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AHI Hosts Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: GEORGIA ECONOMOU
April 20, 2007—No. 25 (202) 785-8430

AHI Hosts Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day

WASHINGTON, DC—On March 28, 2007, the American Hellenic Institute hosted its annual "Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day" at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill to celebrate the 186th Anniversary of Greek Independence and the common democratic ideals held by Greece and the United States. The event was held in cooperation with the Congressional Hellenic Caucus's co-sponsors,Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

The event, which attracted over 200 people, began with the singing of the Greek and American national anthems, performed by the children of the Greek School of St. Katherine in Falls Church, VA.

Special guest speaker was George Alogoskoufis, Minister of Economy and Finance of Greece.

AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis, who served as Master of Ceremonies, welcomed the guests and thanked Rep. Bilirakis and Rep. Maloney for their support in organizing the reception, and for their ongoing efforts in promoting Hellenic American issues in the U.S. Congress.

Members of Congress attending the reception and addressing the audience included (in order of appearance): Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Rep. Joe Wilson (D-SC), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. Zack Space (D-OH),Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA).

Each of the speakers emphasized their admiration for the Hellenic culture and for the valiant and inspiring struggle for Greek Independence, achieved nearly 200 years ago. They also expressed their wish for a proper settlement of the Cyprus issue.

Below are excerpts of remarks from several of the Representatives:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (D-NY): “What a joy it is every year to get together with Nick and the Institute members to say thank you. Thank you for keeping the issue of strong Greek American relations even stronger. As we know, where did we get our democracy? from Greece. Where did we get the rule of law, human rights? From Greece. And we owe you a debt of gratitude. Two wonderful democratic countries working together to get better trade, more security. You are a wonderful ally and we have to remember those folks who stayed with us and especially the Greek American community. What a vibrant community we have. I am blessed to have so many Greek Americans in my state of Florida.”

Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC): “I have a special Greek American community in my district…Greek Americans work diligently, work hard and ask for very little in return.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ): “I want to thank Nick and all of you involved with the American Hellenic Institute for putting this event on every year…As I was standing here for the last ten or fifteen minutes, Nick was talking to me about a couple of the issues. Obviously when you talked about the legislation I’ve introduced to make it possible for Cypriots to reclaim and get compensation for lands that were seized by the Turks in the occupied Northern Cyprus. This is something that we are going to continue to pursue and try to get a hearing and pass and I want to thank Nick and everyone with the Institute for all your efforts in trying to get more co-sponsors…

But Nick also talked about the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the problems that the community continues to have. I thought it was particularly sad to think that here we had a visit by the Roman Catholic Pope to Istanbul and for the Greek community who were trying to visit the historical occasion when the Pope visited with the Ecumenical Patriarch had a hard time even getting into the Cathedral. The fact that the Turkish government puts all these barriers in place, refuses to recognize the Patriarch as the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I mean all these things are very much a violation of freedom of religion…

The other thing which I know is so important, and I know the Hellenic Caucus is working on is to bring the Turks back to the negotiating table with regard to a united Cyprus. The Annan Plan was rejected by the people of Cyprus. We need to look at a new initiative and I think it’s time for the Turkish government to come back to the table and agree to negotiate a new proposal that will work…”

Rep. Joe Wilson (D-SC): “I’m honored to be here…from the state of South Carolina I wanted to wish you well. I grew up in the city of Charleston, indeed the Greek community is so important in the Charleston community and we are so proud of what the Greek Americans have contributed to our society...”

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL): “I grew up in Tarpon Springs learning the Greek language and working in my grandfather’s Greek bakery, waiting on the customers. I always say it is very important to keep our customs and our traditions and our ‘glossa’ (language) and ‘thriskia’ (religion). That is very very important for us….That is something to be proud of. And now we are here on the greatest country on the earth and America encourages that we retain that. It is wonderful to celebrate Greek Independence Day.”

Rep. Zack Space (D-OH): “Thank you Nick, thanks for the good work that you and Gene Rossides and the rest of your staff does at AHI in providing invaluable service and helping to educate the members of our Congress, among other things regarding some of the issues that are so important to Hellenes around the world. I am also of Greek decent…my grandparents came from Ikaria and that is something I am extremely proud of. Having been raised in a Greek family, I share many of those same traditions that Gus [Bilirakis] referenced. Those customs and traditions that survived 400 years under the Ottoman Empire…”

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY): “We celebrate history but it is wonderful that in Congress we can always look forward on what we can do to help Greece, to help Cyprus and what we can do to help the Greek American community, many of whom live in my district in New York…

Greece is such a strong and wonderful ally to the United States. You gave us so much, our form of government based on our democracy…

We need to do away with the symbols that FYROM keeps accumulating, publishing the maps—they are inaccurate. At one time they had the white tower on their money. They keep trying to assume these symbols and we need to make very clear that Macedonia is Greek. And we are working on a bill that really clarifies what is proper in that case. But today is a day to celebrate Greece…”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH): “On Greek Independence, we value the close association that the Greek community has and I’m very honored to represent a large Greek community in the city of Cleveland, Ohio.”

Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL): “Not only do I represent probably one of the largest Greek [American] populations but also one of the most interesting, one of the most productive, one of the most involved, one of the most engaged, one of the most fascinating because they do live in the great city of Chicago in the state of Illinois. As a matter a fact we just recently elected our State Treasurer who is Greek, Alexi Giannoulias, who is of Greek heritage…but it is just good to be here, to see all of you, to extend a congratulations. You are indeed a great part of the United States of America…”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA): “Thank you for what you do to build a strong relationship between the United States and Greece. And I look forward to the reunification of the world’s only divided city, Nicosia. I look forward to working with you. To take a Greek idea- democracy and make it shine around the world, it will take us a little while. Not sure the way we are going about it in Iraq is exactly the right way to do it. But, I look forward to that idea triumphing in this century.”

Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA): “I want to congratulate all of you on celebrating your independence. I was in your country many times, but the last time I was there was for the Olympics... One of my colleagues in the California Senate was Nick Petris and he really reflected what was good and what was informative and inspiring about Greece…and I learned so much from him and so much from you, your country. And you have taught us what democracy is all about. So, I salute you, I commend you and I want to thank you for bringing democracy to the world. Congratulations.”

George Alogoskoufis, Minister of Economy and Finance of Greece stated in his remarks:

“Today, Greece is a free and prosperous country. Thanks to the support of the American people we managed to rebuild Greece from the ruins of World War II. We are members of the European Union since 1981, and we play a key role in the economic development of the Balkans, while at the same time maintaining good relations with every neighbor of ours.

Yet, we can never forget how it all began. We can never put aside our ideals and our values. We ardently believe in freedom, in human rights, in human dignity, in the values of democracy. We fully share with the American people the view that the world has to be founded upon the four essential human freedoms that Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in this building in January 1941: The freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear.

Greece, as a member of the European Union and as a friend of America, will continue to pursue with all its powers the struggle for freedom everywhere in the world. This is our way to pay homage to the memory of the people from this land that fought among our ranks and sacrificed their lives during our struggle for independence. It is through their sacrifice that March 25th has also become a day of glory for America. Their sacrifice shall never be forgotten.”

Concluding the event 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.

Please find the photographs from AHI's "Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day" at the following link:http://ahiworld.org/2007_congressional_salute/

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For additional information, please contact Georgia Economou at (202) 785-8430 or [email protected]. For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at http://www.ahiworld.org.