FLUSHING – The Spirit of Liberty, Hellenism, and the great Greek Island of Crete, spiced by the humor of renowned Greek-American writer Harry Mark Petrakis who was honored along with Greek parliamentarian and former foreign minister and mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyiannis, filled the penthouse ballroom of the Terrace on the Park on December 6.
The Awards Gala of the Pancretan Association of America (PAA) was a commemoration of the centennial of the Union of Crete with Greece in 1913. Emannuel Velivasakis was the Centennial Events Chairman and the MC of the gala that gathered Cretans – including five tables of young people – and friends of Crete.
Bakoyiannis was honored with an award named for the great Cretan statesman Eleftherios Venizelos and Petrakis was given the Kazantzakis award, but the climax of the gathering was the presentation to the association by Chicagoan by John Manos of a check for $100,000, the first installment of a $1 million scholarship fund pledge by George Paterakis. After John Vomvolakis, 1st VP of the PAA introduced the dais and other dignitaries, Nafsica Gavrilaki sang the national anthems and Eirinaios, Archbishop of Crete offered the invocation. Stavros Arnaoutakis, the governor of the Prefecture of Crete, also brought greetings from the people of the great island.
John Sargetis, the President of the PAA then welcomed the guests and Katerina Makridakis, president of the Pancretan Youth Association, who heroically battled the sound system’s feedback attacks. She urged the guests to reflect on the sacrifices and struggles of their forebears who gave everyone present an opportunity to have a better life in America.
New York State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas presented the PAA with a citation and declared it was “a great day not only for Cretans but for all Greeks and lovers of liberty.” Rhode Island State Senator Leonidas Raptakis admitted that his immediate family comes from another island but is proud of the Cretan ancestry announced by his name.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Ambassador Loucas Tsillas, Executive Director of the Onassis Foundation (USA). He spoke of the contributions Crete has been making to civilization for millennia and expressed apprecation for Cretan objects of art that have been part of Onassis Cultural Center exhibits. During his historic overview he said that union did not come overnight, but he emphasized that “Cretans always took their own fate into their hands.”
Among the examples of Cretan bravery Ambassador Tsillas cited was the 1938 rebellion that was the only uprising against the dictatorship that controlled Greece at the time and in which Bakoyiannis’ grandfather played a role, and the Battle of Crete that held off the nazi invaders for an astonishing 10 days. The evening’s cultural fare matched the fine dining. Konstantinos Travayiakis, PAA Strategic Chairman, offered reflections on the union and Grigoris Maninakis and the Mikrokosmos ensemble performed throughout the evening and played dance music after the speaking program.
The spotlight, as always, was stolen by the young dancers. Arrayed in beautiful traditional costumes – young women in white with embroidered borders, black jackets and red caps, men in deep blue trousers and jackets – and led by its director, Eleni Sopasis, the PAA District II Dance Group, delighted the guests. They were accompanied by Christos Fasarakis and the Cretan Ensemble, which performed traditional Cretan music. The formal program concluded with the awards presentations.
Andy Manatos, the founder and president of the Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, introduced Petrakis. The renowned author took the large crowd – more than 500 people – into his embrace with his humor from the start. He reserved his sharper wit – and it is plenty sharp even at 90 – for his Greek School teacher, unnamed but known as “Kirios Agrios – Mr. Beast – who at the very least should take pride (one guest quipped, in good company, and most likely from below) in his student’s mastery of Greek.
Markos Kounalakis, whose father fought in the Greek resistance with Bakoyiannis, introduced the tall MP whose achievements as Foreign Minister and Mayor of Athens have shattered the glass ceiling for Greek women. With her rich, warm voice she smiled and thanked the PAA for assigning her to speak after Petrakis, a very tough act to follow. Serious thanks for being honored followed immediately.
Bakoyiannis proceeded to pay tribute to Venizelos by highlighting his challenges and achievements. She noted the Cretans rose 66 times against the Ottomans, but a Venizelos was needed to fulfill the task of enosis. She urged her generation to learn from Venizelos’ example of mixing idealism with realism, and added that Greece today needs “the Cretan values where we persist, and continue to fight, and never given up.”
MANY EVENTS MARKED THE CENTENNIAL
A press conference was held prior to the Gala, moderated by Nancy Biska.
During the Q &A Bakoyiannis said Greece is coming out of crisis . “The people do not feel it yet, but we are better than we were last year,” she said. Asked what the diaspora can do to help, she relied “continue to express your faith in Greece. Believe in Greece and invest in Greece,” adding “those who invest will prosper. There are especially good signs in tourism. Visit and bring your friends. Every dollar and euro counts.”
The four day commemoration included events such as a symposium at the UN on the Cretan diet titled “Crete’s 100 Years of Contributions to Better Nutrition and Healthy Living,” a theatrical production titled “Διάλογοι και Συλλογισμοί την Εποχή της Ένωσης– A Historical Recounting of Events Surrounding the UNION” combined with a musical program composed specifically for the Centennial.
A memorial service for the Cretan heroes and Great Doxology and Artoklasia commemoration for the Enosis was held at Holy Trinity Cathedral with Archbishop Dimitrios presiding, and a laying of a wreath to Lady Liberty and a ceremonial raising of the Greek flag took place at Castle Clinton lower Manhattan. Among the guests at the gala was Greece’s UN Ambassador, Michel Spinellis, who congratulated the PAA for maintaining their heritage and noted that Crete continue to give birth to great artists and leaders. Consuls General George Iliopoulos and Koula Sophianou of Greece and Cyprus respectively were also present.
AHEPA Supreme President Anthony Kouzounis, came a long way, from Texas, because although he is a Macedonian, “I love Crete, that fantastic island and the magnificent statesman, Venizelos. I am proud to be here.” Manoli Liodakis, a Stanford Graduate and a program manager with Microsoft with roots in Rethymno and Chania, is the treasurer of the Pancretan Youth Association. He travelled from San Francisco to attend the gala and celebrate Crete and Greece. Christos Markakis, also from Rethymno, is VP of the East for the Youth Association who lives in Toronto and came to celebrate his Cretan roots and his love of Greece. Makridakis told TNH she is looking forward to their national winter conference in Springfield, MA where 200 young adults will gather in February. “It’s a four day celebration, cultural learning and fellowship experience,” she said.