CHICAGO, IL – The Panepirotic Federation of America held its 38th biennial convention in Chicago on November 7 and 8 and elected author Nicholas Gage president and a board of veterans and newcomers to lead the organization for the next two years.
“With a new government in Albania, we need to redouble our efforts to secure basic rights for ethnic Greeks in the country that they are entitled under international law but are continued to be denied by Albanian authorities,” Gage said. “And we need to find ways to help Epirotes in Greece who have seen jobs disappear, austerity measures soar and their disposable income slashed by 40 per cent since 2008.”
“We will do all we can over the next two years to make as much headway as possible on both fronts,” he said.
The special guest of honor at the convention was Pyrros Dimas, who won three Olympic gold medals and one bronze in weightlifting for Greece in Olympic Games. Dimas was born in Chimara of Northern Epiros and is now a member of the Greek Parliament.
Gage, who served as president for two terms in the 1990s, will be supported by Menalaos Tzelios of New York, also a two-term former president, as vice president; Maria Vassiliades, one of the organizers of the Chicago convention, as secretary general; George Nanis of Worcester as treasurer, and Demetrios Koutoulas, the outgoing president who is also of Worcester, as assistant secretary.
The six-member board and the three alternates range from their 20’s to their 70’s and provide a multi-generational mixture of enthusiasm and experience, Gage said. The six-member board includes Amalia Lolli of St. Louis, Charalambos Mellos of New York, Efthimios Pappas of New York, Elias Tzias of Worcester, Dr. Lazaros Yiannis of Fitchburg, and Stavros Honjas of New York. The three alternates are Stacy Kombis of Chicago, Menalaos Sotiris of Boston, and Irene Tsoukas of New York.
The highlight of the convention was a gala dinner dance held in the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Marriott O’Hare Hotel, the site of the convention, where Pyrros Dimas and four distinguished Greek-Americans were honored for their contributions to the causes supported by the Panepirotic Federation. They included two honored by the Federation – Vasilios Mikelis, a former POA president, and Helen Alexander, a administrative leader in many Greek-American organizations including SAE and UHAC – and two honored by the Daughters of Epiros, the POA Chicago chapter that hosted the convention – Chris Kirkos, also a former POA president, and Chris P. Tomaras, the founder of the Panhellenic Scholarship Foundation.
A key guest at the convention was Constantina Beziani, who heads the Albanian bureau for minority affairs in the prime minister’s office. She told delegates she consistently pressed Albanian authorities to adopt the European Union’s guidelines on minority rights but that the government of Sali Berisha, which ruled Albania for eight years, consistently refused to do it. She said she was hopeful the new government of Edi Rama, whose Socialist Party handily won last June’s election, will be more forthcoming on minority issues.
The convention adopted a resolution unanimously that called on the Albanian government to provide ethnic Greeks in the country all educational, religious, political, linguistic, and cultural rights due them under international agreements and urged the European Union to freeze negotiations for admission of Albania until its parliament adopts all EU principles on minority rights. It also called on the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and the Greek government to press Albania to fulfill all its international obligations to ethnic Greeks in Northern Epiros and throughout Albania.
Beyond Albania, the resolution called on the United States to do everything in its power to end the occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish troops; to urge the Turkish government to end the harassment of the Patriarchate and reopen the School of Halki, and to press FYROM to stop expropriating the name Macedonia, which has been identified with Greece throughout its history.