AHI Hosts Annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day
Event held in Cooperation with Hellenic Caucus Reaffirms Shared Democratic Ideals
WASHINGTON, DC—The 189th anniversary of Greek Independence Day was celebrated on Capitol Hill as the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted its annual “Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day” on March 24, 2010. The common democratic ideals held by Greece and the United States were reaffirmed by several members of Congress at the event which was held in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues’ co-chairs, U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis, who served as Master of Ceremonies, welcomed the guests and thanked Representatives Bilirakis and Maloney for their support in organizing the reception and for their ongoing efforts in promoting Greek American issues in the U.S. Congress.
Special guest speakers were His Excellency Vassilis Kakarelis, ambassador of Greece to the United States, His Excellency Marcos Kyprianou, foreign minister, Republic of Cyprus; and Nick Karacostas, AHEPA supreme president.
Members of Congress who addressed the audience included (in order of appearance): U.S. Reps. Zack Space (D-OH), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Mike McMahon (D-NY), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA).
Each of the speakers emphasized their admiration for Hellenic culture and for the valiant and inspirational struggle for Greek Independence achieved nearly 200 years ago. They also expressed their wish for a proper settlement of the Cyprus issue, and stressed their support for Greece over the name issue with FYROM.
During the evening, there was a presentation of traditional Greek dances performed by the Return to Origins Greek Folk Dance Troupe under the direction of Rena and Elena Papapostolou. The Greek School of Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, Falls Church, Va., sang the national anthems of the United States and Greece.
Excerpts of remarks made by members of Congress are below:
Congressman Space: “My family, like so many other Greek-American families, has never forgotten the strong bond that exists between Greece and the United States. I am extremely proud to call myself a Greek-American and that I was able to celebrate the anniversary of Greece’s independence.”
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: “I was honored to sponsor a resolution, unanimously adopted by the House on March 11th to commemorate the independence of Greece and the lasting friendship our two countries enjoy…I believe it is in the best interest of both our countries to work in a unified, coordinated manner to resolve the key issues that concern Greece today, including: the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the reunification of Cyprus, and the proper treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as the center of the Greek Orthodox faith.”
Congressman McMahon: “The American Hellenic Institute is the premier organization for not only Greek Americans but also legislators and policy makers to advance the interests of the US through a comprehensive lens. One example of AHI’s important role in our international policies was its commitment to helping Greece achieve its deserved visa waiver status. This year, the Departments of Homeland Security and State heeded their recommendations and designated Greece as a visa waiver country. Now, all Americans can benefit from this open exchange, particularly US businesses and cultural institutions. I also wish AHI success in achieving similar victories in other legislative areas that are also of great concern to me – in particular, ending the occupation of Cyprus and Turkey’s recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Both these battles are deteriorating the lively and expansive Greek tradition and history and must be resolved at once. I will continue to be a strong voice on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to urge for an absolute end to the occupation and to advocate for the Patriarch’s recognition. This course of action would not only protect Greek customs, but Turkey’s multi-cultural history as well. Finally, I will work to make sure that a mutual agreeable name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, is reached. After all, Macedonia is Greek! Through its great history, Greece has always approached its own matters with grace. I am particularly proud of the American Hellenic Institute, which through its dedicated advocacy and hard work has achieved so much and educated so many.”
Congressman McIntyre: “When I was in high school we once had a debate on the merits of the foundations of Greece versus the foundations of Rome. We knew the great Roman government owed so much of its indebtedness to what Greece had taught the world about democracy and a representative government. And in that debate, yours truly won! So we’ve been arguing for Greece for a long time. As a member of the Armed Services Committee…We had great discussions about Greek efforts against terrorism and your cooperation with the United States from the point of military concerns. So thank you, thank you for your friendship not only historically, but currently, and we look forward to a great friendship into the future.
