the President of Greece became especially important. When we entered the Presidential palace, we made a formation and faced the podium in front of us. T.V. cameras and photographers took up both sides of the room. The President then came out and used this as a moment to reach out to the United States, calling for the positive role an American presence can play in this crisis, as well as exhorting us as young leaders and ambassadors of the United States to advocate for Greece. After his televised address, he then came to us and we were given the opportunity to ask a few questions. To be in the center of the storm created both a feeling of tension and empowerment in all of the students. It is our responsibility as the next generation to not only promote the issues of Greece and Cyprus, but embody the ancient Greeks’ emphasis on personal excellence to both advance ourselves and our world.
Elias Gerasoulis is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania (Upenn) majoring in history and government with a focus on pre-law. On campus, he directs logistical tasks and brings in speakers for various political organizations. In addition, he is an upcoming leader in Penn's Hellenic Society. In the summer Elias interned for Congressman Tom MacArthur of New Jersey's third district. Elias participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
By Yanni Metaxas
I had been to Greece before. But this was my first time going to Cyprus. I had gone sightseeing before. But this was my first time studying foreign policy. I had heard horrific stories of atrocities committed on humans by other humans. But this was my first time seeing the remains of such hatred. The AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus changed me. Yes, I learned a lot and grew from this extraordinary experience. But the trip actually changed me in a way, and I wish that the change in me, inspired by this trip, could in turn change the world for the future students of the trip and inhabitants of this planet.
Greece has changed. Only eleven years ago, Greece was going through a revival. A small nation that had previously been through a lot in its recent history saw the hosting of the Olympics, the Euro Cup win, and even the Euro Vision win bring a sense of pride and relevance to the small country. But a lot has changed over the last eleven years. I am not an economist, but I learned a little about how Greece did not have the money to fund such a lavish lifestyle, and to sustain this way of living. And over the last many years, Greece has seen this struggle unfold, culminating in the week leading up to the referendum this past July.
I was in Greece that week. I met with government officials, bureaucratic leaders and the heads of different branches of the military. The general sense is that Greece needs to see a change. Internally, yes. Greece needs to realize a change in fiscal policy and a change in how individuals handle their expenses. However, there also needs to be a change in the way people view the issue from the outside, looking in. Europe, especially the fellow members of the Euro Zone, must be more forgiving to a nation with a shared currency. Being united in one union in addition to a monetary union means not only being willing to, but also having the responsibility to bail out your fellow members. The portrayal of Greece in the media has shed a negative and almost-always incorrect light on the situation. Looking down on a country that is going through unimaginable strife is not justified and is certainly not conducive to helping solve the problem. Greece has seen harder times in its thousands of years of history. The country with all of its beautiful history (with the Parthenon looking out over the city of Athens as a testament and reminder) has never sunken into the ground and never given up. It certainly will not give up now over a problem involving imaginary numbers.
Cyprus has also changed. Here is an island that was influenced and ruled by many different nations over the last many centuries. The resilient, Hellenic territory persevered and finally gained its independence in 1960...only to see it be taken away from her 14 years later. The Cyprus issue still remains relevant today. Nicosia is the only divided capital city in the world. Is that something that people know? The awareness and publicity of such an issue needs to change. My wish, at a bare minimum, is for people to know about the Cyprus issue as well as they know about the current Greek economic crisis. And the unfortunate thing regarding this lack of awareness is that the remains of a horrific and illegal invasion 41 years ago are all still there, waiting for people to discover them. There is a literal border between the northern occupied territory of Cyprus and the rest of the island. In the north, there are desecrated churches and tombstones of Christians lying next to preserved Muslim cemeteries for everyone to see. There are still Cypriots who have never returned to their homes, because they were kicked out and have never since been allowed to return; Anatolian settlers have moved into these homes in the north to create a more Turkish presence in an attempt to eradicate any signs of the Hellenic history of the past thousands of years. The Republic of Cyprus has an active Committee of Missing Persons to locate the unlucky ones whose lives were taken after being kicked out of their homes. Why don’t people know about these issues? Are the core elements of this dispute much different than the well-known issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Through all of this, Cyprus has continued to persevere and remain resilient. But something has to change. Cyprus needs the help of other nations to intervene where Cyprus simply does not have the means.
