Demetri Zemenides, a giant in the Cypriot political activist sphere and prominent leader in the Greek American community of Chicago, passed away last Thursday at the age of 78.
Zemenides served as a long-time collaborator with the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus, known as “PSEKA” for short.
“The ‘A’ in PSEKA stands for ‘agona,’ or ‘struggle.’ The long standing ‘agona/struggle’ for Cyprus was and is made possible only by ‘agonistes,'” PSEKA said in a statement. “This past Thursday we lost Demetri Zemenides — one of our longest standing ‘agonistes.'”
Originally from Komi Kebir, Cyprus, Demetri joined the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) at age 14 in Nicosia. After his role in Cyprus’ anticolonial liberation struggle, he pursued studies in architecture, first in Athens and then at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he met his wife Irene. In Chicago he continued his “agona” as an anti-junta student activist.
Zemenides’ eldest son, Endy, the executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), was born in February 1973, and in June of that year Demetri and Irene relocated their family to Cyprus.
Demetri and Irene had established strong roots in Cyprus, where both were working as architects and expecting their second child when Turkey invaded the island nation in 1974.
Demetri put his pregnant wife and his son Endy on a boat that was evacuating Cyprus, put on his National Guard uniform and went to battle to defend the island. After several months, and the birth of his second son Foti, Demetri reunited with his family in Chicago.
His “agona” picked up again in Chicago, where he played a leading role in the city’s Cyprus Relief Fund. Demetri became one of the leaders of the Cyprus Brotherhood and worked closely with the United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC) and Andy Athens and with PSEKA.
But perhaps the most important part of Demetri’s “agona” was his making sure that it continued past him.
When U.S. President Jimmy Carter was working to remove the embargo placed on Turkey because of its invasion of Cyprus, Demetri took his five-year-old son Endy along with him door-to-door as he gathered petition signatures against the move. All three of his sons took part in the annual PSEKA Conference. His son Foti worked at UHAC and Endy continues Demetri’s “agona” every day with HALC.
“[Demetri] shared our dream of a free Cyprus, he fought and risked his life, and he never gave up the fight,” said Philip Christopher, president of PSEKA. “Cyprus honored him in 2002 with a medal for his service to EOKA, and he honored Cyprus by making sure the Zemenides family will continue his ‘agona’ for decades to come.”
Demetri is survived by his wife Irene, his sons Endy, Foti and Peter, daughters-in-law Vicky and Joanne, grandchildren Demetri, George, Irini and Demetri, and in Cyprus by his brother Sozo, his sisters Alkisti and Maro and many loving nieces and nephews.
Demetri’s funeral is on Wednesday, August 12 at 10:00am CST and will be live streamed from St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church in Niles, Illinois.
In lieu of flowers/wreaths, people can make donations to:
Project HOPE (a project of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago to feed the hungry)
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago
555 E. Butterfield Road, Suite 201
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