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More young, diverse voices needed at diaspora conference, Nepomak says

Εναρκτήρια τελετή του Παγκόσμιου Σ
Οpening ceremony of the World Conference of the Cyprus Diaspora University campus, Cyprus University

More young voices need to be heard at the annual diaspora conference, the World Organisation of Young Overseas Cypriots Nepomak said on Sunday.

The 21st World Conference of Diaspora Cypriots took place this month in Nicosia, but the few young people who attended were disappointed by the lack of participants from the same age cohort.

Nepomak, a global network of approximately 15,000 Cypriots aged 18 to 30 living across eight regions around the world, was present at the conference just like every year since 2002.

But the 35 youth delegates had a fairly different schedule than the rest of the participants.

On Tuesday morning, the beginning of the four-day conference, they visited the parliament where they had a vibrant informal get-to-know with House President Annita Demetriou. At night that day, the delegation attended the opening ceremony of the conference when Nepomak’s Global President Christos Tuton gave a small greeting while as of Wednesday they followed the remaining schedule.

However, the youth group was often holding private focus sessions in a separate room, discussing their own operations and priorities.

“Primarily we talked about things we want to work for ourselves, improving our digital presence by doing more on social media, focusing on the Cyprus issues and other topics such as climate change and sustainable energy but also on how to stay in touch with the local news,” Tuton told the Cyprus Mail.

nepomak session
Nepomak’s sessions

It was during those brainstorming sessions that the delegates agreed that in the future they would like to hear more youth perspectives in the conference, both from Cypriot diaspora but also people who grew up in the island.

Tuton explained that many younger generations of diaspora might not know much about the island nor speak the Greek language very well. Some were even visiting Cyprus for the first time.

“We are all much more comfortable and familiar with the history, politics and culture of the countries we grew up in whether that is the UK, the US, Australia or South Africa,” said Tuton, who was born and raised in London. The organisation represents Turkish Cypriots, Armenians and Cypriots coming from mixed backgrounds.

But they all have one thing in common; the desire to learn more about their country of origin as to preserve the Cypriot culture and identity abroad.

Part of the sessions Nepomak attended was a briefing on youth issues by the Education Minister Athena Michaelidou and the Executive Director of the state Youth Board, Maria Miltiadous on the second day of the conference.

“It was a good overview of issues affecting youth in Cyprus,” Tuton said, adding that Nepomak had a chance to privately discuss with the youth board director about further initiatives.

However, he said it would also be “interesting to continue to meet young people who grew up on the island who can tell us what issues matter to them, what kind of things are affecting young people who live in such an unusual situation where part of the island is occupied”.

nepomak at the parliament
Nepomak’s delegation at the parliament

This can be done through more Nepomak focus sessions where younger people can have a chance to present their own experience. Then, they could share some of that with the wider conference to give them an understanding of what is like for young people of the diaspora, Tuton said.

And this should also include people from a range of different backgrounds, including the LGBTQIA+ community, he said.

Asked about youth representation in the diaspora conference, the organisers cited the participation of the youth board, the government’s organisation targeting issues affecting the youth.

“No group approached the organisers and asked to speak and was denied,” the President of the National Federation of Cypriots in the United Kingdom and former Nepomak president Christos Karaolis said.

For Nepomak, it is crucial that diverse views are presented, so the conference became an opportunity for introspection. “We talked about how we can understand diverse experiences through the Cypriot lens, such as LGBTQIA+ voices and activists on other topics,” Tuton said.

Nepomak voiced their concerns when they met the government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis. He stressed to the delegates that they can play a role as young people of diaspora in promoting a positive stance on the Cyprus issue. “We also exchanged ideas on young people of Cyprus sharing their views with us and they were received positively,” Tuton said.

The World Conference of Cyprus Diaspora took place between August 22 and 25 with the participation of 300 delegates from around the world.

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