A taste of Ana­to­lia in Los An­ge­les,

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - By Zafer Öz­can

The Ana­to­lian Cul­tures and Food Fes­ti­val has al­ready be­come an es­tab­lished event in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia with tens of thou­sands at­tend­ing ev­ery year. The fes­ti­val presents the cul­ture and his­tory of ana­to­lia to vis­i­tors through exhibitions, food, art and crafts, per­for­mance, dance and live mu­sic. Vis­i­tors are greeted by the ru­ins of the Com­ma­gene king­dom -- an an­cient sovereignty in Adıya­man -and Mount Nem­rut, fol­lowed by re­mains from the an­cient Hit­tite Em­pire, once cen­tered on the city of Ço­rum. Pass­ing through lion-flanked gates, they are met by the Urartu civ­i­liza­tion. Phry­gia fol­lows. Walk­ing through the gate­way of the Assyr­ian na­tion leads them to Troy and its epony­mous horse in all their mag­nif­i­cence. The path of civ­i­liza­tions me­an­ders on through the Per­sian Em­pire, Ly­dian king­dom and an­cient civ­i­liza­tion of Io­nia. Of course, no list of civ­i­liza­tions would be com­plete with­out a men­tion of İstanbul. This foray into the past con­tin­ues with the Ro­man and the Byzan­tine em­pires, con­clud­ing with the Ot­toman Em­pire and, of course, the Turk­ish Repub­lic.

This is the en­trance to the third Ana­to­lian Cul­tures and Food Fes­ti­val, held this year in the US city of Los An­ge­les. The fair, which trans­ports the past civ­i­liza­tions of Ana­to­lia to the state of Cal­i­for­nia, is among the most com­pre­hen­sive and spec­tac­u­lar events held over­seas by Turkey. Or­ga­nized by the Paci­fica In­sti­tute, founded by Turks liv­ing in Los An­ge­les, the fes­ti­val has gar­nered at­ten­tion from ev­ery cor­ner of the state. The 30,000 vis­i­tors that came in the first year have since dou­bled; of the 60,000 vis­i­tors in 2011, some 5,000 were stu­dents.

Ana­to­lians in Cal­i­for­nia

Or­ga­niz­ing a Turk­ish fes­ti­val in this city car­ries a lot of mean­ing in terms of the eth­nic mix of the area: Cal­i­for­nia is home to the largest Ar­me­nian pop­u­la­tion in the US; Los An­ge­les even has a neigh­bor­hood known as Lit­tle Ar­me­nia. Close to 800,000 of the 1 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans in the state live in Los An­ge­les. While it is quite easy to lo­cate Turk­ish restau­rants across the US, this re­gion is re­mark­ably poor in them, per­haps due to ten­sions with the Ar­me­nian pop­u­la­tion. In 1973 the mur­der of Turkey’s con­sul gen­eral in Los An­ge­les, Mehmet Bay­dar, was ex­tremely in­flu­en­tial in Cal­i­for­nian Turks’ choos­ing to main­tain a low pro­file.

For many years Turk­ish im­mi­grants, who cur­rently num­ber around 60,000, were re­luc­tant to make them-

selves known. Dis­tanced from their in­dige­nous cul­ture and lan­guage, over the years they be­came as­sim­i­lated. This is re­flected the re­sponse from many US vis­i­tors: “We’ve known of Ar­me­ni­ans, Assyr­i­ans, Mex­i­cans and even Arabs, but we’ve only just re­al­ized the ex­tent of the Turk­ish com­mu­nity.” Thus the fes­ti­val not only in­tro­duced Turkey to oth­ers, but also helped re­unite Turks with their own cul­ture.

The fes­ti­val has seen protests by lo­cal Ar­me­ni­ans, who are also very ac­tive in state pol­i­tics. How­ever, İstanbul Ar­me­ni­ans were in­stru­men­tal in pre­vent­ing protests at the first fes­ti­val from get­ting out of hand. They are fond of Turks and Turkey and support the event. And it is not just the Ar­me­ni­ans. Los An­ge­les is home to an Ana­to­lian mo­saic of sorts. The almost 70,000-strong Mar­dinian Assyr­ian com­mu­nity and 150,000 Greeks are joined by Sephardic Jews and Kur­dish and Arab im­mi­grants, cre­at­ing a small Ana­to­lia in the heart of Los An­ge­les. The Ana­to­lian spirit, sorely missed and near-in­vis­i­ble for so long, has been re­stored thanks to the fes­ti­val. With this event im­mi­grant Ana­to­lian com­mu­ni­ties have re­in­forced their bonds of af­fec­tion with Turkey.

