WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) celebrated the 197th anniversary of Greek Independence Day by hosting its annual “Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day,” April 11, 2018. 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. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), John Sarbanes (D-MD), and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).
Special guest speakers were: Greek Ambassador to the United States Haris Lalacos, and on behalf of the Embassy of Cyprus, Charge d'affaires Andres Nikolaides. Basil Mossaidis, Executive Director of AHEPA also provided remarks.
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 Byzantio Greek Dance and Cultural Arts Program under the direction of Aris and Anna Yortzidis. Maria Karageorge sang the American and Greek National Anthems.
Special thanks to our sponsors:
Freedom Sponsors: Elizabeth Bartz, Constantine Galanis, James H. Lagos.
Liberty Sponsors: Leon Andris
ZHETO Sponsors: Gus Andy, Dr. & Mrs. Elias Iliadis, Martha Lucas, Dr. George S. Talaidouros, Techgnostic, Inc.
1821 Sponsors: John Alahouzos, John Anasis, Dr. Panayiotis Baltatzis, Dr. Kenneth Frangadakis, Evangelos Gizis, Vassiliki Kekela, Jeannie Kouros, Constantine Michaelides, Nikolaos Paschalidis, William Patsios, Jennifer Poulakidas, Leo J. Sioris, Demetrios Skalkos, Pamela Solomos, Mr. & Mrs. Leon Spanos, and Sophia Tsangali.
Supporters: William Camarinos, Ann Christoforidis, and Mr. & Mrs. Nicholas & Shopia Karakas.
Excerpts from Member's Remarks
Congressman Crist: As the grandson of an immigrant from Cyprus, it was an honor to celebrate Greek heritage on the Hill with the American Hellenic Institute and my fellow Greek-Americans. Great work being done to strengthen the Hellenic-American community and our important relationship with Greece and Cyprus.
Congresswoman Maloney: I have the privilege of representing a very vibrant and large Greek American community in Astoria Queens in the district that I represent. So today is a day that we can celebrate that Macedonia is Greek as they now try to negotiate a new name. We know that Macedonia is Greek and everything from archeological finds, history, we know that Macedonia was the home of Alexander the Great and Phillip the Second.
I have worked really with Nick during the financial crisis with Greece and they are working their way out of it. One of his ideas, I worked with him to get the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to agree to invest and cooperate and join in investments in Greece. We also worked on getting the remittances raised so that people could get more money from their loved ones from abroad.
Recently I went to Greece and when I went to the Parthenon, you see saw the marbles were missing, so I put in a resolution that the marbles are not the Elgin Marbles, they are the Greek Marbles. They belong in Greece. They were developed by Greeks, and they say they were sold, but the invading Ottoman empire had no right to sell them. They should come back to Greece. That is where they belong.
We celebrate Greece, we work with Greece, and so much of our democracy and culture is based on the gift from Greece. Our countries share a bond that is so deep it cannot be broken.
Congressman Sarbanes: I want to thank Nick Larigakis and the American Hellenic Institute not just for tonight…but for the incredible work that AHI does day in and day out. Very thoughtful, research based. When AHI comes up onto the Hill to talk to us about important issues that effect Greece or Cyprus, they come equipped with a lot of good information and have a very good reputation here as a result. They are an incredible resource to the Hellenic Caucus, the Congressional Hellenic Israeli Alliance Caucus, and for all those reasons Nick I want to think you for your work.
Every time we get together it seems there is always something that either Greece or Cyprus is trying to liberate themselves from, so it is very thematic. Cyprus continues to labor under this situation of being divided by the Turkish occupation that we bring advocacy year in and year out on to our colleagues here., and we will continue to do so every year.
Over the last few years, each time we get together to celebrate Greek Independence Day, we have more stories about Turkey misbehaving in the region. I am extremely disappointed, I have to say, in Turkey as a so called partner of the United States. It seems that Turkey is cozying up to our adversaries and by the day disrespecting our allies. Certainty AHI, other groups and members of the Hellenic Caucus have been trying to make the case that we need to step back and reevaluate that relationship with Turkey.
Congressman Bilirakis: Ladies and gentleman, I have been leading that fight in Congress for the past 12 years. When President Erdogan of Turkey says that he will use the so-called "Ottoman Slap" to take on Greece or when his thugs beat American citizens on U.S. soil, we know that we CANNOT rest on the laurels of our great ancestors. The struggle continues even today.
Look no further than last year, when in just a single day, Turkey violated Greek airspace 141 times. This was only hours after Erdogan met with Greece’s Prime Minister. Last month, Erdogan’s forces intentionally rammed an unarmed Greek Coast Guard vessel near Greece’s Imia islets over which Greece and Turkey nearly went to war in 1996.
This latest act of brazen provocation by Erdogan’s government near Greece’s Imia islets represents a continuation of government-sanctioned intimidation and coercion in this area which has a long, tired history of failure. These flagrant and escalating violations of international law do nothing to advance regional interests and provide for stability and prosperity.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become increasingly Islamist, authoritarian, and intolerant of press freedom and civil liberties. Additionally, Turkey is deepening political, economic, and military ties to Russia and China, the two countries the F-35 is most needed to deter and, if necessary, counter.
Storing U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey no longer makes sense and Erdogan’s recklessness cannot go unanswered. That’s why I will be filing legislation directing the Secretary of Defense to submit to Congress a report detailing alternative European NATO locations for U.S. nuclear weapons stored in Turkey along with a plan to relocate them.
At a time when commitments to NATO have been questioned, Greece is second behind only the United States in its financial commitment to NATO despite battling two crises, economic and migratory. Greece is also an active participant in peacekeeping and peace-building operations conducted by international organizations, including the UN, NATO, the EU, and OSCE.
I was proud to support the increase to Greece’s International Military Education and Training Program from $150,000 to $1 million [an initative which AHI led] in addition to a report to Congress from both the Defense and State Departments that details the proposed upgrades to the Greek F-16 fighter jet program.