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In Their Words: Student Essays

AHIF Student Foreign Policy Trip Participants Describe their Personal Experiences

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No. 57

WASHINGTON, DC —The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is releasing ten essays authored by participants of the tenth Annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.

The students’ insightful essays describe their personal experiences from the trip to Greece and Cyprus held June 19 to July 6, 2018. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 23 to 28 and Athens, June 28 to July 6. Prior to departing for overseas, the students spent two days in Washington, DC, June 19 and 22. 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 tenth 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.”

Jump to Student Essay


Souda Bay: The Geopolitical Gem of Crete

by Vanessa Balis

Crete always played an extremely influential role in my life. I began my journey into Cretan culture at the age of five when I started learning traditional Cretan dances with the Pancretan Youth Association of America. As I got older, I was not only a member of the dance troupe but also the president of the organization’s Chicago chapter. I am proud of my Cretan heritage and am always willing to learn more about my roots. Although I have traveled to Crete multiple times before, I never knew about the military powerhouse located right in my backyard. Going to the Souda Bay military base while on my trip with the American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) helped shed light on what the base has to offer and how Souda Bay’s unique geographic position in the Eastern Mediterranean is of value to U.S. and NATO military forces.

Upon arrival, our group was briefed on a range of day-to-day activities, from soldier training to the testing of missiles at the NATO Missile Firing Instillation (NAMFI). At NAMFI, we visited the viewing center for weapons launches. Sitting in the chairs that face the long stretch of territory and bright blue ocean felt surreal. Because the area has a vast amount of uninhabited and dry land, the facility is able to test powerful weapons without causing harm to others.

In addition to visiting NAMFI, the group also rode around Souda Bay in a military boat. Souda Bay is an ideal repair and supply location for allies of Greece because of its convenient location in the Mediterranean and consistent partnership with NATO. As we zipped through the bay in a speed boat used for training and military activities, I was pleasantly surprised by the sophistication and efficiency of the base. One thing I took notice of was the relative isolation around the facility as a result of the protective security measures for the area. Although Souda Bay entails a large land mass, the military’s attention to detail has guaranteed the safety of the naval base and those in it. We ended our trip by visiting the facility which holds the planes and the nearby ground defense protection systems. The facility is manned at all times, prepared for any surprise or immediate conflict.

Despite the size of Crete in comparison to that of the U.S., NSA Souda Bay has a multitude of assets at its disposal. From its geostrategic location to its professionalism and prowess, Souda Bay is a projection of stability in an area of instability. It is the strength of facilities such as Souda Bay that ensures a prosperous and stable Europe.

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Vanessa Balis, an Honors Scholar and Media Fellow at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, is a junior majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish. In the summer of 2018, she interned at Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s (D-IL) office in Schaumburg. In fall of 2018, Vanessa will be interning with the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh as a research assistant to the Conservative and Union parties


American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip: Human Rights and Politics Collide in Cyprus

by Floriana Boardman

The ethnic cleansing of Turkish-occupied Cyprus is not merely a political quagmire that has haunted the Eastern Mediterranean for forty-five years, but a humanitarian issue as well. Turkey’s illegal invasion of Cyprus in 1974 removed 160,000 Greek Cypriots from their original homes. While hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, what is often overlooked is the 1,510 Greek Cypriots and 492 Turkish Cypriots that disappeared during the conflict. Some victims were taken from their homes; others were executed during military operations. Bodies were dumped in wells, shallow pits, and mass graves on the island. Additionally, the 338 Greek Cypriots and 105 Maronites still living in the occupied area are often disregarded. This should be viewed as a global humanitarian crisis precipitated by Turkey. Unfortunately, the Turkish government has mischaracterized the situation for its own political benefit.

The Committee for Missing Persons began to address the issue of missing persons in Cyprus in 2005. Through the American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus, I was able to meet with the Presidential Commissioner Mr. Fotis Fotiou and the Director of Service for Missing Persons Mr. Xenophon Kallis. According to Mr. Fotiou and Mr. Kallis, the European Union funds this committee with $2.5 million each year, but one obstacle remains in the way of the missing people finally being found—Turkey. The Turkish government’s failure to find and identify missing persons disregards its legal obligation to the Treaty of Geneva. They even committed atrocities in 1974. The Turkish government has the information on how the missing were killed and where their bodies remain but refuses to disclose it. Of the 492 Turkish-Cypriots missing, 225 have been identified. However, Turkey uses the fact that there are remaining unidentified Turkish Cypriots as an excuse to continue its illegal occupation of Cyprus. As both Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots are still counted as missing, an ability to reach some sort of reconciliation is made much more difficult.

Currently, 846 Greek Cypriots and 266 Turkish Cypriots are unaccounted for. Of those found, many only have parts of their bodies discovered. The missing are innocent civilians who have been permanently separated from their homes, leaving their families without any sense of closure. Fifteen of those missing are children and four are United States citizens. The United States not only has a moral obligation to pressure Turkey, but a direct political, social, and legal obligation as well. The families of the missing should be informed about the fate of their loved ones. Justice and truth should prevail.

The issue of missing civilians is just one in a litany of Turkish-induced tragedies and travesties on the island. In the occupied territory of Cyprus, there are still 338 Greek Cypriots. These individuals have no right to vote or run in elections. Additionally, Turkish officials have prevented Greek Cypriot teachers from teaching at the Rizokarpaso Primary School, which for many years has been the only Greek Cypriot school in occupied Cyprus. Moreover, Turkish officials have also undermined the school by failing to provide it with adequate funding or supplies. Furthermore, the Greek Cypriots who were removed from their homes due to the Turkish invasion still have no access to their property. While the European Commission of Human Rights has ruled that refugees have the right to return to their former properties with the court case Loizidou v. Turkey, Turkey refuses to comply with this ruling. These properties, many of which are either destroyed or used by illegal settlers, are inaccessible to their rightful owners as Turkey has 40,000 troops in Cyprus.

Ultimately, the Cyprus issue is not only a political one, but a tragedy with deep moral and humanitarian implications. However, a solution cannot come to the fore with 40,000 Turkish troops remaining in Cyprus. July 20, 1974 should be a day of remembrance; one that motivates Hellenes and Philhellenes across the world to resolve this catastrophe.

Citations:
http://www.mfa.gov.cy/mfa/mfa2016.nsf/mfa11_en/mfa11_en?OpenDocument
http://www.cmp-cyprus.org/

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Floriana Boardman, a sophomore at Fordham University, is majoring in Political Science with a double minor in Orthodox Christian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. She is a recipient of the Fordham University Loyola Scholarship. At Fordham, Flora is involved with the school newspaper, the Campus Activities Board, The Hellenic Society, UNICEF and Orthodox Christian Fellowship. Floriana spent 2016 working with IOCC as a youth representative, and spent the summer of 2017 studying abroad in Athens through AHEPA Journey to Greece. Floriana participated in the tenth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.


Seisachtheia:
Why it is time to change how Greece views the world and itself.

by Adonis Caramintzos

For many years growing up I have heard Greece be discounted as a key ally of NATO and the United States, because “Greece is too small.” How can such a small country have a big impact? Yet, if one looks throughout history, Greece’s impact always has been massive and military facilities such as NSA Souda Bay demonstrate this point. Greece is the stable democracy that sits at the crossroads of two of the most volatile regions, the Balkans and the Middle East. My opportunity to visit the bases of Souda Bay and Salamis proved to me that Greece has a significant role to play in NATO and the future stability of the region. After leaving the meetings with Greece’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I finally began to see Greek government officials view the country’s importance and begin to remove the old burdens that plagued the country’s foreign policy and economic development.

Seisachtheia translated into English means a removal of burdens.  More than 2,500 years ago Solon unburdened Athens.  Now, it is time for Greece to do the same and remove the burdens of the economic depression and build a foreign policy oriented toward internal economic development and European integration. While the problems Greece faces are large, it can overcome them.

Beginning with the Prespa Agreement, and ongoing talks with Albania, Greece can once again become the anchor of the Balkans that pulls the entire region away from past nationalist tensions and irredentism. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece has quelled a more than 25-year-long dispute, offering Greece the chance to change its northern neighbor from becoming a national security threat to an asset. As FYROM integrates into NATO and EU frameworks the country will develop stronger institutions of property rights, transparent governance, and structured labor markets, laying the groundwork for increased Greek investment and trade, and allowing for Greece to jointly reap the benefits along with their neighbor. Moreover, Greece and Albania can settle their differences and address the protection of Greek minorities and integrate Albania, which is riddled with corruption, into Europe.

