WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) celebrated the 196th anniversary of Greek Independence Day by hosting its annual “Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day,” March 22, 2017. 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. Bilirakis, Maloney, David Cicilline (D-RI), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats; Dina Titus (D-NV), Brad Sherman (D-CA), member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats; John Sarbanes (D-MD), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), member, Senate Committee on Appropriations; Grace Meng (D-NY), member, House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies; Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman and current member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Ted Deutch (D-FL), co-chair, Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance, and member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). In addition, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) attended.
Special guest speakers were: Greek Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos, and on behalf of the Embassy of Cyprus, Congressional Liaison Eleftheria Aristotelous. Greek Ambassador to the United States Haris Lalacos also attended.
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
Congressman Bilirakis: As Co-Chair of both the Congressional Hellenic-Israel Alliance and the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Affairs, I am proud to continue to work together with Greek and Cypriot stakeholders like the American Hellenic Institute during this Congress to strengthen relations with Greece and Cyprus, secure religious freedom and protection for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and promote a just solution to all citizens in Cyprus.
Congresswoman Maloney: I’m pleased to join you all to celebrate Greek Independence Day! Thank you, Nick, and everyone at the American Hellenic Institute for hosting this evening and for your great work. Greek Independence Day is a day of joy and pride for a great people. I’m very proud to represent a large, vibrant Hellenic American community in Astoria, Queens. And I’m honored that they have bestowed me with the nickname “Bouboulina” after the great warrior for Greek Independence. I had the privilege of visiting her home in Greece last year. In 1996, my constituents inspired me to create the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, one of the most bipartisan and active caucuses in Congress. I started the caucus with former Congressman Mike Bilirakis and his son, Congressman Gus Bilirakis has served as co-chair since 2007, when his father retired. The caucus celebrates Greece’s amazing history, and its contributions to democracy, art, science, literature, you name it. We also work together to maintain and strengthen what is already one of our country’s most important alliances. The U.S. and Greece are working together in many areas that have a profound effect on the world – energy, the economy, trade, national security – to name a few. We all know that the Greek people are struggling to emerge from a deep recession, but they have made great strides toward reform. It is essential that the U.S. continues to stand by its great ally throughout its recovery. The caucus sponsored its Stand with Greece Summit in 2015 and we continue to do so by supporting policies that will help Greece achieve economic stability. For instance, I helped facilitate a process that would allow Greek Americans to transfer money to friends and family members in Greece while strict capital controls were in place in 2015 and engaged the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to accept applications for foreign investment projects in Greece – an action that was first proposed by AHI. I will soon reintroduce a resolution supporting the return of the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece where they belong. The marbles are vital pieces of Greek history that belong to the Greek people, and I continue to advocate for an agreement for their return. As we celebrate a great moment in Greek history this month, Greeks have many reasons to be positive about its future. Greece and the Greek people are critical allies and dear friends of the United States and today I’m very proud to stand with you to celebrate the anniversary of Greek independence. Thank you all for your friendship.
Congressman Cicilline: I’m a proud member of the Hellenic caucus as well as the CHIA, which has really worked very well on security issues…energy and economic issues between Greece, Cyprus and Israel and really strengthen the relationship between those countries.
I also am a new member of the Europe subcommittee so I’ll have an opportunity to really advocate in my new position and particularly focus on the issue of Cyprus and its reunification. The last Congress, I had the opportunity to work with Gus Bilirakis to begin the process of requesting, first a study to find out the justification for the arms embargo against Cyprus. We didn’t particularly like the report we got but we’re going to continue to pursue this issue, which is really important to ensure that our great ally and great friend Cyprus, which has been a terrific partner in the war against terrorism, not be hindered by this existing arms embargo…The Greeks have made such enormous contributions to my home state of Rhode Island. We have a very wonderful Greek American community and the contributions of Greeks all over the world is something we have all experienced and benefitted from so I’m also here to say thank you for all that you have done to not only give us democracy but so much more and we wish you a happy Greek Independence Day.