We meet up with Greg Jam­bazian and his wife Paystar in the sec­tion re­served for Van prov­ince. They are ex­am­in­ing the Ar­me­nian church of Ak­damar with fas­ci­nated cu­rios­ity. After a brief con­ver­sa­tion it be­comes clear their paths have also passed through Ana­to­lia. Jam­bazian is Ar­me­nian-born and has been liv­ing in Los An­ge­les for 30 years. But his grand­fa­ther is from Adana and his great grand­mother from İzmir. The fam­ily first em­i­grated to Greece, then Ar­me­nia and fi­nally the US. As they talk about how thrilled they are by Turkey’s ef­forts to re­store the Ak­damar church, their ex­cite­ment is ob­vi­ous. Jam­bazian heard about the event through the In­ter­net and stopped by to gain a more in­ti­mate un­der­stand­ing of his grand­fa­ther’s home­land. He is crit­i­cal of those who would like the an­i­mos­ity be­tween the two com­mu­ni­ties to con­tinue: “You’re prob­a­bly aware that many Ar­me­ni­ans didn’t want to be here. Ar­me­ni­ans in Ar­me­nia do not like the Turks one bit. We have to move beyond events that tran­spired all those years ago. I’ve come here to learn more about the cul­ture of my an­ces­tors.”

After our con­ver­sa­tion, Jam­bazian takes us to meet his aunt, Mari Tan­tiskian. The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues in Turk­ish. Tan­tiskian’s fam­ily is orig­i­nally from İzmir, so she speaks Turk­ish, as do the thou­sands of İstanbul Ar­me­ni­ans liv­ing in Los An­ge­les. She has a great deal of af­fec­tion for Turkey and Ana­to­lia, which she con­sid­ers her home. Her fam­ily em­i­grated from İzmir to Greece and then to Los An­ge­les. She is clearly en­joy­ing the fes­ti­val and can­not con­ceal how moved she is as she thanks its or­ga­niz­ers.

İstanbul déjà vu

For Con­gress­man Dana Rohrabacher the fes­ti­val has a very dif­fer­ent mean­ing. Rohrabacher is the only mem­ber of the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to have swum the İstanbul strait; he is both pleased and sur­prised to see a model of the strait be­fore him. Not­ing that Los An­ge­les is his con­stituency, he adds: “It’s very im­por­tant for an event like this to be held here, as we strive to main­tain good re­la­tions with Turkey in Wash­ing­ton. It is cru­cial in terms of get­ting ac­quainted with the Ana­to­lian and Mus­lim cul­ture.” Two other mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives also

vis­ited the event; sis­ters Loretta and Linda Sanchez. The sib­lings give great im­por­tance to im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Turkey and build­ing re­cip­ro­cal un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two na­tions. Linda Sanchez is due to visit Turkey soon, while her sis­ter will be head­ing there with a later tour group. Loretta Sanchez feels that a purely trade-ori­ented re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and Turkey is not enough and un­der­lines the im­por­tance of such fes­ti­vals in strength­en­ing cul­tural re­la­tions, fur­ther not­ing the large con­tri­bu­tion Ana­to­lia can make to world cul­ture.

Cal­i­for­nia State Se­na­tor Bob Huff has re­cently re­turned from a visit to Turkey. “Things we saw in Turkey are now here right in front of us,” he says, mus­ing that his pre­vi­ously held views on Turkey were as dif­fer­ent to his new­found un­der­stand­ing of the coun­try as black-and-white tele­vi­sion is to 3D. Hav­ing stayed in the houses of lo­cal fam­i­lies in Turkey, Huff says that he had the op­por­tu­nity to learn about the com­mu­nity first­hand. The se­na­tor notes the his­toric roots of Turk­ish hos­pi­tal­ity, as well as the im­por­tance of ex­change pro­grams and fre­quent vis­its in im­prov­ing re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

