AHI Hosts Annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day
WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) celebrated the 194th anniversary of Greek Independence Day by hosting its annual “Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day,” on April 15, 2015. 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 co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
AHI President Nick Larigakis served as Master of Ceremonies. He welcomed the guests and thanked Representatives Bilirakis and Maloney for their support to organize the reception and for their ongoing efforts to promote Greek American issues in the U.S. Congress.
Members of Congress who addressed the audience included (in order of appearance): U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman and current member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Dina Titus (D-NV), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Ed Royce (R-CA), who is chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; and Brad Sherman (D-CA), member, Committee on Foreign Affairs. U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who is the ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, stopped by and chatted with AHI staff prior to the beginning of the event, but could not stay.
Special guest speakers were: Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos, Ambassador of Cyprus to the U.S. George Chacalli, and AHEPA Supreme President Phillip Frangos.
The speakers emphasized their admiration for Hellenic culture and for the valiant and inspirational struggle for Greek Independence achieved in 1821. They also expressed their support for a proper settlement of the Cyprus issue, a proper resolution to the FYROM name-recognition issue, and religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
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 Papapostolou. The Greek School students of Saint Katherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, Falls Church, Va., sang the American and Greek National Anthems.
The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American public policy center and think tank that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.
Excerpts of Remarks to AHI
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: “All of us are pleased to be here tonight, to share the joy that comes with this wonderful celebration. ‘Nick [Larigakis], thanks to you for putting this event on every year.’ As we celebrate the Independence and also as Carolyn [Maloney] said we celebrated the Orthodox holiday, so Happy Easter to each and every one of you. We need to march on, we need to stay united, we have difficult issues ahead of us; Greek issues, their debt and financial problems which are very important to our economy as well. We need to help Greece. Also, the Cypriot issue continues to be a vexing problem for other people. It is not a vexing problem for us; we know that a unified Cyprus is going to be good for the United States of America. We need to end the illegal occupation that divides that island nation. We remain committed to that. On behalf of our Republican colleagues…for Republicans as well as Democrats, standing up for Greece, standing up for Cyprus, are the issues that unite us. After all, our great country was founded on the principles of freedom and democracy that was born in Greece. Those are the very principles that guided the formation of our nation. We looked to Greece for inspiration. Our bonds are very deep and they are timeless. ‘Thank you Nick for your great leadership’. Thank you to our two wonderful Ambassadors, let’s give them a hand…Nick, it warms my heart, as a Cuban-American who had to flee from a communist Cuba, when I was only eight, with my family, because of the oppression of the Castro regime; I know from my parents, that it was very important to continue to speak Spanish and that I continue to celebrate the traditions and the holidays of my native country. So, I love coming here every year because I see these young people…from tiny to teenage years, they celebrate their roots, they celebrate their heritage, and they are proud to be both American and of Greek descent. Thank you to the young people and to the parents who made this possible who sing their anthem in their native language. FELICIDADES. Thank you Nick.
Chairman Royce: “Thank you for this opportunity. I would just like to make two points to you. The first point that I would like to make: I had the opportunity to travel to Greece and Cyprus. I made an observation about Cyprus because I talked with Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots The both told me the same thing. They want the occupation to end. The Turkish Occupation. So this is my first point. Right now there is a forced border. ISIS is getting through a forced border, through Turkey. What we need now is for the 45,000 Turkish troops garrisoned in Cyprus to do the right thing… the government of Turkey (to do the right thing) and to put those troops on the border of Turkey so they can prevent ISIS from coming into (and out of) Iraq and Syria.
“My second point: The United States needs to step in and leverage a solution to the big (financial) mess. The United States needs to lead, in respect to Greece. We owe Greece a lot. It is the other NATO partner that keeps its commitment. It has a (big) part of its GDP that goes to NATO. It is also a hub of stability for foreign policy.
“I could go on through the list. I have been on the Foreign Affairs committee for 19 years and I’ve been with you 100% of the time and I will continue to be with you until the sovereignty of Cyprus is restored, until the church properties are returned. Then we can all celebrate victory, victory for the Hellenic cause.”
