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AHI Hosts Annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Georgea Polizos
May 3, 2016—No. 21 (202) 785-8430

AHI Hosts Annual Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) celebrated the 195th anniversary of Greek Independence Day by hosting its annual “Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day,” on April 13, 2016.  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. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman and current member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Dina Titus (D-NV), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) also stopped by and chatted with AHI staff during the event. In addition, although U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) were unable to attend, they submitted written remarks to AHI.

Special guest speakers were: Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Christos Panagopoulos, Deputy Chief of Mission Andreas Nikolaides, Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus; and AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaidis.

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., and the Hellenic School of Potomac, Md. sang the American and Greek National Anthems.   

Excerpts of Remarks to AHI

Congressman Zeldin: I just wanted to stop by, pay my respects and thank you all for the invitation. I represent the first congressional district of New York, which is on the east end of Long Island [where there are] many very proud Greek Americans with amazing stories…For those of you who might be coming to visit, please come find us. I love hearing about all of your issues, your concerns, your passions so that I can represent you as well as possible. I know the challenges that your home country faces with regards to immigration, the war on terror, the economy - these are critically important issues for the future of Greece and the entire region. I serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and I’m on the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee. I actually decided to run [for office] on a trip to Greece a few years back…I look forward to working with all of you whether you are from New York or elsewhere. God bless and have a great night.  

Congresswoman Maloney: Greek Independence Day is a day of joy and pride for a great people and I’m very proud to acknowledge the remarkable contributions that the Hellenic people have made throughout the world. I have the privilege of representing one of the largest Greek American communities in the U.S. Together we not only celebrate Greece’s amazing history, but also its contributions to democracy, art, science, literature, you name it. We also work together to do everything possible to constantly strengthen and improve what is already one of our country’s most important alliances. 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…I have urged the Treasury Department and President Obama to provide full support to Greece during its recovery. The Hellenic Caucus hosted the first annual “Stand with Greece” summit last year to advocate for U.S. support of our strong ally, especially in light of the refugee crisis which was emerging at the time. While capital controls were in effect, I also helped facilitate a process that would allow Hellenic Americans to transfer money to friends and family members in Greece. I am optimistic that Greece will continue to make reforms to improve its economic situation for its people…The empathy that Greeks have shown refugees from Syria and other areas of conflict has been truly inspiring. Thank you all for your years of advocacy on behalf of the Hellenic people and Hellenic Americans. Today, as we celebrate a great moment in Greek history, 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.

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: Thank you to Nick and the American Hellenic Institute for inviting me –you always put on such wonderful and important events and the Congressional Salute to Greek Independence is one of my favorites. Not only does it give me an opportunity to say a few words about my good friend, colleague and all around nice guy, Gus Bilirakis, but it’s also an opportunity to thank the Greek American community and the nation of Greece for their contributions to American society and the world. Despite economic, humanitarian, and security challenges, Greece and her people continue to show incredible resiliency, standing with the United States as partners and NATO allies with a deep commitment to our shared values of family, freedom, and liberty. When the United States of America was founded 240 years ago, it was inspired by and built upon an old Greek idea:  democracy. I’m honored to be able to represent my constituents in these hallowed halls and take part in the great experiment we call democracy, fighting alongside allies like Greece so that all people across the world, including in Cyprus, can enjoy this universal human right. And I am proud that today, as we commemorate the 195th anniversary of Greece’s independence, our two nations are more than just great partners; Based on our shared culture and principles, we have a deep and profound friendship that I know will generate freedom, security, and prosperity for years to come. Here’s to the next one hundred and ninety-five years.  

Congresswoman Titus: I am the only Greek woman in Congress - we need some more! But it is not about me; it is about the future and we are counting on you to carry on this legacy and have more Greek women in Congress in the future. So thank you, it is always great to celebrate with you and you know that my office is always your office: come back and see me anytime you need anything.

Congressman Bilirakis: You always do such an outstanding job! We do need more women in the U.S. Congress. I have a duty and an obligation to help Ellada and Kypro in any way I can; my staff and constituents are not all Greek, as you know, but they all understand how important it is to me and how important it is to the United States of America. Greece and Cyprus have been tremendous allies and we have the Hellenic–Israeli Alliance now [in addition to the Hellenic Caucus] the trilateral agreement between the Prime Minister of Greece, the President of Cyprus and the Prime Minister of Israel. We have a lot of good things to look forward to but the United States needs to help with the refugee crisis as well. If it were not for our [Greek] forefathers and what they gave we would not be here today; we are so grateful. We are forever indebted to Ellada, Kypro and the United States of America.

Congressman Pallone: Thank you for all that the organization does. These are policy battles that we continue to fight. But it is a long-term struggle and many times [with] our own government because they side with Turkey because they see it as more important than Greece. And we just have to remember that the United States has to stand with democracy and the rule of law. So thank you for all you are doing, and thank you for inviting me.

Written Statements Submitted to AHI 

Congressman John Sarbanes: As we celebrate the 195th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence, and as we remember the Hellenic spirit and bravery that carried the day against the Ottoman Turks, we must not forget the influence of Greece on America. In our own nation’s fight for independence, our Founding Fathers were galvanized and guided by the democratic ideals born in ancient Greece. And in our society – past and present – the Greek-American community has enriched our culture and our economy. Today, as they struggle for liberation from an economic and humanitarian crisis of epic proportion, the Greek people are once again demonstrating their character of perseverance and courage.

Congressman Tony Cárdenas: I stand to recognize Greek Independence Day and our longstanding relationship with Greece. Today, the United States is home to more than 1.3 million Americans of Greek descent. California, my home state, has the second highest concentration of Greek Americans in the United States. Greece continues to be a key ally in the region for the United States politically, economically and in the energy sector. Greece is a participant in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows for citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism, contributing greatly to our shared economies. It is important that we protect the relations between these two countries who have shared democratic values and help celebrate the diversity that Greek Americans bring to our nation. May this Independence Day fill your life happiness and prosperity. 

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.

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For additional information, please contact Georgea Polizos at (202) 785-8430 or atpr@ahiworld.org. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org and follow us on Twitter @TheAHIinDC.