For a long time, Greece’s foreign policy was a collection of actions which often differed with every government that took power and lacked continuity. However, for the first time in a long time, we see the chance for Greece to do just that.  In addition to anchoring the Balkans toward Greece, and by extension Europe, Greece continues to develop meaningful relationships with its Middle Eastern neighbors, such as Israel and Egypt.  By doing so, Greece can finally open alliances in the Middle East and increase cooperation by using its presence in the Mediterranean to insure security through its naval facilities at Souda Bay, giving its allies like the United States the ability to conduct operations in the Mediterranean.

Now the question remains how to turn these diplomatic changes into real economic value? This is the core challenge facing Greece because Greece has failed historically to turn its diplomatic relationships into economic ones.  Most of this change must come from within.  The Greeks must begin by making themselves more attractive to foreign capital, and this comes by implement reforms. For example, making corporate tax rate more transparent and progressive enough to produce increased revenues while at the same time to not prohibit investment. Furthermore, Greek reforms within the bureaucracy must take place, which means instituting reforms that streamline processes more efficiently and allow regulatory hurdles to be solved in a timely manner.

Secondly, Greece must utilize and further develop its human capital by incentivizing people to stay in Greece. At the same time, Greece must attract human capital from around the entire Balkan region. This can be accomplished by investing further in research and development. Although current R&D expenditures in Greece are some of the lowest in the OECD (around 1% of GDP), if Greece can orient policy and fiscal resources toward doubling or tripling these expenditures, the economic benefits would be immense. For instance, Greece already graduates more doctors per capita than any other EU nation. Likewise, by strengthening R&D, Greece would attract foreign universities (especially American) to establish foreign-based campuses-research centers and multinational corporations to set-up research facilities.

Using its economic footprint in the Balkan region and the Mediterranean, Greece can finally translate its strong relationships with Middle Eastern nations, such as Israel and Egypt, into economic value especially regarding oil and gas (East-Med pipeline). More importantly, Greece can use its strong relationship with the U.S. and Israel to attract much needed investment (especially in R&D). Therefore, if Greek foreign policy is leveraged properly, and Greece makes the right reforms at home, it will be able to turn its influence into value for itself and its partners. However, for this to even occur, Greece must continue to pursue a clear-cut foreign policy that will signal to its allies a sense of stability, and at the same time, lay the groundwork for Greece to benefit from its foreign policy decisions.

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Adonis Caramintzos, is a Junior at Hunter College, CUNY in New York City double majoring in Economics and Political Science and minoring in Public Policy. He hopes to continue in his studies and eventually pursue a career in international economic issues and law. Adonis participated in the tenth annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus.


Greek-American Relations: Moving Forward On the Global Stage

By George Evangeloulis 

Despite going to Greece every summer as a child, I was ignorant for most of my life about the shared history between Greece and the United States as well as the nature of diplomatic relations between these two nations. It was all too easy for me to go to Greece and only see a vacation spot or somewhere to be with my family. I had a similarly narrow view about foreign policy itself, believing that an exclusive, elite group of individuals guides the fate of nations. During my participation in the tenth annual AHIF foreign policy trip, I realized that every Greek-American has a role to play within the broader context of relations between these two respective countries.

First and foremost, this trip made me realize that positive change is a result of constant hard work and the reaffirmation of values. The global status quo does not change overnight; rather, it is something constantly negotiated and argued over. More surprising than this was the revelation of what constitutes “foreign policy.” Throughout the course of the trip, we met with politicians, journalists, businessmen, military personnel, and more, all of whom play an instrumental part in maintaining the special relationship between Greece and the United States. Moreover, even the most accomplished individuals within this group looked to us, a mere group of students, for our opinions, making us believe in our ability to make a difference.

Today, global politics is in flux. The United States is currently in the process of re-evaluating its priorities abroad, and part of that self-examination involves re-evaluating existing partnerships. Recently, President Trump expressed his dismay toward many members of NATO, believing they were not doing enough financially to merit the amount of money the United States spends on NATO defense. Greece has never had this problem, having always met or exceeded the proposed 2% of GDP minimum standard recommended for defense spending. In Souda Bay, Crete, we learned the full potential for defensive cooperation between Greece and other nations, as we toured a huge military base that is one of the most valuable NATO assets in the region. After learning the nuances of elite soldier training, we visited NAMFI, a missile testing ground. The constant in all our briefings was the extent of international cooperation, manifested particularly in the fact that several countries, including the United States, have a permanent presence on the base and assist in many of its daily operations. However, it wasn’t until we boarded a small boat and surveyed the landscape surrounding the base that I got some time to think about what everything that I had seen so far on the trip meant in a larger context.

As the boat picked-up speed, and we glided alongside the coast of Crete, the tour of Souda Bay began to take on greater symbolic significance. We cut through the azure water, admiring the cliffs and trees that loomed above us. In the distance were the remains of ancient fortresses, still standing after hundreds of years. A few minutes later, we stopped to admire a huge resort on the water, populated with brightly colored buildings and yachts. Seeing all of this within such close proximity to one of Greece’s most important military bases reminded me just how much Greece has to offer to other countries. Tourism, history, natural beauty, and an impressive naval base, all within a few hundred feet of one another. Greece has already proven to be a valuable ally to the United States, but in my opinion, the true potential of the bilateral relations between our two countries has yet to be fully realized. In the case of Souda Bay, signs of change are apparent. More American aircraft carriers are docking there, and recently, Air Force One touched down at the base to refuel on its way to Singapore. These developments are encouraging, but they are not enough. The truth is that even many Greek-Americans may not even be aware of Greece’s Souda Bay facilities. I became increasingly aware that not including a knowledge of Greece and Cyprus’ political exigencies, ranging from FYROM to the Cyprus issue and beyond, into a working definition of Hellenism is a deeper systemic issue in the Greek-American community It is a problem that I contributed to until recently.

Moving forward, Greek-Americans should do whatever possible to contribute to the motherland. When I think to myself about my newfound knowledge and insights about Greece, I find it hard to believe that I knew so little for so long. By promoting an increased awareness of issues contained within Greece’s political and social matrix, in addition to further facilitating communication between our two countries, Greek-Americans not only promote Hellenism abroad but are essential actors in its preservation. I greatly appreciate the fact this trip has given me not only a better understanding of Greek foreign policy but also the motivation to become a leader in my own community moving forward.

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George Evangeloulis, a Dean’s List student, National Merit Scholar, and Presidential Scholarship Recipient at the University of Southern California, is a rising junior studying Communication and pursuing a minor in Marketing. He was also selected as an Annenberg Ambassador, representing the School of Communication and Journalism at events, panel discussions, recruitment activities, and visitor tours. He participated in the tenth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.


How an Elliott School Graduate Student Ended Up in an
UN Peacekeeping Mission “Buffer Zone”

by Marina Kiotsekoglou

In the first semester of my graduate studies, I took a course called, “Introduction to Conflict Resolution.” I spent countless hours writing about the Cyprus conflict as my focus for the course. At the time I could have never imagined that come June I would be standing in the “buffer zone” between the free Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish occupied territory. How exactly did I go from studying about the conflict to standing right in the middle of it?

After working as an intern for the American Hellenic Institute for a year, I was presented the opportunity to attend AHI’s annual foreign policy trip to Greece and Cyprus. The truth is that I did not know what exactly I was getting myself into. I had developed an interest in the Cyprus conflict and knew that it would be a unique opportunity to add first-hand experience of the conflict to my studies. Having never been to Cyprus before, I jumped at the chance to get to visit a new country and to have it considered as an educational trip.  I can say with complete confidence that after writing multiple, 10-plus page papers on the conflict I knew about a quarter of what I ended up learning on the trip.

The Cyprus conflict is an ongoing issue in the international community. It has been dubbed by many as “frozen;” however, it is very much still relevant for the Cypriots. Their daily routine is affected consistently by the conflict. The issue includes several factors, before the trip, I attributed most of the problems associated with the conflict to the geographical boundary caused by the illegal occupation of Cyprus by Turkey. After the trip, I have a better understanding of the complexity of the conflict on Cyprus’ geography, politics, civil society, and economy. Every couple of months new issues come up in the news, such as Turkey’s objection to Cyprus’ rights to a continental shelf and the economic exploration of its maritime borders. Yet, the international community does not attempt to take further action against the illegal occupation.