Congresswoman Titus: “I am the only Greek woman in Congress…we need to elect more Greek women…Thank you all for being here for recognizing Greek Independence Day. It is kind like our July 4th. We recognize democracy, liberty, equality, and those are part of our culture and it’s wonderful to celebrate them with all of you. A lot is happening right now. Besides the issues that we have been working on for a long time…Macedonia, Cyprus…There are things that are going on with Greece today. I want you to know that the letter we sent to the President, calling on him to be strong in our support of Greece during these times. When Senator Coats held up the Resolution-- which is most unusual-- recognizing Greek Independence Day; we didn’t do the traditional thing of calling and writing; we counted him out on Twitter. And most of you helped us by re-Twitting and saying, ‘Senator Coats, where did our Resolution go?’ He finally…tweeted back saying ‘Okay, okay, it’s going, we had enough.’ The United States needs to stand strong with Greece and help during these economic times to come up with some resolution and some agreement that it doesn’t have such austerity movements but helps us to improve and move in the future. All board on that and we will see what happens. Happy Independence Day. Thank You.”
Congressman Bilirakis: “Thank you very much... I will always be there for Ellada and Kypro…I am a lucky guy as most of you are, and of Greek descent, as I see the foustanella…I am very fortunate to be born here in the United States of Greek descent. And we have the best of both worlds. Really, I thank God everyday…as our forefathers…400 years, can you imagine all those years being under the Ottoman Empire…and keep our customs, our traditions, our culture, and most important, our language and our thriskeia? We owe it to our forefathers. We must be very grateful to our forefathers, and I can write the names, Kolokotronis, Kanaris, Miaoulis, Bouboulina, and many, many more. They did so much so that we may have the freedom that we have today. I will tell you that they …did so much. I know how much ….is …Ellada and Kypro, but with perseverance and our help, we have a duty and an obligation as Greek Americans to help our Ellada and Kypro; and after all it is in the best interest for the United States of America. We need a prayer, obviously and perseverance, and we will overcome….Thank you very much …Zito i Ellada….Zito i Kypros mas….God bless America…Thank you.”
Congresswoman Maloney: “I am so pleased to be here with you all to celebrate the 194th anniversary of Greece’s declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire. Thank you to my friend Nick Larigakis for inviting me to celebrate with you all…AHI has been an outstanding champion for the Hellenic community in the U.S. and around the world for more than 40 years. Thank you for all you do…I have the privilege of representing one of the largest Greek American communities in the U.S. and am blessed to call so many constituents close friends. They inspired me to, among other things, co-found and co-chair the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, one of the most bipartisan and active caucuses in Congress…Together we not only celebrate Greece’s amazing history, but also its people’s contributions to democracy, art, science, literature, you name it…The U.S. and Greece are working together on many issues that have a profound effect on the world – energy, the economy, trade, national security. That’s why it is so important that the U.S. work closely with Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his new government…But our relationship does not stop there. I, and many others, remain committed to resolving the name issue within the UN framework for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia….We will also continue defending the Ecumenical Patriarchate from discrimination and urge the EU to require reforms in Turkey before considering its candidacy for membership…And on the issue of Cyprus, we remain committed to the belief that unification is in the best interests of Greek and Turkish Cypriots...Greek Independence Day is a day of joy and pride for a great people and I’m proud to acknowledge the remarkable contributions of that the Hellenic people have made throughout the world.”
Congressman Tim Ryan: “Thank you so much….and all my fellow members here…I want to say, I got a book last week, a great new book and it’s called Defending A Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria; and he speaks to the liberal education in America. Multiple subjects, not necessarily liberal – conservative, but multiple subjects, the idea of cross civilization in our education system. Now that has been the driver of the American economy, for so many, many years and it traces back to Greece. And your culture, and your people have left such a mark in the United States and continue to contribute…I am proud to represent one of the highest concentrations of Greek Americans, and Warren, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, Akron, Youngstown, Ohio, …you have always been there for us, and the United States Congress will always be there for you. Thank you so much.”
For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos 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 and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.
AHI Hosts Annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day