Four-day Turkish cultural and food festival begins in California

A four-day Turkish festival opened its doors to visitors in southern California on Thursday.

A four-day Turkish festival opened its doors to visitors in southern California on Thursday. The Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival 2011, organized by the Pacifica Institute, is being held at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa this year, as was the case in 2009, when the event was organized for the first time.

Passing by teenagers dressed in traditional Anatolian clothes as they entered the fair area through a long corridor decorated with select monuments from Turkey, visitors began to feel that it was going to be an unusual day for them in America. As they proceeded into the middle of the events, they became better aware that it was not only an opportunity for them to have a variety of Turkish food for lunch or dinner but also to enhance their understanding of the culture, politics and economy in today’s Turkey.

With dozens of booths opened by civil society organizations, newspapers, TVs and book stores as well as regional and provincial promotion offices from Turkey, the festival offers a taste of almost everything one may want to learn about the country’s past and present. Most of the visitors on Thursday grabbed some food and took their time to see what the exhibitors had to offer or listened to live music played at the same time. Joining in the masses dancing with the fascinating rhythm of Turkish and Kurdish songs was also popular on the first day of this year’s festival.

There was a moment of silence and contemplation for everyone at the OC Fairgrounds on Thursday each time the call to prayer was sung. As Muslims rushed to observe their prayers together after the calls, music and dance resumed so others could continue having Turkish fun in this small Turkey on the western coast of the United States more than 6,000 kilometers away from the real one.

Although the number of visitors was not more than a few thousand on the first day of the festival, organizers expect that it will have attracted some 60,000 people — including Turks from all over the US and Americans from not only California but a few other neighboring states — by Sunday night.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Pacifica Institute President İbrahim Barlas stated that his organization aims to encourage dialogue and maintain good relations between people from different cultural backgrounds.

Barlas stated that 30,000 people attended the first festival, held in 2009, and that 40,000 came the following year. Despite the rainy weather, Barlas said this year they are expecting to host 60,000 visitors.

A group of 450 notable visitors, including deputies, mayors, governors and members of the press have visited the festival. Barlas said many residents of LA come from Anatolia, including the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Arabs and the Kurds, adding that “we are bringing the people of Anatolia together with this festival.”

Turks in the US organize various events, Barlas said, but the Turkish festival is the biggest one so far and is growing rapidly. “We [the organizers] wanted to put together something different from other events. The festival has grown enormously, so we moved the location to a 50-acre area. In 107 stands we try to present the culture of places like İstanbul, Mardin, Konya, Van, Antalya, Isparta, Burdur and many other provinces,” Barlas said.

The miniature replications of famous attractions in Turkey are also presented in the festival, which attract visitors’ attention, said Barlas. He added that 400 volunteers are helping out at the festival.

“With the sponsorship of İstanbul’s Eyüp Municipality, we wanted to bring over the Mehter Takımı [a parade of the Ottoman military marching band]. However, American officials in Turkey wanted more documents after we submitted our applications for visas, so it took a too long to get the visas. Members of the Mehter Takımı had their visas, but that didn’t help as we had to cancel the Mehter Takımı march that we organized with three municipalities here, thinking that the Mehter Takımı would not make it here on time,” said Barlas. (MUSTAFA EDİB YILMAZ , COSTA MESA / ZAMAN)