The trilateral youth 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, the group visited Israel, Greece and Cyprus with a full itinerary which included high level meetings, excursions and sight-seeing.

Israel was the first country that we visited. Our first night was spent getting to know one another and learning about the organisations we are a part of as diaspora youth. The next day included a visit to the Israel Museum and a meeting with Josh Schwartz, Jewish Agency Secretary on Israel Diaspora relations. The latter 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, which everyone left feeling sombre and reflective.

On the third day, we had a guided tour of the old town of Jaffa, 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 visit 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, Head of International Relations Unit & Foreign Policy Adviser to the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, 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 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 via 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 Defense, where we learnt about Greece’s military. Then we 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 invited for an impressive tour of the Hellenic Parliament. To end the day, we visited the acropolis, were we saw the beautiful sunset over the city.

We then flew from Athens to Cyprus. Upon arrival, we ate a traditional Cypriot lunch in the old city of Nicosia. This was followed by a tour near the UN buffer zone, where the tour 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 were treated to speeches from important Cypriot officials. NEPOMAK Global President, Mr Christos Tuton gave a speech on the importance of the diaspora which is something that applied to all of us as trilateral participants.

On the second day, we met with Presidential Commissioner Mr Photis Photiou alongside the deputy ambassadors of Israel and Greece in Cyprus who discussed the importance of the diaspora, the importance of trilateral relations and the experience of the delegates on 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 USA. In the evening, the delegates attended a reception hosted by the President of Cyprus Mr Nicos Anastasiades and the First Lady. It was an official event in which the importance of the diaspora was highlighted.

On their third day in Nicosia, the delegates visited the Ministry of Foreign affairs where they discussed bilateral and trilateral relations, the Cyprus issue and the importance of the relationship between Greece and Cyprus. The delegates then visited the Tomb of Makedonitissa where the history of the memorial site was explained and they laid a wreath to commemorate the fallen and the soldiers that are still missing to this day. There is a statue of a grieving mother and behind her you can see the Turkish flag projected onto the mountains which is a painful irony. They also visited the prisons where EOKA fighters were held and executed during British colonial rule of Cyprus. In the afternoon, the delegates sat down and discussed their experiences as diaspora in their countries and how they felt about the trilateral trip and how it was to progress moving forward. It was a really beneficial conversation for the delegates and it was interesting to draw on experiences as individuals and as a group. That night they had dinner at the Nationals’ Guard Officers’ Club where they had a traditionally Cypriot meal and joined in with Cypriot dances.

The final day of their trip started with a voyage on the historic Kyrenia-Eleftheria Ship. On their way, the delegates were taught about the history of the ship. The voyage lasted for around three hours and gave delegates the opportunity to relax after an intense schedule. They then arrived at the Melathron Agoniston EOKA in Limassol, the trilateral delegates had a casual discussion with Mr Photis Photiou who was a big supporter of the group and in fact labelled them the ‘dream team’. Then, they joined the rest of the Cypriot diaspora and officials for lunch at the Melathron Agoniston EOKA Center where the new wing called “Diaspora” will be built, which seemed very fitting as a final meal with the group.

The trip opened everyone’s eyes to international relations, history, culture, religion, similarities and differences. It was an amazing opportunity to connect as diasporas but also to reconnect to our motherlands and question how we identify ourselves. The group formed very strong bonds and look forward to helping relations and seeing this trilateral trip develop further. NEPOMAK values its relations with other diaspora communities and intends to develop these relations further. We have already been in contact with our fellow participants from Israel and Greece regarding getting together in the future. The strong relationship and bond formed between the Trilateral group is clearly evident and proving to be one which was meant to be created. As the youth representatives of all three diasporas, together we believe that we have a strong potential to make a difference in our cultures and relations going forward and collectively bring innovative ideas and initiatives to the table.

We will always be grateful for this opportunity and have been fortunate enough to be able to interact and grow with two other diasporas which in fact possess so many hidden similarities to our Cypriot culture. We hope to see the youth Trilateral Trip between Cyprus, Greece, and Israel continue yearly in the future and welcome any opportunity for further input and assistance in organizing.

 

Charlotte Robinson (UK)

Michael Christodoulides (Australia)

Yannis Christodoulides (USA)

Maria Lazarou (UK)

George Alexandrou (UK)

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