ATHENS – That the 99th Anniversary AHEPA Supreme Convention held in Athens this week is a supreme success should come as no surprise given the years of preparation by the Order's leaders in the United States and AHEPA Hellas. Nevertheless, the gathering of the Order's brothers and sisters from all over the world for the first such event in Greece since 2008 felt very much like a miracle during a pandemic that has kept friends and loved ones apart for more than a year.
The praises and thanks for AHEPA's contributions to the Hellenic Diaspora and its members' support for the homelands of Greece and Cyprus and the joyous welcomes poured forth from many officials, culminating in the heartfelt messages of Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades at the Grand Banquet the evening of July 28 at the Divani Caravel hotel.
Beginning on Sunday, July 25 with a moving wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the AHEPA Family Opening Welcome at the Grande Bretagne hotel, which was the scene of most of the activities – the fellowship, networking, meetings, and presentations which are the essence of the gathering – the Convention flowed smoothly through the important AHEPA Cyprus Panel Discussion `Trilateral Relations in the Region' at press time on Thursday morning.
The panel featured Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, representatives of Israel and Jewish American organizations such as the B'nai B'rith and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and Cypriot American leader Philip Christopher. All emphasized the importance of the continuous strengthening and deepening of the `Trilateral' relations between Greece, Israel, Cyprus and the strong support of the United States, as well as of people-to-people relations in their respective diasporas.
LOVE, THANKS, AND INSPIRATION AT THE GRAND BANQUET
The Grand Banquet, emceed by AHEPA Board chairman Nicholas Karacostas, was a more emotional affair than most such gatherings, reflecting both the often-fraught history of Hellenism in the 20th century and the longings of both the homeland and the Diaspora for deeper, stronger and more effective ties and a brighter future. International Soprano Eleni Calenos' with her moving renditions of the national anthems and Greek and classical songs as well as Daughters of Penelope Grand President Celia Kachmarski both set the tone – Calenos literally, and Kachmarski by expressing the Diaspora's love for Greece, “the birthplace of my father” and the place that “took in my mother's family when it was removed from Asia Minor in 1923.”
When introducing President Anastasiades, Christopher spoke about the struggle for Justice in Cyprus – which continues with the recent provocations over Varosha – and thanked AHEPA as a reflection of the vital role of the Diaspora, words echoed by the President, who in his speech emphasized the importance of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel Trilateral relationship.
Antonis Diamataris, Advisor to the Publishers of Ethnikos Kirix/The National Herald and past Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece with responsibility for Hellenes Abroad, said:
Kyriakos needs no introduction to you because he spent many years among us earning a number of degrees with distinction at two prestigious American universities.
“Kyriakos became Prime Minister almost exactly two years ago, on July 8, 2019.
“When I think of what he has accomplished in those
two short years, I am reminded of a story Plutarch tells about the Athenian statesman Themistocles:
One day as Themistocles was walking in the agora with friends, they encountered a skillful flute player, and one of his friends challenged Themistocles to play the instrument. Themistocles replied, `I cannot fiddle but I can make a great state from a little city.'
“Now, I have known Kyriakos for many years and while I have marveled at his many accomplishments I can tell you that playing a musical instrument is not one of them. But, like Themistocles, he can take a beleaguered, disheartened, and disparaged state and turn it into a vibrant, hopeful and respected nation, a country all Greek Americans and ALL Greeks everywhere can proudly call Patrida.”
“Welcome to Greece, welcome to Athens. We are very glad to be able to welcome you here. Ladies and gentlemen,” said an enthused Mitsotakis. “I have prepared some speech points, but let me speak from the heart today, inspired by what I see in this room,” underscoring: “Thank you for everything you have done for Hellenism.”
Turning to AHEPA Supreme President George Horiates, he added, ”Dear George, I would like to congratulate the AHEPA organization for all its achievements, and for the fact that it has always been there in the good times as well as in the difficult times. AHEPA is always present in the fair struggles of Hellenism. We know we can count on you and you know you can count on us.”
Then, acknowledging that recent legislation granting expatriates the right to vote from abroad was just a first step, he pledged to continue the work of removing the “still significant restrictions that do not allow many of you to really participate in the political affairs of Greece,” and to “simplify your dealings with the Greek state by digitizing government services.”
Praising the dynamism and contributions of the Diaspora in general and AHEPA in particular, Mitsotakis reiterated his joy in seeing the brothers and sisters in Greece.
Anastasiades and Mitsotakis were presented AHEPA's Socratic Award. Mitsotakis dedicated the award "To our doctors and nurses and to all the employees of the National Health System,” on the front lines of the COVID battles.
Emcee responsibilities at events attended by presidents and Prime Ministers are not softball games. At the convention's podiums, home runs were hit by Past Supreme President and AHEPA Board Chairman Nicholas Karakostas and Executive Director Basil Mossaides – both instrumental, along with Greece's Region 25 Governor Konstantinos Varsamis and their teams for the Convention's success – Supreme Counselor Lou Atsaves, and not least among them, Horiates, who also made a moving speech on “why we are all here” at the Grand Banquet, giving the answer, about the threats faced by Greece, Cyprus, and the United States, “because we are all in the Cyclopes' cave and we will only get out by working together.”
ONE SPECIAL EVENT AFTER ANOTHER
The event at the Greek War Museum featured appearances by the Minister of Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Konstantinos Floros, who received the prestigious Periclean Award,
In addition to AHEPA business, the special presentations included Dr. Peter Stavrianides who spoke about `The Evolution of Greek America in the 20th Century and its Struggle for Survival.'
At the AHEPA Family Awards Luncheon Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister for Hellenes Abroad Konstantinos Vlasis and Presidential Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus Photis Photiou were presented the AHEPA Public Service Award, which was also received by Secretary for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy Dr. John Chrysoulakis.
Carl Hollister, Past Supreme President, presented AHEPA Excellence in Leadership awards to officials of the AHEPA National Housing Corporation.
On Tuesday night, guests were awed by the spectacular views during the most unique AHEPA Greek night in years which was held on the upper level terrace of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) on the coast of the Saronic Gulf south of Athens. A surprise guest delighting those who know him from back home was the Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, who praised past and present AHEPA leadership for their contributions.
The AHEPA Family Athletic Luncheon, Emceed again by Past Supreme Counselor Gregory J. Stamos, presented the inductees to AHEPA's Athletic Hall of Fame, which included Markos Baghdatis, Pyrros Dimas, Kurt Rambis, Stella Sampras Webster and Speros Dedes. This year's Harry Agganis Hellenic Athlete Award was given to football player Ted Karas III.
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt was present throughout the week, thanking AHEPA and the Greek-American community for their contributions to strengthening U.S.-Greece relations and in turn being thanked by participants for his own substantial contribution to that cause.