Discord and Dysfunction in the Community Risks Growing Disdain for Institutions

September 30, 2021

The Fall is off to a bad start for the organized (sic) Greek-American Community. As if the infighting and discord at the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York – which appears to have reached an impasse and may require legal intervention to bring about a resolution – wasn’t bad enough, the Archbishop of America made negative headlines in Greece, Cyprus, and the Community because of his imprudent decision to attend a ‘fiesta’ staged by Turkish strongman Tayyip Erdogan for the opening of the Turkish House, a midtown-Manhattan 36-floor skyscraper that will, among other things, house the diplomatic offices of Turkey and its pseudostate puppet in occupied Cyprus. Still worse, all of this came to a head during UN Week, when all efforts and key players should have been focused on promoting and advancing the national issues of Hellenism.

Despite empty promises of a peaceful summer by Ankara, its rhetoric and behavior tell quite a different story. This past July, Turkey proceeded with the ‘fourth phase’ of its Attila assault against Cyprus. Following its two offensives in 1974, Turkey continues to encroach upon sovereign Cypriot territory. Its acts of ‘piracy’ in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, aimed at blocking Cyprus from exploring and drilling for its abundant supply of hydrocarbons, while also stealing areas in that zone for its own personal exploitation constitute the ‘third wave’ of Attila, while the fourth occurred when Turkey and its puppet regime in the occupied north unilaterally opened up the deserted district of Varosha in Famagusta for colonization, in yet another blatant violation of UN resolutions.

Meanwhile, Greek fishermen are constantly being harassed by their Turkish counterparts, who continued to encroach in Greek waters, aided and abetted by the Turkish navy and coast guard. This form of hybrid warfare is an extension of Ankara’s state-sponsored smuggling of illegal migrants into Greek islands. Moreover, Turkey continues to violate Greece’s territorial rights by conducting seismic explorations (in search of hydrocarbons) in Greek waters. Just days before this year’s 76th UN General Assembly, a Turkish frigate confronted and harassed a Greek research vessel off the coast of Crete(!), to which Turkey has laid claim via a bogus maritime deal it brokered with Libya that is in violation of naval law.

Simply put, Turkish expansionism and disregard for international law is at a high, and its behavior towards Greece and Cyprus is anything but neighborly. In the face of these dangerous provocations and in light of current turbulence in U.S.-Turkish relations, the time is right for a concerted effort to contain the growing Turkish threat and restore balance to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Sadly, institutions in the Greek-American Community seem to have their priorities confused. The Federation is nowhere to be found because it is embroiled in a battle royal over its legitimate administration and financial accounting. This problem existed for some time now, but was less noticeable because of the pandemic and the restriction on gatherings. With the full reopening of the city, it is now a glaring issue. The dysfunctionality of the Federation has long been a source of discussion and concern, however, due to the fact that it is the organizing body of the annual Greek parade and the supposed coordinating body for various Greek organizations under its auspices, its inability to function leaves a gap that must be addressed.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Elpidophoros has raised eyebrows in the past for some questionable decisions. For example, he met privately with Turkish President Erdogan back in September 2019 on the sidelines of UN Week. During a statement released after the meeting, he claimed to have discussed issues concerning Greek-Turkish bilateral relations – something he is not empowered to do nor arguably diplomatically trained to handle. Two years later, he appears to have been baited yet again by the shrewd Mr. Erdogan, who managed to divide Hellenism with this move, while creating some positive publicity for his nation and its supposed ‘religious tolerance.’

Worse yet, this move provides some powerful ammunition to opponents of the Phanar advocating for autocephaly in the United States because its exarchs sometimes appear to be beholden to the whims of the Turkish state. This image is an affront to the Greeks of America, who represent its largest and arguably most powerful eparchy.

The fallout from the Archbishop’s ill-advised appearance at Mr. Erdogan’s fiesta was worse than expected. First, he was photographed alongside Ersin Tatar, leader of the Turkish pseudostate in occupied Cyprus. After the events in Varosha, Tatar’s Cypriot passport was revoked, rendering him a virtual persona non grata. The photo-op and subsequent tweet by the Archbishop drew the ire of Greek and Cypriot diplomats, and resulted in the cancellation of his meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. Moreover, it also incited natural allies, like the Armenians, whose powerful lobby in the United States sharply tweeted: “Shunned by the DC establishment (hawks, doves, and everyone in between) – desperately seeking allies – Erdogan recruits Azerbaijani diplomats, representatives of the illegal Turkish occupation force in Cyprus, and the Greek Orthodox Church for this staged photo-op in NYC.” The Federation of Cypriot American Organizations also exercised criticism of the photo-op in a statement it released, as did the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC).

And so, as a result of infighting, misguided ambition, and poor coordination, the Greek-American Community missed an opportunity to advance important national issues. Grandstanding, political jockeying, and omphaloscopy are causing adverse effects in the Community and Hellenism in general. The people, who sense this, are responding with disdain, and this leads our institutions to suffer and grow weaker because of the missteps of their leaders.

It is important to reaffirm our collective priorities and reassess the need for institutional reform. The Greek-American Community needs greater diversity and pluralism in its leadership, as well as a functional coordinating body, to ensure that alliances are not lost or morale sunk because of a chance blunder by some of its leading spokespersons. Institutions must triumph over personalities, and this requires thoughtful planning and decisive reform.

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas


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