Washington, D.C. By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias along with businessman George Sakellaris and his wife Kathy were the honorees at the 25th Annual Cyprus and Hellenic Leadership Conference Banquet that took place in Washington, last Thursday.
Alexi Gianoulias was able to attend and his speech was read by his political director Endy Zemenides.
Gianoulias accepted the honor with a heavy heart, because he said, despite 25 years of strong advocacy through this conference, we will still mark the 35th year of the occupation of Cyprus this July.
“There have been many victories – including Cyprus’ accession to the European Union – and many dashed hopes. But I can tell you that if it were not for the efforts of the leaders of the Coordinated Effort, we would be so much further behind.”
He pointed out to the leadership of the conference that we can not let their heroic efforts stand alone.
“We all can do more — including those of us that are public officials. I promised at the beginning of my career at the Cyprus Federation conference that I would lend my voice to the cause of Cyprus. I now promise that I will do MORE. I will use my personal political capital to bring the Illinois delegation on board the cause of Cyprus. I will continue to press my senior senator Dick Durbin to do even more to end the occupation of Cyprus. And, I will press my friend and mentor, President Barack Obama, to prioritize the reunification of Cyprus. The President has rejected the false distinction between America’s security and America’s ideals. This statement leads to only one conclusion – that a Cyprus solution based on democracy, the rule of law and human rights is in the interest of America’s national security.”
Alexi Gianoulias spoke emotionally about his recent visit to Cyprus.
“I have stepped on occupied Cypriot soil, seen the barb wire, seen Turkish occupation troops before me and seen the remain of missing Greek Cypriots. And I will FIGHT with my every fiber – as a Greek-American, a elected official, and a candidate for United States Senate, until every last Turkish troop is off of Cyprus and my friends Panicos, Philip, Nikos and Tasos have gone back to their homes and Cyprus is finally free and united.”
Receiving the award, Kathy Sakellaris said she was always taught that we have a responsibility to protect, nurture and promote everything Hellenic. She also said that she feels very strongly for the Cyprus issue, recalling that she was 18 when the invasion happen and she along with other Greek Americans took part in a hunger strike in Boston. Her ultimate dream is that we all discover hundreds of Greek organizations devoted to promoting Hellenism and orthodoxy and that we are able to bring and unite all of them together.
George Sakellaris spoke in length about his business and the various projects he undertakes. He also mentioned his efforts to help building the Church of St. Catherine, while promoting Hellenism.
“We must all get together for a comprehensive and strategic plan, and that we will market it and execute it to preserve Hellenism”, Sakellaris pointed out.
Archbishop Demetrios had just arrived from Florida where they were inaugurating the Orthodox Church Mission Center at St. Augustine. He said that it took less than five years to build this center over 20 acres so that young people came to the center and be educated. His Eminence was amazed at how quickly everything was programmed and it reminded him of all the potential that the Greek community has to do things. He also mentioned that the Albanian government has given legal status to the Orthodox Church, and this too is a sign that there is hope in possibility.
“herefore we must be more patient and continue our fight”, he concluded.
Ambassadors of Greece and Cyprus Alexandros Mallias and Andreas Kakouris, as well as CEHʼs Andrew Athens, Philip Christopher and Andy Manatos spoke at the event. Among the attendees, deputy assistant secretary of State Stuart Jones, along with many officials fro the Department of European Affairs and members of congress.
On Friday morning session departing Ambassador of Greece Alexandros Mallias as well as NY State Assemblyman ,Mike Gianaris were honored. CEH leaders Philip Christopher, Nicos Mouyiaris and Peter Papanicolaou spoke about Gianaris involvement with politics, 21 years ago, as a young supporter of Michael Dukakis.
“He stayed involved in the political affaires of the community and finally he became the first Greek American elected to the NY State Assembly, from a large Greek Community. Since then he keeps helping people and organizations”.
The also praised Gianaris as a dedicated public official who did not forget his roots and an example and role model to the youth of our community.
Gianaris said the honor meant a lot to him because it came from people he grew up with and respects. He expressed his gratitude to the Greek Cypriot Community of New York for being behind him in every step he made and he praised the leaders of CEH for everything they do for Cyprus, Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
“What is more important to me is to reinvigorate our younger generation for our common goals, and I am happy to see the younger generation moving ahead, like Nick Karacostas who is to become AHEPAʼ s Supreme President.