Review: Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival 2023 was fabulous and fun, but not without its flaws

Ersin Tatar, the President of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), was among the thousands of people to enjoy this year’s Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival on Donkey Lane, North London.

After an absence of four years due to the pandemic, this family-friendly one-day festival organised by the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations UK (CTCA) was back on Sunday, 2 July with a bang offering enjoyable activities for everyone.

The entertainment on the main stage this year was top notch, with no less than three chart-topping Turkish Cypriot stars performing: Işın Karaca, Eylem and Ali Babutsa, each belting out their hits and more.

Popular Turkish Cypriot songs came courtesy of North Cyprus band the Gazi Set Orchestra. Different Turkish Cypriot folk dancers whose ages ranged from primary school to high school also appeared on the main stage.

One of the unexpected hits of the day was the appearance of two ‘Turkish Cypriot Nenes’, played by Eray Galip and Aziz Kemal. The comedy duo’s skit on their recent nene adventures had everyone in stitches.

Each act on the main stage was introduced by the three delightful bi-lingual hosts: Duygu Tağmaç, Ayşegül Bıçkıcı and Eren Ramadan.

Away from the main stage, every part of the large, green and flat Enfield Playing Fields site had some form of activity.

TRNC President Tatar speaks at Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival, London 02 July 2023. Photo © Halil Yetkinlioglu

The festival site included a big funfair with a host of rides including bumper cars and the big wheel, traditional fairground games, and donkey rides and face painting for children.

The Mid Summer Ball Stage provided a mix of dance music, from House and Garage to Bashment and R&B to a younger crowd, played by Turkish Cypriot DJs, aided by Turkish Cypriot MCs. At one point, a real-life granny with a walking stick found herself on the stage, showing the youngsters her quality moves to cheers of delight from the crowd.

For those in need of sustenance, food and drink stalls included everything from Turkish pide, to koftes and kebabs, Turkish coffee, ice cream vans and slush puppies.

Ali Babutsa

The massive civic society tent housed a wide range of community organisations, including women’s and faith groups, Turkish schools in London and political activists all represented.

The arts and crafts area had a rich array of stalls with everything from traditional Turkish Cypriot handicrafts to Turkish and TRNC branded t-shirts, and Turkish Cypriot delicacies on sale.

For Turkish Cypriots, the festival proved to be the perfect opportunity to catch-up with friends and family; at every turn one found a familiar face to stop and chat with. It was also a great place to rub shoulders with some very important people, not least the TRNC President.

CTCA President Kenan Nafi and VIPs at the Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival London, 02 July 2023. Photo © Halil Yetkinlioglu


President Tatar gave speeches in English and Turkish on the main stage following the festival’s official opening at midday (door had opened at 11am), where he said, “our most valuable treasure is our national culture”. He stressed the importance of retaining and passing Turkish Cypriot culture on to younger generations living in Britain.

“It is very important for our children to learn about their roots, identities and cultures. Such festivals are instrumental in establishing this sense of belonging,” the President stated.

He also talked about his two-state vision for Cyprus and urged the United Kingdom to play its part in ending the unjust embargoes on Turkish Cypriots, points which received big cheers from the large crowd assembled to hear him speak.

The President, although in formal attire on a warm day, was in a relaxed mood and ended up spending most of the day at the festival, where he was warmly received by festival goers as he walked around the site chatting to people and happily posing for photos. He was also pictured sitting in front of the main stage enjoying the entertainment.

Other notables present at this year’s festival included the TRNC Prime Minister Ünal Üstel, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Qurban Hussain, Nesil Çalışkan and Peray Ahmet, the respective Leaders of Enfield and Haringey Councils, Hackney Council Cabinet Member Mete Coban, and the respective Mayors of Enfield and Bexley, Suna Hurman and Ahmet Dourmoush.

There was a strong diplomatic presence too: the TRNC London Representative, Ambassador Çimen Keskin was joined by the Turkish Ambassador Osman Koray Ertaş, the respective TRNC and Turkish Consul Generals, Namık Cafer and Bekir Utku Atahan, and Reşhad Vahabzade, the Undersecretary of the Azerbaijan Embassy in London.

Key civic society leaders were in attendance too, including Acting Inspector Eren Emin, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Turkish Police Association (TPA), and Nuriye Mertcan, Head of the Turkish Education Consortium that oversees Turkish supplementary schools in Britain.

The event was not without its flaws. Firstly, there was frustration and irritation at the lack of transparency about the stall hire charges.

A number of people told T-VINE that when they enquired about a stall CTCA quoted them a price which varied markedly from person to person, ranging from £100 to £500, for no discernible difference. The festival organisers failed to produce a stall hire rate card, leaving many to feel they were being duped. This needs to be rectified in 2024, so there is clarity and fairness for all applicants and prices are not left to the whim of a few individuals.


Another big complaint was about the super-long queues for the food stalls, with several saying they had to wait for up to an hour before they could buy a hot meal.

While it’s natural that the caterers want minimal competition so they can make a decent profit on their hefty investment on the most expensive pitches at the festival, this needs to be balanced with the need for festival goers to obtain food reasonably quickly. More food stalls next year, please!

Many punters also baulked at the price of the hot food at the festival, which were in the £10-£15 bracket per meal. For those on a budget during this severe cost-of-living crisis, the food prices were steep, but they were on a par with hot food served by caterers at similar events in London this year.

It’s a tricky one for CTCA, as they can’t dictate prices to caterers, yet perhaps they can ensure there are more affordable food stalls present to, or they should allow families to bring their own food to the event.

Having a second stage at the festival is great, but perhaps the music policy on there needs to be reviewed. Giving a platform to Turkish Cypriot artists who specialise in non-Turkish dance music is valuable, but its appeal is more limited given the bulk of the crowd is there to enoy Turkish Cypriot music and culture.

In terms of the organisation, the festival has been ably carried by volunteers since its inception in 2017, but this year the team have definitely struggled to cope with all the demands on them. Given the size of the event, it may be time for CTCA to bite the bullet and accept that it’s better to hire in a professional team to manage the event entirely.

Finally, a small but important quibble on the festival committee’s bizarre decision to describe the 2023 festival as the “sixth edition”. Prior to the pandemic, there had been three Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festivals; in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Some misguided souls on the committee seem to think putting on televised edits of the festival from previous years during the pandemic constitutes a brand-new edition – it doesn’t! So, for reasons of accuracy, we will refer to the 2023 festival as the fourth edition.

Overall, the 2023 Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival was fabulous and fun, and great value for the £5 entrance fee, but there is room for improvement.

Talking to CTCA President Kenan Nafi after the event, it’s clear the organisation is already taking stock of the comments, good and bad, about this year’s event and are open to all constructive criticisms about how to improve the festival for next year.

CTCA President Kenan Nafi speaking on main stage at the Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival, London, 02 July 2023. Photo © Halil Yetkinlioglu