By Eleni Santorinaios
July 18, 2020, Old Bridge, NJ.- The Hellenic American National Council (HANC) hosted its annual National Conference on July 18, 2020, at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Covid-19 rules and regulations were strictly followed and included temperature screenings, face masks, sanitizing stations, and distancing amongst attendees.
The successful Conference hosted presidents and representatives from several Greek-American federations and organizations, including: 32 delegates, 5 bipartisan Greek-American politicians, numerous presenters, and the Secretary-General of Greeks Abroad in Athens, Greece, Ioannis Chrysoulakis, participating virtually. Secretary Chrysoulakis stated in his remarks: “Διαδικτυακή Ομιλία μου και Χαιρετισμός, μετά από πρόσκληση, στο Συνέδριο του Hellenic American National Council που ξεκίνησε σήμερα στο Grand Marquis στο New Jersey. Also participating were Congressman Gus Bilirakis (virtually), Senator Lou Raptakis, Assemblywoman Candidate for U.S. Congress Nicole Malliotakis, Candidate for NY Assembly Mike Tannousis, Farmington, Connecticut Town Councilman Edward Giannaros, Supreme President Sons of Pericles Paul Pavlakos and Dimitrios Moutousis President of AHEPA HJ25 Saint Andrew Chapter (virtually). Presiding at the meeting were HANC President Bill Mataragas and past President Paul Kotrotsios.
The event began with opening remarks from HANC President Bill Mataragas, who stressed his concerns for the struggles Greece is facing today. “It is very important for everyone to know that as for the things going on in Greece, we are not happy at all. As Greeks, we have to be united. We have to understand and we have to accept that we cannot depend on anyone besides ourselves. Never have we received help from anyone outside.” In response to whether HANC will be hosting events for the bicentennial of Greece’s independence, President Mataragas notes, “Yes, we are preparing to sponsor our own events here in the United States with the cooperation of other organizations and celebrate in our own way the 200 years of Greek Independence.”
A presentation on the Academy of Hellenism ‘Return to Our Roots Educational and Philoxenia Program’ was given by Dimitrios Moutousis, President of AHEPA HJ25 in Patras, Greece, Saint Andrews Chapter. Following was a discussion about those registered in Greece having the right to vote, along with the topic of ‘Having and Managing Property in Greece and their obligations’. National issues of importance to Greece and Greek-American were then discussed by several delegates in attendance.
The Keynote Address was given by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) via Zoom, on ‘Recent Developments on the Continued Turkish Aggression on the Aegean.’ “This Turkish threat is very real. I proactively call everyone. I have talked to the Commander of the European Forces and he told me that they are warning the Turks but the Turks are not listening. They are very concerned about up north, the Thrace area, the Dodecanese and of course our beloved Cyprus… The good news is that Greece has many allies in the region, the Middle East and of course the Mediterranean, the Turks are being boxed in. Jordan is a strong supporter of Greece as well as Egypt… Members of Congress and Senators need to be held accountable and rhetoric is not an option. We want to see action. I am working on the administration as much as I possibly can. We need to get something good, something special out of this administration.”
Senator Leonidas Raptakis (D-RI) greeted attendees stating, “HANC is a leader in the United States in pushing forth the issues of Hellenism and also bringing together non-Greeks. Telling them, first of all, how important the friendship between Greece and the United States is, but also how important diversity is in the United States. Greeks have suffered from the time they first immigrated to the United States. But, HANC bonds us together, as we saw today. We have five elected officials here today that came from New York, Connecticut, even as far as Rhode Island. What HANC has done is unify and focus the message of getting more Greek-Americans elected. Even though we are a small number in the United States, we have a very respectable community. We are going to carry that forth and demand justice for all our issues.”
Assemblywoman (R-NY) and Candidate for U.S. Congress, Nicole Malliotakis noted, “I think it’s very important for the Greek community to have leadership organizations like HANC. Today, we have so many distinguished business people from all over the country, and I think it’s very important, now more than ever, that Greeks play a role in the future of, not only our nation but also what our role as a nation is going to be with Greek relationships. Right now, Greece is facing many threats: the Turkish aggression, the Mediterranean, the refugee crisis- there’s a lot happening in Greece, and we need to lend support and be vocal.”
Michael Tannousis (R-NY) of the New York Assembly stated his personal relationship with Hellenic issues, being the son of Cypriot refugees, a family which suffered the victim of injustice, which led to his career path to seek justice for others. Second District Town Council for Farmington, Connecticut, Edward Giannaros (D-CT) also spoke on the injustice of Greece, and specifically the conversion of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey from Christian cathedral to mosque.
A focus of the event and following the HANC agenda, was a dedication for the need of the formation of a permanent committee to promote and assist young Greek-Americans and philhellenes in the political arena. Dimitrios Giannaros, former Assemblyman in Connecticut and PAEDE President spoke on this issue. He noted: “It is so important for Greeks, leaders and otherwise, to be together to discuss the Greek issues, formed policies, and discuss actions to be taken in a unified way so that we can work towards resolving some of the crucial issues that Greece, Cyprus, and Hellenism is facing. We need to spend time and effort to get together as many of our young Greek-Americans, organize them, have them be part of this effort; Be part of this organization that attempts to create these solutions to our problems and to pass on the light, the flame to the next generation so that we can continue our efforts to preserve our heritage, preserve our culture, preserve our religion, and preserve what is Greece and the Greek ideas.” Several others presented on this topic, including immediate past HANC President Paul Kotrotsios.