As a European Union and United Nations member, Cyprus has a certain set of rules and standards that the international community should support. On a daily basis these rules are being violated. Its airspace, maritime borders, and at times even the buffer zone is violated through provocative actions. Within the free area of Cyprus this creates constant fear and insecurity. The European Union has not acted against the illegal occupation of EU territory. Instead, the EU has provided incentives to the citizens living under Turkish army control. Indigenous Turkish Cypriots in the occupied area are entitled to Cypriot citizenship, EU citizenship, and Turkish citizenship. In addition, since 2006 over EUR 450 million has been allocated for EU Aid Program for the Turkish Cypriot community to foster cooperation and facilitate reunification of Cyprus. The hope for cooperation is unwarranted. From my experience, the issue is a lack of pressure by the international community. A change of the situation in occupied Cyprus is unlikely to occur unless there is increased pressure by outside actors and a threat that current “incentives” will be lost.

It was a surreal experience to stand in the “buffer zone,” between the free Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied territory.  It was unsettling to be in between the regions of conflict, especially after learning about the issues and understanding the complexity of the situation from experts of the conflict and Cypriot and U.S. government officials.  In the “buffer zone,” there is the old Nicosia Airport, which was attacked in 1974. We got to see the airport, and I get goosebumps thinking back on it now. The landscape is very desert-like and the airport is abandoned like a ghost town. Knowing that so many civilians and soldiers died in the attacks and that 44 years later the conflict is unsolved, it highlights why the conflict is clouded by such intense tension today.

As a promoter of solving the conflict, you feel like a target for the Turkish army controlling the occupied area. The army is not in favor of a solution that would jeopardize its control. While the conflict has not seen violence for decades, the possibility of violence is extremely relevant. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is the main, if not the only, factor for peace within the region. The current U.S. administration is considering a decrease, or even removing, the funding for the UNFICYP. This would be a detrimental mistake. Peace in the region is dependent on the UN forces, which was made clear to me through the firsthand experience of visiting with the UN peacekeepers.

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Marina Kiotsekoglou earned her Bachelor of Arts after three years at The Pennsylvania State University, where she majored in International Political Economy. She is currently studying at the George Washington’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where she is an MA candidate in International Affairs. Her two concentration fields are International Law and Organizations and Conflict Resolution. Her expected graduation date is May 2019. Marina participated in the tenth anniversary of the AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.


Reflections on a Case Study of Perception vs. Reality in International Affairs: Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the United States

by Sophia Kyrou

As the warm sun shines on my face and the salty water of the Mediterranean glides around my feet, I should feel relaxation and bliss. Instead, I feel anxiety, and an unsettling need to be aware of everything that is going on around me. It is July 2018, and I am on a beach in Famagusta (Ammochostos, in Greek), a ghost city in the Turkish occupied zone in Cyprus. Famagusta has all the trappings of a proper Mediterranean beach scene. That is, until you turn from the strikingly blue water and around towards the city—or what’s left of it.

Behind a few eerily empty beach bars is a stretch of taller, older buildings, all of which are bombed out. The bombed-out buildings—shells of what they once were prior to the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation—stand as a physical reminder of what once was, and what is now. I turn to look at the guard tower fixed immediately behind the sand dunes connecting beach to road. Squinting, I see the figure of a Turkish occupation soldier and the unmistakable outline of his submachine gun.

This unsettling juxtaposition of settings and circumstances is a perfect microcosm of the way in which Turkey operates on the global stage. Underneath an inviting exterior lies a dangerous reality, ready to explode at any moment. My experience on the beach in the Turkish-occupied zone in Cyprus is only one of the many things I learned from the American Hellenic Institute’s Foreign Policy Trip. I took away similar lessons in the U.S., Greece, and elsewhere in Cyprus, but this example was perhaps the most disquieting exposition of the vast disconnect between perception and reality; between the possibilities that a strategic relationship with Greece and Cyprus promise and the stifled roles they are given; and between the polished image Turkey displays on the global stage and the true actions of the Turkish government. I have come away from the trip with the strong conviction that, in politics and media, perception and reality can be at variance with one another. With this, I know that perception must be reshaped.

Most importantly, I realized that my disappointment should not only be limited to Turkey or Turkish politicians. At the July 16th Russia-U.S. Summit in Helsinki, President Donald Trump showed his support for increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by fist bumping him and saying that he “does things the right way.” In the days following the summit, the media was almost entirely occupied by a flurry of Trump- and Putin-induced hysteria. In stark contrast, on July 20, there was virtually no recognition to mark the 44th year of Turkey’s invasion and continued occupation of Cyprus in mainstream American media. This communicated to me that the world perceives Greece and Cyprus as peripheral countries that are not worth advocating for or protecting. As both a Greek-American and Cypriot-American, I have always been aware of the assets that Greece and Cyprus have to offer, but this trip helped me to solidify certain ideas, particularly about Greece and Cyprus’ role as pillars of stability in an unstable region, and about their unquestionable importance in the Mediterranean.

Geopolitically, Turkey undeniably occupies a highly strategic location, but Greece and Cyprus hold nearly identical strategic positions. Greece is a crossroads between Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and North Africa. It is a country situated at an essential point of the Mediterranean Sea that connects East to West. Cyprus provides an even closer window to the Middle East and North Africa, with almost immediate air and naval access to Israel, Syria, Egypt, and other countries in the region. Given these immense geographic advantages, it is foolish to overlook Greece and Cyprus’ vital geostrategic importance.

On the political and legal front, Greece and Cyprus are democratic, rule of law states that generously contribute to the European and global community. Something I was not aware of before embarking on this trip was that Greece is one of the few NATO members to meet NATO’s defense spending standard and, after the United States, is the country which spends the second-largest percentage of its GDP on defense. Greece and Cyprus abide by international law and human rights norms and have shown compassion to refugees and migrants. Turkey, on the other hand, routinely violates international law, infringes upon other states’ sovereignty, ignores human rights standards, funds Islamic terrorism, ethnically cleanses the indigenous Kurdish population within its own borders, and occupies the territory of a sovereign nation and EU member state—Cyprus. Despite these realities, Greece and Cyprus continue to be undervalued by the United States and much of the international community while Turkey, which continually violates international law, continues to be appeased.

I walk away from my experiences in Washington, D.C., Cyprus, and Greece both frustrated and determined. I am frustrated by the lack of international and U.S. support for Cyprus and Greece, as well as by the United States’ continued alliance with Turkey. I am determined, on the other hand, to do everything I can in the U.S. and abroad to contribute my all to liberating Cyprus and Greece from the injustices and threats they face from Turkey.

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Sophia Kyrou, a sophomore at Trinity College, is double-majoring in Political Science and Human Rights and minoring in French. A Faculty Honors student and an 1823 Scholar, Sophia was acknowledged by Trinity’s Dean of Student Success as an emerging leader, invited to serve on Trinity’s Scholars Advisory Board and selected for Trinity’s Catalyst Leadership Program and for Venture Trinity. Sophia spent a gap year learning about Middle East geopolitics and Mediterranean migration to Greece, interning at Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative and the GOARCH UN Office. She participated in the tenth annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus.


Cyprus: An Island of Perseverance

by Maria Nifakos

“I’m Greek and Cypriot!” rolls off my tongue whenever I am asked about my ethnic background. Sadly, it's met with the typical reply: “Cypriot, Cyprus? What’s that?”

It didn’t take me long to script the generic overarching response:

“It’s an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey and just west of the Middle East,” but thinking, “How important could this small island possibly be if I only ever heard about it from stories my Mama and Papou told?”

The truth is Cyprus–while plagued with a 44-year-and-counting struggle for unity, the ceaseless threat of Turkish military violence, and is geographically surrounded by unstable and war-torn nations–manages to be one of the most resolute countries in the region.

The AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus afforded me the opportunity to see Cyprus in a way that I otherwise never could have. The majority of the students on this trip have only known Greece and Cyprus as vacation spots where our relatives live, and where we go during the summers to escape our lives in America. Sometimes we’d even say, “when I’m older, I’m leaving America and moving to Greece or Cyprus.” Having had nothing but good, stress-free experiences in these countries, that’s what they became for us.

So, you can imagine how alarmed I was at my feelings of heartbreak, frustration, and discouragement as I learned about Cyprus’s political, religious, and militaristic challenges–the most daunting and defeating of these being the 44-year Turkish occupation of the northern portion of the island.

There is no denying that within the region and in the world, Turkey is a powerful nation –in size, in geostrategic location, and in militaristic force. However, it is also an aggressive nation.  Turkey provokes surrounding nations constantly, which has the United States caught between a rock and a hard place. Very few countries have the capacity to play a role in confronting Turkey, and the ones that do find that friendly-terms take precedence. As a member of the European Union, Cyprus still finds itself on the defense when it comes to Turkish hostility –and the people are reminded of it every night when the gigantic Turkish and pseudo “TRNC” flags are lit up on the Kyrenia Mountains.