Earlier, I alluded to a personal change in addition to personal growth. This trip changed my passive stance in life. As an American citizen who cares about the core values instilled in me by this amazing country, I now realize my obligation to help raise awareness. Awareness of issues leads to change. In addition to this realization, I also have a craving to fulfill my obligations. And that started with writing this essay. America was founded on the belief that each man has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are being suppressed in Greece and Cyprus. Let us stand up and do what we can to change this.
Yanni Metaxas is a junior at Boston University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics with distinction in Arts & Sciences, and a minor in Modern Greek Studies. He is the president of the Boston University Philhellenes Project as well as the Music Director of The Dear Abbeys, BU’s only all-male a cappella group. Yanni participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
A Simple Twist of Fate
By Nikolaos Piperis
While Bob Dylan’s haunting harmonica solo in “Simple Twist of Fate” filled my headphones as we drove away from the occupied area, the impact of one simple twist of fate—the invasion of Cyprus in 1974—felt eerily palpable. Here we were: young Hellenic Americans, despite being born decades after the invasion, filling our rackety bus with a weary silence. The stoic gazes out the windows reflected the sites we flew by: desecrated churches, abandoned neighborhoods and a smirking Sofia Vergara gazing down upon smashed cemetery headstones from a billboard.
The eeriest aspect of the occupied area, though, is the amnesia that fills its air. The massive sprawl of gas stations, construction sites and chain restaurants has no memory of a time before propaganda adorned the age-old mountains of Cyprus—as if whitewashed flats and car dealerships could drown out both the glories and terrors that still echo in the corners of the island’s history. This amnesia was no more apparent than at the beach at Famagusta, where carefree children basked in the June sun under the dark loom of the city’s decrepit skyline, still untouched since Turkish forces stormed the tourist hub in 1974. As I watched families do what families do on the beach—swimming, laughing, enjoying lunch together—I wondered, do they find this scene as unsettling as I do? Do the screams of scores of innocent islanders, still ringing out through the cracked windows and barbed wire fence surrounding the abandoned city, fill their ears, as they do mine?
But how could they? These children, I realized, knew nothing different. Generations removed from the invasion and the early flood of settlers from Turkey, they simply lived amidst the amnesia—it defined their home, their personal histories, their entire understanding of their community. Scenes like Famagusta reinforce what the United States Ambassador John Koenig told us personally: that Cyprus’ past is indeed defined by tragedy, but that the time has come to move on. Yes, injustice has festered across the island for the past forty-one years, but the fundamental nature of the situation is not justice: it is compromise. The two established communities, Koenig reiterated, must put calls for justice aside in order to spare the coming generations from the divisions of the past. Famagusta is now the home of those Turkish children, and the terrifying echoes of the past that haunt their community ought to be muted once and for all.
Koenig’s stance is not unreasonable, and I never doubted that it came from a strong desire to forge a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem. In fact, it was similar to how Bob Dylan described failed romance to me through my headphones. “Blame it on a simple twist of fate,” he nostalgically crooned, explaining that the vagaries of life often leave us with no choice but to accept them—that fate renders us powerless, and our ability to handle this reality lies in acceptance. That 1974 was a simple, horrifying twist of fate, and that viewing it as such—as a cruel event that can never be undone, and ought to be placed permanently in the past—would allow for greater happiness in the future.
Are we, then, destined to listen to Koenig? Should organizations like the American Hellenic Institute not take groups like ours to the island, showing the next generation firsthand the injustices that define its northern third? Are we part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution? According to Koenig, we are part of the problem—to him, men like Nick Larigakis are firebrands, reopening old wounds and neglecting United States interests in the region. But what Koenig and far too many nations in the West fail to realize is that the fundamental nature of the Cyprus issue is justice; and by neglecting justice, we jeopardize both United States interests and the legitimacy of international law in the region.
By failing to take a definitive stand on the illegality of the Turkish invasion and the countless atrocities committed by the occupying military forces, the United States is actively defying its creed, as evidenced by the words of Thomas Jefferson in his second inaugural address. “We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction,” Jefferson said to the young nation in 1805, “that with nations, as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties.” Jefferson understood that justice in all forms always benefitted the United States, regardless of the pressures or fears that often come with its enforcement—that our basic moral responsibility to address injustice must be the core tenet of our foreign policy. That encouraging young Americans to not call for justice—that placing interests above our moral duties—serves to destroy the integrity of the nation, both at home and abroad; and that “history bears witness to the fact that a just nation is taken on its word.”
It is our responsibility, then, to not allow what happened in Cyprus to go down in history as a simple twist of cruel fate. By tolerating injustice, we are not simply depriving the island of the peace it deserves, but cowering in the face of our moral duties as Americans. That, above all, is what I had the privilege of learning through the American Hellenic Institute.