Dimitrios Kalamaras, Esq., representative of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York stated, “We are here today at the HANC Conference, which is very important during these trying times for our Hellenic community, both nationally and internationally. An organization such as HANC brings the Greek community together nationwide. We must be unified so the important national issues Greece is facing are brought up to the appropriate channels, through our politicians who are funded by the taxes of the hardworking Greeks across America. It’s important that we are unified in our message. We are here as a united Greek-American community to support and work towards the bicentennial so that children will remember that 2021 was the Greek Revolution’s Bicentennial, that brought back democracy, freedom, and all the good that the ancients brought in this world. All was revitalized in Greece, which has been the light of all western civilization.”
Speaking in regards to the celebration of 200 years of Greek Independence in coordination with other organizations, and the role of Philhellenes in the Greek revolution included: Ilias Katsos, President of Eastern Mediterranean Business Cultural Alliance (EMBCA), Bill Mataragas, Theodoros Pavlakos, Dr. Panos Stavrianidis, Past President of Pan Pontian Federation, Dimitrios Kalamaras, Esq., who represented the President of the Federation in New York and Demosthenis Triantafyllou, Director of the Office of Education Metropolis of New Jersey on “The American Involvement in the Greek Revolution of 1821.” Regarding the conference and the upcoming Bicentennial, Katsos stated, “Congratulations to HANC’s President Bill Mataragas, it’s officers and Conference Chairman Paul Kotrotsios for putting together a very professional and well-organized event. Quite a few important Hellenic-American organization and federation representatives were in attendance, as well as various local and national politicians of both parties, along with Hellenic government officials, via Zoom, with each having the opportunity to brief the conference attendees on national and international issues of utmost importance to Hellenism. Representing EMBCA as its President/Founder, I spoke on a number of topics, but in particular, relating to the upcoming 200th Anniversary of the Hellenic Revolution and the formation of the American Hellenic Revolution of 1821 Bicentennial Committee. A few of the members in attendance at the HANC Conference are on the Committee including: Paul Kotrotsios, Conference Chairman, State Senator Lou Raptakis, and Dr. Panos Stavrianidis. There was a lot of enthusiasm by the audience around the formation of this Committee and we will have further discussions with HANC President Bill Mataragas who will be part of the Committee about the planning of various events around the country.”
Theodoros Pavlakos, President of the Pan Laconian Federation for the United States and Canada. Pavlakos states, “It was a nice event today, everybody was happy to attend and participate. Many thanks to Mr. Kotrotsios for a job well done. I think that, finally, HANC is going to do a good job to attract all the people and join in on the committees. This year, with the celebration of the 200 years from the Greek Revolution, it’s going to be a great opportunity for all the Greeks to be united and to honor all the heroes of the Greek Revolution.” Following was a presentation by Sons of Pericles Supreme President, Paul Pavlakos and a presentation was made by Dr. Panayiotis Baltatzis regarding the Paideia Organization at the University of Connecticut. Baltatzis also read the report of Mr. Ted Tsafatinos, the founder of Greek-American Charter Schools in the United States.
Aphrodite Kotrotsios, Publisher of the Hellenic News of America, stated: “I am very proud of each and every member who attended, to express what needs to be done in order to unite the Greek-American community on issues important to Hellenism. The fight cannot stop. We must continue the fight together in order to make a difference. Congratulations to all participants, especially to President Bill Mataragas and my father, Paul Kotrotsios.”
First Vice President of HANC, Dimitri Hios, stated: “This was an excellent setup today. We really enjoyed it. Thanks to Paul Kotrotsios for organizing it. I am so proud to be a part of the organization. What I am looking for, for the future, is that actions speak louder than words. We need to do more things instead of just saying things. HANC has done so many things and for so many issues, but we need to do more and more, and let the people know. We all need to do more.”
Members of the North Epirotic Federation of America (NEFA) were also present, Konstantinos Tsouris and Katerina Tsouris, President of NEFA, to represent the unity of Northern Epirus and Hellenism. “We are very happy to be a part of HANC. It’s our first time here. Very exciting. The whole meeting was really productive. We met new people, we learned new things, and we are looking forward to working with HANC for the good of Hellenism.”
Dr. Panagiotis Baltatzis, HANC General Secretary, said “We had a very nice and productive meeting today. A lot of people with a lot of good ideas for HANC and its members. Our goal is to try and bring more young people in, unify our organization, and to help our many Greek national issues.”
In conclusion to the HANC Conference, Paul Kotrotsios noted, “This was one of HANC’s best conferences yet, with 32 delegates from various federations and organizations and 5 bipartisan politicians present. We were honored to have the Secretary-General of Greeks Abroad from Greece participate virtually and provide his input. We reviewed committee reports on national issues of paramount importance to Hellenism as well as heard a report from Ted Tsafatinos, founder of the Plato Academy Greek-American Charter Schools in Florida. We discussed and promoted camp trips for young children to Greece, in cooperation with the wonderful team of AHEPA Patras under the auspices of HANC. President Mataragas donated the first $2,500 towards the project. HANC also added two new members, NEFA and the United Hellenic Voters Association (UHVA). In addition, a committee was also formed in cooperation with EMBCA on the 200 Year Celebration of the Greek Revolution, under the leadership of Ilias Katsos. It was announced that HANC Elections will be taking place next year with proper announcements due to Covid-19 regulations. This was an extremely successful and stimulating day. I was glad to organize and run this event for President Mataragas and the executive Board. Our momentum to do more is now more than ever. The conference was graciously sponsored by President Mataragas. ”
HANC continues to support Greece during these tumultuous times and encourages all those who have an interest in the good of Hellenism to join their efforts. For more information regarding HANC, please visit via Facebook and website at www.hanc.us.