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Events

AHI Athens Dinner Honors Past President of Greece, Spotlights National Issues

ATHENS – The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) held its 18th annual Athens Awards Dinner at the Grande Bretagne hotel in Athens on May 3. The Washington, DC-based organization is an independent non-profit public policy and advocacy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States, Greece, and Cyprus and within the Greek-American community.

The hotel’s ballroom was filled with 200 AHI supporters and those who came to honor this year’s award recipients, former President of Greece Prokopios Pavlopoulos and past AHI Athens Chapter President George Economou, who received the Hellenic Heritage Public Service Award after the presentation of brief biographical videos.

Among the honored guests were Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Konstantinos Floros, Minister of Health Thanos Plevris, Past Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougkalos, Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Katsaniotes, and Secretary General for Hellenes Abroad John Chrysoulakis.

Emcee Olga Bornozi, Managing Director of Capital Link, addressing the diverse guests in Greek and English, deftly kept the program moving forward. She also presented an overview of the history and work of AHI and introduced AHI President and CEO Nicholas Larigakis, and noted that, “during the two years of the pandemic, they did not stop even for a minute.”

Greetings were offered by U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Counselor  Cynthia Harvey and AHI Athens President Vice Admiral Vasileios Kyriazis (retired).

(Photo by Constantine S. Sirigos)

Chrysoulakis told the guests he was honored to represent PM Mitsotakis and to convey his strong message of support for AHI’s activities. He also foreshadowed the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit the United States, which will include a visit to the White House and an historic address to Congress.

Harvey conveyed “the warm greetings of Ambassador [Geoffrey] Pyatt,” who could not attend due to the requirements of preparing for his imminent departure from Athens. Pyatt also asked her to express “his appreciation for Nick Larigakis and AHI.”  She also said that “President Biden is committed to taking the U.S.-Greece relationship to a higher level.”

Economou began his acceptance speech by noting that the reverence in which Odysseus is held reflects the symbolic power of the ‘journey’ in life. His own proceeded from his native Cyprus to Athens via a distinguished career as a maritime attorney and service to  Hellenism through organizations like AHI. He closed with a touching tribute to his wife: “I simply cannot imagine my life” – his journey – “without you.”

Larigakis urged a round of applause to Bornozi for her “exceptional work tonight,” and later thanked the event’s sponsors, AHI’s members, as well as Sylvia Gavalla and the rest of AHI’s staff for organizing the dinner.

Larigakis placed his observations on U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus in the context of the War in Ukraine that threatens the international order, spotlighting also the most recent Turkish provocations that compelled Greece to place its forces on unprecedented levels of alert, in addition to Erdogan’s abuses of the rights of Cyprus. He stressed that the Rule of Law, championed by AHI’s late and revered founder Eugene Rossides, cannot be enforced selectively. That undermines world order, leading to what is happening in Ukraine. “Without the rule of law, there is no freedom, only anarchy” he said.

Declaring that the night’s honorees “exemplify the highest ideals of Hellenism,” Larigakis also expressed his deep personal appreciation for Economou’s service to AHI.

Pavlopoulos offered the keynote address, beginning by also acknowledging the work of AHI and Larigakis. He then declared – to loud applause – that their work, which is also that of every Hellene, will not be done before the last Turkish soldier and settler leaves Cyprus, also noting the defense of Hellas and Hellenism is an ongoing duty.

Presenting an overview of the founding of AHI by Rossides and of the Aegean and Cyprus issues, he spoke emotionally about the original tragedy and the continuing outrage of the 1974 illegal Turkish invasion. Pavlopoulos then demanded that Greece use all the tools at its disposal on all fronts, saying, “we must use our veto, even in the context of NATO… and the EU.”

He continued, noting that International Legality and the defense of National Sovereignty are not debatable and that compromises are unacceptable, and citing the Ukraine invasion as an example of what follows when those principles are weakened. Pavlopoulos then urged the United States to think carefully and deeply about arming countries like Turkey.

Also present at the dinner were the participants, including Larigakis, of the recent joint trip to Greece, Cyprus, and Israel of AHI, the Order of AHEPA, the B’nai B’rith, and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. AHEPA’s Supreme President Jimmy Kokotas told TNH that the trip, which is a biennial affair, “was extraordinary. To see the cooperation that has been established the past 10 years is wonderful. These people truly are our brothers and sisters. What we heard – the mutual respect and the trust that exists between the three countries,” was impressive.” He added the three are working to strengthen and even expand the group – known as 3 +1 when initiatives include the United States. Kokotas was also among many who praised AHI – with which AHEPA works closely – and Larigakis.

 

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