By KEREM HASAN/Chief Reporter
Turkish Cypriots from as far afield as Australia were among those attending the British capital's biggest ever festival of its kind, with traffic to the event gridlocking roads leading to the Waltham Forest Rugby Club venue as a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Described by Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (CTCA) organisers as a “historic day”, the first Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival saw nearly 100 stands showcase Turkish Cypriot businesses and services, as well as traditional foods and sweets, handicrafts, ornaments and produce.
The venue was bedecked with Turkish and TRNC flags, while one “exhibit” that proved particularly popular with children were two donkeys brought in to symbolise Cyprus.
Turkish schools in London gave displays of folk dancing, and group SOS, who flew in from the TRNC, put on a lively concert.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Cyprus Affairs, Tuğrul Türkeş turned up at the event alongside Turkish and TRNC diplomats including TRNC London Representative Zehra Başaran, Labour Party Edmonton MP Kate Osamor, and members of community organisations.
However no TRNC government or political party representatives were present, despite having been invited.
CTCA president Leyla Kemal said the festival was a way of celebrating "the first 100 years of Turkish Cypriot migration to the UK".
She said: "History is being written, after many years, [by] Turkish Cypriots having such a huge turnout. It's not just a festival, it's a show of unity, solidarity; a message to the world that we exist, we have our own country, flag and culture."
Mr Türkeş, for whom the donkeys were a personal favourite feature, added: "Turkish Cypriots migrated here for different reasons but they always carry their homeland in their hearts. As a Turkish Cypriot, I am delighted to be here."
Mrs Başaran said that although the Turkish Cypriot community was integrated into the British way of life and had taken British nationality, "they are today demonstrating their ability and desire to live their Turkish Cypriot identity, culture, and existence” – while Zuhre Halil, of the Association of Turkish Cypriots Abroad (Atca), said the occasion had brought together families and friends with “people they haven't seen in years".
Former CTCA president and British Turkish Cypriot Association (BTCA) executive committee member Çetin Ramadan revealed that organisers were “already planning the next big festival” in 2018.
“We were anticipating about 4,000 people. That would have been a success. But to see 20,000 Turkish Cypriots come with excitement surprised even us.”
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