WASHINGTON, DC – The Hellenic Society of Constantinopolitans of Washington has been holding a weekly series of virtual meetings titled Politiko Kafeneio, with a nod to the real world coffeehouse culture so emblematic of the Hellenic experience.
The virtual series offers the members and friends of the society the opportunity to meet virtually, discuss various topics, share music, culture and recipes unique to Constantinople.
Hellenic Society of Constantinopolitans of Washington’s Yasmin Paraskevas who is in charge of Member Outreach and Events for the Society, spoke with The National Herald about the organization’s efforts and specifically about the Politiko Kafeneio.
She told TNH that “the group of Constantinopolitans aims to remain connected – with guests, recipe exchanges, music and culture – and continue to carry on the traditions that they brought in their hearts and in their minds as they made their way to DC from Constantinoupoli many years ago.”
Guests at the virtual meetings have included members of Constantinoupoli's Greek community and the Greek-American community-at-large, such as Michalis and Minas Vasiliadis of Constantinoupoli's oldest Greek newspaper Apoyevmatini, Giannis Dermitzoglou, the principal of the renowned Zografeion High School, Xenagos Konstantinoupoli Johnny Kurtesoglou – the Greek tour guide of Constantinoupoli, founder of the Ottoman Greeks of the U.S. project (which traces the steps of Greek immigrants who entered the U.S. via Ellis Island) George Topalidis, head of the IHA/ Hellenic Electronic Director Evangelos Rigos, and Vivianna Giannaki, Greek Cypriot Soprano, vocalist, performer who serenaded attendees with nostalgic Greek songs from Asia Minor.
The series also includes discussions of films related to the city, such as Adieu Istanbul, a moving documentary about the journey of Greeks who left the city.
Members have demonstrated their own musical talents as well with performances on accordion and trumpet, for example, and numerous guests have participated in the virtual meetings which have a more casual atmosphere than other online events, hence the name Politiko Kafeneio (Constantinopolitan Coffeehouse).
The Politiko Kafeneio began in late April to help members to connect virtually, especially for those who are older and part of a more vulnerable age group during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the Politiko Kafeneio online series, the Society held 4-5 events per year including fundraisers for The Smile of the Child (Greece), the Elderly Home of Constantinopolitans in Athens, and other Greek-related charities.
TNH: How did you get involved with the Hellenic Society of Constantinopolitans of Greater Washington?
Yasmin Paraskvas: My father is Greek, born in Constantinoupoli. About four years ago, the Society started to host less events and members started to get older and the Society began to slow down its activities. I helped the organization by creating a Facebook page and online invitations and newsletters to bring together members and friends of the Society. The President Manoli Andonyadis and his wife Sula are instrumental in keeping the Society together by providing steady leadership. Together, we have organized fundraisers (trips to wineries, a fashion show, carnival parties) that benefit organizations in Greece such as The Smile of the Child, the Estia Nursing Home in Athens (made up of elderly Greeks from Constantinoupoli) and Megali Tou Genous Sxoli (the Phanar Greek Orthodox College in Istanbul).
TNH: When was the decision made to hold virtual events?
YP: The Society’s weekly Politiko Kafeneio a virtual online gathering (via Zoom) was started in late April as a means for friends and members to connect weekly and in an informal setting. As a result of the pandemic, it became an opportunity to bond with each other and foster a small sense of community. It's important to us to be in contact with each other – we want to make sure that we can offer assistance in times of need.
TNH: What has the response been so far from attendees and participants?
YP: There are typically under 20 attendees. After submitting a survey to them several weeks ago asking about their interest levels and how they feel about the weekly Kafeneio, the response has been positive. Guests say they are touched by the ability of our members to join together online during the pandemic.
TNH: What can we look forward to from the Society and its upcoming events?
YP: We look forward to hosting more guests at the weekly Politiko Kafeneio. This week our guest is Nikos Ouzounoglou, head of the Federation of Constantinopolitans, who will be joining us from Istanbul. In the near future we plan to have online fundraisers, as well.
More information is available on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HellenicSocietyofConstantinopleDC/?ref=bookmarks.