Congresswoman Titus: I grew up in a little town in south Georgia where there was no church and very few Greeks. We had to go all the way to Jacksonville, Florida to get Kalamata olives. But I did learn to say “s’agapw” and it’s in my blood and in my heart. I am delighted to be here. I thank you, Nick, and I thank your team, for all that you do to advocate for Greece and Greek Americans here on the Hill. It’s very important that we maintain these close relationships. Thanks to all of you for taking time to come and join us in this celebration of Independence Day. I am pleased to be part of the Hellenic Caucus - I’ve been there from the very beginning – also the CHIA. I’m glad Carolyn is going to bring back our Parthenon Marbles. I was honored to represent President Obama at the opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens and I know we have a place for them and we can protect them and they need to come home so I’m very supportive of that…with this new administration, it’s up to us to be sure that they are just as supportive of the issues that we face in Greece vis-à-vis Turkey so let’s hope they have our ear as well.
Congressman Sherman: It is an honor to be with you to celebrate the rebirth of the independence of Greece, the nation that gave us democracy. There’s no better place to celebrate that than here, in the world’s most important and most powerful democracy. I served for 21 years on the foreign affairs committee. I am the second ranking democrat on that committee but I have been a philhellene for longer than the 21 years that I have been in Congress. I have always supported strong ties between the United States and Cyprus and Greece, and demanded the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus…again and again. I have opposed the transfers of U.S. ships to the Turkish navy…there is no reason for the United States to look at eastern Anatolia and say, “that’s a reason to supplement the Turkish navy…” To think that Turkey would try to interfere in waters far away from its own coast is absolutely outrageous…I look forward to continuing to work with you as I have over the years.
Congressman Sarbanes: I want to salute the AHI and Nick for your incredible leadership. This has been an organization that has always kept the issues that are important to the Greek American community on the forefront with a presence up here on the Hill that I think is unrivalled in terms of bringing those issues to the attention of everyone here in Congress. We do have, under the leadership of Gus Bilirakis and Carolyn Maloney, a wonderful Hellenic Caucus here. It is the second largest caucus which shows the appeal of the issues that affect the Greek American community and the Cypriot American community…we celebrate Greek Independence every year. It’s a look back [at Greek independence] but increasingly and unfortunately, it’s becoming a foreshadowing in some ways because if you look at the very provocative behavior of Turkey these days in the Aegean, sometimes it feels as though Turkey is in the business of re-challenging Greek independence, and we have to stand strong against that; we have to make sure that we are clear in advocating the issues that we care about. These are not just issues that affect Greece and Cyprus but they are issues that affect the security of the United States and the interests of the United States and Turkey’s behavior is increasingly one that is cause for concern, and we have to bring attention to that. We look for a just solution in Cyprus as we do every single year. It always seems as though it is just there within our reach and then it evaporates like a mirage. We hope that progress can be made, and we want to make sure that it’s made on terms that are fair to the people of Cyprus.
Senator Van Hollen: One of the things that’s always been bipartisan about the House has been this caucus…working together to make sure that the United States, as a great democracy, works closely with Greece which of course is not only a great democracy but Hellenic heritage has shown a light behind “We the People…” from the earliest days of Athens, and we want to celebrate that as we celebrate Greek Independence. Nick, thank you and AHI for your incredible work over the years…way back in the day, before John Sarbanes was a member of the House, I actually worked as a staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Paul Sarbanes, John’s father. At that time, we worked very closely on a lot of the issues that we still have to be vigilant about. We worked together to make sure the relationship between Greece and the United States remains strong…I want to thank Greece for being one of the five NATO countries that does commit 2% of their budget to defense and has been on the front lines of this fight against ISIS and has shouldered more than its share of the burdens when it comes to the refugees and has taken a very humanitarian approach…even in the midst of a very difficult economic situation. We need to do our part within the international community to make sure Greece can weather the difficult economic times that it faces because we need to be partners in every sphere – economics, security and politics. The Greek American community has made such incredible contributions to our country in every way…I just want to thank all of you for the spirit in which we’ve gathered here today. It is important that we recognize Greek independence every year…in order to look forward to years to come and maintain those very close bonds and working together to try to achieve a just settlement on Cyprus and uphold the rule of law, a constant challenge with respect to Turkish conduct in the region. Greece has been upholding the rule of law and not extraditing people at the dictate of Turkey (which has continued) with reckless military activity.
