New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Nick Larigakis, President of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), opened the two-day virtualconference, “The United States and the Greek War of Independence of 1821,” from AHI headquarters in Washington, DC on March 18.
“This conference honors the Greek revolutionaries that fought for Greek freedom, honors the Americans who through their philhellenic movements supported Greece, and honors the Americans who were inspired by Greece,” said Alexander Kitroeff, Professor at Haverford College and Conference Chairman, in his welcoming remarks. Describing the conference as an interface between academic study and policy implementation, Professor Kitroeff felt the conference was unique in itself because it accomplished two things simultaneously.“It’s exploring the connections between Greece and the United States in the 1820’s, and the legacies between Greece and the United States as they unfolded after the victory of the Greek Revolution. It’s also tying in the US/Greece policy concern, which is, of course, AHI’s special concern.”
Ambassador of Greece to the United States, Alexandra Papadopoulou’s remarks were structured around the same points made by Professor Kitroeff.” First, this is a celebration about honoring all those who gave their lives from 1821 all the way to 1828, but also honoring all those who gave their blood during the 200 years of Greek independence to make Greece what it is today.
Also, we honor the philhellenes, those who supported the Revolution of 1821 and the Greek War of Independence. Philhellenism is a movement that transcends time. There were philhellenes before 1821 and we have philhellenes today. And we owe all of them a great thank you.
“Second, we have to remember why we fought, what the War of Independence meant. What an independent State meant for Greece. We have to remember the sacrifices and the pain that went into the struggle; how many failed struggles we had before that and in the 200 years since. The third and most important thing to remember is to learn from our mistakes and failures, but also from our successes.”
James I Marketos, AHI Board member and moderator introduced the first talk in Panel 1, Alexander Kitroeff’s “The Greek War of Independence in Perspective,” the background and context of the Greek Revolution. Professor Kitroeff described the Greeks’ strengths and achievements at the time, including impressive maritime dominance and three constitutional assemblies, and the great difficulties: the bloody Ottoman reprisals, infighting and struggles inherent in state-building.
Dr. Constantine Hadzdimitriou, Former Adjunct Associate Professor at Queens College/CUNY, the second speaker, presented “The Proto-American Philhellenes of 1821,” discussing philhellenic Americans such as Edward Everett the “leader” of philhellenism in the United States, in the United States, and Americans who played an active part of the Greek Revolution, such as Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Jonathan Peckham Miller, and George Jarvis.
AHI Board Member and AHI Legal Counsel, Nicholas Karambelas, Esq., concluded the first day’s panel with his presentation, “The President and the U.S. Congress: Ideals and Policy.”
Karambelas placed the Greek Revolution within the broader context of other eruptive international events in the so-called “age of revolutions,” one being the revolt of the Spanish coloniesagainst Spain. The Greek and Roman classics comprised education in the day, thus American respect for and sympathy for Greece’s cause came naturally, but so did the American desire to avoid foreign entanglements. Leaders such as Congressman Daniel Webster played a role in mobilizing American citizens and politicians to support Greece’s struggle for independence.
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, President of the “Greece 2021” Committee greeted viewers and participants, opening the second day of the conference. John Chrysoulakis, Secretary General for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, and Head of the “Greece 2021” Program, Ministry of Foreign Affairs followed.
Mrs. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki paid tribute to the legacy of the American Hellenic Institute and its founder, Eugene Rossides (1927-2020), to Nick Larigakis, who “successfuly traces Eugene Rossides’s inspired leadership,” and to the AHI, “the principal advocate and most resilient campaigner in Congress and the United States Administration since 1974.” Both the American and the Greek revolutionswere based on principles of equality, freedom and self-determination of the individual. “To this day, both of our nations believe in these human values, which have formed the strong relations between the United States and Greece for two centuries.”
Secretary General Chrysoulakis, staring that he was honored to be among “the important scientists, professors, Greeks of the diaspora, and philhellenes,” attending the conference,
gave a “warm ‘thank you’ to AHI President Nick Larigakis for the invitation to appear and to the American Hellenic Institute for its “excellent work and initiatives.” He went on to talk about the contributions of the American people to the Greek war effort, “As the Greeks struggled for their freedom after 400 years under the Ottoman yoke, the people of America offered their generous support only 45 years before the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and appealed to freedom and democracy, ideals they traced back to Greece’s classical age,” he said, “The close friendship between Greece and the United States was the product of shared ideas but also of mutual interests.”
In his talk, “Adamantios Koraës & Thomas Jefferson: The Authors of Two Revolutions,” Alexandros Kyrou, Professor at Salem State University pointed out the similar ideologies of Koraës and Jefferson. Although he was familiar with the Enlightenment thinkers, Jefferson
drew mostly from ancient Greek philosophy. Koraës was an eager learner who had the rare opportunity to learn from a Dutch instructor, to travel abroad and to live in Paris.(where he met Jefferson). In France during the French Revolution, Koraës was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution.
Maureen Santelli, Professor, Northern Virginia Community College, in her talk, “American Philhellenes 1827-1830: Motivations & Accomplishments,” emphasized that while many members of Congress expressed sympathy toward the Greek War of Independence, they were against “interfering in the internal affairs of other nations.” Rather than dulling the Philhellenism movement in the United States, this political inaction only energized the movement. The Philhellenism movement engaged in a strategic shift, the ways in which it supported Greece broadened.Rather than simply focusing on supporting Greek freedom fighters, American philhellenes initiated philanthropic efforts and established relief societies to support the Greek people, including victims of the war.
AHI Board Member Dr. Van Coufoudakis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University, concluded the presentations with his, “America and the Greek State from 1830 and Beyond,” a relevant discussion about how the United States government’s lack of support for Greece goes back to the Greek War of Independence, when President James Monroe and members of Congress hesitated to provide tangible help for the Greek cause. Among the Western powers for many years afterwards–until 1947–Great Britain was considered “responsible” for Greece.
At that time, the United States took an active role in trying to prevent the spread of Communism in Europe. In the following years, the United States never truly supported Greece and Cyprus. An example: President Lyndon Johnson’s ultimatum to Turkey that prevented its invasion of Cyprus was mainly due to tactical disagreements with Turkey. The invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and Washington’s lackluster response, demonstrated that strategic concerns outweighed that of human rights and the rule of law.