Washington.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
As one of only four individuals who has attended all 33 PSEKA Conferences (Philip Christopher, Andy Manatos and Andy Comodromos being the other three), I have always worried about the sustainability of our community’s lobbying efforts and whether we were bringing in enough new blood. I was encouraged 10 years ago when the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes was expanded to bring in younger members like Tasos Zambas, Zenon Christodoulou, Michael Galanakis and Endy Zemenides – but the average age at the PSEKA Conference was still too high, and there were too few females.
Five years ago, when Nikos Mouyiaris established the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), I had hoped that these trends would be stopped, that fresh blood would come in and renew our cause. I remained a bit reserved, because I wanted to make sure this did not become another organization of young professionals that held a lot of happy hours, social events and business networking events. After this last PSEKA Conference, I feel that my hope five years ago was justified.
A New Army
Besides the PSEKA Conference, HALC sends its members to Washington, D.C. at least one more time every year for an annual lobby day on the anniversary of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance caucus, which it helped to found with the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Having covered all but one of the CHIA days and all of the PSEKA Conferences, I have seen over 100 individual HALC members come to Washington on behalf Hellenic issues.
Once again, HALC had the largest delegation at the PSEKA Conference, with 20 members from Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, California, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. attending. 6 participated in PSEKA for the first time. Others like Michael Dovellos from Indiana and Yianni Konstantinou of Chicago (who both made their third trip to Washington, D.C. in 2017) have become regular advocates for Greece and Cyprus in America’s capitol.
HALC members began their last trip to Washington by participating in the AJC’s Global Forum. On Sunday, HALC and AJC finalized their strategy for promoting a letter by Congressman Deutch and Bilirakis condemning Turkish threats against Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and reaffirming U.S. support for Cyprus’ EEZ. On Monday, HALC’s Executive Director briefed AJC members on the letter and reviewed talking points regarding the Cyprus problem and natural gas finds in Cyprus with them. HALC members attended President Anastasiades’ speech at the Global Forum, and then attended various AJC breakout dinners.
With President Anastasiades’ visit coming against the backdrop of very negative sentiment regarding Turkey in Washington, HALC worked hard for specific results to be achieved.
Perhaps the most significant was not only the release of the Deutch-Bilirakis letter, but its inclusion on the AJC’s lobbying agenda. Over 1,000 AJC members met with Congressional offices on Tuesday (and many AJC teams had HALC members on them), and they lobbied for members of Congress to sign onto the letter. To have the AJC so openly lobbying on behalf of Cyprus sent a very strong signal during the President’s visit.
Also, at the beginning of the PSEKA Conference HALC members were able to see the results of their lobbying efforts in favor of the condemnation of the attacks carried out by Turkish security guards during Erdogan’s visit to Washington. HALC worked with its allies at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and lobbied for House Resolution 354, a bipartisan measure condemning the attacks by Erdogan’s security forces and demanding prosecution of the perpetrators. On the first day of PSEKA, that measure passed the House 397-0. HALC also carried out a #NoGunsforTurkey campaign demanding that the State Department block the sale of American guns to the same Turkish security forces that carried out the attacks. Early indications were given at the PSEKA Conference that this sale was “going nowhere”.
HALC members held a private reception with the Government Spokesman of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides. HALC members, especially those who were participating for the first time, were energized by the personal interaction with Christodoulides and kept talking what more they could do for Cyprus after he left the reception.
On Wednesday, much of the HALC delegation participated in President Anastasiades’ address at the German Marshall Fund, while HALC staff convened a HALC/AJC hosted Congressional staffer briefing with Minister of Energy Yiorgos Lakkotrypis for over a dozen Congressional offices that have been highly engaged on Cyprus over the last year and others participated in the regular PSEKA events.
HALC members – although tired from a few intense days in D.C. – were already planning follow ups to the PSEKA activities. Letters and phone calls to Congress will begin next week on behalf of the Deutch-Bilirakis letter, and in district meetings are being set up to meet with members of Congress prior to the Conference on Cyprus. Activities are also being planned nation-wide around the July 20 commemoration of the invasion of Cyprus.
With so many new faces and so much energy, HALC members are rising to the challenge that Nikos Mouyiaris set out years ago.