The British Turkish Cypriot community marked 100 years of migration to the United Kingdom with a cultural event at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) last Saturday. The event was organised by the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations (CTCA) UK and featured a photo exhibit, a film screening, folk dancing by the Dr. Fazıl Küçük Turkish School and Hornsey Atatürk Turkish School, and a display of handicrafts.
The film was commissioned by the CTCA and produced by Eithne Nightingale and Mitchell Harris using testimonials to tell the stories of actual Turkish Cypriot migrants and their descendants, touching on their early lives in Cyprus, reasons for migration, the challenges and joys of living in the UK, and their feelings about where home is. Among several contributors was Halil Başaran whose ancestor had delayed the establishment of British colonial authority on the island in 1878 by refusing to let British forces enter his home city.
Another was great grandfather Teyfik Zekai, who told of how a kind Greek Cypriot man had helped save his life by making sure he was not hassled by nationalist groups supporting Enosis (the unification of Cyprus with Greece) on his way home. When asked where he felt home was Teyfik said, “London is my home,” letting out a chuckle. Another contributor, Kazım Altan answered the same question saying, “I do like England, but my heart belongs to Cyprus.”
Cllr Erin Çelebi: “When I look at old photographs of my parents and their relatives, and the places they came from, it awakens a sense of belonging”
During the event, the V&A also hosted a photo exhibition called “My Journey from Güvercinlik (Pigeon-loft)”, which was prepared by author and sociologist Semra Eren-Nijhar. The photos, including those taken by İsmail Veli, complemented the film by showing scenes from the lives of Turkish Cypriot migrants to Britain.
Over 500 people, a mix of both Turkish Cypriot and non-Turkish Cypriot, attended the event. Among those to speak was former CTCA Chair Çetin Ramadan, who welcomed the audience to “this special event” to commemorate the community’s presence in the UK. He set the scene explaining the one-day event was examine the community’s 100-year-old history in Britain that started with the arrival of the first Turkish Cypriot migrants at the end of 1917 as subjects of the British Empire.
Current CTCA chair Leyla Kemal spoke about the important role of the organisation. The CTCA “is committed to serving the British Turkish Cypriot community and as a highly-respected organisation of elected volunteers, since its inception on 9 March 1983, it works relentlessly to pursue the interests of this group [British Turkish Cypriots] and its [member] associations,” she said.
Among the special guests were the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) Representative to the UK Zehra Başaran and the Undersecretary to the Turkish Ambassador Güçlü Cem Işık. The Conservative Peer and founding member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the TRNC Lord Sheikh was also present.
“I’m a friend of the TRNC, I’m a friend of Turkish people,” said Lord Sheikh in his speech, “every time I go into North Cyprus I receive warmth and hospitality” he added, joking that this was part of Turkish Cypriot DNA.
Lord Sheikh’s speech touched on various issues including his experiences among Turkish Cypriot victims of inter-communal violence on a visit to Cyprus during which one sufferer had told him that ‘the only mistake of Turkey’s 1974 military intervention was that Turkish forces did not take over the entire island’. In addition, he referred to the European Union’s accepting the Greek Cypriot-run Republic of Cyprus as a member in 2004 without a solution as “a missed opportunity.”
Lord Sheikh: “please be more politically active, we’d like to see more of you in Parliament”
Lord Sheikh also thanked British Turkish Cypriots for the wide-ranging contributions they have made and continue to make to Britain, but also called upon them to be more politically engaged. “I would like to see more Turkish Cypriots in British politics” the Tory Peer said, “please be more politically active, we’d like to see more of you in Parliament.”
While most welcomed Lord Sheikh’s speech, his comments were not well-received by some members of the audience. Several took to social media later to post their displeasure, with one accusing the Tory peer of “unnecessarily politicising the event”.
Turkish Cypriot-origin politicians from Enfield representing both main parties including Labour Councillors Ahmet Öykener and Alev Cazimoğlu and Conservative Councillor Erin Çelebi also supported the event.
Speaking exclusively to T-VINE, Cllr Erin Çelebi said “We have been here for a hundred years. My parents came in 1952. I was born here so I’m second generation. I have my own children who are third generation, and there’s fourth generation Turkish Cypriots here now.”
“That’s a big integration into British society and the majority of our people now firmly see themselves as British citizens first, [but also] Turkish Cypriot who are very proud of their culture. I think that was very well illustrated in the presentation today. It was a little bit like deja vu for me when I look at old photographs of my parents and their relatives, and the places they came from, and it awakens a sense of belonging, which is very important,” she added.
Cllr Ayfer Orhan “We have made an indelible mark on the history of this country”
Cllr Çelebi also praised the work of the CTCA on the event, “this is all voluntary and people came together and did a very good job today.”
Another Enfield Labour Councillor Ayfer Orhan was unable to attend but also gave the CTCA a message of support, writing:
“Our enormous contribution to the economical, civic and social structures of the UK cannot be underestimated. For 100 years we have set an example and have shown that we can successfully amalgamate the best of both cultures in creating a community in harmony with itself.”
“Driven by our hard work ethics and our resolute commitment to establishing a better quality of life in a country very different to ours we have made an indelible mark on the history of this country.”
“I am enormously proud of my ethnic heritage and of our community and may it grow from strength to strength.”
The CTCA also presented awards to all the contributors who made the event possible including film participants, the producers, Janet Browne from the V&A, Semra Eren-Nijhar, the Limasollular Association, and the Turkish Women’s Philanthropic Association (TWPA).