PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Two individuals were honored for their support of the Armenian Church and the larger Armenian community at the annual Awards Banquet held as part of the 115th Diocesan Assembly in Palm Harbor, on Friday, May 5.
Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian presided over the banquet, which was hosted by St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park.
The award for the “Friend of the Armenians” was bestowed on US Congressman Gus Bilirakis. A longtime supporter of Armenia and an advocate for Armenian Genocide recognition, Bilirakis has also been an outspoken proponent of preserving the Christian heritage in Turkey and the Middle East.
As the vice chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, he has worked to strengthen relations and economic cooperation between the U.S., Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
“This award means very much to me. I feel like I’m more than a friend — I’m a cousin,” Bilirakis said, referring to his Greek-American heritage.
He recalled hearing stories about the burning of Smyrna as a child, and being raised in a hardworking Christian community. “We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors,” he said, “As long as they’re not forgotten, their sacrifice will continue to have meaning now and into the future.”