More than just indifference is the Myth of a Greek Lobby
A recent article published by Greek News, written by the President of the American Hellenic Institute, or AHI for short, Aleco Haralambides, entitled ‘Our Problem is Indifference’ caught my eye the other day. I was initially pleased to see President Haralambides addressing the state of our National Issues and their priority for the average Hellenic-American. However, I feel it is my duty to enlighten President Haralambides on several other ‘realities’ concerning our National Issues. I therefore have written the following article, entitled ‘More than just indifference’ in response to the Honorable President Haralambides.
More than just Indifference
The present condition of our National Issues and their failure to be seen as a priority for the average Hellenic American will only truly be understood when we as a community start asking ourselves why. Why does Hellenism in the United States suffer from Indifference? What has led our community to look the other way on our National Issues and fear healthy Nationalistic feelings for our ancestral Homeland? Perhaps these questions are not asked because we fear the answer, that we as a community have failed. We have failed to instill healthy Nationalistic feelings in our children, something which our Armenian brothers have succeeded in doing, and hence explains why they are light years ahead of us in effectively lobbying their ethnic community’s issues. A victory achieved by Armenian-Americans, which I’ve witnessed time and time again participating in demonstrations hosted by their organizations for the Armenian Genocide. At their most recent demonstration against their own ethnic government in Armenia on September 19th 2009, I was left speechless and truly envious of the Armenian-American community when I noticed a little Armenian girl upset because her mother hadn’t given her a flag to hold. She wept because all she wanted to do was proudly wave her ethnic flag. If we as a community wish to identify the culprit behind our indifference, all we must do is look in a mirror.
Signs of Disunity on Foreign Policy
Currently AHI releases their so-called ‘Greek American Policy Statements’ annually, which claim to be the ‘collective position’ of Hellenic Americans on American foreign policy issues concerning Hellenism. Yet these are not collective positions created by Hellenic Americans, instead they are the carefully crafted positions of the Hellenic Government in Athens for their paid lackeys in the United States to promote. Watered-down positions and ineffective methods of lobbying our National Issues does not represented the collective will of American Hellenism, but rather the misguided political intentions of the corrupt Athens’ governments of past and present. AHI boasts that these statements are endorsed and created after consulting the major Hellenic Americans organizations, yet why does or did AHI support the Athens’ government’s position for a geographical qualifier in the Macedonian Name dispute when the Macedonian American community of Hellenic descent and their organizations like Pan-Macedonian spoke out against the use of such a solution to the name dispute? I myself as President of Panthracian Union of America ‘Orpheus’ have never been approach by AHI over my community’s feelings on National Issues dealing with Western, Northern or Eastern Thrace, and yet AHI still claims to know how ‘a Thracian on the border with Bulgaria’ feels. Disunity still is an obstacle when it comes to our National Issues, but what clearly is our biggest is the lack of an autonomous Hellenic American organization lobbying on American foreign policy.
AHI is far from out of touch with Athens and/or Nicosia
Annually the leading officials of AHI travel to Hellas and Kypros to discuss with Hellenic government officials different issues of ‘mutual concern and interest’, not because it is useful, but rather because this is what good employees do. When the Hellenic government funds your organization it is your duty as good employees to travel to the home office to get next years orders on handling your job requirements. I myself am under the impression that Executive Director Nick Laragakis makes several trips a year to Hellas, 3 or 4 so I am told. Disharmony with Athens is not the issue at all. Our free will and true opinions as a Diaspora is the issue at hand.
The following are a few examples of international issues being ineffective handled that affect Hellas and Kypros vis-à-vis United States foreign policy:
1) Kypros: For the past 35 years Turkey has been allowed to occupy part of this small European nation and yet is still being considered for possible membership in the European Union thanks to American support. Organizations like PSEKA have failed to effectively and aggressively lobby the Kypros Cause. Even after incidents as recent as this past June 17th, when Turkish military ships prevented U.S. based Noble Energy from exploring for oil and gas deposits that they had been contracted to search for by the government of Kypros, PSEKA failed to hold public demonstrations in response to this most recent injustice against the Cypriot people. Is this because the method of public demonstration does not work? No, it is because PSEKA has failed time and time again to inspire the Cypriot-American community to take the battle for Kypros to the streets. Instead they hold cultural events to mark important days of national mourning and prefer attempting to win over American politicians who are already paid and bought by the Turkish government or are being blackmailed into submission on our issues.
2) Turkey: Mr. Obama’s recent visit to Turkey and his insulting Anti-Hellenic comments when addressing the Turkish Parliament give the average Hellenic American a clear picture of America’s attitude on our community’s feelings. Some may feel that the reference by Mr. Obama on the need for the Halki Theological Seminary to be re-opened and the meaningless visit of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan on August 15th to the island of Prinkipo with Patriarch Bartholomew as signs of hope, but what of the issue of the Hellenic Genocide? The most important issue, the International Recognition of our own Genocide, still seems to fail to appear on the radar for both American-Turkish Relations and our community’s leading advocacy organizations like AHI. Our community must not forget that when it comes to Turkey, its refusal to provide full religious freedom for the Patriarchate is not our only issue. The need for International Recognition of our Genocide and even linguistic rights for speakers of the Hellenic Pontian dialect in Turkey must and should be addressed.
3) Adhere to International Law in the Aegean Sea: The continued aggressive acts of the Turkish Military in violating Hellenic Airspace in the Aegean and its international importance when dealing with the safety of not only the lives of Hellenic military pilots, but also American tourists traveling on civilian aircraft fail time and time again to gain National American media coverage. This is not because it is not news worthy, but because our leading advocacy organizations fail to produce any written statements that will grab the eye of the American media and create the needed headline to sell to the American people.
There are some inside the Hellenic American community who haven’t just sat back and accepted the status quo, and instead have taken charge in aggressively making every effort to fight for our National Issues and end the current indifference which plagues our community. The Hellenic League of America, HLA and the Cyprus Action Network of America, CANA have led the way for the past three years on the front lines of organizing a true autonomous grassroots voice for Hellenic advocacy in the United States. Leading the way with public demonstrations, lectures and grassroots letter writing campaigns, which have produced the very first signs of any sense of victory for Hellenic American advocacy in over 30 years. The HLA and CANA have effectively lobbied against the Star of Vergina being displayed on a Skopjean-American Visa Credit Card and achieved mainstream American media coverage on the issue of Occupied Kypros. If organizations, such as AHI, truly wish to take a stand and honestly fight to change ‘the current trajectory of U.S. foreign policy towards Turkey’, they must begin to implement a more aggressive strategy on our National Issues or perhaps start warming up to the thought of cooperation with organizations like the HLA and CANA.
*Ioannis Fidanakis is a Grad Student and Hellenic-American Activist. He is currently the youngest elected President of Panthracian Union of America “Orpheus”. A member of the Hellenic League of America, HLA and Cyprus Action Network of America, CANA he has been featured as a guest speaker at several different grassroots rallies, lectures, and functions up and down the American East Coast. As President of Panthracian Union he is responsible for organizing the first ever Hellenic Genocide Commemoration outside the United Nations on April 6, 2009. His writings have been published several times in Hellenic-American newspapers from Chicago to New York, as well as on Global Politician.com. His various articles have been republished on numerous blogs and web sites such as Sparta: Journal of Ancient Spartan and Greek History. Ioannis has a B.A. in Political Science; with a concentration in International Politics and a minor in History. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Public Policy. Ioannis' father's family comes from the small village of Sofiko, Evros, his mother's family, from Bloomfield, New Jersey.