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 Ninth 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 21 to July 7, 2017. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 24 to 29 and Athens, June 29 to July 7. Prior to departing for overseas, the students spent two days in Washington, DC, June 21 and 23. 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.
“For the ninth consecutive year, the trip provided us with a wonderful opportunity to lead an exceptional group of students to Cyprus and Greece,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “It was rewarding to see them gain firsthand experience about the foreign policy issues that concern U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus. The AHI Foundation looks forward to offering this program annually as support for it has grown and student interest remains at significant levels since the program’s inception.”
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American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip
Cyprus: More than just a Conflict
by Elizabeth Conway
The thermometer reads 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Beads of sweat crawl down my neck as I stand in the blazing summer sun. Surrounded by a sea of white crosses, I gaze into the distance, admiring the breathtaking beauty of the Kyrenia Mountains. My eyes scan the mountain range, tracing the peaks and valleys. I revel in the tranquility. However, in the distance is an eyesore––a red crescent and star atop a giant white rectangular blot. It is the flag of the Turkish-occupied north. But it’s much more than a flag––it is a glaring symbol of injustice, a tragic emblem of lives lost, and an aggressive reminder of a crime that has eluded justice for forty-three years and counting. I swallow the lump in my throat as I brush aside a tear. Or maybe it’s sweat.
The serenity of Nicosia’s Tymvos Makedonitissa military cemetery is a stark contrast to the violence and tragedy of 1974. Tymvos is the final resting place of victims from 1974 as well as a memorial. Nearly 43 years ago on July 20, 1974, Turkish troops invaded the island of Cyprus, beginning in the northern coastal city of Kyrenia. In an effort to deliver aid to the Cypriots, the Greeks launched a clandestine airlift operation––Operation Niki––transporting a battalion of commandos aboard Greek Noratlas planes from Crete. It was an ill-fated attempt: two of the fifteen planes never made it to the island. When the remaining fleet arrived in Nicosia, they were mistaken for a Turkish airborne assault and faced heavy anti-aircraft fire. One of these planes was downed before landing, right where Tymvos is located. The four crew members and twenty-seven commandos onboard the aircraft were killed. Only one commando survived by jumping out of the flaming plane. The bodies of nineteen victims remain missing to this day.
The nineteen missing victims of the Noratlas accident, however, are only a handful of the thousands of Cypriots that went missing since the invasion of 1974, 1200 of whom are still missing or unidentified, even 43 years later. Missing persons remain one of the invasion’s worst legacies, but even in tragedy, there is hope. Founded in 1981, the Committee on Missing Persons is a bi-communal group, working to help recover and identify the remains of missing persons in order to return the remains to families so that they may have a proper burial, and peace of mind. It is led by three members—a Greek Cypriot, a Turkish Cypriot, and a United Nations officer––and is assisted by a skilled team of archaeologists, anthropologists, and geneticists. The CMP––which has exhumed 1,200 bodies and identified 803 so far–– is living testament to how putting people over politics and uniting around our shared humanity can achieve amazing progress, even in a country where divisions are deep, history is fraught, and problems are plenty.
In talking about conflict, we are often blinded by the politics, losing sight of the humanitarian tragedies lying beneath. One of the deepest impressions our trip left on me is the human cost of the Cyprus conflict and how painstakingly slow its wounds are to heal. “Time is the enemy of our job,” said Fotis Fotiou, Presidential Commissioner for Humanitarian Issues and Overseas Cypriots.
The grief of losing a loved one is beyond the imagination of those that have never felt it. However, losing these loved ones to an unlawful invasion that should never have been fought, and not even having a grave to mourn them adds insult to injury. How many parents have died with elusive hopes of having their children’s remains found? One cannot but wonder. How many loved ones, how many friends, have been irretrievably lost to history without even a trace? In many ways, this is not only a race against time or a battle against nature; it is also one against the fate of this island torn asunder, for how can it ever find peace without healing wounds? And how can its wounds ever heal without finding closure?
This was the kaleidoscope of emotions I felt while walking through Tymvos, lost in thought. These were the very same emotions I felt as we traversed the island, witnessing the effects of the Turkish invasion. Our travels brought us to Famagusta, where an expanse of exquisite sandy beaches, once considered some of the most beautiful in the world, today wash up to the pillaged, abandoned ghost city. We walked amongst the ruins of the old Nicosia International Airport—a weed-infested runway, a crumbling control tower, and an abundance of barbed wire surrounding the destroyed terminal building. Homes pillaged, churches desecrated, buildings crumbling, beaches abandoned; the Turkish-occupied area is a haunting sight unlike any other I’ve ever seen.
From Tymvos to Famagusta to the Central Prison of Nicosia––where we beheld the gallows where nine EOKA Freedom Fighters faced their ultimate fate––every moment of our trip was as rich in history as the island itself. Cyprus was one of the earliest settlements in the world. Its mineral riches were such that the island lends its name to one of the most valuable ores in the world––copper. It is the fabled birthplace of Aphrodite, the home of Othello’s castle. Cyprus’s future is as rich as its past. Today, its geostrategic position in the Mediterranean Sea is more crucial than ever before. The Republic of Cyprus links North Africa, Europe, and West Asia; it is a bridge of peace, connecting differing spheres of the world. And, in an island where consensus is not a common commodity, something everyone from ambassadors to politicians to lawyers to generals seem to agree on is Cyprus’s strategic significance.
