Turkish Cypriot Cultural Association celebrates four decades in Hackney
PUBLISHED: 17:18 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:32 27 February 2017
Zeka Alsancak and his fellow Turkish Cypriots set up a community centre in Hackney 40 years ago. The Gazette joins him looking back
The Turkish Cypriot Cultural Association (TCCA) is celebrating 40 years since it was founded to help immigrants from that community feel less isolated.
The charity, run by volunteers, was established on September 7, 1977. Its founders, all prominent Turkish Cypriot figures in Hackney, wanted to help elderly people who had moved here after the Second World War.
Many were ex-servicemen and their families who could not speak English and suffered health problems because of their advancing age.
Emphasis was given to caring for the elderly and disabled by trying to sort out their social, cultural and financial problems by speaking to the authorities on their behalf.
But it wasn’t just for the elderly: children falling behind at school because their Turkish-speaking parents couldn’t help with their homework were also given assistance with extra lessons.
Within a decade the TCCA had 950 registered members.
For its first 10 years the organisation operated from a small shop in Albion Road, Stoke Newington, before moving to its current premises in Graham Road, Dalston.
Zeka Alsancak, 80, is one of seven founding members. He was 33 when, in 1970, he left his job as a director of trade and industry in the Turkish administration in Cyprus and moved to the UK for a postgraduate degree.
Zeka, who ended up opening his own leather clothing business, said: “We noticed there was a need for a cultural gathering. At the time it was more like a community in isolation, and we thought the community should be helped to take part in the greater society, if you like, and be part of it.
“We noticed the Turkish students were very much at the back, and we asked the schools to give extra help in their studies, and also teach them Turkish and Turkish culture so they would understand who they are.”
Zeka explained how identity can become a problem for those growing up in a foreign country.
“The children would say: ‘Am I English or am I Turkish?’” he said. “That’s a dilemma. We wanted to tell them: ethnically they are Turkish and they belong to a Turkish family, but they are a part of Britain. Instead of being weak, they are stronger, because they could speak two languages and have two cultures. That is a kind of richness.”
Who are the Cypriot Turks?
Turkish Cypriots or Cypriot Turks are ethnic Turks who originate from Cyprus.
About 30,000 Turkish settlers were given land in Cyprus after the Ottoman conquest of the island in 1571. While Northern Cyprus is still home to a significant swathe of the Turkish-speaking Turkish Cypriot population, many have emigrated to places like Hackney.
When control of Cyprus was handed to the British Empire by the Ottoman Empire in 1878, many Turkish Cypriots emigrated to Turkey and the UK for political and economic reasons.
Intercommunal violence of the 1950s and 1960s incited by Cyprus’ move towards independence, meant the community was forced to live in enclaves, prompting further emigration.
The organisation also held Turkish evenings, and would hold matinees for the elderly twice a year at Eid and New Year, with dancing and music.
Turkish Cypriot cultural specifics include food like halloumi, a musical instrument like the clarinet called the zurna, “the way we make our coffee, and our attitude towards people and things”, according to Zeka.
“We are green people,” he said.
“In Cyprus in spring we go out into the countryside, and we find wild spinach and make it into buns and pies.
“We are family people – we value the family very much.
“As soon as we say our son or daughter is engaged with somebody else, the family of the other side becomes almost as good as our family. We mix together and we like to enjoy it all together.”
A celebration took place yesterday to thank people who have contributed to the organisation over the years.