WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus completed its thirteenth year as nine students from across the United States participated in the 17-day program held June 22-July 9. Following two days of briefings in Washington, the student trip visited Cyprus first, June 26-July 1.
“Since 1974, AHI has been at the forefront of advocating for the rule of law,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “Our itinerary in Cyprus is aimed to educate the community's next generation of leaders about the Cyprus issue and the gross violation of international law that Turkey perpetrated then, and continues to do so to this very day. The students also learned about the humanitarian cost of Turkey's illegal invasion and 47-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 26. During their five-day stay, the students met with several high-level government officials, including: Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides; Minister of Defense Charalambos Petrides; Presidential Commissioner Photis Photiou and Director of the Service for Missing Persons Xenophon Kallis; and President of the House of Representatives Annita Demetriou. Further, the students had an audience with His Beatitude Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II.
To explore 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 who were lost in the brutal Turkish invasion of 1974. They also visited the Old Nicosia Airport, currently managed by the United Nations, where a retired airplane and remains of the airport have been frozen in time for 47 years.
“I could not have anticipated the immense impact that it would have on how I saw myself as a Greek American, and by proxy, a person of influence on the geo-political world stage,” participant Sophia Axiotis said. “Though the days were long and the weather especially trying in Cyprus, the value of seeing the bones of the Missing Persons first hand, walking the abandoned Old Nicosia Airport and the Green Line was immense. As a first-generation Greek American, this trip has encouraged me to be an advocate for Greece, Cyprus, and America's interactions and policies with them.”
Director of Energy and Marine Policy Directorate Georgios Christofides and the Director of Hydrocarbon Service Stelios Nicolaides met with the students. They 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. These conversations continued at a briefing with Director of Energy Service Charalambos Roussos at the Ministry of Energy.
Cyprus' military capabilities were on display when the students attended a briefing and tour of the National Guard Headquarters by the Minister of Defense Charalambos Petrides and Lieutenant General Demokritos Zervakis, Chief of the National Guard of Cyprus. Additionally, students were taken to a Military Observation Point to see the occupied city of Famagusta from the view of binoculars. Lt. General Zervakis hosted the students for dinners at the National Guard Officers' Club and the Officers' Club.
“The AHIF College Student Foreign Policy Trip exceeded all of my expectations. The trip provided me with the invaluable experience of seeing these issues with my own eyes and hearing insight from high-ranking officials who work tirelessly to engineer solutions to these conflicts,” participant Sophia Athan said. “One specific experience that I found powerful was the trip to the Military Observation Point to see the city of Famagusta. This was the first time that I had seen the flags of the illegally occupied area and the moment of realization that the decades-long conflict we had learned and read so much about was spanning the hills in front of me. I look back on this moment as fueling my desire to advocate for Cypriot liberation from the illegal Turkish occupying forces.”
In addition, the students had an audience with U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Judith Garber. There, they received a briefing about the latest developments in the strategic partnership between the United States and Republic of Cyprus. Along the same lines of discussion regarding diplomacy and partnership between the United States, Greece, and Cyprus, they also attended a dinner hosted at the Embassy of Greece by Greece's Ambassador to Cyprus, Haris Lalacos. At the event, they learned more about foreign policy initiatives and continued progress in relations between Greece and Cyprus.
The students were also immersed in Cyprus's cultural and natural history. They received a history lecture from Professor Titina Loizidou and were taken on a walking tour of the Green Line to view parts of the illegally occupied area of Cyprus from across the checkpoints. In addition, they visited the Guardhouse “Kolokasides” and received a briefing at the Makedonitissa Tomb where they paid their respects by laying a wreath at the military cemetery and war memorial.
“The AHIF Foreign Policy trip to Greece and Cyprus was a remarkable opportunity to bridge the gap between my Greek heritage and the ongoing geopolitical relations Greece has with America,” participant Xenia Evangeloulis said. “With the more technical discussions we had, the AHIF trip also put us face to face with individuals directly affected by the continued Turkish occupation of Cyprus and hearing their stories was an invaluably poignant experience. As Greek Americans, it is our duty to continue the legacy and tradition of perseverance within the Greek culture. The many officials we met with throughout these 17 days spoke to how we must take on that challenge and left my peers and I with a newly ignited passion and set of knowledge to do so.”
Finally, the students had the opportunity to take in the beauty of Cyprus with a beach trip to Agia Napa. Unfortunately, due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, the students were not able to visit the occupied area as prior AHIF student groups have in previous years.
About the Participants
Michael Arianas is a 3L at The George Washington University Law School, where he is concentrating in International Business Law.
Sophia Athan is a junior, National Merit Scholar, Benacquisto Scholar, and Dean's List student at the University of Florida. She is majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Greece and the European Union.
Sophia Axiotis is a first-generation and provost list student, a sophomore at Chapman University in Orange, California studying History and Philosophy with a minor in English.
Stratis Bohle is a sophomore and Dean's List student at Virginia Tech, where he studies Political Science with a minor in History.
Xenia Evangeloulis is a junior George Washington University Presidential Academic Scholarship Recipient, a consecutive Dean's List recipient, and Civic House Cohort Member where she studies Organizational Science and minors in both Psychology and Statistics.
Nicholas Dean Iliadis is a graduate of La Salle University where he majored in Political Science with experience in public policy and constituent relations. In the fall he will attend Widener Commonwealth School of Law.
Sophia Kapogiannis is a junior in the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. She is pursuing a BS degree in Public Health with minors in Nutrition and Sociocultural Anthropology.
Andreas Papoutsis is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is majoring in Economics with a minor in Public Affairs.
Leonidas Tsirigotis is a junior pursuing bachelor's and master's degrees in Accounting at Loyola University of Maryland.