Ambassador Dimitrios Tsikouris, former Ambassador of Greece, has a rich combination of academic and international diplomacy experience. He has served in Germany, the United Nations, New York (32nd General Assembly) and in New Orleans as Consul. During his time in New Orleans, he was instrumental in establishing the Center for Greek Studies at the University of Florida before moving to his next assignment as First Secretary of the Embassy of Greece in Washington, D.C.
His subsequent assignments include four years as Faculty Advisor with the NATO Defense College in Rome, followed by his assignment as Minister at the Embassy of Greece in Rome and then as Ambassador to Iran, Belgium, and Indonesia – with parallel accreditation to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, and Timor-Leste.
Ambassador Tsikouris has also served as the Permanent Representative of Greece to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Upon retirement in 2010, he became a U.S. resident and subsequently joined a U.S. law firm as Foreign Affairs Advisor and was instrumental in various business development projects. Through his efforts, an agreement on economic cooperation was signed at the State House of Arkansas in Little Rock, between Governor Asa Hutchinson and the President of Dong Nai Province of Vietnam (June 29, 2015).
Since 2019 Ambassador Tsikouris has served on the Leadership Council of the Sustained Dialogue Institute (based in Washington, DC).
He currently resides in Voula, Greece, with his wife Alexandra-Theodora Tamviskos, a Greek-American, and their 17-year-old son Harry. A wide ranging interview with the Ambassador follows.
The National Herald: How would you describe your career until now and what triggered you to become a diplomat?
Ambassador Dimitrios Tsikouris: I would describe my 36-year-long diplomatic career as a beautiful trip of knowledge and enriching experiences. Indeed, the experience can neither be bought nor studied; it can only be acquired through ... experience! My subsequent career so far, in the private sector, opened new horizons which, however, could not have been attained without my previous diplomatic background.
It is a blessing in life if at a very early stage you can identify your dream job and the studies that will lead to it and subsequently, after achieving that target, find out that the job fulfills and even exceeds your expectations.
In this sense, I was blessed as in my early teens I knew what I wanted to do, and I was assiduously working on the factors leading to it. As an example, I mention the field of foreign languages. I am self-taught in five foreign languages, which I learned on short wave radio and by self-study, as in my early student days there was no TV yet in Greece. English and French are prerequisites for the diplomatic service, and other languages can add extra points, so, I added, at a very early stage, German and Italian, to get those extra points when the day of the diplomatic service exams would come.
Two main reasons urged me to become a diplomat: firstly, “the beauty and thirst for knowledge,” as Kazantzakis puts it in his Report to Greco. Secondly, the honor of representing Greece.
The thirst for knowledge I got from my mother (a pioneering woman for her age who obtained her law degree in 1947, when women in Greece did not yet have the right to vote!) and partly by inheritance, but primarily through her life example.
My pride in representing Greece grew the more I read and enriched my knowledge, particularly the texts of Ancient Greek writers, of which I am an avid reader.
TNH: What honors have you received?
DT: I have received the Grand Commander of the Order of Phoenix (Greece) and the Grand Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Italy).
TNH: What are your awards and key achievements?
DT: To name a few, I have an award from the American Club (given at the Port of Piraeus, April 2007) for initiatives and negotiations with Pakistani authorities that led to an agreement regarding the `Tasman Spirit' oil spill of July 2003 and the release of Greek sailors that had been detained in Karachi for more than nine months.
I was also given a Citation by the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs for initiating and organizing rescue and repatriation efforts for Tsunami victims in Thailand (Dec. 26, 2004).
I initiated an agreement with my Turkish counterpart in a meeting in Ankara (October 17-18, 2002) whereby approximately 1,400 illegal immigrants were re-admitted into Turkey.
I also have an award in recognition of four years of meritorious service to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the NATO Defense College (Rome, Italy, July 14, 1995).
TNH: This year Greece is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence and its creation as a modern state. Please comment on the significance of this anniversary.
DT: The treaty of London of February 3, 1830 recognized Greece as an independent state. It is the first time an area previously part of the Ottoman Empire was recognized not as autonomous but as an independent state. But we need to remember how this came about:
The Greeks started the War of Independence under the same motto used a few decades earlier, during the American Revolution, when Patrick Henry declared: “Give me Liberty or give me Death!”
However, two civil wars among the Greeks from late 1823 to early 1825 brought major devastation in Peloponessos. What was left of Greek units was taken care of by the invading forces of Ibrahim, who landed there unopposed. He also burned and looted the area.
The sacrifice of Messolonghi in 1826 and the disastrous defeat of the Greeks at the battle of the Acropolis of Athens the following year (Karaiskakis was killed a day before the battle) dissipated the last hopes of the Greeks.
On the other hand, these two previous events gave new impetus to the philhellenic movement, the power of which saved the Greek cause. The philhellenic movement has no parallel in history, precisely because its inspiration was unique: the prestige of the ancient Greeks and the inspiration that ancient Greek history fostered changed the tide of events.
The destruction of the Ottoman fleet in the naval battle of Navarino, which took place on October 20, 1827, led the way to the London treaty establishing Greece as an independent state even though the attacks were not carried out based upon explicit orders. Rather, it was due to a fortuitous event – the Ottoman forces killed a British envoy first, and the conflict was generalized.
TNH: Tell us about the philhellenic movement in the United States.
DT: Few know that the first official parliamentary debate to take place in the context of the philhellenic movement happened not in Europe but the Congress of the United States!
On December 8, 1823, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts presented in the House of Representatives a resolution “for defraying the expense incident to the appointment of an Agent or Commissioner to Greece.”
Six days earlier, President Monroe, in a proclamation, had expressed “the strong hope that the Greeks will finally prevail.”
On January 2, 1827, the representative from Louisiana, Edward Livingstone, proposed to the U.S. Congress that the amount of $50,000.00 be approved to buy clothes and food for the non-combatant Greeks.
Both of the above proposals were not approved as being incompatible with the declared status of neutrality of the United States, but they constituted the beginning of a tremendous philhellenic movement led by private Americans.
Long is the list of Americans who came to the aid of Greeks, either by organizing fundraising events in the United States or by coming to Greece to offer their services and their own lives. Among them are Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, George Jarvis, Colonel Jonathan Peckham Miller, to mention a few.
I am glad to inform you that this week the American School of Classical Studies in Greece inaugurated an exhibition on American Philhellenes. I have also taken the initiative for the organization of a webinar on July 1, 2021, where I will speak in English on this topic.