In 2021, the annual conference of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), which will be attended by thousands of members, will take place in Athens instead of the United States, as part of its support for the recovery of the Greek economy and the promotion of a positive narrative for the country in the wake of the 10-year crisis. This is the message of the the largest Greek-American organization’s supreme president, George Horiates, who spoke to Kathimerini during a recent trip to the Greek capital.
The New Jersey lawyer also describes AHEPA’s activities in Greece and the US, and expresses his concern over Turkey’s destabilizing activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, which he has conveyed to US President Donald Trump and other institutions in Washington. Furthermore, the AHEPA head underscores his strong support for the trilateral cooperation between Greece, Israel and Cyprus.
What was the purpose of your recent visit to Greece?
To congratulate Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his new government, to plan the celebrations for 2021 for the bicentennial of the start of the Greek War of Independence, and to discuss the approval to move ahead with the creation of a burn unit at Evangelismos Hospital in Athens with funds raised in the relief effort following the wildfires in Eastern Attica last year.
How do you view the idea of celebrating 200 years of Greece’s independence, and how can AHEPA contribute?
Celebrating the bicentennial of Greece’s independence will be a truly landmark moment in time and in the history of Greece, giving all Hellenes and philhellenes a sense of immense pride. AHEPA looks forward to contributing by holding its international annual meeting, its Supreme Convention, in Athens in 2021. We cannot wait to bring Hellenes and philhellenes from around the world to Greece during the bicentennial year. We need to explore what can be done in the US, but believe events, programs or initiatives that strengthen the bonds between the two countries could be a significant part of it. Perhaps similar to events that surrounded the dedication of the George C. Marshall Statue that AHEPA donated in October 2000, albeit obviously a different moment in time for US-Greece relations.
What are some of the most important initiatives AHEPA is undertaking?
There are many, as our members have a variety of interests, which makes AHEPA unique. First, let me start by citing an initiative we have just proudly completed with an announcement and presentation to Archbishop Elpidophoros of America at our Supreme Convention in July. AHEPA just fulfilled its $1 million commitment to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to rebuild Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center in New York City. Our members, chapters and districts, in a true act of grassroots activism, fund-raised and worked extremely hard to collectively raise the $1 million. It’s a testament to AHEPA, and the AHEPA Family’s grassroots strength.
AHEPA continues to address the public health crisis in Greece that was exacerbated during the economic crisis. Over a period of seven years, AHEPA partnered with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to secure 10 shipping containers of medical supplies for delivery to as many as nine different hospitals all across Greece. Each shipping container was carrying between $650,000 and $850,000 in medical supplies. It should be added that in addition to providing public health assistance during Greece’s economic crisis, AHEPA also raised $500,000 to feed those in need.
Finding a cure for thalassemia (Cooley’s anemia), a blood disease affecting people of Mediterranean descent, is a constant priority for AHEPA. In the past year, AHEPA’s Cooley’s Anemia Foundation has donated $20,000 to researchers at the prominent St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, who are close to achieving a cure. We are also finalizing the use of funds raised after the 2018 wildfires for a burn unit at Evangelismos, where we also just completed a Medical Library.
AHEPA continues to address public health crises in the United States too. For example, Ahepans have sent six truck-loads of milk to the people of Flint, Michigan, suffering as a result of the lead contamination in the water supply. The latest effort saw 2,000 households assisted, among them 857 children. We continue to support veterans suffering from PTSD with our Service Dog Program. Thus far, $446,000 has been raised to sponsor 29 service dogs for veterans. Our membership has really taken to this worthy service program.
AHEPA is a primary source of scholarship awards for students from around the world, and through our chapters, our districts and our national educational foundation, we continuously aim to grow our corpus to ensure that deserving students from all backgrounds have the chance to achieve their academic dreams.
As Greece moves past the crisis, how can the diaspora contribute to the country’s growth?
By raising awareness and supporting initiatives that demonstrate Greece is putting the crisis behind it. We did this a year ago by being a sponsor of the Thessaloniki International Fair where the US was the honored country, helping in our modest way to support and back events that encourage and foster investment in Greece. The government’s recent announcement of the end of capital controls is an example of a big step forward that needs to be spotlighted. Again, bringing our 2021 Supreme Convention to Athens demonstrates our commitment to bring tourism to Greece, and the economic benefits of holding a large event in the country. And we have to keep our eyes open for opportunities that may avail themselves going forward to tout Greece’s growth.
Are you satisfied with the level of coordination with other Greek-American organizations?
As has always been the case, AHEPA will work with any organization, Greek or non-Greek, to achieve a common goal that fulfills our mission, promotes Hellenic ideals, or provides a service to the community. AHEPA has been doing this since 1922, so we are accustomed to working with all or some of the other organizations. Our doors are always open!
Are you concerned by Turkey’s actions in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone?
Yes. We’ve stated it in a letter to US President Donald Trump. In fact, our letter clearly states “AHEPA would support the United States joining with the European Union in the implementation of strong measures, including sanctions, toward Turkey to protect the United States’ interests in the region.” Further, one of my first formal meetings in my role as supreme president of AHEPA was with the Cypriot ambassador to the US to convey our concern about Turkey’s activities in the Cypriot EEZ.
How do you view the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Tense and alarming. We applaud all the statements of concern from various governments, but at some point, more tangible action needs to be taken to send a strong message to Turkey or any other players with dubious intentions in the region. We commend the ways in which Cyprus and Greece have handled it. On the other hand, the trilateral partnership between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and the efforts of that tripartite to reach out and include other like-minded countries, offers a promising glimpse of what an Eastern Mediterranean at peace and prospering would look like.
In that context, how do you assess the close cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel?
First, AHEPA is very proud to have spearheaded the coming together of these three countries, via their ambassadors in the US, at a groundbreaking conference in Washington in the fall of 2010. It really set the tone to kick-start contacts and collaboration among the embassies in Washington. AHEPA is equally proud of its cooperation and collaboration with our colleagues at the American Hellenic Institute, B’nai B’rith International and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that first embarked on Leadership Missions to the three countries in 2014. And, together, we issue statements as warranted regarding the progress made by the tripartite. Statements like the following, I believe, spell out our assessment of the close cooperation between the three countries: “We applaud the commitment to fostering peace, security, stability and shared democratic values and ideals in the region by all parties. We are pleased the relationship continues to progress across all sectors. We will continue to lend our broad diaspora support and encouragement for advancing the trilateral partnership and the United States’ commitment to it.”