While Cyprus is often associated with the conflict that shaped its history, it is so much more than that. It is a “predictable, stable, and reliable” country, as Government Spokesman Niko Christodoulides said. To appreciate its true potential, we need to look beyond the conflict. As an anchor of regional security, a trusted ally in the fight against terrorism, and a key party in the development of the Eastern Mediterranean’s rich hydrocarbon deposits, the Republic of Cyprus is already establishing itself as a critical partner to the U.S. In this regard, energy is particularly important as it holds the potential to be a game-changer for both Cyprus and the region. The Republic of Cyprus and Israel are already working to jointly develop the oil and gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, and more ambitious projects like a proposed pipeline extending from Israel to Europe, passing through Cyprus and Greece, is already in the works.
Examples of bicommunal cooperation such as the CMP as well as the island’s immense economic potential (thanks to the discovery of rich hydrocarbon deposits) raise hopes for a future where Cyprus will come to be defined by more than just the conflict that endures there to this day. Such a future, however, is only possible in an island that is healed and united. With nearly half of the island carved away into an illegal and illegitimate authority––sustained only because of the economic support and military strength of a foreign country––neither of those steps is possible. The occupation is a straitjacket that is holding back the island––and this should be the principle guiding the U.S.’s policy on Cyprus. The path to a lasting peace starts with the cessation of all foreign interference and leads to a future where Cypriots alone hold the future of Cyprus in their hands.
Elizabeth Tzimopoulos Conway graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown University in 2017 with Bachelor’s and Master's degrees in political science. Recently, she joined Deloitte's federal advisory team in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy Student trip to Cyprus and Greece sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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Now or Never: Greece Must Lead its Diaspora
by Christopher Coombs
In the United States and perhaps the world, few ethnic minority groups are as recognized and well-received as the Greeks. Americans of Hellenic descent have successfully established and marketed their identity to fellow Americans in the form of Greek festivals, Greek businesses, Hollywood movie hits, and not to mention, Greek contributions toward Western Civilization taught in schools. Still, the Greeks of the diaspora and the Greeks of Greece are two different Greeks.
The global, cosmopolitan, and pluralistic nature of life that prevails in the West today poses a unique situation for the disbursed Greek diaspora outside the homeland. Although this international environment celebrates diversity, the fact of the matter is simple: the evidence thus far is obvious and undeniable that as time goes on, Greeks in the diaspora are becoming increasingly less Greek as American amalgamation thickens.
This is the situation in real time. In the American West, the future of Greek identity is definitely not linguistic, nor necessarily ethnic, but primarily religious. That is to say, affiliation to Orthodox Christianity. Greek identity is being diluted via a loss of language both written and spoken. As time proceeds, the Greek language in common use will likely become extinct as evident with second to third generations of non-Hispanic minorities. In like manner, the rise in mixed-marriages will also erode ethnic homogeneity and again the potential for learning Greek. The situation is far less precarious on the East Coast of the United States due to the high concentration of Greek communities nearby each other compared to the historically distant Greek community settlements in the American West.
Despite Greek American community efforts in Greek school or Greek dance clubs, the American cultural forces are too powerful for Greek identity in the United States to be preserved in the long-term by the diaspora alone. As a result, if Greece is serious about maintaining a connection to its diaspora and its benefits therein, it must act to bridge the gap. There must be a thought-out and systematic opportunity for diaspora Greeks to reconnect to the land of their ancestors. If Greece was to lead an effort for a reoccurring program independent of military service, this would be a step in the right direction. Every year the State of Israel sponsors a trip for young adults of Jewish descent, many of whom have never visited Israel before, to rediscover their personal identify and establish a connection to Jewish history and culture. Why have the Greeks, one of the oldest civilizations in the world, not attempted something similar for their widely distributed diaspora?
Fortunately, I was afforded the next closest experience and extraordinary chance of a lifetime through the American Hellenic Institute Foundation based in Washington, D.C. Over the course of two weeks this summer, fellow Americans of Hellenic descent and I toured Cyprus and Greece to meet with the top political, military, business, and cultural leaders in order to better understand the foreign policy issues facing the Eastern Mediterranean as well as to advocate for American interests in the region. This program instilled in me a special appreciation of Hellenism and allowed me to fully grasp the challenges and opportunities Greece and Cyprus face. I learned extensively about the following issues, and the urgent need to resolve each and every one, beginning with: religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the reunification of Cyprus and the full withdrawal of illegal Turkish occupying forces, Turkish aggression in the Aegean Sea through violating Greek borders, the FYROM name dispute, and most recently, the expected upgrade to the American base in Souda Bay, Crete – which certainly will contribute to the already positive relations between Greece and the United States.