Niko Piperis is a junior from Omaha, Nebraska pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Philosophy at Boston College. His academic interests include the difficulty of self-knowledge and spiritual discernment in modern society, in addition to the continuation of regional ethnic culture in a globalized world. Niko participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
By Peter Tsetsekos
The Turkish Cypriot/Greek Cypriot conflict is in a way like no other, dividing a country in half for decades due to an illegal invasion. At the same time it resembles the myriad other problems in the world, where people are aware of issues involved, but there is apathy and lack of international pressure to resolve what appears to be a gross violation of the rule of law. The illegal invasion has continued for 41 years, far longer than any Cypriot had anticipated. Before I entered the Cyprus territory that is illegally occupied by Turkey, I expected to find a desolate area with little development. Instead what I found was well-developed surroundings with potential for further growth. It is painful to admit my speculation that if negotiations do not lead to a reasonable resolution to re-unite the two sides within the next 5-10 years it will be near impossible for the Republic of Cyprus to regain any territory in the North. In order for the Republic of Cyprus to regain what’s rightfully theirs, the government and its people will need to leverage support from the international community and exercise tremendous pressure on Turkey. This is the only way Turkey may come back to the negotiation table and settle this dispute.
The good people of the Republic of Cyprus have waited 41 years for justice to be brought to those affected by the illegal invasion. Many have become skeptical with the lack of negotiations between Turkey and the government of Cyprus. I myself think the clock is ticking until hope for justice is lost. After 41 years, I just don’t see how the Turkish government is going to have a sudden change of heart and decide to withdraw entirely from the occupied Cyprus territory. The only way Turkey will finally cease to be dormant at the negotiation table is if there is either some kind of incentive offered or if the international community exercises considerable pressure on the Turkish regime.
Cypriot officials working towards long-awaited justice have known for quite some time that they need a powerful country like the United States to publicly come out and denounce what Turkey is doing. For reasons unbeknownst to me, despite its considerable global power the U.S. has not made any game-changing moves. As Nick Larigakis has said, the U.S. does not want to “rock the boat” with respect to its relations with Turkey. Recently, the U.S. has launched crucial air strikes against ISIS from a base in southern Turkey. If the United States were to put pressure on Turkey, they would be jeopardizing their chances of conducting strategic military operations in an area that is so vital to the interests of the US. The Cyprus issue has been placed on the back-burner of U.S. officials’ minds because the priority at the moment is defeating ISIS and terrorism as a whole and conducting military operations from bases in Turkey gives the U.S. a huge advantage in efforts to win a difficult war.
I would like to see Cyprus make a better effort to make allies around the world who will sympathize with the Cypriot cause of independence and re-unification. Nick Larigakis had a wonderful idea when he suggested that on the anniversary of the day when many Greek-Cypriots died fighting to stop the invasion, there should be a mass march led by the Archbishop followed by the 800-some empty coffins that remain by those who were never found. An event like this would certainly receive international media attention and could very well be a spark to renewing negotiations between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus.
There has been rapid commercial development in the illegal territory in recent years that brings up many muddling questions in the event that Turkey were to relinquish control of the occupied territory. For example, one interesting question is the fate of the growing Turkish population. Will they be allowed to stay or forced to leave? Think of all the businesses and those that are employed, will they be affected by the change? Who will take control over the “dead zones” and how the properties in these areas will be reallocated to Cypriots? Who will be compensated and for how much? These are all critical questions that become harder to answer as the years drag on.
Turkey’s attitude is similar to that of a bully. The only way a bully can be intimidated is if many other people (countries) team up together to put the bully in line. I’d say if there is no international pressure or no sanctions placed on Turkey within the next 5 years, hope for justice will be greatly shrunk.
Peter Tsetsekos is a pre-junior at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, in Philadelphia, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Peter has taken international business courses and has a great appreciation of global business practices. As global business is influenced by foreign affairs and geopolitical risks, Peter hopes to learn more about the issues that influence trade and business relations between the US, Greece and Cyprus. Peter participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
Discovering a Human Rights Tragedy
By Elizabeth Vasilogambros
I am a Greek American. My father was born in Greece and I grew up casually participating in the Greek community in the Chicago area. My knowledge of Greek issues was limited to my family history and culture. Greek and Cypriot political issues were well beyond my understanding, even if they were mentioned in passing during family events. I am a Greek-American, with an emphasis on American.
