ASTORIA – The Cypriot Young Professionals (CYP) of the Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NEPOMAK presented Cyprus 44 Years Later- A Retrospective Look and Call to Action at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria on June 5. The well-attended event brought together young people and leaders of the community interested in the Cyprus issue and what comes next in the struggle for justice for the divided island nation.
Former President of the CYP Christina Shailas, a first-generation Cypriot and Constantinople-Greek, born and raised in Queens, NY spoke movingly about her love for Cyprus and also of the need for the youth to become more involved in the cause. Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Nicolas Nicolaou noted in his introduction of her that Shailas loves Cyprus so much she is moving there. Shailas thanked everyone for their presence at the event, including the diplomats, sponsors, and media who made the event possible. She noted that the goal of the event was to bring the community together, to feel empowered as a community, review the history and events that led us to the point we are at today, adding that we must “never forget what this beautiful island suffered.”
Among the powerfully moving stories shared during the event, Shailas, spoke about her neighbor, Xenis Thomas who was serving in the army at the time of the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and his harrowing story of survival, being taken prisoner, hands and feet tied, piled like sacks on a ship, and transported to Turkey, not knowing if he would survive the ordeal. Thomas, who is one of the kindest people, always giving back to the community, was released as part of a prisoner exchange, Shailas said, and he told her his story one Sunday afternoon in his diner.
Chamber of Commerce President Nicolaou who was 9 years old at the time of the invasion noted that sometimes you have to ask for people to share their stories and added that the Board supports the young people in their efforts for Cyprus. A brief video featuring the first announcement of the invasion with the sirens blaring brought back the trauma of that Saturday morning in July of 1974 for Nicolaou and he noted that when he first heard it again in preparation for the event, he had to stop it because it was so frightening.
Federation of Cypriot American Organizations President Kyriakos Papastylianou congratulated the CYP and NEPOMAK for organizing the event, and pointed out that all the organizations support the youth coming forward to lead the fight for justice for Cyprus.
The Permanent Representative of the Republic of Cyprus to the United Nations Ambassador Kornelios Korneliou gave a brief outline of the Cyprus issue, the history, events, and explained where we are today, and where we can go from here. He said there is no other alternative but to continue the negotiations for the unity of Cyprus. As a member of the European Union and the UN, Cyprus must become a “normal state” as Amb. Korneliou said, quoting the UN Secretary General. Events need to be understood, but also the geography, he said, noting that Cyprus is an oasis of stability in the region and is a reliable and predictable ally of the United States and Israel, and has the full support of Greece.
A panel discussion followed in which Elena Marouletti- Founder/Executive Producer and host of AKTINA FM/TV, President AKTINA Productions, Inc., and CYPRECO Of America, Inc.; Stavros Kamilaris- who was serving in the army at the time of the invasion which happened directly in his village of Agios Georgios, Sophia Kotzia, and Effie Lekkas shared their emotional stories, bringing history to life for all those present.
A video presentation also highlighted the call to action and many noted that 44 years is enough.
PSEKA President Philip Christopher spoke movingly about the struggle for justice for Cyprus adding that all the young people must become involved in U.S. politics, by registering to vote and making their voices heard at the city, state, and federal levels of the government. He referred to the ongoing efforts for the missing of Cyprus and thanked Nikos Mouyiaris for his presence and years of support for the cause. The unity of Hellenism on Cyprus and the Greek national issues is the key for the future and for justice for Cyprus.
Among those present were Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, the new Consul General of Cyprus Alexis Phedonos-Vadet and his wife Melina, His Eminence Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, Menelaos Menelaou- Deputy Permanent Representative of Republic of Cyprus, Despina Axiotakis- Cyprus- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, and New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides.
Cards with the names of the missing were handed out as the attendees exited from the auditorium after the presentation, personalizing the tragedy for many who were not even born when the invasion of Cyprus took place. The cards with photos of young people never to be heard from or seen again by their families also serve as a reminder of the tremendous suffering the people have endured and the need for action.
A reception followed with foods provided by Zenon Taverna. A raffle was also held for two tickets to Cyprus which was won by a student.