I would venture to say most diaspora Greeks and people in general are unaware of these specific issues nor was I entirely aware until the program was completed. It is for this reason the diaspora must experience a renaissance of identity. If the American Hellenic Institute Foundation can demonstrate the success of its own program, it is time to for the Greece, or another private organization, to do their part and expand the number of participants and scope of the diaspora mission. Diaspora Greeks are best suited to serve as brokers between their country of residence and Greece itself. Through Americans of Hellenic descent, Greece stands to gain in business investment along with a stronger American alliance, while the United States has the chance to exert greater influence in a region where Greece and Cyprus are among the few stable and democratic countries fully ready to cooperate and rise to the occasion.
Christopher Coombs is a graduate from the University of Utah with a double major in History and Political Science. Recently, Chris moved to Brookline, Massachusetts to attend Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology to pursue a Masters in Divinity. Chris attended the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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The Greek Diaspora: A Second-Generation American’s Perspective
by Giana Damianos
Diaspora – a word I never really heard much about until my college years, specifically until my first study abroad trip in Athens, Greece. Coming from Ancient Greek itself, diaspeirein, it means “to scatter, spread about” (Merriam-Webster). In terms of the Hellenic civilization, diaspora represents the countless number of people living outside of Greece -- across borders, even oceans – strung together by their common Greek ancestry. To me, diaspora symbolizes hope: for the continuation of a culture, a people, a society that profoundly shaped the world in ways of philosophy, democracy, art, science, and religion. To me, diaspora is part of my identity. I am a second-generation American, the granddaughter of Greek immigrants, and while I make up a small portion of the global Greek diaspora, the Greek spirit makes up a large portion of my heart.
I am fortunate to have been raised in a household that honors our heritage and faith, actively practicing cultural and religious traditions, passing on stories of the past, and keeping the language alive. However, unlike the stereotypes, I did not grow up in a “big fat Greek family” – I only had two grandparents, one parent, and one aunt of Greek descent (here in the states, at least). For me, this means as life takes its toll, my most direct familial ties to the motherland are waning – and waning fast – with every passing relative. While I only have one family member left to continue to teach me about our culture and heritage, it is both because of, and in despite of this fact, that I feel an immense passion and urgency to strengthen my connection to Greece. Of course, not every Greek American family has manifested in a similar way as mine, and indeed, there are many communities here in the United States that are thriving well. But my own situation positions me to beg the question: what is the future of the Greek diaspora? What must be done to uphold and sustain ties to Greek heritage -- especially for my generation and beyond?
Somewhat to my surprise and very much to my satisfaction, this topic was brought up a number of times during my recent trip to Athens with the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip. While meeting with various Greek government officials to discuss current affairs, foreign policy, and issues of national security, I was particularly struck by how many politicians were actually interested in us – the ten Hellenic-descended students on the trip. We were posed with questions, such as whether we feel Greek is in our hearts or our DNA, how we keep our Greek culture alive in America, what aspects we think need to be strengthened, and how we think Greece [the Greek government] can help. These conversations took on a different demeanor than did many of our other briefings; they felt productive and pertinent in a way that invigorated me and evoked my desire to contribute. Leaving me with much to ponder and reflect upon, I realized the value of these discussions: that our heritage is at the core of our passion and interest in politics, government, economy, and defense issues pertaining to Greece and Cyprus – it is the why behind what we care about. It is for this reason that our heritage must be preserved, for the sake of the diaspora and Greece itself.
My response to this evolving dynamic stems from some thoughts prompted by a meeting with Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Terence Quick. One facet I feel strongly about is that Greece needs to bring Greek Americans to Greece. Undoubtedly, Greece is the annual summer destination for much of those who make up the diaspora. But for many, myself included (as I had never been to Greece until I was 17), experiencing our country of ancestral origin is a key component in forging an appreciation and dedication for carrying out the culture and religion back home in the U.S. For me, my first and subsequent trips to Greece ignited a greater passion in me that has been at the forefront of my interests ever since, prompting me to incorporate my heritage into my academic and professional goals.
As a counterpoint to this, though, is the necessity for Greek Americans to have the desire to do things themselves, too. What I have experienced in myself personally is that being engaged in my heritage is a choice -- I must seek and pursue it. Whether that means attending church more often, joining the Hellenic Student Association club at my college, enrolling in Modern Greek language courses, searching for scholarship or study abroad opportunities for Greek Americans, or even attending this program with AHIF -- opportunities for involvement exist, but it is up to me to take the initiative to act upon them.
Touching upon this, as a final remark, I challenge all Greeks -- in Greece and abroad -- to not only promote these types of involvement but work towards creating even more ways to link each other together or to Greece. This could include lectures on college campuses, investing in more Modern Greek language programs at American universities, or creating networking and mentorship opportunities in the diaspora community. For those in leadership positions especially, from large-scale to small, it is important to be an advocate for everything from the continuation of cultural traditions, to interest in Greek history or current affairs. As a result of participation in the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip, I hope to do just that: act as a leader and proponent of these ideals both on my college campus and in my community.
