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Connecting Greek-Americans to the Ancient Theaters

The National Herald

October 24, 2016

The seats of the ancient theaters of Argos and Epidauros were filled by hundreds of citizens of downtrodden Greece, who irrespective of political beliefs came together determined to work for a common goal: the restoration and the revival of the ancient theaters. Among them were the first Greek-American volunteers, who participated in the Diazoma Annual Assembly 2016.

Eight years ago Stavros Benos, a former Greece’s Minister of Culture, undertook the initiative to create the Diazoma Association. He brought together archaeologists, scholars, artists, scientists from different fields, citizens, and members of the administration aiming at the restoration and the integration of the ancient theaters into the local communities as vibrant places of arts and democracy, and even as resources of sustainable development. Due to an effective business model and transparency in management, he succeeded to build the confidence needed. During the crisis, without getting not even one euro from the state and acting as an intermediate between the sponsors and the Ephorates of Antiquities, Diazoma funded studies, excavations, and restoration works in more than 50 ancient theaters. On its website, diazoma.gr, one can read the progress of works, as well as where each euro that sponsors contribute goes.

“This grassroots organization, Diazoma, is unique because it empowers the Greek citizen and makes him realize that he does not need to depend on the government to improve things in his community. He can take the initiative, invite, embrace, involve others, work with them (including the government) and take ownership and responsibility of what impacts his daily life,” says Ismini Lamb, Assistant Teaching Professor at the Department of Classics, Georgetown University.

Washington DC-based attorney Nicholas Karambelas believes that the engagement in the Diazoma initiative could be an answer to a desire many Greek-Americans have. His grandparents came to the United States around 1890. His parents, he himself, his daughters, and a growing fourth generation were born here. “These generations do not actively participate in the traditional Greek-American organizations and events. Even Greek-Americans who were born here and their parents were born in Greece participate less and less. They will, however, participate in their professional organizations. Even though they may not speak Greek or even be Orthodox, they still desire a connection to Greece. Diazoma must “target” these generations. The advantage Diazoma has is that it offers that connection without the parochial constraints of the traditional organizations.”

Greek-American volunteers believe that the omogeneia can benefit tremendously by “creating meaningful linkages with civil society organizations in Greece, that will enrich especially the way youth sees Greece and the cultural heritage”, as Aigly Zafeirakou, Senior Education Specialist at The World Bank, says. Professor Lamb gives further reasons: “They will feel included and embraced by the “mother” country in something meaningful and non-political. Often, they are seen only as cash cows! Greek-Americans tend to be result oriented and Diazoma has a proven record and is very well organized. Greek-Americans also like well-thought out, sustainable projects, with good business models. And again Diazoma is all that. Democratic procedures and transparency are also important to Greek-Americans and part of the modus operandi of the Diazoma organization.”

Is this why they decided to volunteer for the Diazoma project? Zafeirakou’s belief is that “people in Greece should be encouraged to step up and show good practices not only for Greece but for the world. This was the essence of the presentations in Washington.” Together with Charis Lypiridis, Infrastructure Specialist at The World Bank, Ioanna Papadopoulou, Associate in Interdisciplinary Research, IT, and Publications at the Harvard University and Professor Lamb they organized the Diazoma’s presentation at the World Bank in DC and at the Georgetown University. On April 2016 the first seed of Diazoma’s unique mission was planted in U.S. “As a Greek”, says Karambelas “Hellenism is a part of me. I constantly try to understand Hellenism and make it part of my life. I consider Diazoma an essential concept in understanding Hellenism as it evolves with time and place. As an American, I consider Hellenism to be inherent in our American ethos. Our constitutional social and political system is based on a uniquely American form of Hellenism. Consequently we can enhance our political and philosophical life as Americans by participating in the evolution of Hellenism.”

Now Diazoma invites Greek-Americans to share its vision, to get to know our ancient theaters and their contribution to democracy, philosophy, and the arts, to help organize summer educational activities for youth and develop the concept of a theater’s adoption. Diazoma seeks to reach those interested to work together to sustain our cultural heritage and include it in our modern lives, as a part of our enviable identity.

Connecting Greek-Americans to the Ancient Theaters – The National Herald