Congresswoman Meng: Thank you for inviting me and being so welcoming. As a proud member of the Hellenic Caucus, I am thrilled to join you in celebrating Greek Independence Day, which is on Saturday, commending the Greek Revolution of 1821. Greece and Cyprus are close allies to the United States. You already know that Greece is a strong ally in promoting Balkan stability, and diversification of energy supplies in Europe. Right now, Greece is on the frontline of dealing with the migration and refugee crisis, and I’m proud to have supported the U.S. providing technical assistance on these security issues. But the American-Greek relationship isn’t just about foreign policy or what’s happening halfway around the world, it’s about the great friendships here at home, too. There are at least three million Americans of Greek descent, and there is a wonderful and open community in Astoria and in my home (district), Bayside. If you just walk around the neighborhood, you can see how the Greek community is a stalwart contributor to the small business community, which is a foundation of the local economy. Every October, I take my family to the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church festival, guaranteed to be a fun time filled with delicious food and great music. I hope that we all continue to celebrate Greek Independence and the Greek-American friendship with as much joy as I see on my sons’ faces when I tell them we’re going to eat at the festival. Thank you.
Ranking Member Engel: We’re all here for one reason and that’s because we love everything Greek. The relationship between the Republic of Greece and the United States has always been a strong relationship aided and abided by the very vibrant Greek American community diaspora here in the United States. I am a ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I’ve served on the foreign affairs committee for a long, long time now. The very first bill I passed back in 1990 was a bill talking about the missing in Cyprus, and we were able to get the American government to put pressure so we were able to find the remains of the missing in Cyprus. So, Cyprus and Greece have always been large in my (incoherent) and I want to thank you all for being here. I think the work you do is very important and I think that coming to Capitol Hill is very important…Just know that on both sides of the aisle you have strong supporters and for very good reasons. We talk about the United States being the ultimate democracy and we should always remember democracy started in Greece. Thank you very much and look forward to working with you.
Congresswoman Schakowsky: I just want to say thank you to all of you…on behalf of the United States. I know that Greece has so many challenges right now. The influx of desperate people who have come to your shores and the work you have done I just want to express my appreciation for all that you have done to help those people. And I want to tell you that I look forward very much to work with all of you to advance the relationship between the United States and Greece to strengthen it and to be as helpful as I can. Have a wonderful evening, and I thank you for inviting me.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: Nick, thank you so much, and thank you to the American Hellenic Institute for putting on this tremendous event every year. Thank you to the young people who are here, and it’s great to see so many of you come to celebrate one of my favorite country’s independence. As you know when the U.S. was founded 241 years ago, something older than I am, it was built on liberty and democracy. Where does that come from? Come on everybody. Greece! Ideas that were born in Greece and where Greeks bravely risked everything for their independence in 1821 they were fighting for some of the same values that bind Greeks and Americans today. Not much has changed. You stand for all…so as we commemorate the 196th anniversary of the independence of Greece—our nations today are more than just great allies and great partners. We have a profound and unique friendship. Once supported by our shared values, once supported by a proud and rich heritage that Greek Americans live each and every day. I know our two nations will enjoy freedom, security and everything that Greece stands for is what the United States stands for. Prosperity for years to come. Opa!
