WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus completed its eleventh year as 10 students from across the United States participated in the 17-day program held June 18 to July 5, 2019. Following two days of briefings in Washington, the student trip visited Cyprus first, June 22 to 26, 2019.
“Since 1974, AHI has been at the forefront of advocating for the rule of law,” said President Nick Larigakis, who attended the funeral of former President Demetris Christofias during the visit to Cyprus on June 25. “Our itinerary in Cyprus is aimed to educate the community’s next generation of leaders about the Cyprus issue, the gross violation of international law that Turkey perpetrated then and continues to this very day. The students also learned about the humanitarian cost of Turkey’s illegal invasion and 45-year occupation as well as its toll upon Cyprus’ cultural and religious heritage, which were pillaged.”
The group arrived in the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, June 22. During their five-day stay, the students met with several high-level government officials, including: Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides; Commissioner to the Presidency for Humanitarian Affairs and Overseas Cypriots Photis Photiou together with Director of the Service for Missing Persons Xenophon Kallis; and President of the House of Representatives Demetris Syllouris. Further, the student had an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II.
“[The program] truly immerses you in the life of a diplomat and the political life of Greece and Cyprus…and gives you the opportunity to become an expert,” said Participant Apostolos Siopsis. “Indeed, I am able to have conversations that I could never have imagined having before.”
Regarding the humanitarian issue of the Missing Persons, the students 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. They also visited the Old Nicosia Airport where time has literally stood still for 45 years.
The students learned extensively about the Cypriot government’s efforts to explore for energy resources within its exclusive economic zone, the geostrategic significance of the energy finds, and the challenges posed by Turkey, during a meeting with Director of Energy and Marine Policy Directorate Georgios Christofides and the Director of Hydrocarbon Service Stelios Nikolaides. They also learned about the foreign policy direction of Cyprus in its own neighborhood during a meeting with Director of Middle East and North Africa Directorate Ambassador Andreas Kakouris, who is a former Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States.
“A particularly poignant part of the trip for me was hearing about the energy potential in Cyprus’ Economic Exclusive Zone,” Participant Sophia Yphantides, said. “These meetings fueled my desire to explore energy exploration laws that allow for both economic interest and ecological preservation, both of which are crucial to benefit and advance humanity.”
Cyprus’ military capabilities were on display when the students visited the 20th Armored Brigade for a briefing and demonstration. The students were escorted to the briefing by Lt. General Ilias Leontaris, chief of the National Guard General Staff. They also received a briefing at the National Guard Headquarters and hosted for dinners at the National Guard Officers’ Club and the Officers’ Club of the Hellenic Forces.
“We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Lieutenant General Leontaris, who oversaw the organization of the group’s program with Cyprus’ military officials,” Larigakis said. “He also personally accompanied our students on the visit to the Armored Brigade, which demonstrates further his strong interest to engage with the community’s future leaders.”
In addition, the students had an audience with Deputy Chief of Mission Nathaniel Dean at the American Embassy on June 24. There, they received a briefing about the latest developments in the strategic partnership between the United States and Republic of Cyprus.
Visit to the Occupied Area
The students visited the occupied area of Cyprus: one of the most eye-opening parts of their trip to the divided country, on June 23. 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 minaret 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.
“Having visited the abandoned church in the occupied area of Cyprus, I witnessed the devastating acts that have been put upon the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Christian community, said Participant George P. Limperis
Participant Konstantinos Tsarouchis added, “My heart broke when I saw the desecrated tombstones and desecrated churches in Turkish-occupied Cyprus. All those years of Cypriot culture were washed away…”
President Larigakis pointed out that since the group’s visit to the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials have acted provocatively by inviting journalists from Turkey and from the Turkish Cypriot community to visit Varosha, the closed section of the city of Famagusta, and stating their intention to reopen it under Turkish control.
“AHI strongly condemns this action as it would violate international law and would further diminish any hope of the resumption of settlement talks,” Larigakis said. “It is wholly unacceptable.”
In Paphos, the students learned about municipality governance from the perspective of the mayor of Paphos, Phedonas Phedonos. Mayor Phedonos also hosted the students for a wonderful dinner.
The students were also immersed in Cyprus’s cultural and natural history. They visited the National Struggle Museum where they were provided a briefing on the history of Cyprus by Mr. Andreas Karios. They also took a guided tour of the Archaeological Park of Paphos and the Archbishop Makarios III’s Chamber at the Archbishop’s Palace. In addition, they visited the Guardhouse “Kolokasides” and received a briefing at the Makedonitissa Tomb to pay their respects at the military cemetery and war memorial.
“I have always loved being Greek-Cypriot, but this trip has given me a completely new love for my ethnicity and culture,” said Participant John Tsaousis.
Finally, the students had the opprotunity to take in the beauty of Cyprus with a beach trip to Agia Napa.
About Our Participants
Alexandra Choate is a senior at Queens University of Charlotte pursuing a Political Science undergraduate degree.
Vasili Ioannidis is a junior in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan majoring in Economics with a minor in Modern Greek Language and Culture.
George P. Limperis is a sophomore who begins his studies in Business at the Hult International Business School, in the United Kingdom this fall.
Emily Pandis is a graduate of The Ohio State University, triple majored in International Relations and Diplomacy, Islamic Studies and Modern Greek with a minor in History.
Apostolos Siopsis is a sophomore at the George Washington University where he was awarded the Tuition Exchange Scholarship offered to only four applicants per year.
Basiliki Speros, a 2018-2019 EOK Hellenic Women’s Scholarship Recipient, is BA-MA candidate in International Relations and Business at New York University.
Demosthenes Theofanopoulos is a junior at Fordham University studying Classical Civilization and minoring in Orthodox Christianity.
John Tsaousis is a junior pursuing a Civil and Infrastructure Engineering degree at George Mason University.
Konstantinos Tsarouchis is a junior at American University pursing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a concentration in Political Theory.
Sophia Yphantides is a sophomore at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where she plans to major in International Politics with a concentration in International Law, Institutions, and Ethics.