By Aris Papadopoulos
ATHENS – Impressed by the welcome the AHEPA delegation received, Andrew Zachariades, spoke exclusively to The National Herald, on Saturday, said, just before his return trip to the US. He said, “It was a great honor for us to receive such respect, love, and recognition of AHEPA’s work during our visits.”
Zachariades told TNH that he was particularly touched by the welcome from the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos who honored him by handing him his signed speech as a keepsake of the visit.
Before making an account of this year's trip to Greece, Cyprus, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we asked the Supreme President about the bold announcement he made in January, addressing the first severe immigration measures taken by the Trump administration, and if the idea for the announcement was his own.
Zachariades replied, it was his own idea and he worked on the text with Basil N. Mossaidis and Andrew Kaffes. “It was not a political text, but a political configuration,” he told TNH, adding: “We are not against the Trump government. We do not do politics, but as an organization created by immigrants we have to intervene and inform the new administration on some issues that they may not know very well. And that's what we do with every new administration when we communicate with them. The list of first measures originally given by the government was not balanced.”
Zachariades noted, “There was no mention of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or other countries where terrorists often come from. We also worried that the list included people with legitimate green cards. While we support the President and understand his concerns, I felt that the measures he had initially announced were not balanced, as I said. That's why we did not make a new announcement when the newer measures were announced. So I repeat, we did not oppose and we were not against the government.”
He pointed out that this is what AHEPA is doing, and in its opinion it is effective. “And wherever we go, they know us. So we went to Brussels and opened the doors of the Commission and NATO. Our actions are for philanthropy, education, fighting hunger, and so they respect us. We do not go knocking on doors.”
Asked whether he was pleased with his briefing, he said that he felt proud first of all that "AHEPA, the Sons of Pericles, and the Daughters of Penelope are constantly spreading throughout Greece as well, as everyone understands what we are doing. And what I always say is that if there were no Greece, there would be no Hellenism. So I emphasize to them that 'the light is yours.' Teach everyone the roots of AHEPA and the family will grow in Greece and Cyprus, too.”
About the trip to the Phanar, Zachariades said that it was a great thrill to experience Easter there, and he was impressed by the Halki School, which everyone has to visit, “it is beautiful,” he noted.
Zachariades spoke about the visit to Komotini, where AHEPA donated its flag to wave over the City Club and where they were informed of the problems that are of concern to everyone, observing that “as an organization we are in favor of the cooperation of all and in favor of multiculturalism.”
In Thessaloniki they also visited the hospital bearing the name of the organization and promised an annual donation, with the first donation of $10,000 presented during the visit.
Mossaidis said that the current administration of the Hospital is doing a good job and they have seen much improvement with AHEPA’s help. He added that in the last three years, AHEPA has sent 15 containers of pharmaceutical materials to Greece costing around $13 million dollars.
The visit to Nicosia was also successful with AHEPA honoring businessman Nicolas Shacolas.
Asked about the briefing with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades, Zachariades spoke instead about the struggling unity talks. “I do not trust Turkey. Not before, not even now. 43 years is more than enough. When did they show good faith? I do not trust the Turks. Enough!”
When asked about Greece, if he was satisfied, he said “Yes.” He had a very good conversation with the Government Vice-President Yiannis Dragasakis and Deputy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas, discussing purely economic issues and investment margins. And as Zachariades noted, in order to bring in more US investments, transparency and less bureaucracy is required. Once there is confidence in the system, investors will come because Greece has the tools and the scientific potential.
Zachariades referred to both American ambassadors in Greece and Cyprus who, as he said, are doing a very good job.
Finally, asking what he would say to the Greek-American community when he returned from his trip, he laughed, saying he needed five hours to answer: “I'm very proud. Everyone in Greece and Cyprus has gone through a lot. History will judge what was wrong and what was right. The people carry a great burden. And I would say to all the Greeks, visit your relatives and friends, give them optimism, open your hearts, say that you support them, and steer them away from pessimism.”