Shar­ing a dif­fer­ent view of Turkey

The Paci­fica In­sti­tute was founded in 2004. Ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent İbrahim Bar­las, the in­sti­tute’s ob­jec­tive is to pro­tect the Turk­ish com­mu­nity and foster cul­tural di­a­logue. He adds that the tours they have or­ga­nized have al­lowed the gov­ern­ing elite in and around Los An­ge­les to gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of Turkey. The idea of or­ga­niz­ing a fes­ti­val that in­tro­duced Ana­to­lia and all its cul­tural val­ues was sug­gested by the in­sti­tute’s board. Bar­las, who laments the limited scope of Turk­ish fes­ti­vals held in the US, adds: “We wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent that rep­re­sented the myr­iad col­ors Turkey has to of­fer. We worked with a de­sign team from Norm De­sign. We’re im­prov­ing the fes­ti­val ev­ery year with new ad­di­tions.” İstanbul, of course, is the star of the fes­ti­val. Konya, be­cause of the greatly popu- lar Mevlana Ce­laled­din Rumi; An­talya as the hol­i­day hotspot; Mardin as the home of the Assyr­i­ans; and Van, which holds great sig­nif­i­cance for the Ar­me­ni­ans, are also rep­re­sented. This year İstanbul is sym­bol­ized by Top­kapı Palace, the İstanbul strait, the Maiden’s Tower, the his­toric penin­sula, the gate of Dolmabahçe Palace, the Grand Bazaar and Şe­hzade Mosque. A Turk­ish tra­di­tion was hon­ored by the con­tin­u­ous read­ing of the Qu­ran in the sec­tion hous­ing sa­cred relics from Top­kapı Palace. Mean­while the five daily calls to prayer res­onat

ed from the Şe­hzade Mosque.

Sıd­dıka Hanım’s gö­zleme

Food plays a ma­jor role in or­ga­niz­ing a fes­ti­val in the US -- with­out a cui­sine el­e­ment, peo­ple are just not in­ter­ested! For this rea­son, the fes­ti­val also in­cludes tra­di­tional and his­toric Ana­to­lian foods. A rich va­ri­ety of dishes, rang­ing from döner to ke­babs, baklava to Maraş ice­cream, and gö­zleme (a thin Turk­ish pas­try) to künefe (a Turk­ish dessert), were on of­fer. The stalls were sur­rounded by queues of peo­ple through­out the event. As one might imag­ine, en­sur­ing such va­ri­ety and sat­is­fy­ing de­mand is no mean feat. There were many sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions from vol­un­teers from both Turkey and neigh­bor­ing states. In par­tic­u­lar, thanks should go to the women who

worked day and night to have the food and desserts ready on time. Some of th­ese vol­un­teers con­tin­ued to pre­pare food through­out the en­tire fes­ti­val. Most no­table among them was Sıd­dıka Hanım, a vol­un­teer from İstanbul who was re­spon­si­ble for pre­par­ing gö­zleme.

She saw an ad­vert for the fes­ti­val in the pa­per and ap­plied as a vol­un­teer and has now been in charge of pre­par­ing the gö­zleme for the past two years. De­spite nag­ging back prob­lems, Sıd­dıka Hanım pre­pared gö­zleme from scratch, rolling them out by hand, for four days, rest­ing only for prayer. When we asked her why she was here, she said: “For years, our hus­bands have gone else­where to serve oth­ers. We sat at home. I also wanted to make my­self use­ful, so now I come here ev­ery year.” When she was asked, dur­ing her visa ap­pli­ca­tion at the con­sulate, why she wanted to go to the US, she replied, “To make gö­zleme,” and was granted a 10-year visa. Her hus­band was un­able to ac­com­pany her on this trip, but one of the fes­ti­val staff has kept her company. Sıd­dıka Hanım is de­lighted to be of ser­vice at the fes­ti­val. Vol­un­teers like her are the un­sung he­roes of this enor­mous un­der­tak­ing. A to­tal of 400 vol­un­teers are em­ployed dur­ing the fes­ti­val. Ev­ery one of th­ese vol­un­teers has a job or a ca­reer; they are teach­ers, en­gi­neers and home­mak­ers like Sıd­dıka Hanım. They work, un­paid, for four days and do their best to in­tro­duce the dif­fer­ent peo­ple of the US to their coun­try. The smil­ing and de­ter­mined faces in their sou­venir pho­tos show their belief that the hard­ships and sleep­less nights have all been worth­while.

Turk­ish Re­view was hon­ored to be among spon­sors of this fes­ti­val.


The third Ana­to­lian Cul­ture and Food Fes­ti­val was held in the US city of Los An­ge­les.

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