While this is one of the ways the Turks don’t let the Cypriots forget about the 1974 invasion, the current religious contrast is too stark to go unnoticed. I learned it never used to be that way. During the years before the 1974 invasion, the Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots would practice their religions peacefully: the Orthodox Christians would go to church, the Muslims would go to mosque, and it was respected by everyone. When we entered the occupied area of Cyprus, we were met immediately with gigantic, stunning mosques peppered all over the area –and also, forgotten and abandoned Orthodox churches. As we approached one, the students and I instinctively made the sign of the cross on our chests, only to enter and find that the church was completely desecrated inside: stripped of its iconography and replaced with graffiti, destroyed walls, and a baron altar. Just outside the church were two different cemeteries. There was one for Turks and Turkish-Cypriots, which was maintained and preserved.  Next to it was an older cemetery for Greek-Cypriots with bits and pieces of destroyed tombstone scattered around overgrown weeds. I suddenly felt hot tears welling in my eyes. If there’s one thing that I knew was sacred, it was someone’s final resting place.  Even that could be taken away.

Continuing further through the occupied area into Famagusta, we drove by a fenced area that stretched for miles, covered with barbed wire and red signs that pictured soldiers holding riffles and Turkish writing warning people of nearby militia. Just behind it stood the abandoned southern quarter of Varosha. What was once the modern tourist area of the city had now been for 44 years the unmistakable mark of violence and invasion against the Cypriots and left completely frozen in time. 

The Turkish invasion of 1974, religious strife, and the capturing of Varosha are all things that I read about, did research on, and even heard firsthand accounts from those who experienced Cyprus during some of its darkest years. However, nothing could have given me a more powerful and overwhelming sense of reality than going to these places, standing on the ground where the stories I heard growing up took place and trying to picture the horrors of that time.

Still, after everything, this island in the Eastern Mediterranean has endured, it perseveres through every challenge it faces. Cyprus remains a steadfast beacon of stability and democracy.  It will for years to come.

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Maria Nifakos, a Dean’s List student and senior at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, is majoring in Journalism and double-minoring in Sociology and Political Science. Maria is involved extensively with Emerson journalism organizations such as her college radio and television stations, where she’s written and reported on the 2015 Paris attacks and the 2016 Brussels bombings. Maria has worked alongside reporters and journalists at one of Boston’s most renowned newspapers, the Boston Herald. Upon finishing her undergrad, Maria plans on pursuing a master’s degree and joining the United States Foreign Service. She participated in the tenth anniversary of the AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.


The Part of the Cyprus Crisis That’s Still Missing: People

By Alexis Tsapralis 

In Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” Cyprus is defined by the ethereal emergence of Aphrodite into the Olympian family - an image of placid harmony that contrasts the dissonant tension that permeates the same landscape today. Globally, Cyprus is hailed as a crucial geo-strategic partner in the Eastern Mediterranean located at an indispensable crossroads to the volatile Middle East. However, as the former ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S., Andreas Kakouris, explains, the world simply “does not have a finger on the pulse” regarding the island’s tragic reality.

The shiny, gray-stoned streets of Nicosia were quiet - a kind of quiet that, to those unaware, could be mistaken for peace. Admittedly, it was, dare I say, fairly easy to forget momentarily the atrocities committed on these same streets some forty-four years ago. Families with young children promenaded past a familiar McDonald’s and diners situated in outdoor tavernas could be heard raising cheers to their continued good health. It was not until the sounding of a minaret reverberated through the late-afternoon air that I was jolted back to reality; this capital, this country, is still divided. Check-points positioned along a figurative “Green Line” partition the island in half, accentuating the daunting challenge of reconciling a fractured island. This de facto separation was, and is, the ultimate result of Turkey’s illegal occupation.

While policymakers in the highest echelons of government unsuccessfully endeavor for a solution, Cyprus’ nearly half-century-old humanitarian crisis seems to become increasingly shrouded behind political machinations.

Precisely 1,510 Greek-Cypriots and Greek nationals, and 492 Turkish-Cypriots were declared missing following Turkey’s 1974 invasion. Over 50% of those 2,002, mostly civilians, are still missing and unaccounted. To put these numbers into perspective, 1,251 American soldiers, out of America’s general population of over 330 million, are still missing following the Vietnam War. Cyprus, at the time, had a population of only 611,000. Yet, the international dialogue surrounding the potential for a solution seldom includes the discussion of humanitarian issues, such as the remaining missing persons. Organizations such as the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) understand that truth all too well.

Garnering support from the United Nations and the European Union, which annually funnels 2.6 million Euros into the CMP, the bi-communal organization “enables relatives of missing persons to recover the remains of their loved ones, arrange for a proper burial and close a long period of anguish and uncertainty.” However, Mr. Xenophon Kallis, the director of Service for Missing Persons, somberly explains that sometimes you can “only give back a tooth to a family,” sent in a small, wooden box as a sort of makeshift, yet entirely inadequate, casket - that is, if you’re lucky.

My skin teemed with goosebumps. I slumped back in my chair, eyes welling with tears as I listened to Mr. Kallis suggest that finding even a semblance of scientific evidence of death or a potential perpetrator is often next to impossible. Additionally, Mr. Kallis offered that Turkey is withholding information regarding the location of final resting places of missing persons in the occupied area. The UN General Assembly dubbed informing families about “the fate of their missing relatives” as a “basic need.” A need that cannot possibly be met with a tooth.

I left our meeting shaken, my mind whirling as I reflected upon the countless injustices confined within this modest, partitioned island. As our sobering odyssey through Cyprus continued, we learned of the thousands of people displaced due to Turkey’s illegal invasion and blatant disregard for codified international law. In addition, Turkey’s persistent violations directly oppose the interests of the United States. However, the ineffectual efforts to staunch Erdogan’s irredentist, neo-colonial vision and Turkey’s aggressive actions left me disappointed and in despair.

My academic training has taught me how to impart my own insights without subscribing to any specific political ideology. Academia often encourages students to argue points at variance with one’s own viewpoints as a means of mental stimulation. Yet, what is self-evidently true trumps any intellectual exercise. The luxurious, sandy beaches of Famagusta are harshly juxtaposed against dilapidated shells of buildings, guarded by Turkish soldiers with guns as large as me. At night, the flag of the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC),” slathered onto the side of the Kyrenia mountains, glistens - a constant and intentionally provocative reminder of the illegal occupation.

I was despondent to hear the mild language of U.S. officials describing, or rather, circumventing, the Cyprus problem. Primarily, I was frustrated with an insufficiently nuanced approach to the issue. Often, many conflate neutrality with objectivity: two concepts that are not in any way the same, particularly as it pertains to Cyprus. A neutral perspective on the issue is not an objective one. There is a right and wrong side when it comes to the Cyprus occupation. This is not only reflected in principal international law documents, but also in the international recognition, or lack thereof, of the so-called “TRNC.” Only one country formally recognizes the “TRNC” - Turkey.

Though neutral positions are sometimes defensible, to synonymize neutrality with truth and objectivity is harmful. As Ambassador Kakouris eloquently explains, “Cyprus is the EU’s lighthouse in the Eastern Mediterranean … Lighthouses have a 360-degree beam and the occupation stops [Cyprus] from shining that light all around.” While I believe that a solution to the Cyprus problem must stem from the island’s true inhabitants rather than any international mechanism or organization, I also believe that strong language condemning the Turkish government and a holistic understanding of the island’s agony is paramount. Cyprus deserves justice.

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Alexis Tsapralis is a junior Dean’s List student at Barnard College of Columbia University where she studies Political Science and International Relations. She recently interned at the Consulate General of Greece in New York City before returning as an intern at the American Hellenic Institute in Washington, D.C. She now interns at the Council on Foreign Relations. Alexis participated in the tenth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.


A Day in Occupied Cyprus  

by Alexander Velis

The aftermath of the 1974 Turkish invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, still unresolved after four decades, has proven to be one of the longest unsolved international disputes to date. The Turkish government forced thousands to evacuate their homes. The search for over 1,100 missing Cypriots still missing continues in a country that only houses 1.17 million citizens. By contrast, America, which has a population of 330 million, has 1,251 American soldiers missing in action (MIA) from the Vietnam War.

