STAMFORD, CT – Senator Chris Murphy, a high-ranking democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee participated in a Town Hall meeting on “Current Events in Greece and Important Greek Orthodox Community Issues” in Stamford, CT on March 8.
The meeting, which was presented by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Order of AHEPA, and Stamford’s two parishes, the Church of the Annunciation and the Church of the Archangels, which hosted the event in its hall, was a model of how the community should engage with its elected representatives.
The young Senator impressed the guests who filled the hall of the Archangels church with his appreciation of the value of Greece as a loyal ally in the strategically vital East Mediterranean and his understanding of the issues regarding U.S. relations with Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey.
John Louizos, Archangel’s parish council member, was the moderator and he took the lead in the well-organized event working closely with Andy Manatos, Founder and President of the Washington-Based Coordinate Effort of Hellenes, to whom Murphy expressed his esteem, Archon Nikiforos Matthews, Nicholas Nikas of AHEPA, and Dino Kallenekos.
Louizos, an early supporter of Murphy who believed the community could count on him “to listen to our issues and concerns and help us in Washington,” said the first proof came in 2014 when the community reached out to him regarding religious freedom and the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Murphy circulated a letter to President Barack Obama signed by all 18 members of the Foreign Relations committee urging him to personally raise those issues with the leaders of Turkey. “The latest evidence is that the Senator reached out on his own initiative to come here today,” Louizos said.
The senator thanked the guest and the organizers and declared, “I have a specific portfolio…that commands that I be an active voice for this community,” he said, and “Given the gravity of the issues facing Greece today…I thought it would be helpful for me to come here and not just talk at you but listen and engage you in a dialogue.”
The thoughtful and substantial statements of the Senator revealed not only that he had done his homework but that members of the community in Connecticut and Washington did their part to engage and inform him.
The Senator revealed another key to gaining the ear of public officials when he thanked the people in the room, including Aphrodite Skeadas, the former president of the National Philoptochos for what they give back to the community in civic and philanthropic work.
His remarks left no doubt that it was his respect for Greek-Americans he knows, in addition to his appreciation of community issues, that prompted him to call for the meeting.
Murphy provided an informative overview of current U.S. – Greece relations. “Our ambassador met with the new Greek government to offer our assistant in trying to help the Greeks to undergo the reforms that will allow them to get the [Troika] to turn back on the spigot of funding that will allow Greece to stay afloat and to rebuild.”
He admitted there are limited levers the U.S. can use but noted there are important conversations taking place between the Washington and Europe and the new government. “Clearly both sides listen to us. We are arguing to the Europeans to use some common sense in terms what they require of the Greek government.”
He said the United States is trying to convey that “we want the reforms to be paced at a schedule that is realistic…there is no doubt they have to happen more quickly…these are reforms that are badly needed and long overdue… there also tough love ahead of us,” regarding Greece, but he emphasized that the Europeans have to be more reasonable.
“We have to accentuate the disaster, for Europe and for Greece, of any potential actual abrogation of that country’s tie to the eurozone. There is no way to soft peddle how much more quickly you would see a descent of that economy should it walk away from its commitment to European and Atlantic integration,” he said.
That is why “I have been encouraging the Treasury and State Departments to stay very involved and to try to be a mediator if we can between the two sides,” he said, “because this is something that should matter to the U.S. and frankly more now than ever.”
He agrees that the U.S. must use every means at its disposal to strengthen U.S.- Greece economic ties, and noted that “the U.S. understands real world realist politics in the region in ways the Europeans often do not. “It is why we are regularly sending Treasury Dept. officials over to Brussels and to Greece itself.”
In response to a question by Elaine Prince, he said “we should not rule out bilateral assistance to Greece.
William Kambas, an international tax attorney representing the Hellenic Bar Association of Connecticut, who also helped organize the event, noted that among the initiatives the U.S. could take is to modify its out-of-date income tax treaty with Greece to stimulate investment. Murphy said he would be happy with work with him on that.
Regarding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, he said “there has been enormous slippage in the quality of democracy, civil rights there,” which has raised serious questions about FYROM’s fitness for membership in NATO and the EU independent of its intransigence on the name issue. Murphy said FYROM should join “but not before we settle upon the right, true internationally acceptable name.”
Murphy was frank about his concern about the agreements Cyprus has signed with Russia, but he is adamant that the people of Cyprus are the ones that must dictate its future.
“This occupation must be dealt with,” he said, and while he noted Recep Tayip Erdogan has not changed his stripes on the issues, it does appear that a Turkish leader finally has the power to resolve the issue should he decide to do so.
He did not shy away, as official Washington regularly does, from equating Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty with the Cyprus conflict. “Decades ago it was the Turks violated the sovereignty of those living on the island of Cyprus.”
“If you ask me, he said “we have in general been too easy on the Turks…we need to take off the kid gloves on a host of issues.”
Nevertheless, while Turkey has been increasingly antagonistic on U.S. interests regarding Russia and ISIS, he said “If we want to have a serious strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat [ISIS]…we cannot do it without the Turks. That is the reality… but there are non-negotiable items.”
Nicholas Kydes a former Norwalk councilman, pointed out that “Turkey is becoming a threat to Greece in the Aegean over oil and gas rights,” and although Murphy said he did not have the answers all the questions the issues implies, he noted they are intertwined with the Cyprus issue in the sense that “the Turks see dollar signs.”
He emphasized the Cyprus issue, however by reiterating the U.S. position that the people of Cyprus mist be the ones making the decisions about their natural resources.”
Nikolas Katsimpras, adjunct professor at Columbia University who is active with the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), brought up Ankara’s violation of Cyprus EEZ, but Murphy acknowledged he needs more detailed information about the matter.
Fr. George Poulos, the beloved pastor emeritus representing Rev. Dr. Harry Pappas, the Archangels’ pastor, blessed the light buffet that the guest enjoyed.
Among the dignitaries were David Martin, the Mayor of Stamford, Fr. Evan Evangelides, pastor of the Annunciation, Alex Boutsiouklis, AHEPA District Governor for Connecticut and Rhode Island and State Representative Caroline Simmons.