Giana Damianos is a Dean’s List student at Indiana University where she is a junior studying Economics and Political Science and minoring in Psychology. Giana is a junior and has been named a 2017 award recipient by the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation. She participated in the ninth 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 New Perspective
by Theofilos Koulianos
The AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus marked my 17th trip to Greece, but it was an experience unlike any other because the trip gave me an entirely different perspective when it comes to viewing Greece, the Republic of Cyprus, and Turkey. The issues affecting Greece and the Republic of Cyprus pertaining to Turkey’s aggression and illegal actions must be acted upon immediately. The State Department acts against United States’ long-term interests by its continued failure to condemn Turkey’s illegal intervention in the occupied area of the Republic of Cyprus, as well as the department’s neglect to call out Turkey’s continued violations of Greek airspace and exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus. Greece and the Republic of Cyprus serve as pillars of stabilization, and it is in the United States’ long-term interest to support stabilization in the increasingly unstable Eastern Mediterranean region. Moreover, Turkey’s continued actions of flights over Greek airspace and claims to Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone are without question in violation of international law which the United States is expected to uphold. Turkey’s illegal actions serve as destabilizing factors in the Eastern Mediterranean region thus making it even more in the strategic interests of the United States to condemn Turkey’s illegal actions.
A severe increase in the number of dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter jets serves as a key statistic highlighting the destabilizing effects of Turkey’s illegal actions. At the time of our trip to the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, 71 dog fights had occurred so far in 2017, and since our visit, the number of dogfights has increased. Moreover, on our trip to Crete, we met a pilot who had engaged in a dogfight with a Turkish fighter jet the day before. Under the UNCLOS treaty, Greece had the right to expand its territorial waters and airspace out 12 miles, but Greece extended its territorial waters out six miles and airspace out 10 miles. This leaves an area of unclarity with Turkey when it comes to Turkey’s violations. In retrospect, Greece should have extended both its territorial waters and airspace out to the full 12 miles to diffuse any areas of unclarity pertaining to Turkish violations.
A key talking point in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that he would threaten the United States would leave NATO if its allies continue not paying their fair share. Greece, despite its economic difficulties over the past decade, has continued paying its fair share to NATO. Yet, Greece spends approximately a half billion annually to deal with threats from a fellow NATO ally. Additionally, the half-billion that Greece spends annually to deal with Turkish airspace violations represents over 10% of Greece’s total expenditures on defense. Turkey’s game of trying to lay claim through precedent by daily violations of Greek airspace is a very dangerous game to play in a small area. The policies of other NATO partners are to try to stay out of this issue and let Greece and Turkey handle it themselves. However, this is a serious international issue that could worsen if Turkey continues to become increasingly unstable.
Greece is a key ally of the United States and is one of five countries to fight with the United States in all the world wars. Current Greek bilateral relations with the United States are the best in recent decades. The level of cooperation at Souda Bay demonstrates the significance of this relationship, as there have been 12 aircraft carrier visits during the last decade. Considering the significance of Greece’s bilateral relations with the United States, Greece should seize the opportunity to sign a long-term defense contract with the United States at Souda Bay. A long-term agreement will boost the United States’ investment in facilities at Souda Bay, and it will serve to strengthen further United States-Greece bilateral relations and present additional potential opportunities for Greece. Furthermore, the United States’ difficulties at Incirlik present an opportunity in that the United States is looking for a more dependable partner in the region. Greece, via Souda Bay, has demonstrated itself as such. In the scenario that Greece signs a long-term defense cooperation agreement with the United States, and Turkey continues a trend of increased instability, the United States-Greece relationship will likely become even stronger.
Theofilos Koulianos graduated Summa Cum Laude from Hampden-Sydney College with a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Economics and Business. He currently is in graduate school at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business pursuing a Masters of Management Studies, and he will be studying in Shanghai beginning in January 2018. Theofilos participated in the ninth 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: Greece’s Investment Potential
by Theodore Pedas
In 2010, headlines abounded with news of Greece’s failing economy and bailout. As it was then, prospects for Greece and hopes for any foreign investment were meek. Nonetheless, seven years later, during the AHIF Foreign Policy trip, perhaps my greatest impression was just how great these prospects now are. However, Greece now finds itself at an economic watershed as many of these prospects lie in the realm of potential and still must be realized.
Throughout this debt crisis Greece has faced no choice but to embrace privatization. An important aspect of this privatization of which I became aware during the trip is the question of growth. It is key that not only is there investment in current Greek assets, but investment that is conducive to growth, which entails expansions and new projects that will create jobs. To accomplish this, Greece finds itself amongst many potential investors ranging from the West to the Far East.
In terms of the West, the United States is certainly the country with the most unused potential in terms of investment in Greece. For example, the AHI recently was successful in lobbying the U.S. government to include Greece on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) program, which can facilitate American investment in Greece; however, it remains untapped potential as Greece has yet to take advantage of this program. There has been recent success, nevertheless, as the United States recently engaged in foreign direct investment when the Calamos-EXIN Greek American group bought the largest Greek health insurance company, as we discussed at the Greek embassy in Washington. This is an important step forward as it beat out Chinese firms to make the deal. Nonetheless, it would be even more beneficial in the future for such investment to focus more on new projects that will maximize growth of jobs and value, as expansion and growth is just as important as the privatization itself. For example, Greece has allowed the German company Fraport to take over 14 of its regional airports for 40 years as a part of its privatization plan, as we discussed during our meeting at the Ministry of Tourism. This investment serves as a success story so far as 13 of these airports have demonstrated growth this year, and Fraport has recently planned to renovate four of these airports, including Mykonos and Santorini.