Today, Turkey occupies 37% of the island with 40,000 Turkish troops. Despite this fact Cyprus has grown to become a beacon of stability in one of the most volatile regions of the world; only a small body of water separates it from Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. Cyprus has strived to form synergies with its neighbors in the Arab World in addition to allies in Europe. The Republic, a member of the European Union and Eurozone, recently has held summits with Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. With this unique and important position, Cyprus has served as a bridge of communication between Europe and the Middle East. Nevertheless, there has been a lack of substantive international pressure on Turkey to withdraw from Cyprus and demilitarize the island.

The most impactful moment I had during my trip to Cyprus was when we visited the occupied region. We had been told that you cannot fully understand the issue until you see it for yourself. I found that statement to be true.

I was a bit startled when I first saw the occupied territory. It appeared to be a lot more rural and underdeveloped compared to the free area. I was also surprised by the plethora of Turkish flags distributed and displayed throughout the region. While the Republic of Cyprus symbolized a country stepped in Greek culture but fully sovereign from Greece, the occupied territory seemed nothing more than a satellite state. The Turkish flag was also frequently paired with the Turkish Cypriot flag; a banner that is essentially the Turkish flag with the opposite coloring. The two most imposing flags on the island are the Turkish flag and Turkish Cypriot flag that face south on the Kyrenia Mountains. Overlooking the occupied area and visible from a substantial portion of the free area, the phrase “Ne Mutlu Türküm Diyene” which translates to “How happy is the one who calls himself a Turk” is engraved in the mountain. This is a provocation to residents of the free area who are reminded of the occupation every time they

One of the most visible developments in the occupied area has been the proliferation of contemporary mosques. They were clearly the most grandiose buildings in the region and were marked by tall flag poles which flew the Turkish and “Turkish Cypriot” flags. It is important to note that the Cypriots were always a very secular people on both ends. Greek and Turkish communities have traditionally coexisted in relative peace. Nowadays, magnificent mosques are often juxtaposed to desecrated Orthodox Churches in the occupied region. Most of the roughly five-hundred Orthodox Churches in the Turkish Cypriot side have been looted and destroyed since the invasion over forty years ago. One of the most disheartening moments of the trip was visiting a ransacked church that resembled an empty shell more than a house of worship. Vile graffiti covered the walls, every window was shattered, and birds flew about the interior of the dome. Near the church were two adjacent cemeteries; one Orthodox and the other Islamic. Every single tombstone of the Orthodox cemetery was ravaged Crosses were split in half and scattered between each burial place. The adjacent Islamic cemetery was in pristine condition. I had never seen such explicit contempt for another person’s faith.

I was also left in shock after visiting the abandoned city of Famagusta. Before the invasion of 1974, the city was one of the world’s most popular touristic hotspots and developed places on the entire island. Today, scores of multi-story buildings are abandoned and enclosed by a tall fence with barbed wire. Only Turkish soldiers are allowed inside the city. At the time of the invasion, my grandfather was stationed in Cyprus as a soldier of the Greek Army. My mother, her sister, and grandmother were staying in Famagusta and endured three days of the conflict before being evacuated. It was surreal to see myself at the place where my mother hid in a hotel basement for days while Turkish planes repeatedly bombed the city at night. Walking on the beach of the city stirred up a feeling of irony in me. Children were laughing and playing in the sand while right behind them Turkish machine guns oversaw a beach right next to a bombarded city frozen in time.

If Turkey’s stranglehold in Cyprus’ northern region endures, the occupied area will continue to drift from the rest of the Republic of Cyprus. This is an outcome Turkey desires, as shown by the mass influxes of illegal settlers into the occupied area. Despite the divide, we can hope that a solution will be reached on day and Cyprus will be reunified for the sake of its own people.

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Alexander Velis is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business studying Finance and International Business. On campus, he is an active member of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, Hellenic American Student Organization, and Professional Business Fraternity Phi Chi Theta. He also co-hosts Take It Away, a weekly radio talk show on WPGU 107.1 FM. He participated in the tenth annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus.


Cyprus and Greece: Why We Should Care

by Michael Zoumadakis

Prior to my experience on the American Hellenic Institute’s Student Foreign Policy Trip, I had very little understanding of the issues that were facing Greece and Cyprus, and an even lesser understanding of the role the United States plays with regard to them. As a third generation Greek-American, I had never traveled to Greece or Cyprus and do not speak Greek well, despite being raised in a traditional Greek household. Nonetheless, I could not be prouder of my rich Greek heritage and for participating in this program. In preparation for my travels, I read several articles on common issues facing both nations, such as foreign relations with Turkey, the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, energy, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and defense of the of their sovereignty

As the trip began in Washington, D.C., I gained a basic understanding of the issues we were about to delve into for the next two weeks. After meeting with several members of the United States Department of State, the respective ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus to the United States, and several other high-ranking officials, I slowly began to realize American support for Greece and Cyprus plays an important role in the peace and stability in the region.

Upon our delegation’s arrival in Cyprus, we feasted at a restaurant in downtown Nicosia. The table at which we dined was a mere 100 feet from the Green Line, a delineation which illegally divides Cyprus. From our table, we could clearly hear the Muslim evening call to prayer and could see several armed guards, and Turkish flags flying in the background.

The next morning, we traveled through the United Nations Buffer Zone into the occupied area. Upon our entry, we were greeted by two massive Turkish flags painted on the Kyrenia mountains, visible for miles around. This aroused a range of emotions in me, most notably a seething anger. This insulting gesture is a constant reminder of the violent invasion of 1974, the catalyst for a tragic reality in which thousands of innocent persons are still missing after forty-four years. Driving through the occupied area, we were surrounded by examples of the atrocious behavior of Turkish troops. This was most epitomized by the desecration of Orthodox churches and Christian cemeteries, horrors which we were able to bear witness to in person. The intensity of inhumanity and sacrilege displayed is difficult to comprehend in a textbook. Rather, it is a visceral understanding that can only be obtained by seeing these vile acts for oneself. My sense of existential angst was further accentuated when seeing Varosha, an abandoned and fenced-in section of Famagusta—a ghost city in which hundreds of premier beachside hotels, restaurants, schools, homes lay abandoned and under guard of the Turkish army.

Throughout our time in Cyprus, we discussed several other matters, including economic opportunity and geostrategic importance. More than 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil are housed in the waters in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and are set to be drilled by the American firm ExxonMobil, among many other multinational oil and gas firms. Geographically, Cyprus is less than 250 miles from the Middle East and the coast of North Africa, making it a valuable military asset to the United States and its allies.

After a week in Cyprus, our delegation arrived in Greece, recently referred to as the “pillar of stability in an unstable corner of the world.” This portion of our trip focused on Greece’s defense capabilities, as well as its constant threat of imminent attack from Turkey. Our delegation met with high level defense officers, including generals, admirals, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces, Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis. In addition, we were shown some of the most crucial air and naval bases in Europe.

Greece houses NSA Souda Bay, which is located in Crete. It is one of the only ports in the world capable of servicing an aircraft carrier and secure enough that President Donald J. Trump stopped there to refuel en route to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The island also houses NAMFI—the premier missile testing site for NATO. Recently, President Trump called out several NATO allies for not spending at least two percent of their GDP on defense. Greece, however, does not fall into this category, spending more than 2.37% of its GDP on defense.

Another focus was the importance of Greek shipping to the world’s economy, as well as the booming tourist haven that Greece provides. Greek shipping companies account for eighteen percent of all world commerce and would cause a major economic crisis should they be incapable of operating. In regard to tourism, Greece accommodates more than 30 million tourists per year, and it is increasing steadily.

In conclusion, Americans must realize the importance of Greece and Cyprus, not only for the interests of the United States, but for the greater good of the world. The United States must support Cyprus’ cries for freedom and Greece’s hopes for improvement and advancement. As students who saw the potential of these two beautiful nations firsthand, we must educate and familiarize our friends and family on the issues, in addition to lobbying our U.S. representatives, senators, and other government officials to enact needed change.

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Michael Zoumadakis graduated in May of 2018 from the University of Utah with degrees in Business Administration and Political Science. He is currently working in pharmaceuticals as he explores his options for postgraduate studies. Michael participated in the tenth annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Foreign Policy Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus.

AHI President Larigakis Attends Thessaloniki International Fair

No. 56

WASHINGTON, DC — American Hellenic Institute (AHI) President Nick Larigakis attended the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where the United States was this year’s “honored country.”

Larigakis attended the Gala Reception for the United States at the invitation of American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce, hosted at Hyatt Regency, September 7, 2018.  He also attended the Official Inauguration of the United States Pavilion at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, September 8, 2018.

Following the inauguration, Larigakis interfaced with government officials from the United States and Greece, including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, as they toured the United States Pavilion. 

