by Charlotte Maria Robinson (UK), Maria Lazarou (UK), Michael Christodoulides (Australia), Yannis Christodoulides (USA), & George Alexandrou (UK) – September 24, 2019

Trilateral Diaspora Youth Trip to Israel, Greece and Cyprus

The trilateral diaspora trip was an initiative by the Governments of Cyprus, Greece and Israel to bring young people from their respective diasporas together. The Cypriot diaspora were represented and coordinated by NEPOMAK, the Jewish diaspora were represented by B’nai B’rith, and the Greek delegates were represented by HALC.  Over a 9 day period, we as a group visited Israel, Greece and Cyprus with a full itinerary which included high-level meetings, excursions and sight-seeing.

The first country that we visited was Israel. Our first night was spent getting to know one another and learning about the organisations that we are a part of as diaspora youth. The next day included a visit to the Israel Museum, lunch with Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior officials and meetings with Josh Schwartz, Jewish Agency Secretary on Israel diaspora relations, and with Dr Haim Katz, Chairman of B’nai B’rith. The meetings illustrated the importance to Israel of keeping their diaspora connected through initiatives including Birthright Israel and other such youth programmes. Later on in the day, we had an incredibly moving trip to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, after which everyone left feeling sombre and reflective. For our evening meal, we were joined by Rachel Azaria for an inspiring talk and conversation.

On the third day, we travelled to Tel Aviv to met with Isaac Herzog, Jewish Agency Chairman,  Thessalia-Salina Shambos, Ambassador of Cyprus to Israel and the Deputy Ambassador of Greece to Israel. We then had a guided tour of the old town of Jaffa, where we saw local shops, the bustling flea market and historical landmarks in the area. One nice, yet surprising factor, was stumbling across a restaurant that was playing Greek music into the cobbled street. This complemented the close connection between our cultures and homes. We also had the opportunity to walk around the energetic city of Tel Aviv.

Our last day in Israel was spent touring the Old City of Jerusalem with a knowledgeable guide. It was an extremely educational visit with many stops along the way, where we were told the history of the area we were exploring. Visiting the Western Wall, the Armenian Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other significant landmarks, the tour emphasised Jerusalem’s history as a holy site for the three major Abrahamic religions. This was further highlighted by our meeting with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, who explained the Church’s role in the Old City as well as its history. We would like to express many thanks to Yigal Palmor for showing us around and helping coordinate the Israel leg of the trip.

Our next stop was Athens. Here, we visited the Jewish Museum in Athens where we discussed the Jewish population of Greece, their customs, and their tragic experience during the Nazi occupation of Greece. We then had the opportunity to travel to Delphi where we visited the museum and hiked through the impressive ruins of the Temple of Apollo in the beautiful Greek mountains. The ancient Greek temple overlooks the steep slopes of Mount Parnassas. It served as the site of both Panhellenic athletic competitions and special spiritual divinations in Ancient Greece through the famed Oracle.

On our second day in Greece, we had an intense schedule of meetings and tours. The first stop of the day was a visit to the Ministry of National Defense, where we learned about Greece’s military. We then visited the National Centre for Scientific Research where we gained an insight into Greece’s growing investment and interest in the sciences. Later in the day, we attended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where we had informative meetings on both bilateral and trilateral relations. Following this, we were privileged to be invited for a tour of the impressive Hellenic Parliament. To break up the meetings we explored the Acropolis with our tour guide, where we saw a beautiful sunset over the city. Ending the day we visited the Federation of Hellenic Associations of Young Entrepreneurs.

We then flew from Athens to Cyprus. Upon arrival, we were treated to a traditional Cypriot lunch in the old city of Nicosia. This was followed by a tour at the Green line and the area near the UN Buffer Zone, where the guide explained the history of the Turkish invasion of 1974. In the evening, we had the opportunity to join the opening ceremony of the 20th Cypriot Diaspora conference in Nicosia, where we heard speeches from senior Cypriot officials. NEPOMAK Global President, Mr Christos Tuton gave a speech on the significance of the diaspora, which is something that applied to all of us as trilateral participants.