That’s why it was so important for me to go on the American Hellenic Institute’s trip to Greece and Cyprus. There are real issues facing that region of the world that deserve attention on a much larger scale—human-rights abuses that I’m afraid to admit I did not know have happened, and are continuing to happen. I found on this trip a new wealth of knowledge of the disturbing actions of a country that the United States calls an ally. I also found a strong desire in myself to work on human rights issues.
There were three parts of this trip: Washington, D.C., Cyprus, and Greece. It was in Cyprus that I saw these large scale human-rights abuses. The Republic of Cyprus is part of the European Union. It is also a country that is strategically placed for the United States interest. The island country is situated just 47 miles south of Turkey, 65 and 67 miles west of Syria and Lebanon, respectively, 124 miles northwest of Israel and the Gaza Strip, 236 miles north of Egypt and 497 miles east of Greece’s mainland. Cyprus is also occupied by a United States ally and NATO member, Turkey, with 40,000 troops stationed and occupying one-third of the country.
Forty-one years ago, Cyprus was illegally invaded by Turkey. Before the invasion, Greek-Cypriots made up about 82 percent of the total Cypriot population. Since the invasion, that percentage has gone down due to large numbers of illegal immigrants from Turkey that have taken up residence in the abandoned homes left after the invasion. After the invasion, 1,619 Greek-Cypriots went missing. That number may seem small, but if scaled to the United States population it would be roughly a half a million missing Americans. The Committee of Missing Persons in Cyprus has been working on locating these missing Cypriots. Through DNA testing of bones they estimate that roughly 1,000 are still missing. But this trip wasn't just meetings and gathering data. It was also seeing the unknown. It’s the unknown of how many Greek-Cypriot grave sites have been robbed and destroyed, the number of churches either desecrated or turned into mosques, and the number of properties taken away and given to the illegal immigrants from Turkey.
The graveness of the situation came into full swing as we went through border patrol and were greeted by the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot flag. I soon picked up the “Northern Cyprus Tourism Guide”—a bit of Turkish propaganda. After opening it up, I realized that the number-one must-see attraction is the St. Nicholas Cathedral, an old gothic church that was turned into a mosque. Our bus ride to the church was surreal, passing signs that displayed soldiers with machine guns, warning that the area was restricted. I looked out the window and wondered how this could be the same country I was currently traveling through. Finally, we arrived at a desecrated Greek Orthodox Church and Greek-Cypriot cemetery. When we pulled up we were immediately warned that soldiers may be called just because we were there. First, we saw the Greek-Cypriot cemetery, tombs broken, grass unkempt. Just next to it was a Turkish-Cypriot cemetery, perfectly kept and beautiful. Pulling up to the abandoned church, tombs were destroyed and the door at the church entrance was broken. In a typical Greek Orthodox Church, icons cover the walls and ceilings with different scenes from the Bible. This church’s icons were stripped from the walls and ceilings, leaving bare white walls, with some graffiti reading “Allah.”
Seeing a culture and history destroyed before my eyes brought a disgusting and haunting feeling to my stomach. Later, this feeling continued while visiting the ghost town Famagusta, a city still left as it was from the 1974 invasion. It has a coastline like Miami, but with the signs and soldiers warning us to take no pictures. The guards held loaded machine guns, watching us and making sure we took no pictures of the ghost city. Later in the week we went to the deserted airport still stuck in the 1970s, only to be reminded of the violence with the bullet holes in the glass and along the side of an abandoned airplane.
These were the scenes of the Turkish Cypriot side--ones of pain, despair, and destruction. It completed the sad mosaic of invasion. We know the numbers, but now we know what it looks like. How is this story not told back home? How can we just forget that this crime is taking place? How could my own government ignore the atrocities and call Turkey a friend? The trip answered many questions I had about the region, but it left many more. Really, I just wanted to know: “Why?”
As I left Cyprus to continue on our trip, I reflected on one absolute I discovered: human rights is a serious issue that deserves serious attention by serious people. That’s obviously the case in Cyprus, as it is all over the world. I hope I can continue this work in the years to come.
Elizabeth Vasilogambros is a sophomore at Butler University pursuing her Bachelor of Arts double major degree in Political Science and Strategic Communication, with a minor in sociology. After graduating in 2018, Elizabeth’s post collegiate plans also include law school. Elizabeth participated in the seventh annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus, sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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In Their Words: Student Essays