President Larigakis spoke with Secretary Ross, who was in the company of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.  Larigakis congratulated Secretary Ross for his participation at the Fair and noted that the secretary’s presence underscored how important the current state of U.S.-Greece relations is viewed. 

“My message to Secretary Ross included the critical role Greece plays in projecting the geostrategic interests of the United States in the region and that a stronger Greek economy, backed by U.S. investment, can further enhance Greece’s geostrategic role to the ultimate benefit of U.S. interests in the region,” Larigakis said. “Also, in a more detailed discussion, I communicated a similar message to Senator Johnson and thanked him for his attendance.”

In addition, Greece’s Defense Minister Panos Kammenos invited President Larigakis to the Inauguration of the Hellenic Armed Forces pavilion, September 8.  Later that evening, Larigakis attended Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s speech to commence the Fair at the invitation of the Board of Directors of Helexpo, S.A. (The speech is essentially the equivalent of a State of the Union Address in the United States.)

Finally, President Larigakis attended a reception on the occasion of the Inaugural Presentation of the Hellenic Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, September 9, at the invitation of chapter’s president, Athanasios Kouimtzis.  The reception was held at the Thessaloniki Officers Club.

Background

In the lead-up to the 2018 Thessaloniki International Fair, AHI hosted a presentation to promote the Fair in Washington, D.C., that featured Greece’s Minister of Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information Nikos Pappas and then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European & Eurasian Affairs Jonathan Cohen.

Landmark Tenth Annual AHIF Foreign Policy Trip to Greece, Cyprus a Success

STUDENTS GAIN FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE ABOUT EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN REGION

No. 55

The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus completed its landmark tenth year as ten students from across the United States participated in the 17-day program held June 29 to July 6, 2018.

The student participants were: Vanessa Balis, an Honors Scholar and Media Fellow junior at DePauw University majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish; Floriana Boardman, a sophomore at Fordham University majoring in Political Science with a double minor in Orthodox Christian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies; Adonis Caramintzos, a junior at Hunter College pursuing dual majors in Economics and Political Science; George Evangeloulis, a Presidential Scholar junior at the University of Southern California, majoring in Journalism and Marketing; Marina Kiotsekoglou, a former AHI intern who graduated from Pennsylvania State University and is now pursuing a master’s degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University; Sophia Kyrou, a sophomore at Trinity College majoring in Political Science and Human Rights with a minor in French; Maria Nifakos, a Dean’s List student and rising senior at Emerson College, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Sociology and Political Science; Alexis Tsapralis, a summer AHI intern and junior Dean’s List student at Barnard College of Columbia University studying Political Science with a concentration in International Relations; Alexander Velis, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s Gies College of Business studying International Business and Finance; and Michael Zoumadakis, a recent graduate of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business where he majored in Business Administration and minored in Political Science.

Photographic slideshow created and produced by 2018 participant, Vanessa Balis.

Throughout the program, the students received firsthand experience regarding the foreign policy issues affecting Greece and Cyprus, their relations with the United States, and the interests of the U.S. in the Eastern Mediterranean. Briefings and meetings were held with American embassies, officials from various foreign ministries, members of parliament, the armed forces, prominent think-tanks, and members of academia and the private sector of both countries. The principal events of the trip included a visit to the Turkish-occupied area in Cyprus and a day-trip to Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay, Crete, where the students toured the NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI) and received numerous briefings.

“For the tenth consecutive year, the trip has provided a wonderful opportunity to lead an exceptional group of students to Cyprus and Greece,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “It was rewarding to see them gain firsthand experience about the foreign policy issues that concern U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus. The AHI Foundation looks forward to offering this program annually as support for it has grown and student interest remains at significant levels since the program’s inception.”

WASHINGTON, DC: DIPLOMATS, LEGISLATORS BRIEF STUDENTS

Prior to their departure for Cyprus, the students gathered for briefings in Washington, D.C. from June 19 to June 21.

On June 19, the students assembled at AHI’s Hellenic House in Washington for a welcome reception, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the program. Twenty alumni of the program as well as AHI board members, Nicholas Karambelas and Dr. Athina Balta, were in attendance. Also in attendance were some of the many individuals who helped to make the student trip possible, including: Alexios Mitsopoulos, deputy chief of Mission, Greek Embassy to the U.S.; Konstantinos Polykarpou, consul, Cypriot Embassy to the U.S.; Emanuel L. Rouvelas, partner, K&L Gates; Brian Kelleher, general manager, Capital Hilton; and Konstantinos Georgiadis, general manager, Amphitrion Holidays.

The following day, the students received their first briefing from Nicholas Karambelas, Esq., AHI volunteer legal counsel and partner, Sfikas & Karambelas LLP; and met the Ambassador of Greece to the U.S., Haris Lalacos, for a briefing at the Embassy of Greece. The students also participated at a briefing with the Cypriot Charge d’affairs to the U.S., Andreas Nikolaides, at the Embassy of Cyprus. In the afternoon, the group received a briefing from John Sitilides, Eastern Mediterranean geostrategic expert.

On June 21, the students engaged in briefings with experts and diplomats. In the morning, the students met with Diviya Sharma, Cyprus desk officer, and Angela Gemza, Public Diplomacy desk officer, for a briefing at the U.S. Department of State. In the afternoon, the group received briefings from Ambassador Patrick Theros, former U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, and Paul Gastris, editor of Washington Monthly. Following a day full of briefings, the students received a private tour of the U.S. Capitol and learned about the latest developments on Capitol Hill pertaining to Hellenic-American issues. At the conclusion of the tour, the students were briefed by staff of co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, Shayne Woods, legislative assistant, office of Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Christina Parisi, legislative director, office of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). In the evening the students also received a private tour of the West Wing of the White House.

CYPRUS

The group arrived in Cyprus’ capital, Nicosia, on June 24. During their five-day stay, the students met with several high-level government officials, including: Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides; Government Spokesman Prodromos Prodromou; Greek Cypriot Chief Negotiator for the Cyprus Problem Andreas Mavroyiannis; Commissioner to the Presidency for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots Fotis Fotiou; and President of the House of Representatives Demetris Syllouris. In addition, the students had an audience with United States Ambassador to the Republic of Cyprus, Kathleen Doherty, and members of her staff, at the American Embassy on June 26.

VISIT TO TURKISH-OCCUPIED CYPRUS

On their first full day in Cyprus, the students visited the occupied area: one of the most eye-opening parts of their trip to the divided country. The students described their crossing over into the occupied area as entering a different world. They observed a strong, undeniable Turkish presence in the occupied area as monuments to Turkish nationalism were omnipresent throughout the area’s landscape; the most somber of which are the two flags painted on the side of the Pentadaktylos Mountains, one Turkish and the other representing the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” These tributes serve as constant reminders of the injustice of the occupation and filled the students with a range of sobering emotions.

While in the occupied area, the students visited a long-destroyed Orthodox Church, juxtaposed against a newly-built mosque only yards away. Surrounding the hollow church were dozens of desecrated graves and looted Orthodox Christian cemeteries. Furthermore, the itinerary included a visit to the fenced-off city of Varosha: a once bustling port city that is now merely a haunting testament to the realities of the Turkish occupation. The group was shocked to witness vacationers enjoying the ocean while armed Turkish soldiers guarded decimated buildings right on the beach’s edge. In the afternoon, the students enjoyed the rest of their day at Agia Napa beach before traveling to the popular city of Larnaca for dinner.

The students began the following day, June 25, with a meeting with the Greek Cypriot Negotiator for the Cyprus Problem, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis. The ambassador discussed the faults of the Annan Plan and Turkey’s insistence on the Treaty of Guarantee, as well as the desire of the Cypriot government to resume negotiations in the future. The students then met with the President of the Cypriot House of Representatives, Dimitiris Syllouris, to further discuss how the U.S. can support Cyprus as they work towards a solution to the now 44-year-old problem. In the afternoon, the group was personally briefed by Lt. General Ilias Leontaris, Chief of the Cypriot National Guard at their General Staff Headquarters. The students then travelled to and toured the “Lt. General Evangelos Florakis” Naval Base and the “Andreas Papandreou” Air Base. That evening, Lt. General Leontaris hosted the students for a reception at the Officer's Club in Nicosia.  

