Vasilis Papoutsis, Contributing Editor, LA
The American Hellenic Council’s annual Awards Gala that took place at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles has long been established as a premiere fundraising event in Southern California and this year’s awards were no exemption. The American Hellenic Council (AHC) has been at the forefront of the fight to advance Hellenic causes since 1974 when it was first established as the Save Cyprus Council. At that time the focus was to advocate for a fair solution for Cyprus, which had just been invaded by the Turkish forces.
This was the 45th Annual Gala and the first one without one of the founders of the council, the iconic activist and philanthropist Aris Anagnos. Newly elected President and Chairman of the AHC is Dr. James Dimitriou who joined the board as a young man in 1974. “I was privileged to be mentored by our founding fathers especially Aris Anagnos who taught me that in order to defend Hellenism we must be true to ourselves’’ Dr. Dimitriou said.
Today the scope of the organization’s activities has broadened and now the AHC is working closely with the 130 members of the Hellenic Caucus in Congress to advocate for the many challenges facing the Hellenic Democracy and promote peace and stability in the Mediterranean region. One of the newest members of the Hellenic Caucus is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard a U.S. Representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District and a Democratic Candidate for President of the United States. Gabbard who was awarded The Pericles Award is the first female combat veteran elected to Congress and she is currently in her fourth term representing her district. She also serves on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees.
In our conversation with the Congresswoman, she talked about her short trip to Greece where she visited a refugee camp and how impressed she was “by the Greek people’s resolve to help the refugees despite their dire financial problems.” As a veteran who has experienced firsthand the cost of war she is very dedicated in her quest to “end the disastrous regime-change wars and re-direct the war dollars back to our communities.” In her acceptance speech, she thanked Governor Michael Doukakis, who presented her with the award, for his warm introduction and long and distinguished public service. Gabbard who is the first mixed-race American Samoan and the first Hindu member to serve in the US Congress and as such, she is particularly sensitive to issues regarding religious and ethnic bigotry. She spoke about the suppression of religious freedom to the Christian and Greek minorities in Turkey. She called Turkey “an ally in name only and that Turkey needs to start acting as a partner of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean.” She called for the end of the Cyprus occupation.
Dr. Sharon Gerstel was the recipient of The Theodore Saloutos’ Award named after one of the founding members of the council and a UCLA History Professor. In her speech, Dr. Gerstel pointed out that “unlike Ted Saloutos, I did not have the luck to be born a Greek, but I have had the advantage of becoming Greek through the adoption of its culture.” Dr. Sharon Gerstel is a UCLA Professor of Byzantine Art and Archaeology as well as the Acting Director of the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture. At the gala she announced the establishment of the George P. Kolovos Family Centennial Term Chair in Hellenic Studies at UCLA, one of the few such chairs in the US. Dr. Gerstel expressed her optimism and profound gratitude to the members of the Southern California Greek American community for their support. She envisions that “a Center sited at the number one public university in the nation, with all its academic resources and intellectual giants, but one that looks beyond the walls of the academy to partner with the community.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt was awarded the Athena Award but he was not able to attend. In his message, the Ambassador said, “The Greek Americans I encounter and work with on a daily basis are firmly rooted on both sides of the Atlantic, and this reinforces the overall U.S.-Greece bilateral relationship. In many ways, it is the “secret ingredient” of our strong and enduring alliance.” AHC’s President Dr. Dimitriou considers that “the continued aggression of the current Erdogan government remains a central focus of our concern but we must also continue to champion our cultural heritage for future generations.”
Photo Credit: Allen Altchech Photography