There is a much greater understanding in Cyprus today of the importance of the diaspora and its role in helping secure a just resolution of the Cyprus issue. This is best understood in direct dialogue with Cyprus and by translating words into action for the greater good.

I do not only mean action on gaining political momentum on a resolution of the Cyprus issue. This is important and Australia, as a middle power, can exert pressure on Ankara and in the United Nations in support of Cyprus. But beyond the Cyprus issue there is a need to fully understand the importance of the diaspora in retaining language culture and religion in faraway places and the benefits this brings to Cyprus and to Cypriots.

It is in this context that last week after two and half years of being constrained by Covid I finally was able to travel to Cyprus to meet with key people there. I was pleased to see my relatives again and visit my village where I was born in Polis Chrysochous in the district of Paphos. I was even more pleased to be able to be in Cyprus and to see key people in my new role as the President of the Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria (CCMV).

A selfie in the central square of a cold Polis Chrysohous. Photo: Theo Theophanous

I asked to see key people in Government and the leaders of the two major parties. Trying to fit into people’s diaries and working around some who had Covid and were isolating was not easy, but I managed to see three key people – Annita Demetriou, the new President (Speaker) of the Parliament of Cyprus; Averof Neophytou, President of the ruling party DISY; and the Presidential Commissioner, Photis Photiou, who is responsible for Cypriots abroad.

Apart from the interchange of ideas on the Cyprus issue and discussions surrounding the challenges for Cyprus arising from the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, I raised two important issues with all three esteemed members of the Cyprus Government and Parliament.

The two issues that I raised were the new Development of the Cyprus building and the publication of an important book about the history of Cypriots in Australia authored by Professor Anastasios Tamis and commissioned by the CCMV.

All three expressed strong support and excitement for these two big initiatives of the CCMV and also supported other actions to retain, language, culture, religion and promote Cyprus dancing classes which the CCMV provides for free.

I explained that the book is in its final draft stage and covers the more than 100-year history of Cypriots in Australia. It will be a book with a hard cover and is in excess of 650 pages in size. The CCMV has already invested significant money in this endeavour and the book will soon be ready for typesetting and printing. These will also cost significant sums and the CCMV must find ways of covering its costs.

In relation to the building development, I outlined the scale and cost of the undertaking. The issue I raised with all three of the important people that I met was the concept of the Cyprus Government having a presence in the new building. Cyprus has a High Commissioner in Canberra which is appropriate as Canberra is Australia’s capital. But the bulk of the Cypriot diaspora live in other cities, in particular Melbourne and Sydney. I put the argument that Melbourne as the city with the largest Cypriot diaspora of approximately 60,000 should have a consul. I proposed that an office and potentially an apartment for accommodation be located at the new Cyprus House which is the name that will be given to the new development. This idea was enthusiastically received by all three of the people that I met.

The President of Parliament Mrs Annita Demetriou suggested a small contribution to the book from her own budget but more importantly she indicated that she would support the Government of Cyprus purchasing a significant number of books to be distributed to libraries and schools and of course some for the Parliament itself. On the Development she wished us luck and offered her full support and encouragement.

Mrs Demetriou also expressed her fond memories of her visit to Melbourne and the accord she had achieved with my own daughter, Katerina Theophanous MP, as they were both young women making a mark in politics. She looks forward to at some point visiting Australia again as the President of the Parliament. I think I was very lucky to get to see Mrs Demetriou as the day after I saw her, she contracted Covid. Fortunately, it was not passed on to me despite our brief removal of masks for a photo.

Photis Photiou was equally enthusiastic about our two major initiatives as well as the Halloumi festival. He is an old friend and a good supporter of the Australian diaspora. He also hopes to be able to travel down under to see us in person. Mr Photiou has asked me to write to him and ask for support in the two important initiatives of the community. He is the conduit for support of the diaspora within the Cyprus Government and it was pleasing to see his enthusiasm for our initiatives.

With Photis Photiou, Presidential Commissioner responsible for Cypriots abroad, in his office. Photo: Theo Theophanous

The meeting I had with Averof Neophytou was very positive. Mr Neophytou is not only a friend of 30 years he also comes from the Polis area in Cyprus so we have a lot in common. He is of course also a candidate for the upcoming Presidential elections, and I wished him well. Mr Neophytou said that he would support the purchase by the Cyprus Government of 200 books on the history of the Cyprus diaspora in Australia to be distributed to libraries, schools, and other important places in Cyprus. This will be extremely important to the CCMV as we seek to gather enough funds to facilitate the printing of the book.

Mr Neophitou was equally enthusiastic in relation to the new proposed Cyprus House building. He thought that this was a major initiative that can cement the presence of Cypriots in Melbourne for generations to come.

Importantly he also supported the idea of a Cyprus Government Consul in Melbourne to be housed in the new building. If this comes about it will be a major step forward for Cypriot government representation in Melbourne. I suggested that it would be great if he becomes President if he would come and open our new building. He smiled approvingly and said: “Let me win first”. On this point of the Presidential election I also pointed out that unlike in England Australian Cypriots are not able to vote. Its another issue that will hopefully be addressed.

I also spoke with Mr Neophitou about broader issues. In particular, the pressures on Cyprus arising from its “love affair” with Russia over many decades and the need now to distance itself and support Ukraine and the European Union against Russian aggression. Mr Neophitou instantly said: “I have made it clear the future of Cyprus lies with the West and only the West. There is no question of us choosing a side we have already chosen a side – it is with Europe.”

I was pleased to hear these words as I have thought for some time that while it is important to have cordial relations with Russia and promote Russian tourism to Cyprus, it is also important to make clear to the Russians that Cyprus is part of the EU and the West more broadly. This allows Cyprus to criticize Russia’s actions in Ukraine and call for a cessation of hostilities. It was equally notable that Mr Neopytou fully understood the hypocritical role being played by Turkey as its President Erdogan seeks to be peacemaker and to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine while simultaneously disregarding the hypocrisy of his actions in occupying Cyprus.

With Averof Neophytiou, President of ruling DISY party and Presidential candidate, at DISY.

I also met with George Petrou from the association of Halloumi producers who outlined to me some of the problems facing the recognition of Cyprus as the only source of genuine halloumi. This recognition has occurred in Europe where the name halloumi cannot be used if it is not a product of Cyprus. Australia does not recognise this decision, so this is another battle to be fought for the recognition of the halloumi name as belonging only to halloumi sourced from Cyprus. Mr Petrou undertook to provide significant amounts of halloumi for free to the Cyprus Community for its annual halloumi festival which we hope to have some time before October 2022.

With George Petrou, Association of Halloumi Producers, taken in Larnaca at Ermou square. Photo: Theo Theophanous

Finally. I also caught up with the former President of the CCMV Stelios Angelodimou, in Cyprus where he has been living. I passed on to him our appreciation for the work he did as President and especially for helping initiate these two major projects of the Book and the Building.

The CCMV is in a critical stage of its development and I and the entire Committee are committed to our major projects and to realising the promise of the diaspora to maintain our culture. language and religion while participating in our adopted country and assisting Cyprus in its important historical mission of a united, democratic, and free Cyprus.