Beyond private sector investment, it seems as though one of the greatest opportunities for growth and outside investment with the West is defense. The United States government has expressed interest in investing more heavily into the Souda Bay facilities and expanding its presence there. An important aspect of this, however, is a defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Greece in which there is a five or 10-year lease agreement on the base instead of the annual renewal system currently in place. From our visit to Souda Bay the importance of the base became clear: U.S. and other NATO allies depend on it for both its facilities and its geostrategic location. Therefore, the base represents a large investment potential which hopefully will be realized by Greece’s approval of a longer lease agreement.
We gained yet another perspective on potential investment during a fascinating visit to Tsakos Energy Navigation, one of Greece’s top shipping firms. Through the briefings and tours, we learned that Greece controls approximately 20% of the worlds shipping volume and 50% of Europe’s alone. For such a small country, this is quite an astonishing magnitude of importance in the shipping world. Thus, it provides yet another opportunity for privatization, and China has taken advantage of this. With the Chinese company Costco taking over Piraeus and investing resources into it, shipping volumes have already multiplied over the past few years and Piraeus has potential to achieve a new level of dominance as a port.
For the future, it is clear Greece faces many economic opportunities in terms of tourism, shipping, energy, and other sectors. It is important now for Greece to embrace investment, with a particular emphasis on the United States. As I have learned during the trip, increased economic cooperation between Greece and the U.S. transcends sectors and is in the best interest of both nations, and hopefully the U.S. will soon become more of a key player in Greece’s privatization journey.
Theodore Pedas, a sophomore at Yale University, is a prospective Global Affairs major with a concentration in International Security. He participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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Cyprus’ Living Strife
by Stavros Piperis
This summer marks the forty-third anniversary of Turkey’s wrongful and illegal invasion of the Republic of Cyprus. Often, when so many years have passed since a geopolitical atrocity, its remains are treated with complacency. The flames of the original conflict die down, leaving later generations with a cemented state of affairs, the words and deeds of their ancestor’s mere echoes swept up by the winds of current politics and plausibility. Cyprus, however, still cries out for change. There is a lasting, living disharmony on the island, too vivid and unsettling to be dismissed as “just the way it is, now.” Amid the barbed wire and the buffer zone, social and political friction persists throughout Cyprus, begging for a swift resolution.
Shortly after landing at Larnaca International Airport, visitors to Cyprus almost instantly face the island’s sociopolitical discord. Looming over the nation’s divided capital, Nicosia, is a gigantic flag of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” plastered across the Kyrenia Mountains. The flag is four hundred and fifty meters long, glaring at the city and its surroundings throughout the day. The flag lights up in the night, ensuring that not a moment passes in which a Cypriot can gaze upon his land without his invader staring down at him. The flag’s presence is eerie; it represents one of Turkey’s many provocative attempts to dispute and disrespect Cyprus’ sovereignty and population.
Deep into the area occupied by Turkey lies a tiny church with the bones of a revered figure of early Christianity buried underneath. Saint Barnabas, who journeyed alongside Saint Paul during his first apostolic mission in the region, is the Patron Saint of Cyprus. Few would guess, however, that this particular church marks the spot of the great saint’s remains. The building’s security consists of a shabby chain-link fence, the consequences of which are obvious. Lacking the artistic grandeur that characterizes most Greek Orthodox churches, the building’s walls and ceiling are barren. The only indicators of any involvement with the faith, let alone the presence of one of its most venerated figures’ relics, are a few modest wooden icons—turned backwards to face the wall. To observe the actual resting place of Saint Barnabas, one must descend down a rocky stairwell into the cramped chamber where his poorly kept coffin lies. Even the icons beside his remains have been flipped backwards. Here, where the Christian faith is pettily disputed but the cobwebs are undisturbed, the strife that continues to haunt Cyprus is undeniable.
Elsewhere in the occupied area stands an even more startling example of Cyprus’ tragic state—another church, this one ravaged and barely standing. Weeds crawl out from the cracked dirt surrounding what was once an entrance. Here, too, the walls and ceiling are white and ruined, but not an icon can be found. Instead, “Allahuekber,” along with some other illegible writings, is chicken-scratched near where the narthex must have once been. The small plot of land the building sits upon bears a single above-ground coffin, ripped open and defaced, and a few stumps of rock that used to be tombstones—the remains of which were stuffed in a nearby shack with other smashed artifacts. These sights are at once numbing and repulsive. It is difficult to guess how long ago this particular church was demolished, but the scene is a violent one for any viewer who has ever honored a loved one with a proper burial or taken refuge in a place of worship. Hatred lingers in Cyprus as it does on this lot; often ignored, but unmistakable if one does not avert their eyes.
