Turkish students and community come together for celebration


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Almost 6,000 miles apart, Angela Keysor and her husband — both UI graduate students in history — celebrated the same thing this weekend: the Republic Day of Turkey.

Her husband, Brian Miller, watched the fireworks and festivities in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, where he is working on his dissertation. Keysor attended the UI Turkish Student Association’s annual celebration Sunday.

The event at the Iowa City Public Library focused on recognizing the 86th anniversary of Turkey, which actually falls on Oct. 29.

“[The event] really encourages diversity … and for me personally, it makes me feel closer to my husband,” Keysor said, noting that she would chat with Miller via Skype right after the party. “I know a little more of the culture he’s meshed in right now.”

Roughly 70 people crowded into a room filled with posters and red Turkish flags. They watched documentaries on the nation’s history and ate Turkish food.

The Sunday event paid tribute to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

“He transformed our country, gave us a new vision and a new direction,” said Mustafa Yagci, the association’s president, during his opening address.

“It’s important to show why he is so important to us,” he later said.

In addition to learning about Turkey’s founding, the celebration and the association in general is a way for Turkish students to reconnect with their culture. Yagci said that while around five students are official members, there are roughly 90 Turkish students in the university as well as hundreds of Turkish people in Iowa City.

And the whole Turkish community gets involved in the celebration by volunteering to make the food for the event, Yagci said.

“Turkish people are generous in general,” he said.

Vacide Avsar, a UI graduate student in economics who came to the United States in 2007 from Istanbul, said the association is extremely valuable.

“It’s a good feeling to meet with people from your own country, to speak your own language sometimes,” she said.

Yagci, who left his hometown of Kayseri in central Turkey, said these events can provide a sense of belonging.

“The distance from here to Turkey is very far, so we miss our families, we miss our country,” he said. “When we get together, we feel like we are at home. They know it’s tough.”

But besides meeting fellow Turkish residents and students, the celebration encourages people from all different backgrounds to attend.

For Avsar, mixing cultures is essential to a diverse community such as Iowa City.

“It’s very important,” she said. “Because we are living here together.”

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