Tuesday, June 26 began with a briefing on Cyprus’ history by Mrs. Titina Loizidou before meeting with Presidential Commissioner Fotis Fotiou, and Xenophon Kallis, director of Service for Missing Persons. The students then visited the Anthropological Laboratory of the Republic of Cyprus where Director Kallis briefed the students on the process of locating and identifying the remains of missing persons which occurred because of the brutal Turkish invasion of 1974. The issue of the missing persons is still an open wound that personally persists to this day among Cypriot families, a remnant of the Turkish invasion over forty years ago. Following a lunch sponsored by Commissioner Fotiou, and hosted by Thalia P. Antoniou and Andri Trichina, U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, Kathleen Doherty, brief the student group at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia. The students’ day ended with a meeting with government spokesman, Prodromos Prodromou.

On their final day in Cyprus, June 27, the students toured Archbishop Makarios III’s chambers and the Byzantine Museum. They also toured the old Nicosia airport, which has been frozen in time since the 1974 invasion.  UNFICY Officer Peter Vanek served as the tour guide.  Further, the students visited the Tomb of Makedonitissa. The Cyprus itinerary concluded with a visit to Ministry of Foreign Affairs where Ambassador Giorgos Zodiatis, director of Energy and Marine Policy Directorate, and Dr. Stelios Nikolaides, director of Hydrocarbon Service, briefed the students on developments within Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone.  Finally, the students met with Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and the Director of Middle East and North Africa Directorate and former Cypriot Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Andreas Kakouris.

Overall, the Cyprus journey provided the students with a lasting impression about the Cyprus issue. Their visit to the island was both educational and inspirational.It informed the students about the different facets of Cypriot foreign policy and showed them the devastating effects of the illegal military occupation by Turkey since 1974.

GREECE

After an enlightening trip to Cyprus, the students embarked for a nine-day visit to Greece.

On their first day in Athens, June 28, the students hit the ground running with a briefing provided by Elisabeth Fotiadou, director, A7 Department for North America, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They also received a guided tour of the Acropolis Museum and were hosted for dinner at the Acropolis Museum restaurant by Michalis Kokkinos, head of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

STUDENTS RECEIVE TOUR OF NSA SOUDA BAY & SALAMIS NAVAL FLEET HQ

The students departed on a day-trip to visit Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay, Crete, June 29. Commodore Georgios Agrafotis, H.N., director of Command Directorate of Souda Naval Base, welcomed the group of its arrival. Briefings with NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Center (NMIOTC) Commander Commodore Stelios Kostalas followed. Commodore Kostalas personally escorted the group on a guided tour of the facilities via a skiff boat. The tour was followed by briefings from NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI) Commander Brigadier Kleanthis Karatsin. The students enjoyed a lunch hosted by the Unit Commanders at NAMFI’s Officers Club before their final stop of the day: a visit to the 115 Combat Wing and briefing from Colonel Ioannis Birbilis. 

“A special thanks to Major Nikolaos Gogousis for his support and assistance that helped to make our visit to Souda Bay a productive and educational one,” Larigakis said. “The Public Relations Directorate at the Ministry of Defense really went above and beyond the call to ensure the students had a memorable visit.”

The students continued to learn about Greece’s defense and military capabilities with a briefing they received from Lt. Col. Christos Anastasiadis, deputy director, Public Relations Directorate, Hellenic National Defense General Staff, at the Ministry of Defense on July 4. The group also received a defense policy briefing and presentation along with a visit to the ministry’s Operations Center, led by Lt. General Konstantinos Floros, deputy chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces General Staff.

On their final day of the trip, July 5, the students arrived at Salamis for a Greek Naval Fleet Headquarters presentation, including a visit to a Greek naval frigate and submarine. They met with Commander in Chief of the Hellenic Fleet Vice Admiral Ioannis Pavlopoulos, H.N., for a tour of the submarine simulator and a ride on an H.S. Vosper, a fast patrol boat. Vice Admiral Pavlopulos graciously hosted the students for refreshments at his residence.

STUDENTS MEET WITH PRESIDENT OF GREECE AND MINISTRY, GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

The group’s first full day of meetings in Athens, July 2, was nothing short of exciting. First, the students met with Minister of Tourism Elena Kountara to learn about the importance of tourism for Greece’s economy and the Ministry of Tourism’s recent campaign featuring the “Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The students then had the honor of meeting with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos at the Presidential Palace. During the hour-long meeting, President Pavlopoulos presented each student with a gift and wished them success in their studies. The students were incredibly appreciative of the generous amount of time the president afforded to them. Furthermore, the students met with the Head of the Diplomatic Office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Vangelis Kalpadakis.

Their thrilling day ended with a guided tour of the War Museum, followed by a reception hosted by Tim Ananiades, general manager, Grande Bretagne Hotel, and a dinner hosted by AHI-Athens President, George Economou at the Athens Club. On July 3, the students also enjoyed a group tour of Karaiskakis Stadium, home of Olympiacos F.C., which was sponsored by Olympiacos President Evangelos Marinakis. Mr. Marinakis also sponsored dinner that evening at the exclusive Vammos restaurant. Domenicos Masoulas, director, Olympiacos Corporate Social Responsibility, represented Mr. Marinakis.

STUDENTS MEET U.S. AMBASSADOR, CONCLUSION OF TRIP

On Tuesday, July 3, the students had the opportunity to learn about the significance of Greece’s shipping industry during a meeting with Athanasios Martinos, managing director of Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Limited. Also present at the meeting was Mrs. Marina Martinou from management at Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Limited.

The students then gained insight about Greece’s foreign policy with a briefing with Deputy Foreign Minister Terence Quick and Head of General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad Michael Kokkinos.  They also attended informative meetings with Nikolaos Garilidis, A4 Directorate, Turkey; Sophia Grammata, A3 Directorate, Balkans; and Georgios Dimitriadis, A2 Directorate, Cyprus. Further, the students met with Dr. Thanos Dokos, general director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) before meeting with Tom Ellis, editor-in-chief, at Kathimerini English Edition, regarding the current political climate in Greece. The group ended their packed day with a Fourth of July reception held at the residence of United States Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt.

The students had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Pyatt in a more intimate setting during their final briefing of the trip, which was also hosted at the Ambassador’s residence. During their briefing, the students expressed to the ambassador the wealth of information they acquired while on the trip and how they plan to implement that knowledge once they return home to the United States.

The trip concluded with a farewell dinner hosted by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation at the Grande Bretagne. Many of the officials with whom the students met, as well as AHI supporters, attended the dinner. Each student gave a brief speech reflecting on his or her experience. The students’ statements differed, but there was a common threat of gratitude toward all the AHI Foundation supporters. All students described their experiences on the foreign policy trip as immensely educational and life-changing.

“We are extremely grateful to all of our sponsors, both in Cyprus and in Greece, for their generous hospitality and for helping to make the students’ trip a memorable one,” Larigakis said. “Their selfless contributions to the AHI Foundation program are invaluable.”


In their own words….

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Before my participation in the AHIF Foreign Policy trip, I considered participating in the Foreign Service. However, I was unsure of whether I had the capacity to do so. Now, I can say that this trip has opened up my eyes to a whole new part of politics that goes far beyond making policies or signing treaties. While interacting with the political officials on this trip, I began to realize how rewarding it is to interact with people whose cultures are different from my own. Working in the Foreign Service would force me to expand my thought process to think in ways I never have before, while meeting people from all around the world in a setting where we have a common cause and must find solutions together. As a Greek American, I already have experience balancing two strong cultures, a skill that I believe is essential to working in diplomacy. I am extremely thankful for my Hellenic culture for introducing me to the beauty of celebrating culture as well as AHIF for allowing me to participate in such a transformative program. - Vanessa Balis, an Honors Scholar and Media Fellow junior at DePauw University majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish.

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This trip has truly opened my eyes to the hardships that Greece and Cyprus face and how critical it is for Greek-Americans to lobby Congress to support stronger U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus. Through the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, I now understand how a relationship between the United States, Cyprus and Greece is beneficial to all three countries. Greece is not only a beautiful place to vacation, but it is the gateway to Europe and the crossroad to the Middle East. Greece gave the world western civilization and continues to give, but with a silent voice. It is time for my generation of Greek-Americans to raise the voice of Greece and Cyprus and alert the world to her hardships. After this trip, I am not only proud of my Greek culture like I have been for so long, but I am also proud of Greece and Cyprus. They are truly key countries in the Eastern Mediterranean with a crucial geostrategic position, as they not only offer stability to such a volatile area but are key allies to the United States. - Floriana Boardman, a sophomore at Fordham University majoring in Political Science with a double minor in Orthodox Christian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.

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The AHIF Foreign Policy trip for me was really an eye-opening experience, as I was able to meet leading policy makers in Greece, Cyprus, and the United States, who I would have never had the chance of meeting on my own.  I was finally able to see for the first time the damage done in Cyprus and comprehend what Cyprus means to the future of U.S interests in the Mediterranean. Moreover, visiting the military facilities in Salamis and Souda Bay gave real value to what Greece is capable of and how valuable Greece is as both a partner of NATO and a U.S ally.

