NEW YORK – The American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), led by Supreme President Anthony Kouzounis, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), led by its President, Nick Larigakis, and two American Jewish organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, undertook a historic visit to Israel, Cyprus, and Greece from January 8 to 15.
The journey is the latest sign of the deepening and strengthening of relations among those three countries and among their diaspora communities. The purpose of the trip is to analyze the strategic and emerging relationship among the three countries.
In Israel there was a roundtable discussion with Israeli ambassadors and ambassadors-delegate to Greece and Cyprus as well as several officials from the ministry of Foreign Affairs and the delegation also received a briefing from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
“The meetings in Israel have been excellent and substantive,” Kouzounis said. “We thank all the government officials in Israel who have afforded us a generous amount of their time.”
The delegation met with: Israeli Minister of Tourism Uzi Landau, PhD; Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. Eran Lerman; Israeli Minister of Defense Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon; Israeli Minister of Economy, Religious Services, Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett; Speaker of the Knesset Yoel (Yuli) Edelstein; Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman; Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zeev Elkin; and Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, Intelligence and International Relations Yuval Steinitz.
The groups also visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and research center
AHEPA and AHI also had an audience with His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III.
CYPRUS VISIT HIGHLIGHTS CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
The trip to Cyprus took place in the context of renewed effort to negotiate the reunification of Cyprus and the bitter-sweet reality of an economic crisis and the discovery of huge hydrocarbon deposits in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus.
On January 13 the joint delegation had an extensive meeting with Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulidis. A wide range of policy issues were discussed, ranging from the Cyprus issue, to Cyprus’s regional foreign policy, to Iran.
On Monday, Jan. 13, the joint delegation met with His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos I. During the meeting AHEPA Supreme President Anthony Kouzounis presented the archbishop with a $25,000 to help feed the needy children of Cyprus.
AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaidis attributed the initial donation to an event organized by AHEPA and chaired by Philip Christopher, an Ahepan, founder and president of the Pancyprian Association; PSEKA – International Coordinating Committee – “Justice For Cyprus” Nicholas A. Karacostas, AHEPA Chairman of the Board past Supreme President.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, the joint 15-member delegation visited Turkish-occupied Cyprus and witnessed the destruction and desecration of cultural and religious property in the occupied area. The delegation also viewed and observed the ghost town of Varosha/Famagusta which is at the center of the new discussions with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
On Sunday evening, the joint delegation was hosted to a dinner by AHEPA District 27 (Cyprus) where an evening of fellowship and dialogue occurred between the Greek-American and Jewish-American communities).
A statement by Kouzounis summarized the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the strategic environment of the Eastern Mediterranean. “Over the past few years, relations between Greece, Cyprus, and Israel have changed dramatically for the better,” Supreme President Kouzounis said. “During this time, several bilateral agreements have been signed between Greece and Israel and Cyprus and Israel in sectors that include security, culture, and tourism, among others. We are here to applaud these measures and to learn more about how we can contribute as Diaspora groups to ensure relations continue to strengthen thus helping to lend stability to the region.”
He added, “we are excited to be working in cooperation with leading American Jewish organizations and learning more about our common goals and challenges as communities. We are proud that this joint excursion, in and of itself, is a testament to the development of relations between our organizations and communities, and we are committed to maintaining this relationship and taking it to greater heights by working on projects of mutual interest.”
The joint excursion follows roundtable discussions held between the two diaspora communities in December 2012 and August 2011.
In October 2010, AHEPA hosted a groundbreaking conference on the emerging relationship between Greece and Israel and in April 2011, AHEPA also made a landmark visit to Israel to meet with Israel government officials.