The Panepirotic Federation of America is appalled by the decision of Mr Erdogan and the Turkish authorities to initiate the use of Aghia Sophia of Constantinople as a mosque.
Aghia Sophia was declared a museum by Kemal Ataturk for a reason!
It was a turning point of the Turkish state and society, bringing the country closer to humanistic and democratic principles of the western world.
Aghia Sophia was treated as ‘spoils of war’ by the Ottoman Muslims, the way barbaric traditions were performed by humans during that era. Many of its marvelous frescos, iconographies and mosaics were destroyed or covered with plaster, a primitive way to show power and imperialist supremacy!
Human soul and behavior has evolved since the 15th century and mankind does not need primitive ways to show superiority.
Islam has its own architectural wonders, does it really need to steal from Christianity, occupy a Christian Cathedral in order to feel superior? Don’t the Turkish authorities and Mr. Erdogan understand that it is actually their own religion they are offending by using a ‘former’ Christian Cathedral for their prayers and rituals, as if they do not have any monumental mosques built exclusively for that purpose?
Even if immature Ottoman rulers behaved as such 500+ years ago, do Turkish leaders have to repeat such primitive behavior over again in the 21st century?
As Hellenes from the region of Epiros, we know what inhumane conditions our ancestors had to endure under Ottoman Islamic rule. It is just over a century that most of Epiros was liberated from Ottoman occupation. The remnants of autocratic oppression can be seen in form of monuments on Epirotan soil!
Mr. Erdogan does not respect the dignity and human rights of his own citizens, why would he respect the dignity of monuments of some other religion. He is unfortunately repeating the mistakes of the Ottomans namely, oppression, brutality, violence, imperialism! He is catapulting Turkish society 500+ years back! We urge him to look into the translation of the formal Cathedral and museum he is undignifying, “Aghia Sophia” the “Holy Wisdom”! Even a minuscule piece of wisdom should be enough to let Mr Erdogan and the Turkish authorities rise to the expectations of the 21st century!
Kemal Ataturk brought Turkey to the 20th century by making Aghia Sophia into a museum. He reached out a hand of friendship to the multiple ethnicities of Constantinople alias Istanbul and to the developed world. He rose to the expectations of his era! Recep Tayip Erdogan is catapulting a whole state and society back to the 15th century!
Aghia Sophia of Constantinople was not the first former Christian Church to have been converted into a museum and reconverted into a mosque by the Turkish authorities under Mr Erdogan. Aghia Sophia of Trabzon, a small church from the 13th century, had the same fate 7 years ago! Evidently, it was a tryout, the world did not protest much. Various other reconversions followed.
The Turkish authorities under Mr Erdogan have shown that, as also in the case of pastor Andrew Brunson in 2017, they will not budge from their extremist and primitive acts if there is no international pressure from countries they fear. In 2017, President Trump managed to take actions that lead to the release of pastor Brunson!
President Trump, as Americans, citizens and residents of this great nation, roughly 3.5 million Americans of Greek decent, many from the region of Epiros, look up to You for leadership concerning Aghia Sophia! President Trump, take action, do the right thing!
The Panepirotic Federation of America (PFA) came under new leadership on Sunday, July 19th, 2020, after the scheduled departure of its long time president Nikos Gatzoyiannis (Nicholas Gage). The new president is John Katsimbaris, a senior consulting engineer in the automotive industry in Detroit.
“Mr. Gatzoyiannis agreed to serve a fifth term at our last convention on the understanding that he would leave halfway through his term to open the way for younger members to lead the organization,” Mr. Katsimbaris, whose parents are from the Konitsa region of Epiros, said. “As our fiscal year ended on June 30, he informed us at a board meeting on June 28 that this would be a good time to make the transition.”
Mr. Katsimbaris, the former PFA vice president, officially took over the leadership of the organization yesterday when he was sworn in as the new president. Replacing him as vice president is George Nanis, a real estate executive from Worcester, MA, who served in the same post from 2015 to 2018.
“Both John and George have worked closely with me over the years to protect the people of Northern Epiros and to promote the development of free Epiros,” Mr Gatzoyiannis said. “They are well equipped to lead the Panepirotic Federation into the future boldly and effectively.”
Mr. Katsimbaris, praised the contributions of Mr. Gatzoyiannis as PFA president during two terms in the 1990s and three in the new millennium. “Nick made the Federation highly respected in Washington, deeply admired in Athens and greatly feared in Tirana,” he said. “He leaves it well organized, solidly financed, and effectively positioned to carry out its mission in both parts of Epiros. Of course, he leaves the presidency, not the Federation. We will continue to count on him for advice and support.”
“I think one of Nick’s most important achievements was to bring into the Federation young, American-born members and inspire them to care about their ancestral homeland the way their parents did,” Mr. Nanis said. “That’s no easy task, as other groups have found out.”
Mr. Katsimbaris, whose father worked for the Greek Foreign Ministry, was born in Constantinople in 1968 and educated in Greece, Germany and the Netherlands. He speaks Greek, English, German and Dutch and has degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering.
Married to the former Andrea Feles, he has been active throughout his adult life in both Europe and the United States in promoting Greek national issues, especially those involving both parts of Epiros.