This trip allowed me to develop meaningful perspectives on what foreign policy really is, what foreign policy means, and how foreign policy is conducted, through meaningful meetings and discussions.  This trip has most definitely challenged what I know and has allowed me to rethink what I can do and what the future holds for me. - Adonis Caramintzos, a junior at Hunter College pursuing dual majors in Economics and Political Science.

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The AHI foreign policy trip is a program which has to be experienced to be fully understood. Over the course of the trip, I learned things that most Greek-Americans my age don’t know. Anyone can read about Greek foreign policy issues and form a point of view, but this trip provided me with more substantial engagement than any article or talking head. Whether it was the trip to the Turkish occupied area of Cyprus, a survey of Souda Bay’s military power, or a discussion of policy with a number of high-level personnel, I was always being provided with an up-close and personal view. As a result, I feel more informed on Greek-American relations and policy issues than I thought I would ever be, and I feel a renewed sense of importance towards supporting the Greek community both in the United States and abroad. I would recommend this trip to any young Greek-American looking to learn more about their countries and themselves. - George Evangeloulis, a Dean’s List student, National Merit Scholar, and Presidential Scholarship Recipient at the University of Southern California, is a rising junior studying Communication and pursuing a minor in Marketing. He was also selected as an Annenberg Ambassador, representing the School of Communication and Journalism at events, panel discussions, recruitment activities, and visitor tours.

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The two-week foreign policy trip to Greece and Cyprus was a once in a lifetime opportunity. What made this trip so special was being able to connect my Greek-American identity to my studies. Everything we learned throughout this foreign policy experience directly tied into my Master of Arts degree in International Affairs. While I have written several papers on the political environment of both Cyprus and Greece, getting the first-hand experience was completely different and imperative to my understanding of the topics I study.

The defense aspect of the trip was the most beneficial for me as it tied into my studies of conflict resolution and international law and organizations. However, there were several other political and economic aspects we covered such as tourism, international investment, education, and, of course, the Greek and Cypriot diaspora which has been a driver of positive influence in both countries for decades. This program is especially important because it allows for us Greek and Cypriot Americans to feel empowered and believe in our ability to be agents for the voice of Greece no matter where we live. - Marina Kiotsekoglou, a former AHI intern who graduated from Pennsylvania State University and is now pursuing a master’s degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

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Upon completing the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip, I am bursting with newfound knowledge about the importance of building on the strong relationship between the US, Greece, and Cyprus, and about the vitally important role that Greece and Cyprus play both in the Southeastern Mediterranean and in the world. When I embarked on my journey to Washington, DC, Cyprus, and Greece, I could not have imagined the extent to which I would learn about the nuances and mechanics of policymaking in and between the US, Greece, and Cyprus. Yet, after this experiential learning trip, I will return to my university enriched by practical insights and knowledge that I can apply both to my political science and human rights double-major, and to my role as a Greek- and Cypriot-American young woman. With the newfound knowledge that Greece and Cyprus are pillars of stability in an unstable region, I feel that I can speak about my ancestral home countries as strong, stable powers that have a global impact, and that I can very clearly express how Greek and Cypriot interests are American interests. - Sophia Kyrou, a sophomore at Trinity College majoring in Political Science and Human Rights with a minor in French.

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While most, if not all, of us on this trip have always known Greece and Cyprus as summer vacation spots where relatives live, the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip has changed the way I look at these two nations forever. Learning about the political, economic, diplomatic, cultural, military, and religious intricacies of Greece and Cyprus from some of their most high-ranking officials has sparked a desire and a drive in me to pursue a career that will advocate for the betterment of each nation. Being part Cypriot, it touched me deeply to set foot on the land where the stories my Pappou used to tell me about the Turkish occupation took place. I will never forget that feeling of pain and solidarity while looking on at the abandoned city of Varosha and envisioning the horrified Greek-Cypriots the day it was captured, or standing in a desecrated and vandalized Orthodox Church, and even seeing the Turkish and so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’” flags lit up on the mountainside each night.

Having been able to experience this journey with fellow Greek-American college students from across the country gave me not only varied perspectives and outlooks on the Greek diaspora in America, but a group of friends that I will surely have for a lifetime. A million thanks to the American Hellenic institute. - Maria Nifakos, a Dean’s List student and senior at Emerson College, majoring in Journalism and minoring in Sociology and Political Science.

 

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The AHI Foundation’s unique Foreign Policy Trip was the first stepping-stone into my career in international relations. Throughout our odyssey to Washington D.C., Cyprus, and Greece, we received a first-hand view into the intricacies of foreign policy as it relates to the Eastern Mediterranean from the chief policy-makers themselves. In our 17 days, we met with diplomats, heads of state, and dignitaries that many politicians in the field will likely never meet throughout the duration of their career. As a group, we engaged in thought-provoking dialogues and were often pushed to grapple with the harsh realities facing these two countries such as the ongoing struggle to locate the remains of missing persons in Cyprus or the perennial security threat Turkey poses to Greece. As Cypriot- and Greek-Americans, we acquired a practical understanding of the parallels between Cypriot, Greek, and American interests and how we, as students, can affect the United States’ policies in the Eastern Mediterranean. I look forward to building upon the knowledge I gained through this experience as I continue my studies in international security and human rights. - Alexis Tsapralis, a junior Dean’s List student at Barnard College of Columbia University studying Political Science with a concentration in International Relations.

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It was a great honor and privilege to be able to attend the American Hellenic Institute Foundation’s 10th Annual Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus. I will never forget this unique experience because of how close it brought me to the issues surrounding Greece and Cyprus and their relation to the United States. My grandfather served in the war against the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. I applied for this trip in hopes of gaining a deeper understanding into the root of the conflict and to see first-hand the struggles my family endured during the war. As a Business major, I found the recent discovery of hydrocarbons off the Cypriot coast to be very important not only for the economy of Cyprus, but also for attracting foreign investment and subsequently increasing the geo-political importance of the island. Through meeting with a diverse group of government officials and military personnel, I have learned that despite over forty years of little progress, there is still legitimate hope for a solution in the near future. - Alexander Velis, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s Gies College of Business studying International Business and Finance.

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Prior to the AHIF Foreign Policy Trip, I had never traveled to Greece or Cyprus. Having grown up in a traditional Greek household, I was unaware of the beauty, military capabilities, and general strategic importance housed in these two Mediterranean nations. Through numerous meetings with top politicians, business, religious, and community leaders, as well as visitations to the most important bases and sites, I gained a deeper understanding of the role they play in international politics, especially with respect to the United States. The trip truly brought many things I have learned in my political science classes to life, and I am extremely grateful for my Greek Heritage, and the opportunity that was afforded to me to see Greece and Cyprus in the way that I did. - Michael Zoumadakis, a recent graduate of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business where he majored in Business Administration and minored in Political Science.

AHI President Larigakis Talks With Greek Business Publication

                                                                                                                                       No. 54

WASHINGTON, DC — Greek Business File, a magazine that analyzes Greece’s business and financial sectors, published an interview with American Hellenic Institute (AHI) President Nick Larigakis. The interview, “Promising turns in Greek-American relations” is published in Greek Business File’s October-November 2018 issue and comes on the eve of the USA-Thessaloniki International Fair, which is being held September 8-16, 2018.

Larigakis provides his perspective on the current state of U.S.-Greece relations, which he views as being at its peak. He attributed his view to Greece’s demonstrated consistency as a reliable partner to the U.S., especially when it comes to U.S. security interests.  Larigakis contrasted Greece’s reliability as a security partner with that of Turkey’s unreliability over the years.  In addition, the AHI president discussed the importance of NSA Souda Bay, and Greece’s role in the emerging alliance with Cyprus and Israel as frontline, Western-oriented states against threats to democracy and security in the Eastern Mediterranean and broader region.

Larigakis also cited how the United States helped Greece face its economic crisis as an example of the depth of scope of U.S-Greece relations and that it is not solely based on security interests.  Regarding the economic sector, Larigakis provided his thoughts on the importance of foreign direct investment in Greece and shared how AHI has worked to provide opportunities in foreign direct investment, citing AHI’s successful campaign to change a policy position of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) toward Greece.  

He also was candid about the reforms Greece must still enact to foster investor confidence in foreign direct investment. “I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Mr. Papagiannidis of Greek Business File and share my views about the current state of the relationship between longstanding NATO allies, United States and Greece,” Larigakis said.