Vancouver Turk folk dance art group.| Photo courtesy of Vancouver Turk Folk Dans and Art Group.
The Turkish community is reaching out to different cultural communities in the Lower Mainland through the fine arts. Mesut Orhan, folk dance coordinator at the Turkish Canadian Society (Society) says that because of the location of Turkey there are multiple ethnicities that make up the Turkish culture. This diversity makes Turkish immigrants to Canada uniquely positioned to adapt to Canadian diversity, but creates challenges as well.
“Turkey is between Europe, and the Middle East and not far is Asia. So many people from these [regions] come to Turkey. With so many different ethnicities, no one knows what a Turkish person looks like, like Canadians,” says Orhan.
A diverse history
The population of Turks living in Vancouver is small compared to other cultural backgrounds. According to the 2011 Statistics Canada report, there are 4,395 Turks living in Vancouver compared to the largest cultural population of 432,680 Chinese. With a small population living in the Lower Mainland, the history of the Turkish people in Vancouver is fairly short. Yusuf Altintas, a Turkish professor at the University of British Columbia, is an active participant in the Society who speaks proudly of the history of the Turkish community in Vancouver.
“The [history] is very different, Turks can have ancestors in many different countries and many ethnic backgrounds but they’re Turkish,” says Atlintas.
Atlintas speaks about the history in the Lower Mainland and takes note of the importance of the Society. The Society was founded in 1963 by professionals, such as engineers and professors, and the group helps promote Turkish culture in Canada. The Society had their annual meeting on Feb. 22, when they discussed various ways to improve the community in Canada.
Building community through dance and music
The Society helps many festivals and performances throughout the year. Nural Sumbultepe, the art coordinator at the Society, says this year that a children’s theatre performance will be one of the main attractions.
She says that the theatre performance is especially important for April 23, which is Children’s Day in Turkey, when the Turkish community celebrates democracy and the future generation.
“Dance is especially important in our culture; it allows for kids to belong. Not all the kids are Turkish, but that’s the great thing. We encourage people of all different backgrounds to come and join us at our events. We want to bring people from all over [the Lower Mainland] to celebrate with us,” says Sumbultepe
She says that the kids can learn about their culture in a fun and safe environment and ultimately, it helps build community. Sumbultepe also says that the children’s theatre is there to help build a bridge between Canadians and the Turks. She hopes that the students will take their knowledge of diversity and celebrate it. The Society also has a folk dance and choir group for older students who wish to learn traditional music and dance.
“We want to share our dance with the people here in Vancouver. Our students can learn more about Turkish culture through dance and it’s emotionally important [for our community],” says Orhan.
Sumbultepe also discusses the importance of music in Turkish cultures and says that the choir led by Demet Edeer allows university students and older generations to integrate and learn from each other.
“We practice together and we perform at the Eurofest. It’s important that we don’t lose this part of our culture, it helps us stay connected to our roots,” says Edeer.
The Children’s Festival will be held in Vancouver this year on April 26. For more information please visit www.turkishcanadiansociety.org.