Though the island continues to suffer through hardship, it is not too late for Cyprus. The lives of Cypriots today are still intimately affected by the Turkish invasion of 1974. Their land, their origins, and their immediate family history were all permanently altered by the events of that summer. The Cypriot people’s generational proximity to the first sins of the “Cyprus Problem” makes a resolution urgent. Let us honor their home, recognize their heartache, and fight for the unified island that they can still remember.
Stavros Piperis, a junior at Boston College, is studying Political Science and is a member of the department's Honors Program. He attended the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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Our Responsibility as Greek Americans
by Nico Priskos
Before attending the AHIF College Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus, I had limited knowledge about the issues for which the American Hellenic Institute advocates that I came to understand included advocating for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, promoting Greece’s geostrategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean, protecting the Aegean Sea boundary, and so on. As the trip progressed, I learned increasingly about how important these issues are to keep stability in the region and its relation and significance to the country we call home, the United States. After being immersed in this environment and having these issues being on our minds for the entire seventeen-day trip, I believe I now have a strong firsthand understanding of the importance of these issues and what they mean to us as Americans of Hellenic descent.
I knew of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 before the AHIF Trip. However, I did not know the intimate details of the invasion and the extensive specifics of the continued occupation. Preparing for the trip I read several articles about the Cyprus problem along with the book Kissinger & Cyprus: A Study in Lawlessness by Gene Rossides. The preparation for visiting Cyprus was helpful but it in no way gave me an idea of how Cyprus was going to be once we arrived. Our meetings in Cyprus were informative and enlightening. We had the extreme pleasure to be there at a historic time and met with several key players, such as Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulides and Greek Cypriot Chief Negotiator Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, who were going to Switzerland the next day to try and reach an agreement on the Cyprus Problem. Although we had meetings with some of the country’s most important people, it was not the meetings and briefings we had that opened my eyes to the sadness and uniqueness that is Cyprus.
Upon our arrival, and during our stay, it hit me on several different occasions of the severity and lawlessness of the Turkish occupation of the Republic of Cyprus. One incident that put everything in context was after we arrived into Larnaca and drove to our hotel in Nicosia. As we were driving along the highway, suddenly we saw a big Turkish flag appear on the side of the mountain that pointed towards the south of Cyprus. Another incident was our first try to visit to the occupied north. As we went on a bus with all students and showed them our passports, the Turkish guards denied us entry unless we agreed for them to provide a tour guide for us, even though we were all American citizens. And lastly, as we finally got into the occupied north using four cabs instead of one bus, the sights of the desecrated churches and cemeteries and the ghost city of Famagusta really put into perspective the surreal situation that has been happening in Cyprus the past 43 years. These incidents provided more impact on truly understanding the situation in Cyprus than any high-ranking official could describe in the setting of a meeting. They showed the aggressive and erratic behavior with which Turkey behaves. The only possible solution to the Cyprus problem is a unified Cyprus with zero Turkish troops.
The Greece portion of the trip had a different tone in comparison to our visit in Cyprus. In Greece, there was not one main issue that we there to learn about, such as was the case in Cyprus. However, there were several issues and a final call to action for us as Greek Americans. The main theme that kept coming back to us in our meetings was the importance of the Greek diaspora and what that means to Greece. We received a vast amount of information while in Athens, Salamina, and Souda Bay such as the importance of the military in Greece, its geostrategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean, and so on. However, our advocacy in the Greek Diaspora of the United States was pushed on us as a responsibility as Greek Americans. We students who went on this trip owe it to our home country, the United States, and the country our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents emigrated from, to fight for Hellenism, Orthodoxy, and stability in the region by talking to our Congressmen, Senators, parish members, and society in general.
Nico Priskos graduated in May of 2017 from the University of Utah, where he double majored in Entrepreneurship and Political Science, along with minoring in International Studies. He is currently working as a commercial real estate agent in downtown Salt Lake City while he explores his options for postgraduate studies. Nico participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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AHIF Policy Trip: Resilience and Perseverance in the Face of Obstacles
by Evie Ramfos
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Reviewing my American Hellenic Institute’s foreign policy trip to Greece and Cyprus, Steve Jobs’ words summarizes it quite nicely. This trip presented a unique opportunity to enrich my knowledge and truly understand how the two countries are remarkably resilient. I got the chance to make observations about each country and go past the surface level of their issues to really understand all the nuances. This was a rare opportunity to experience International Relations firsthand, and I could not have asked for a better platform.
To be frank, going into this trip I did not have the slightest clue about Cyprus. I didn’t know about its heartbreaking history or of its geopolitical significance. I thought Cyprus was just an island that had Hellenistic ties with Greece. I wasn’t aware it was much more than a pretty island in the Mediterranean. Cyprus has been divided for forty-three years because of Turkey’s blatant disregard of Cyprus’ sovereignty. The illegal Turkish invasion dispelled thousands of Greek Cypriots from their homes and Turkish soldiers committed heinous atrocities against the Greek Cypriots. This illegal invasion and occupation has drastically altered life courses; the Turks stole land, homes, destroyed property and lives. Those Greek Cypriots lost everything, but they were resilient. Referencing Steve Jobs’ quote from earlier, life hit them in the head with multiple bricks but they did not lose their faith. To this day, Greek Cypriots have taken their unfortunate situation and have flourished not only within their country, but globally. Recently, potential opportunities from foreign investment will greatly benefit the Cypriot economy. Also, the country is in a prime location because of its proximity to Europe and the Middle East, making Cyprus a valuable ally. Overall, Cyprus has been slowly recuperating from the devastation of 1974, but has a bright future ahead of it.