Congressman Deutch: I am so thrilled to be here to help celebrate Greek Independence Day. I want to thank the American Hellenic Institute, Nick especially, my friends Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Bilirakis, for their help in organizing tonight’s event. Tonight, we celebrate freedom and democracy, two things that have long bonded Greece and the United States. Especially today I would just point out the important of freedom and democracy in our world given the tragic events in London today. I think it’s a reminder of the importance of events like this where countries like ours can come together to celebrate freedom to celebrate democracy the things that are so important we need to stand together to safeguard those ideals that are more important than ever. I have had the pleasure to meet so many people in the Hellenic community through my work on the Hellenic Israel Alliance. I have been humbled to be welcomed into the Greek American community although some of you have heard me say this before this is not new for me. Growing up in Pennsylvania, the Greek community and the Jewish community had so many similarities in the way that we lived our lives and the commitment we had to our communities, for our families, for our communities, for our peoples, to our countries. It is something that really brought together our two communities it is why I always feel so at home in the Greek community. It is why I am so thrilled to come and celebrate tonight. Thank you and have a wonderful celebration, and I look forward to many more celebrations together. Thanks, everyone.
Congresswoman Shea-Porter: Two of my kids went to school in Greece, and I said I had a hard time bringing them back. So, I know how special the culture is. I was delighted with the dancing. Of course, when you talk about the food everyone knows that it is better than ours. Thank you all for what you have brought and what you have continued in your traditions to share with other Americans. And it is what makes us so great. Bringing the strength and talent of music and everything that we each have to offer. Thank you for bringing it here tonight so that we could enjoy it.
Congressman Pallone: I am honored to be a part of this event to celebrate Greek independence and remember the historical friendship between the United States and Greece. I want to thank the American Hellenic Institute for organizing this evening’s celebration in cooperation with the Hellenic Caucus. I also want to thank Congresswoman Maloney and Congressman Bilirakis for their tireless advocacy for Greek issues. Americans and Greeks have a strong relationship – bound by ties of strategic and military alliance, common values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. For generations, Greek Americans have profoundly enriched our national life. They stand as leaders in every field and every part of our society, and their cultural legacy still echoes in classrooms, courtrooms, and communities across our Nation. I am honored to represent a strong Greek community in the 6th Congressional District of New Jersey. In fact, I was able to celebrate the 100th anniversary of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in my district late last year. Its history of building the church from nothing to making it a center for Greek education and culture is emblematic of so many Greek organizations and the benefits they have brought to our country. On Greek Independence Day, we commemorate the proud traditions that tie our nations together and honor all those who trace their lineage to the nation of Greece. It is important that we continue to promote and reaffirm the strong U.S.-Greek relationship. This is a relationship we cannot allow to dwindle and it is more important than ever that Greece and the U.S. cooperate and work together. I am also hopeful for continued efforts to spur economic recovery in Greece, and I encourage continued efforts by our international institutions, and the Greek government to support growth, job creation, and competitiveness in the Greek economy. I am also encouraged and hopeful that we may finally reach an agreement on Cyprus reunification. The fact that negotiations continue is a good sign. I am pleased that the United States is enthusiastic about a solution to the Cyprus conflict and I will continue to encourage meaningful negotiations and efforts to ensure that Turkey is on board with a solution. And it is more important than ever, especially on days like today, that we reaffirm our commitment to work through existing challenges. The Greek people have had to continuously battle against oppression from a Turkish Government that continues to illegally occupy the northern part of Cyprus and refuses to recognize the Ecumenical status of the Patriarchate in Istanbul. I want you all to know that the Hellenic Caucus here in the House is dedicated to pressuring Turkey to change its policies, so that the Ecumenical Patriarchate receives proper recognition as the international leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, not merely a local leader as he is currently recognized by the Turkish Government. As the world’s first democracy, steeped in philosophical and cultural traditions, Greece has been an example to the world for centuries. Nearly 200 years after the Greek people won their war to return democracy to their homeland we reaffirm the warm friendship and solidarity that will guide our work together in the years ahead. Thank you for having me here tonight and I look forward to continuing to work with you all.