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Events

Operation Niki Commemorated at the Cretan Association Omonoia in Astoria

ASTORIA – A unique event was held on April 7 at the Cretan Association Omonoia in Astoria commemorating Operation Niki and the Cretans who fought for Cyprus during the illegal invasion of 1974. The event included informative presentations by two distinguished speakers, Brigadier General Panagiotis Vlachopoulos, Defense Attaché of the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, and Dr. Vicky Giouroukakis, as well as an emotionally-charged artistic program with moving songs performed by the Pancyprian Choir of New York under the direction of Artistic and Music Director Phyto Stratis, Cretan music by Christos Fasarakis and Nikos Dourountoudakis, traditional Cypriot dances performed by the United Cyprians of America dance group, and Cretan dances  performed by the Cretan youth.

The event’s MC Dimitris Filippidis introduced Fr. Apostolos Hasapis, who arrived from Greece only 24 hours ago to serve at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Jackson Heights, NY, to lead the opening prayer which included the Our Father and the hymn ‘Ti Ypermaho’ in honor of the Veneration of the Holy Cross which is commemorated on the third Sunday of Great Lent.

Talented singer Myrto Chalemi performed the National Anthems of Greece and the U.S.

Brigadier General Panagiotis Vlachopoulos, Defense Attaché of the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, spoke about Operation Niki at the event on April 7. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Cretan Association Omonoia President George Stylianoudakis gave the welcoming remarks, noting that this year’s Greek Independence parade is dedicated to the 50th grim anniversary of the illegal invasion and continuing occupation of Cyprus, and such events are important to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for Cyprus. He acknowledged the presence of many presidents of Hellenic associations and reminded everyone that the parade is Sunday, April 14 and everyone should be there on Fifth Avenue to raise their voices for Greece and for Cyprus.

Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York Parade Committee co-chair Nomiki Kastanas in her remarks noted the significance of everyone attending the parade to demonstrate that the heroes’ sacrifice was not in vain, “we will continue the fight until we reach our goal, we will shout ‘long live Greece’ and ‘free Cyprus’ as there are many more national issues to resolve, and we have to show that we are many, we are strong, and we are united to achieve our goal.”

Filippidis noted that Consul General of Greece in New York Dinos Konstantinou could not attend the event since he was in Philadelphia for the Greek Independence parade there but sent his best wishes and congratulations to the organizers of the event. Filippidis read a message from Consul General of Cyprus in New York Michalis Firillas who pointed out that “we will never forget” Operation Niki and the Cretans who fought for Cyprus… “long live Crete, long live Cyprus, long live Hellenism.”

Dr. Vicky Giouroukakis spoke about Manolis Bikakis, nicknamed ‘the Greek Rambo’, the hero of the defense of Cyprus during the invasion of 1974. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Federation of Cypriot American Organizations Executive Vice President Nicos Paphitis thanked all those present for attending and showing their support over the years in the fight for freedom for Cyprus, including the Federation of Hellenic Societies and the many presidents of the various Hellenic associations. He noted that he was 12 when the invasion occurred and still hopes to return to his village one day, adding that everyone’s goal in life should be not to lose any more homelands and to liberate those we can, we have enough lost homelands.

In his detailed presentation, Brigadier General Panagiotis Vlachopoulos spoke about the little-known history of Operation Niki, the Greek attempt to reinforce the defense of Cyprus during the invasion, which is acknowledged as a suicide mission, just two days after the invasion, and noted that as a Cretan, it was an honor for him to be the keynote speaker at the event. He noted that Operation Niki symbolizes the determination and the unwavering commitment of the Greek Armed Forces to defend at any cost the freedom of Hellenes everywhere.

Dr. Vicky Giouroukakis spoke about Manolis Bikakis, nicknamed ‘the Greek Rambo’, the hero of the defense of Cyprus during the invasion of 1974. His tremendous bravery and heroic actions along with his fellow fighters helped save Nicosia from falling into Turkish hands. Bikakis was never recognized in his lifetime for his heroism and sadly passed away in a car accident in 1994 at the age of 40. He was officially honored posthumously in 2015.

The Joint Educational and Cultural Committee of the Cretan Associations of New York and New Jersey President Manolis Kouroupakis spoke about organizing the event and finding more heroes from Crete who fought in Cyprus. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

Pancyprian Choir Artistic and Music Director Phyto Stratis spoke movingly about the grim 50th anniversary of the invasion and the significance of the songs the Choir was about to sing, pointing out that the lyrics have a personal meaning as some of the Choir members are from occupied part of Cyprus and adding that Nicosia remains the only divided capital city in the entire world.

The Choir sang ‘Chrysoprasino Fyllo’, ‘To Spiti pou Genithika’ with lyrics from a poem by Kotsis Palamas, ‘I Diki Mou i Patrida’ which moved many to tears, choir and audience members alike, and ’Tis Dikeosinis’ with the audience invited to sing along.

The Cretan songs performed by Christos Fasarakis and Nikos Dourountoudakis highlighted how the historic events inspired musicians.

The United Cyprians of America dance group received a warm round of applause for their performance of traditional Cypriot dances in traditional Cypriot costume.

Traditional Cypriot dances were performed by the United Cyprians of America dance group. Photo by Eleni Sakellis

The Joint Educational and Cultural Committee of the Cretan Associations of New York and New Jersey President Manolis Kouroupakis spoke about organizing the event and finding more heroes from Crete noting that there is video that will be posted to further acknowledge the contribution of those heroes and learn about that unique mission. Kouroupakis thanked everyone for attending and urged everyone to attend the parade on Sunday since the parade belongs to all of us.

The free event included a buffet dinner and sweets as the Cretan music and dancing continued into the evening.

The Pancyprian Choir of New York under the direction of Artistic and Music Director Phyto Stratis performing at the Cretan Association Omonoia on April 7. (Photo: Courtesy of Popi Mihalatos

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