Epirotes Oust Three Dissidents Who Formed Separatist Group

Nick Gage president The Panepirotic Federation of America. Photo:TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos

WORCESTER, MA – The Panepirotic Federation of America (PFA) recently held a board meeting in Worcester, MA and expelled two board members and an alternate for secretly trying to establish a separatist organization in violation of the Federation’s constitution.

The board members are Kostas Tsiouris and Anna Noti, both of New York, and the alternate is Menelaos Sotiris of Boston.

The PFA was established here in 1942 by members who traced their origins to Epiros, a region that has had a Greek identity since Homer’s time but whose northern half was given to Albania after the country was created in 1913. Throughout its history the Federation spoke with one voice and pursued a united policy in defending the rights of their compatriots in Northern Epiros and promoting the culture of all of Epirots in the United States.

On October 12 a small group of separatists met in New York and announced the formation of the Northern Epirot Federation of America (NEFA) “to claim the rights of the Northern Epirots and to preserve the culture of Epiros.”

The rogue movement was immediately condemned by Epirot leaders. “We consider this effort misguided, divisive, and certain to weaken, not strengthen, the goals that the group says it advocates,” declared Nicholas Gage, PFA president. “Since Epirots began coming to the United States, they have been trying to help their homeland as one people and one community, united in 1942 under the Panepirotic Federation of America.

“To create a new fringe Federation for only one part of Epiros only serves the goals of our adversaries to weaken us by dividing us, and we urge its members to consider carefully the dangerous course they have chosen,” he declared.

Chris Dimou, president of the World Council of Epirots Abroad, issued a statement calling on Northern Epirots “to reject division and fear and embrace unity and cooperation.”

Rev. Kosmas Karavelas, president of the Himariotan Society of America (HSA), also stated that HSA “categorically rejects any movement that divides the efforts of Epirotans to address the problems of property ownership, minority rights, education and the preservation of our ethnic Greek culture in Albania.”

At the board meeting, Kostas Tsiouris, a founding member of the new Federation, argued that NEFA was not in conflict with PFA and he saw no reason why officers in one couldn’t be board members of the other.

Dimitrios Tsoumbanos, a former president of PFA, pointed out that the reason was in the PFA constitution, which prohibits officers and board members from belonging to organizations that do not support PFA policies, which NEFA advocates clearly don’t, if they feel the need to form a new federation.

Menelaos Tzelios, another former president, asked Tsiouris to name the ten chapters he declared at the Oct. 12 meeting were members of the new organization. He refused. A survey of PFA chapters established that not one has held a general assembly to discuss possible membership in the rogue federation and to vote to join it.

Gage noted that the creation of a new federation was especially unfortunate now, because the PFA was working closely with the new government in Athens to pursue a common policy that will secure for Greeks in Northern Epiros basic rights due them including property rights, language and cultural rights, and the right to identify themselves as Greeks without fear of recrimination. He said he had met personally with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Oct. 15 to discuss those issues.

Tsiouris said he and his group intend to pursue their own agenda on their own terms but would not provide specifics.

Gage questioned Tsiouris as to why he felt the need, other than ego, to form a new federation, considering how successful the PFA has been defending the people of Northern Epiros including in the mid 1990s when former Albanian leader Sali Berisha launched a pogrom to drive ethnic Greeks out of the region. PFA leaders sprang into action, he noted, persuaded Washington to freeze loans to Albania and to call for new elections. “The Berisha party lost decisively and its leaders knew why,” he said. “Baksim Gazedete, the head of Albanian intelligence, went before the Albanian parliament and declared: ‘The Panepirotic Federation is responsible for the fall of the Berisha government.’”

When Tsiouris dismissed PFA’s achievements, Tsoumbanos asked, “then why would you want to stay a member of its board?”

Noti urged officers and board members from Northern Epiros to express their views, and they all declared that they saw no need for a new federation, and that its existence would harm the Epirot cause. “It’s obvious that we will gain the most if we stay united,” Olga Fotos, the PFA treasurer, stated.

In the end, the vote was unanimous to expel the three dissidents.

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