On the second day, we met with Mr Photis Photiou, Presidential Commissioner, alongside the Deputy Ambassadors of Israel and Greece to Cyprus who discussed the importance of the diaspora and trilateral relations as well as the delegate’s experiences of the trip so far. Commonalities and differences were highlighted and addressed. We were then given the opportunity to visit the camps in Cyprus run by the British Government for Internment of Jews and also the monument of Cyprus-Israel Friendship at the British Military Hospital. In the afternoon, a speech was delivered by academic Dr Evangelia Matheopolou on the historical ties between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. We also met with Mr Nick Larigakis, President of the American Hellenic Institute and later with Mr Endy Zemenides, President of the Hellenic American Leadership Council about lobbying efforts in the United States. In the evening, we were invited to a reception at the Presidential Palace hosted by the President of Cyprus Mr Nicos Anastasiades and the First Lady, which was a great honour for all of us on the trilateral trip.

Our third day in Nicosia consisted of a visit to the Ministry of Foreign affairs where we discussed trilateral relations, the Cyprus issue and the significance of the relationship between Greece and Cyprus. Following this, we visited the Tomb of Makedonitissa where the history of the memorial site was explained and NEPOMAK subsequently laid a wreath to commemorate the fallen and the soldiers that are still missing to this day. At the site, there is a statue of a grieving mother and behind her you can see the Turkish flag projected onto the mountains, reflecting a painful reality. We also visited the prisons where EOKA fighters were held and executed during British colonial rule, which was a deeply humbling experience especially given our guide who was a veteran of the liberation struggle himself. On returning to the conference centre, we as a group had the opportunity to discuss our experiences and give feedback on the trilateral trip, with focus on how we felt the trilateral trip and trilateral relations could progress – this was a beneficial and productive discussion, and left us feeling positive for the future of the trilateral. That night, we joined the delegates from the Cypriot diaspora conference at the National Guard Officers’ Club for a traditional Cypriot dinner, live music, and a performance by a traditional Cypriot dance group. Everyone who attended enjoyed the evening and most people headed to the dance floor to join in with Cypriot dances.

The final day of their trip started with a voyage on the historic Kyrenia-Eleftheria ship. We were taught about the history of the ship and given an opportunity to relax after an intense schedule. We then arrived at the Melathron Agoniston EOKA Centre in Limassol, where we met with Mr Photis Photiou, a prominent advocate of the trilateral diaspora trip – who in fact labelled us as ‘the dream team’. It was here that we joined the rest of the Cypriot diaspora and officials for lunch. We were informed that the Centre has plans to build a new wing which will be named “Diaspora”, so this seemed to be a fitting venue for our final meal.

The trip gave us great insight into the international relations, history, culture, and religious aspects of the Eastern Mediterranean. We realised that the trilateral diasporas share many similarities, and we were privileged to have the opportunity to learn from each other; from a worldwide to an individual perspective. It was an incredible opportunity for us to connect as diasporas, to reconnect with our motherlands, and to reflect on our own identities. As a group, we have formed very strong bonds and friendships, and are looking forward to working together to continue strengthening relations and helping the trilateral diaspora trip develop further.

NEPOMAK values its relations with other diaspora communities and intends to develop these relations going forward. As such, we have continued to engage in dialogue with our fellow participants from Israel and Greece regarding collaborating in the future. The strong relationships and bonds formed between all of us within the diaspora trilateral group was evident, and proved that this initiative was meant to be. As the representatives of all three diasporas, we believe that we have the potential to cooperate to enhance our relations and collectively bring innovative ideas and initiatives to the table.

We will always be grateful for this fantastic opportunity, where we have been fortunate enough to share so many experiences with two other diasporas – learning from one another, developing friendships and growing together. Two diasporas who share so many similarities with us as Cypriots. Looking forward, we hope that the trip could be an annual event, and we will welcome any opportunity to continue our involvement. Furthermore, we hope to see the trilateral diaspora relations between Cyprus, Greece, and Israel continue and flourish.