Similarly, Greece has had to recuperate from crisis. In 2010, the country faced financial ruin and it has been an uphill battle ever since. The government has been treading a fine line since its bailout and it is a continual struggle that plagues the country. The side-effects of the crisis have caused a large increase in unemployment and the younger generations have opted to leave the country to find work, or choose schooling, elsewhere. The economic crisis has created a brain drain in Greece, which is worrisome for the already stagnant population growth. But I have no doubt the tenacious Greek people will find the right medicine to cure their financial problems as well as the side-effects. Another concerning area for Greece is its proximity to unstable countries in the Middle East and Africa. Countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya have weak democracies, poor economic conditions, and inter-religion/inter-ethnic clashes. These instabilities create national security concerns. One harrowing challenge for Greece is the irregular migration flow of people from those regions because it provides the opportunity for potential terrorist groups to gain access to Greece and the rest of Europe. The volatility that has manifested from the Middle East is starting to permeate throughout Europe, which is not good for anybody. However, on a brighter note, I believe Greece to be a beacon of stability in the region. Greece has a reputable Air Force and Hellenic fleet. Greece also possesses the irreplaceable asset of Souda Bay. Greece’s military prowess will continue to amass, in my opinion.
After reflecting on my observations throughout the trip, I have noticed a correlation between Greece and Cyprus. They both faced formidable obstacles. Cyprus had the challenge of dealing with the repercussion of an illegal invasion that forever changed the country. Greece has been plagued with financial crisis that has caused an increase in unemployment and brain drain amid dealing with irregular and unstable immigration flow with the potential to bring terrorist threats. Referencing my opening quote, both countries were hit with multiple unforgiving bricks that knocked them down, but they have not given up. They continue to persevere.
Paraskevie Ramfos is a sophomore at the University of Alabama majoring in International Studies and double minoring in French and Public Policy Studies. She participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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The Cyprus Problem: Has the Solution Been Below the Surface All Along?
by Stephanie Tanzi
Throughout this trip I had the privilege to gain extensive insight about the Cyprus problem that I would otherwise never discovered. An example of this is how the possibility of the construction of a pipeline may affect the Cyprus problem. Up until this trip, all I knew about the pipeline was there had been a discovery of natural gas off the shore of Israel; however, I was unaware of the diplomatic complications that came with the discovery. With natural gas deposits existing more than 2,000 meters deep into the sea, and over 100 kilometers off the shores of Cyprus and Israel, issues of sovereignty over water territories came to light. I remember sitting in awe as members of the Greek and Cypriot military spoke of how it was not uncommon the Turkish military to encroach upon these waters, and engage in dogfights, to threaten territory. It is this hostility that hinders progress toward mending the divided country of Cyprus, as well as the much-needed creation of the pipeline.
There have been multiple proposals about how to build the pipeline in hopes of finding the least controversial route; however, each one comes with its own set of problems. For example, one proposed idea is for the pipeline to start in Israel’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and connect to the rest of Europe through Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. The four countries discussed this option in Tel Aviv in April, and they estimated it would cost about $6.2 million and take six years to complete. Also, the anticipated depth of 2,000 meters would increase construction costs and is a liability because it would likely damage infrastructure due to the pressure. Meanwhile, the second option is for the pipeline to link Israel to Turkey through Cypriot and Lebanese waters. This option appears to have more economic benefits than the previous one because if the pipeline was traveling west of the southernmost point of Lebanon’s EEZ then it would only have to be submerged 80 meters under the surface and likely resulting in less water pressure during construction. Diplomatically, it may also relieve tension over water control in that region because in exchange for the establishment of this pipeline in Lebanese water territory, the government of Beirut would receive previously disputed rights of this maritime zone. However, this option is contingent upon the impartial mediation of the Cyprus problem. Although the pipeline has been approved by Israel, Lebanon, Greece, and Italy, there unfortunately has been much debate as to whether Cyprus can approve it if an improvement to the Cyprus problem is not achieved. While this may entice the Turkish government to negotiate a solution to the Cyprus problem, it could potentially complicate negotiations and be used as a bargaining chip toward giving the occupied area even more control. Especially because currently Cyprus is receiving aid from Russia for their energy needs. Unfortunately, this discussion ended when the Conference on Cyprus ended without an agreement earlier this month. I believe it is important for Cyprus for the UN and America to advocate for an end to the Cyprus issue.