Congresswoman Titus: “Thank you all for being on the Hill. You know how much it means to have you backing us when we are fighting for the issues that affect Greece. I’m proud of my Greek heritage…I was sworn in on my grandfathers’ Greek Bible…The Greek Caucus works very hard together on these issues from Cyprus to the Patriarch from FYROM to getting back our marbles now that we have a fabulous museum to put them in You can always count on me and I hope you will consider my office your home away from home whenever you’re here. One of my great honors besides meeting the Patriarch, when he was in town, was to represent the country (US) in Athens at the opening of the new museum which the president asked me to attend. Please always count on me because I have a very strong Greek heart and you can count on always having my support. So thank you very much for everything you do.”
Congressman Pallone: “Thank you for all you do and what AHI does, it is really important…I do want to stress, as I did earlier today, how important it is for everyone to be down here because we really have so many issues…Often times when you talk about foreign policy whether it is Greece or Armenia or whatever a lot of member’s eyes glaze over because they are so preoccupied with healthcare and everything else. I really think it’s important while you are down here that you meet with your Congressman and [Congress]woman and Senators and also at home to remind them how important your issues are both to you and to U.S. Greek relations…I was just going to mention briefly that we are trying to get the money back for Voice of America which I think is very important…We are about to reintroduce the act that deals with property claims in Cyprus. I know this has been a major issue for those of you who are from Cyprus originally or have ancestors from Cyprus because of the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus and all the property that was simply taken away without any kind of redress or any kind of compensation. That needs to be addressed so people can go into American courts to state their claims to that property. And I think this is an important part of any future settlement that might occur when Cyprus is ultimately reunited. The other thing that constantly comes to my attention…is the situation with the Patriarch...Ultimately, the Patriarch should be considered like the Pope, an independent entity, property preserved, seminaries opened again and that Turkey must essentially recognize that religious freedom means you can practice openly. That Christian churches can maintain their property, educate their priests and their bishops otherwise there is no freedom of religion, which essentially you don’t have now in Turkey…Ultimately, what we would like to see is a reunification of Cyprus and the end of the Turkish occupation of the north…From a human rights point of view, it’s the only thing that makes sense. We have to make sure the United States is constantly standing for human rights, for religious freedom and not just looking out for which is the biggest economy and who we are going to sell things to if all we worry about is trade and military process then we will never stand for any principles…It’s really important for you to be down here and to continue to agitate for your causes and we are certainly going be there with you. We want to support you and we will be there.”
Congressman Carnahan: “Thank you for what you do, building on a strong relationship, we look forward to a great future. Have a great celebration on this special day.”
Congressman Royce: “The architecture of this Republic is based upon the ideals that Greece kept alive for 400 years of subjugation…All the architects of this Republic, Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Tom Payne as you know all spoke Greek, wrote Greek, they read Greek thought…They were committed to one thing; the Greek enlightenment…I’ve always appreciated Hellenic thought. I just wanted to tell you, not only has it enriched western civilization, Greek reason, logic, poetry, it is the basis of our civilization. You are all justifiably proud.”
Congressman Engel: “I know the friendship between Greece and the United States and the contributions Greek Americans have made to this country. Greece was the first democracy and the U.S., of course, we are the oldest democracy continuously now and that’s why our countries share so much in common; NATO allies and all the things we stand for. One of the first bills I passed…was the Missing in Cyprus Bill, trying to track down seven Americans that were missing and its been my delight to work with the Greek American community very, very closely ever since then…Long live the friendship between the U.S. and Greece.”
Congressman Cao: “I am a disciple of Plato and Aristotle. I studied them, got a graduate degree in Greek philosophy and if you were to ask my staff over there I always quote Aristotle…One of the quotes I have always used with them is that “virtue is the means between two extremes.” I believe that here on the Hill we have to regain the Greek notion of virtue…I understand how important it is to push for democracy and that’s why I just wanted to be with you here in your celebration of your 189th anniversary for democracy.”
From those that could not attend:
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): “On this 189th anniversary of Greek independence, let us all reflect on what we as Americas owe to Greece for our historical ties, for the role ancient Greece played in the shaping of our democracy, and for the enduring friendship between the peoples of the United States and Greece.”
Click here to view photos from this event.
For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at https://www.ahiworld.org