Turkish Cultural Center Maine and the Peace Islands Institute joined forces to host the first ever Friendship Dinner & Award Ceremony which was held Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland.
Justine Denny of TCC Maine was emcee for the evening and the Honorable Governor of Maine, Paul LePage was the guest of honor. The event was attended by well over 200 distinguished guests, including state senators, representatives, mayors and city managers, academics from around the state, members of the press, artists, non-profit community leaders, as well as religious leaders representing diverse faiths and members of various local Turkic communities.
TCC Maine President and Council of Turkic American Associations’ Regional Director, Mr. Eyup Sener kicked off the program with an introduction to the Turkish Cultural Center’s history and mission, and then presented Governor LePage with the 2013 Peace Islands Institute Leadership Award. In his acceptance speech, Governor LePage drew attention to the Turkic communities already living in Maine and their positive contributions to the state.
LePage indicated that with each passing day the state is becoming more and more diverse and said that commercial and cultural cooperation can only enhance relations between Turkiye and the U.S. The Governor also praised the Turkish Cultural Center Maine for sponsoring recent trips to Turkiye for state representatives and senators alike, and said he too was looking forward to visiting Turkiye at the earliest opportunity.
Next, the Pihcintu Multinational Children’s Chorus orchestrated by Con Fullam took the stage and sang uplifting songs of peace which moved the hearts of all those present.
Keynote speaker of the evening, Dr Jon Pahl of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, spoke at length about the Hizmet or “Service” movement currently inspired by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. Dr Pahl illustrated the concept of Hizmet with anecdotes from his own life and underscored how this popular movement has contributed greatly to the quality of everyday life in countries across the globe.
He shared how his son Justin, who currently enjoys living in Istanbul as a Christian, was able to counter fear and ignorance on a recent trip home to the U.S by pointing out to his family that Istanbul has about 12 times the population of Philadelphia, but only a third of the number of murders per year. Dr Pahl said his son wrote a column about his visit home which was recently published in the Turkish online newspaper Today’s Zaman, and related it to the concept of Hizmet by quoting Fethullah Gulen: “You cannot do useful service in the name of the world if you don’t first come to know and understand the whole world.”
The program continued with a speech from Maine State Senate President, Senator Justin Alfond in which he stated that he’s been working hard to change the demographics of the state and make it more welcoming. He stated that new immigrants have already proven to be a great asset to the state of Maine. Next, the Consul General of Turkey in Boston, the Honorable Burak Kararti underscored the importance of cooperation between Turkiye and the U.S and commended the Turkish Cultural Center for taking the lead in activities promoting dialogue between the two nations.
The program continued with State Senator Roger Katz sharing some of the highlights of the trip he and his wife took to Turkiye with the TCC Maine this past summer. He related that any trepidation they had about being Jewish in a Muslim country, evaporated in the face of the amazing hospitality of the Turks with whom they became acquainted at their places of business and in their homes. Senator Katz mentioned he also attended several formal meetings which focused on economic and educational cooperation between Turkiye and the state of Maine.
The Peace Islands Institute Award Ceremony portion of the evening officially began with a short introductory video presentation about the PII’s Honorary President, Mr Fethullah Gulen and the Gulen movement inspired by his activities for peace.
The 2013 PII Community Service award was presented to Dr Habib Dagher, Founding Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. Dr Dagher praised the outstanding character and academic abilities of the many Turkish student researchers with whom he has worked at the Composites Center over the years. As head of the University’s Offshore Wind Laboratory, Dr Dagher also mentioned his desire to adapt these renewable energy experiments to the geography of Turkic lands.
The recipient of the 2013 PII Dialogue Award, Augusta Mayor and Deputy Attorney General of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, William Stokes was the final speaker of the evening. Mayor Stokes’ great efforts and personal support have facilitated the establishment of a sister-city relationship with Uskudar (a borough of Istanbul). The Mayor related that when he was first approached by the TCC ME about the sister-city project, he asked them “Why?,” and they responded simply “Friendship”. He shared with the Friendship Dinner guests that this reply moved him. Mayor Stokes’ belief is that with time these ties of friendship will strengthen and go on to foster valuable social and economic developments.