After expanding my knowledge of the pipeline, it is my personal belief that, now more than ever, making amends between the occupied area of Cyprus and the rest of the country is not only beneficial to Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but also to Greece. I say this because the discovery of natural gas provides Cyprus with the unique opportunity to become an energy exporter. This would help Cyprus in a myriad of ways, ranging from enhanced credibility and importance as a country in the eyes of the UN, to fostering a stronger economic climate for itself and other parts of Europe. Even on a macroeconomic scale, the construction of such a pipeline would lead to increased financial stability and possibly even less conflict in Europe because it would benefit Greece and Turkey by acting as a catalyst for employment and energy source. Additionally, the pipeline would ignite the prospect of finding other energy fields. It is for these reasons I believe I was fortunate to have participated on this trip during such an important time for Cyprus. I am also hopeful the prospect of energy finds will bring about pressure on other countries in Europe to help Cyprus return to the fruitful, unified country it once was.
Stephanie Tanzi, an honors student at the College of Charleston is an Art's Management major who is part of her school's Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community program. She participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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Strategic Depth and Passivity
by Luke Tassopoulos
The Hellenic Republic’s strategic importance derives from its location on the trade routes from Europe to the Middle East, as well as from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Across the Aegean Sea, the Greek Navy protects the flow of goods and people between these geographic centers. Likewise, as the frontline state of the European Union, surrounded by non-members whose democratic norms and traditions have a less storied tradition, Greece inhabits a frontier zone. Historically, frontiers mark sites of shifting allegiances, friction, and chaos. Since the end of the Second World War, Greece has remained part of the Trans-Atlantic community, but the country’s location on the trade routes to Eastern Europe, as well as its borders with its northern neighbors, have placed it on the frontier with the Communist east. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a power vacuum emerged in the East. With Europe marching eastward over the last three decades, the focus has been to integrate those countries into the European project, based on the rule of law and mutual interdependency. However, as Turkey was not invited into the community due to cultural and historical differences, it turned its eyes to the chaos of the Levant. When the Arab world descended into strife and conflict, Turkey’s ruling class rushed to reassert its Ottoman role as leader of the Middle East. Turkey’s ability to dominate the region without the support of an outside power is hampered by one major factor: Greek control of trade routes.
Crete is the lynchpin in Greece’s control of access to the Aegean Sea. An unsinkable aircraft carrier in the southernmost reaches of the Aegean, offering protected harbors like Souda Bay in Chania, Crete allows the Hellenic Republic to project power into the sea and prevent foreign powers from interfering in the Greek heartland. Yet, one major threat lies on the eastern shore of the Aegean: Turkey’s mainland lies mere miles away from inhabited Greek islands of the Aegean. Additionally, due to pogroms carried out by the Turkish government in the interwar period, the millennia-old Greek communities that inhabited the trading cities that dot the coast of Asia Minor no longer exist. Turkey’s ruling class therefore view the islands off their coast as the last obstacle to freely intervening in all sea traffic from the Mediterranean to the Dardanelles. Though Turkey controls the straits, the land route from Thessaloniki to the Balkans exists as an alternative to transport goods to Eastern Europe. If Turkey could interdict the maritime traffic inside the Aegean, it could be the power in the Balkan peninsula it once was when the Ottoman domain stretched to the walls of Vienna.
Therefore, it remains imperative the Hellenic Republic mobilize and respond to each threat the Turkish government initiates regarding Greek territorial integrity. Due to Turkish disregard for the legitimacy of the Treaty of Lausanne and the UNCLOS that delimit the boundaries of Greek national airspace, territorial waters, administration and sovereignty over islands and islets, the Greek military reacts to each incursion with a show of force to retain the country’s legal claim over this territory. Critically, as Greece’s economic woes have continued, the Greek armed forces have dedicated much of their budget to remaining on high alert for possible Turkish incursions. These strained resources have the potential to hamper the ability of Greece to be a capable and responsive NATO member, as they are preoccupied with defending their country from another NATO ally. The United States should, as a policy, support the territorial integrity and continued sovereignty of Greece, especially as it relates to the facilitation of international trade and mutual prosperity. As Turkey under Mr. Erdogan ventures into a post-secular era, reclaiming its Ottoman legacy, the country has determined to shift its alignment from the West to become a more independent actor. In contrast, Greece, a faithful friend and ally of the United States, has not leveraged its control of the Aegean Sea to advance its interests at the expense of the Western alliance system, including NATO and the European Union. In remaining silent, the United States is complicit in Mr. Erdogan’s neo-imperialist tendencies in the Eastern Rim of the Mediterranean. This passivity on the part of the United States has not been shared by Greece. To an American, protected by two vast oceans on either side, and with a trusted friend on the northern border, this strategic depth is undervalued as it is taken for granted. Greece does not share that gift of open space between itself and its threats, and has remained a vigilant watchman on the front line, bearing the torch of the European and American alliance system even as another member of that alliance actively undermines the theoretically shared values the alliance was predicated upon. American passivity is inherently self-condemnation. If the United States will not honor its overseas commitments, it is refusing to be the city upon a hill, pursuing justice and peace across the world. It starts in Europe. The threat is real.
Luke Tassopoulos is a fourth year at the University of Virginia, currently pursuing a B.A. in History as well as a Religious Studies minor from the College of Arts and Sciences. He also starts on his first year of a two year Accelerated Masters Program in Public Policy from the University of Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He participated in the ninth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.
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