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Events

AHI Marks 50th Anniversary, Honors Angelo Tsakopoulos and Caterina Sakellaris

WASHINGTON, DC – When the cause entails healing from wounds and yearning for justice, anniversaries can be bittersweet. The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) on April 13 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its founding, a triumph of Greek-American community action and solidarity in 1974, but Turkey’s illegal occupation, which followed its brutal invasion in violation of U.S. and international law and the NATO charter continues – marking a darker anniversary.

AHI’s efforts in support of Cyprus, Greece, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the strengthening of U.S. relations with all three continues nevertheless, and the more than 400 people who packed the ballroom of the Capital Hilton were not just there to celebrate the past, but to re-commit to the future. The annual gala is AHI’s most important fundraising effort, with ticket sales, donations, and auctions generating resources to continue its work of informing the U.S. Congress, the Executive Branch of Government, the all-important think tanks in the American capital, as well as the media.

The noble endeavor is founded on a great principle and a powerful maxim respectively, proclaimed for decades by AHI’s founder, the late and revered Eugene T. Rossides: The Rule of Law, shamelessly violated by Turkey to this day, and the need, ignored at the Community’s peril, that the advocacy efforts Greek-Americans always be placed in the context of American interests. Indeed, on an evening when Iranian rockets and drones were raining on Israel and death and destruction continue in Ukraine, the continued importance of AHI’s mission was crystal clear – allowing to Turkey continue to violate with impunity the rules-based international order built by America after WWII is a green light to aggressors everywhere.

AHI’s President and CEO, Nicholas Larigakis, addresses the guest at the 50th Anniversary Gala of the American Hellenic Institute at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill Petros)

The host of the grand event was AHI’s President and CEO, Nicholas Larigakis, who began his service 37 years ago. Serving the great causes even longer was Yola Pakchanian, of Armenian descent and born and raised on her beloved Cyprus. Their contributions were acknowledged – along those those of countless staff, interns, and volunteers over the past five decades – throughout the night.

Among the evening’s highlights were the Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award and the Hellenic Heritage Public Service Award presented to Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and Caterina Papoulias-Sakellaris respectively for their lives of dedication to Hellenism and Orthodox Christianity and the Cyprus cause, as well as their public service and philanthropic efforts in the Greek-American community and beyond.

Tsakopoulos, unable to attend in person, congratulated AHI and greeted the guests by video, introduced by his daughter Eleni Kounalakis, the current Lt. Governor and candidate for Governor of California. His award was received by his longtime friend and collaborator John Sitilides. Papoulis-Sakellaris joined them in both honoring AHI for its history and stressing the importance of building for the future, crowning the evening with a moving tribute to her faith, her heritage, and most of all to her father. Touching on the new challenges faced by our evolving community and a dangerous world, she urged the guests to support AHI’s traditional missions and to address changes in our evolving community.

The dinner began with United States Marine Band accompanying the ‘presentation of the colors’ by The Marines of Headquarters Battalion, followed by the national anthems, the Greek sung by Maria Pearce.

Georgia Polizos, who served as AHI Legislative Director for five years and is now a Board member, introduced MC Mike Emanuel, Chief Washington Correspondent for the FOX News Channel. The Invocation – and later the Benediction – were offered by Fr. Konstantinos Pavlakos.

AHI’s President and CEO, Nicholas Larigakis and John Sitilides are holding the Hellenic Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award that was awarded to Angelo Tsakopoulos. (Photo by Bill Petros)

The guests from all over the U.S. were greeted by Nicholas E. Chimicles, Chair of the AHI Gala Weekend which included a spectacular concert at the famed Warner Theater by renowned International Crossover artist Mario Frangoulis the night before that guests were still talking about.

Also offering greetings was James H. Lagos, Esq., Chairman of AHI. Leon Andris, Chairman of the AHI Foundation, was unable to attend and was missed. AHIF is responsible for AHI’s trip that has sent 200 students to Greece and Cyprus, turning them into knowledgeable advocates for the Community’s causes and potential leaders.

Video tributes to AHI and Larigakis and well as greetings to the guests were offered by Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President of Cyprus Christodoulides, and Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, and a special message from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was read to the gathering.

Always appreciative of AHI’s donors, Larigakis spotlighted the late George Spiropoulos, whose generosity made possible the purchase of Hellenic House, which opened in 1994 as AHI’S headquarters just a few blocks from the White House. He noted that with his check for $5,000 Spiropoulos was one the first contributors in 1974, along with Orestes Varvitsiotes.

Larry Michael introduced the video, for which he was Executive Producer and which was narrated by George Stephanopoulos. Featuring, among others, distinguished professor and author Van Coufoudakis and AHI’s first employee Leon Stavrou, it provided historical context for a special evening, which was graced by the presence of Rossides’ wife Aphrodite and other family members.

After the program guests enjoyed dancing past midnight, entertained by the band Apolonia.

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