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A Poignant Commemoration of the EOKA Liberation Struggle at St. Nicholas in Flushing (Photos)

FLUSHING, NY – A poignant event commemorating the EOKA struggle against British colonial rule in Cyprus was held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church’s Sarantakos Hall in Flushing on April 1.

The Federation of Cypriot American Organizations (FCAO) in collaboration with the International Coordinating Committee Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Cyprus in New York presented the event which featured songs, poetry, and essays commemorating the 68th anniversary of the start of the liberation struggle which lasted from 1955-1959.

Arianna Christou, member of the FCAO Board of Directors and NEPOMAK, the youth division of the Federation, served as emcee and gave the welcoming remarks, noting that “with feelings of national pride, we honor today the fighters of EOKA who with absolute faith in the idea of freedom participated in the great struggle against British colonial rule.”

She then acknowledged the dignitaries present, including His Grace Bishop Athenagoras of Nazianzos- representing His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Ambassador Evangelos Sekeris, Consul General of Cyprus in New York Michalis Firillas, Rev. Protopresbyter Paul Palesty, Rona Marie Panteli, first secretary of the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the UN, FCAO President Kyriacos Papastylianou, Cyprus-U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Maria Pappas, St. Nicholas Parish Council President Peter Valasiadis, and William Spyropoulos Day School Principal Mary Tzallas.

His Grace Bishop Athenagoras and Fr. Palesty then presided over the Trisagion service in honor of the fallen heroes of EOKA.

PSEKA and Pancyprian Association President Philip Christopher at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
Consul General of Cyprus in New York Michalis Firillas at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

FCAO President Kyriacos Papastylianou in his remarks noted the heroism of the EOKA fighters which echoed the heroic feats of Hellenism from the past, such as the “molon labe” of Leonidas of Sparta quoted by Grigoris Afxentiou to the British who then burned him alive. He then acknowledged the presence of Andreas Karacostas, one of the EOKA fighters, who received a warm round of applause from the audience, adding that we owe a debt of gratitude to him and to all those heroes of the liberation struggle who fought, were imprisoned, tortured, during the course of the struggle.

“But sadly, the struggle for freedom for the Greek-Cypriot people was not vindicated,” Papastylianou said, adding that instead, 14 years later the Turkish invasion took place “and 36 percent of Cyprus’ territory is still occupied to this day. The struggle continues… we must never forget those who sacrificed their lives.”

He then congratulated the children who participated in the program and their parents for passing down to their children the Greek language, faith, culture, history, and traditions, so that Hellenism is not lost in the United States.

Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Ambassador Evangelos Sekeris at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

Philip Christopher then thanked the St. Nicholas community and all those for attending, including the dignitaries and AHEPA, noting the presence of Nicholas Karacostas, Past Supreme President and Chairman of the Board of Trustees for AHEPA, and Savas Tsivicos. He also thanked the Artistic and Musical Director of the event and of the Pancyprian Association of America Phyto Stratis for all his efforts as well as the members of the Pancyprian Choir who were present, including President Ismini Michaels.

Christopher noted the celebrations of July 4th, March 25th, and April 1, 1955-1959, as “300 young men, willing to sacrifice their lives, fought against 30,000 British troops and due to the EOKA of April 1, 1955-1959, today, the Republic of Cyprus is independent, member of the European Union, member of the United Nations.”

Attendees at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

He continued: “Perhaps the sacrifice of Pallikarides, Demetriou, Karaolis, Matsis and Afxentiou did not give us the destiny that we wanted which was union with Greece, but it did give us independence and this is what we are celebrating today and we can never forget the sacrifice of those people, but what we usually remember is the determination the enthusiasm and the spirit, the spirit of 1776, the spirit of March 25, 1821, and the spirit of April 1, 1955-1959. We are fighting and we are continuing to fight, because 36 percent of the island of Cyprus is occupied by Turkish troops… it is our hope and we still have to hope after 48 years that what started on April 1, 1955 will not finish where the island is divided and occupied… Cyprus today is still fighting for freedom and justice and we as American citizens… have an obligation to make sure that Cyprus becomes free and all the refugees return to their homes.”

Consul General of Cyprus Michalis Firillas noted that there is a bittersweet aspect to these days, celebrating March 25th, Greek Independence Day, and then April 1st and the tremendous struggle that was fought for freedom but Cyprus is still not entirely free. He added that such events must continue in honor of the heroes of EOKA as they inspire us to continue on, to have faith and be unified in the fight for freedom.

Ariadne Anna and Demetris Michael performing during the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

Ambassador Sekeris mentioned the invasion of Ukraine and reminding his colleagues at the UN that there is another longstanding issue, that of Cyprus. He also spoke in English, pointing out that the young martyrs of the EOKA struggle should be viewed as a paradigm to the young people present and an inspiration to all.

The impressive musical program followed with the gifted soloists Demetris Michael and Ariadne Anna under the direction of Phyto Stratis and the participation of the William Spyropoulos Greek American Day School Choir, directed by Areti Giovannou, and the students who recited poems and essays, Nicholas Polydorou, Maria Polydorou, Iacovos Polydorou, Markella Georgiou, Christiana Georgiou, and Eirini Kyprianou.

A slide of Grigoris Afxentiou on the screen beside Ariadne Anna, Demetris Michael, and Nicholas Polydorou at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
Eirini Kyprianou recites a poem, flanked by Ariadne Anna and Demetris Michael, during the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)
The William Spyropoulos Greek American Day School Choir with soloists Ariadne Anna and Demetris Michael during their performance in the EOKA commemoration. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

Stratis spoke briefly about the choice of the final song in the program before the National Anthems were sung, Tin Ellada Agapo, with lyrics from a poem by Pallikarides to his beloved, “it is not particularly a patriotic song, but it is a love song, and I wanted to highlight that these heroes, these fighters, who were called and are sometimes still called ‘terrorists’ when they were simply fighting for their homeland. Afxentiou with his sacrifice, choosing to stay inside and be burned alive showed who the real terrorists were and who were the heroes.”

“These people loved their homeland, their religion, their family, but above all they loved life,” Stratis said. “Evagoras Pallikarides was a young person, an excellent poet, and this is a small piece that shows the maturity of an 18-year-old.”

His Grace Bishop Athenagoras in his closing remarks noted that “the heroes will remain immortal in our minds, in our hearts, and in our memories.”

The event also included the screening of a video produced by the FCAO highlighting eyewitness accounts of the EOKA struggle, a photo exhibition organized with the support of the Cyprus Press and Information Office, and a reception which followed the program.

Also among those present were Despina Axiotakis, Tasoula Manaridis, and many members of the community.

Federation of Cypriot American Organizations President Kyriacos Papastylianou at the EOKA commemoration on April 1. (Photo by Eleni Sakellis)

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