Nostos: Greeks and Cypriots return to their roots in Egypt
Authored by Dina Ezzat and published by ahramonline on 3 May 2018
The Greeks crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century to Egypt 'not just to work: they came to live and work,' and they left a lasting mark on the culture of a country.
This week’s first round of the Nostos Programme in Alexandria brought back many memories for the former Greeks of Egypt. The visit was held in collaboration with the ministries of emigration of Egypt, Greece and Cyprus.
It started in Alexandria with an event inaugurated by the presidents of the three countries who made statements to acknowledge the shared Mediterranean history and culture of the three countries and the influences of the Greek and Cypriot communities in Egypt.
According to Maha Salem, spokesperson of Egypt’s Ministry of Emigration, the remainder of the visit of the mostly elderly women and men who had come to Alexandria, not just from Greece and Cyprus but from all over Europe and North America, was designed to include a visit to Cairo and Giza, especially the Pyramids area, and then to Sharm El-Sheikh, especially the Greek Orthodox Church affiliated to St Catherine’s Monastery.
“These are not just the places that the Greeks and Cypriots of Egypt once lived in, because they lived in many parts of the country, including the Suez Canal Zone. This is the path designed for the first round of the Nostos Programme,” Salem said.
Nostos is a Greek word that literally means a return to roots, or homecoming, particularly to roots near the sea.
“It makes perfect sense because Alexandria has always been perceived as the Hellenistic centre of the Mediterranean, and while the Greeks of Egypt, or the Egyptiotes as we call them, lived all over Egypt, they lived mostly in Alexandria,” said Michael Diamesis, ambassador of Greece to Egypt.
“The visit is not just about nostalgia but is also about our long common history. There was always a connection between our people, and there is plenty of archaeological proof for relations that in their modern phase started in the late 19th century. They go back centuries before that,” said Mortisis Charis, ambassador of Cyprus to Egypt.
By the early decades of the 20th century there were over half a million Greeks and Cypriots living in Egypt. Today, there are around 5,000 Greeks and 500 Cypriots. However, as both Diamesis and Charis agree, the Greek presence is still there and not just in the imprint of the monuments, churches and restaurants. The Greek and Cypriot communities, with their leaders and institutions, are still very active in Egypt, unlike some other former foreign communities.
Andreas Mavromotis is a third-generation Cypriot of Egypt who currently heads the Cypriot community in Cairo. Mavromotis’ grandfather was born in 1873, “the date when the Cypriot Community Association was established,” he said.
Mavromotis grandfather came to Egypt in 1915.