Among the noted Americans whose parents come from Epiros are Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic Party candidate for president, George Tenet, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, actress and producer Rita Wilson, the wife of Tom Hanks, and the late actor and director John Cassavetes, whose father was one of the founders of the Panepirotic Federation of America in 1942
From left to right: Ioannis (John) Katsimbaris, Vice President, Nicholas Gage, President, Aleka Kaloudelis, Secretary General, Ambassador Yuri Kim, Menelaos Tzelios, former President
The board officers of the Panepirotic of America met with H.E. Ambassador Yuri Kim, U.S. Ambassador to Albania and discussed various issues concerning ethnic Greeks in Northern Epirus and throughout Albania. One of the topics discussed was the draft of the new property law in Albania. The Panepirotic Federation of America believes that while the law is not perfect, it is a vast improvement of the mess of regulations now in effect. It offers all Albanians, including ethnic Greeks, the best chance to gain title to their property in 30 years. In fact, the law was drafted with the advice of American legal experts including Simos Dimas, whose family comes form Himara, after consultation with Greek leaders in Albania including Himara as well as the Himara Society of America.
Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with Nicholas Gage at the Blair House, the U.S. president’s guest house, in Washington D.C. on January 7th, 2020. The two men discussed Greek-U.S. relations & policies and national issues such as the North Epirotan minority cause.
“Epirotes Oust Three Dissidents Who Formed Separatist Group”
WORCESTER, MA—The Panepirotic Federation of America (PFA) held a board meeting here Saturday afternoon and expelled two board members and an alternate for secretly trying to establish a separatist organization in violation of the Federation’s constitution. The board members are Kostas Tsiouris and Anna Noti, both of New York, and the alternate is Menelaos Sotiris of Boston.
The PFA was established here in 1942 by members who traced their origins to Epiros, a region that has had a Greek identity since Homer’s time but whose northern half was given to Albania after the country was created in 1913. Throughout its history the Federation spoke with one voice and pursued a united policy in defending the rights of their compatriots in Northern Epiros and promoting the culture of all of Epiros in the United States.
On October 12 a small group of separatists met in New York and announced the formation of the Northern Epirot Federation of America (NEFA) “to claim the rights of the Northern Epirots and to preserve the culture of Epiros.”
The rogue movement was immediately condemned by Epirot leaders. “We consider this effort misguided, divisive, and certain to weaken, not strengthen, the goals that the group says it advocates,” declared Nicholas Gage, PFA president. “Since Epirots began coming to the United States, they have been trying to help their homeland as one people and one community, united in 1942 under the Panepirotic Federation of America.
“To create a new fringe Federation for only one part of Epiros only serves the goals of our adversaries to weaken us by dividing us, and we urge its members to consider carefully the dangerous course they have chosen,” he declared.
Chris Dimou, president of the World Council of Epirots Abroad, issued a statement calling on Northern Epirots “to reject division and fear and embrace unity and cooperation.”
Rev. Kosmas Karavelas, president of the Himariotan Society of America (HSA), also stated that HSA “categorically rejects any movement that divides the efforts of Epirotans to address the problems of property ownership, minority rights, education and the preservation of our ethnic Greek culture in Albania.”
At the board meeting, Kostas Tsiouris, a founding member of the new Federation, argued that NEFA was not in conflict with PFA and he saw no reason why officers in one couldn’t be board members of the other.
Dimitrios Tsoumbanos, a former president of PFA, pointed out that the reason was in the PFA constitution that prohibits officers and board members from belonging to organizations that do not support PFA policies, which NEFA advocates clearly don’t, if they feel the need to form a new federation.
Menelaos Tzelios, another former president, asked Mr. Tsiouris to name the ten chapters he declared at the Oct. 12 meeting were members of the new organization. He refused. A survey of PFA chapters established that not one has held a general assembly to discuss possible membership in the rogue federation and to vote to join it.
Mr. Gage noted that the creation of a new federation was especially unfortunate now, because the PFA was working closely with the new government in Athens to pursue a common policy that will secure for Greeks in Northern Epiros basic rights due them including property rights, language and cultural rights and the right to identify themselves as Greeks without fear of recrimination. He said he had met personally with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Oct. 15 to discuss those issues.
Mr. Tsiouris said he and his group intend to pursue their own agenda on their own terms but would not provide specifics.
Mr. Gage questioned Mr. Tsiouris as to why he felt the need, other than ego, to form a new federation, considering how successful the PFA has been defending the people of Northern Epiros including in the mid 1990s when former Albanian leader Sali Berisha launched a pogrom to drive ethnic Greeks out of the region. PFA leaders sprang into action, he noted, persuaded Washington to freeze loans to Albania and to call for new elections. “The Berisha party lost decisively and its leaders knew why,” he said. “ Baksim Gazedete, the head of Albanian intelligence, went before the Albanian parliament and declared: ‘The Panepirotic Federation is responsible for the fall of the Berisha government.’”
Mr. Tsiouris dismissed PFA’s achievements. “Then why would you want to stay a member of its board?” Mr. Tsoumbanos asked.
Ms. Noti urged officers and board members from Northern Epiros to express their views, and they all declared that they saw no need for a new federation, and that its existence would harm the Epirot cause. “It’s obvious that we will gain the most if we stay united,” Olga Fotos, the PFA treasurer, stated.
In the end the vote was unanimous to expel the three dissidents.