BRIEF HISTORY OF FTAA, THE FIRST TURKISH ORGANIZATION IN FLORIDA
by Mahmut Ozan
Our family arrived in Miami in the spring of 1962. A year later, we were introduced to Mehmet Ilter and his wife, Maureen through a real estate agent from whom we bought our first house. >From there on, we slowly learned of other Turks, living in Miami and the vicinity. We met many of them, visited each other and finally, in 1967 we decided to form the first chapter of the Florida Turkish-American Association (FTAA). The name FTAA also had an additional title which said (For Cultural Exchange) But it is not used nowadays.
The first elections took place at a Fort Lauderdale Beach next to the famous Yankee Clipper Hotel. A longtime Florida resident Kaya Kocaman became, by acclamation, our FTAA President. Dr. Argon Akomer Vice President. At this first get-together, the Tampa Honorary Turkish Consul General Mr. Naci (Nash) was our guest of honor. However, I’m not able to remember his last name. I remember quite well, however, that the local Armenian terrorists in Tampa fire-bombed his house a year later. Mr. Nash survived the attack This event made the news all over the country…
Beside Dr.Argon Akomer and myself, the others who were present there that day were the late Mazlum Aras and his wife Claudette Aras and a couple of Cypriot Turkish friends and their families. I was offered the position of the Publicity and Public Relations Directorship for the organization. I accepted it. From then on, I wrote letters for the defense of the Turks in the Op-ed pages of the two local newspapers, the Miami News and the Miami Herald. I took pictures, published a monthly newsletter. At every occasion I felt like correcting the wrong impressions propagated by our detractors. This is a job I’m still doing gladly on another venue, The Turkish Forum’s online newsletter firstname.lastname@example.org.
During those years, we were a fairly small organization, in which we knew all of the members and their families. We attended weddings, birthday parties, folklore dancings, as well as funerals. We had at least one or two picnics each year, mostly on October 29, which all the families attended. A prominent name which comes to mind from those very early days is Hayrettin and his charming wife Guler Uzmezler.(Their daughter Sermin Unsal served FTAA as its President). Among other well known Turkish residents of Miami there was one older lady whom everybody loved. Her name was Zekiye Altay (Zekiye Abla to everyone who knew her). She used to call everyone to announce the dates of all religious holidays.. I believe she left ten thousand dollars to one young Turk here in Miami when she died a few years ago. She was close to her 90’s.
The organization went on in a most informal way until Kaya Kocaman died. After we buried him with a sad ceremony, for a long time, there was no official organization until 1983 when several Turkish engineers residing in South Florida, among them the Berkok family and their friends, insisted that I should try to revive the organization, and that I should run for its presidency.
Following this request we organized a picnic at the “Topikeegee Yagnee” Park, casually known as T..Y Park An election was held there and I was chosen the President of FTAA, although I had not intended to take on that difficult and tiring responsibility.
We did re-apply for non-profit status as a Florida non-profit organization. Hayrettin Uzmezler was elected Vice President, Mehmet Ilter became Treasurer. Together we were able to serve five years with a popular vote and approval of the local Turkish community.
During those next five years, the organization grew to encompass the most southern parts of Dade County. The Vice President Hayrettin Uzmezler and Guler Uzmezler’s daughter Sermin engaged to Caner Unsal. I was granted the honor of placing the engagement ring on the finger of the future bride, while Atagun Serifsoy and Mehmet Ilter were the witnesses to the ceremony.
Our association was growing in leaps and bounds. It had spread from Hollywood, Davie, and Ft. Lauderdale, and began to reach up to almost Palm Beach.County. Among new members we had Gul and Orhan Kisakurek and Ulku and Adil Sokmensuer and Prof.Dr. Nejat Veziroglu and his late wife Bengi Veziroglu and late Prof. Dr.Behram and Sevda Kursunoglu, the FIU Prof and Mrs.Vural Oktay and Ozcan and Ayse Ozdamar gave us their support just as Filiz and her husband Prof. Dr. Sadik Kakac had done so earlier.
As I mentioned before, our members came from all parts of industry and academia, from owners to workers, from painters to artists, from students to university educators. We had architects and engineers, developers, doctors, nurses, to students. It was a time of harmony and good-will, an organization that resembled the ideal Turkish community. Local Acco-TerramarInternational Transportation Co-owners Latif (Larry ) and Pauline Germi helped me publish the FTAA newsletters and bulletins free of charge. Larry unfortunatelly died in 2008. Rest in peace. I send my condolances to his wife Paulin
During this time, we also were given Michael S. Hacker, an international Law expert. He became our new and most needed Honorary Turkish Consul General for the South Florida area. This was accomplished through the influence and the intermediary of the Galatasaray-educated and Sorbonne graduate, Ambassador to the United States Dr. Sukru Elekdag who became soon a good friend of the FTAA, and visited Miami several times. He, more than anybody else was instrumental in the official assignment of Michael Hacker to his post. This action of the Turkish government, was applauded by all.
Honorary Consul General Michael S. Hacker and his most personable wife, University of Miami Professor Paulette Hacker, attended our many affairs. He, as the representative of the Turkish government, gave many dinners, cocktail parties, prepared political discussion groups, and paid for all of them from his own pocket. He counseled and performed many official tasks, including freeing a few young Turkish men out of jail, as well as arranging translation work, issuance of visas and provided other governmental official functions.
In 1988, the center of FTAA moved to Coral Gables when Ömer Basar became president. Also during that time, the FTAA women began their organization under the leadership of Suhayla Gencsoy of Fort Lauderdale… The late Bengi Veziroglu and another resident of this area, Ayla Onart, Filiz Kakac and Mrs. Oktay conducted their duties very seriously. There were afternoon teas, discussion get-togethers and other social meetings. Even one or two rummage sales brought income to the organization. Also a cookbook of Turkish recipes was put together and published. The ladies paid from their own pockets for boxes of the books they purchased in order to sell or give them to neighbors and friends, much like girl scout cookies are sold today. Their purpose was to publicize their birthplace Turkey and its culture in the United States of America. This is what FTAA is still doing today.
(The last few dozens of this cook book, Mrs. Ozan had left in her closet, were donated by her to FTAA to be sold for revenue during the Third Annual Florida Turkish American Festival in April 18, 2004.)
When Ömer Basar left Miami, Mustafa Cankat became the President of FTAA. Some of the memorable events during his presidency included a visit by a large group from Ankara, Turkey. They were Turkish State Folklore Students and they were on an official tour of the USA. FTAA invited them to perform those beautiful, quaint Turkish folk dances in our city.
For one of several events Mrs Ozan invited them to perform at Carver Middle School in the Coconut Grove, where she was teaching at the time. Other FTAA-sponsored performances were held on a large International Dade County playground in South Miami, as well as at the spacious Art Theatre of the University of Miami.. This became known as FTAA- and the Dade County International Program. It was videotaped and published in the local newspaper. Copies are available for those who wish to purchase them.
President Muatafa Cankat is also remembered fondly for having invited the renown Turkish Theatrical great, Ms. YILDIZ KENTER for a triumphal recital in which she delivered a ‘one woman show’ portraying the world of women in history . This program attracted hundreds of people from far and wide, and it was Videotaped by M.MEOzan. This VIDEOPLAY INC production is now the property of FTAA and its copies are available through the FTAA for minimal donation to the organization.
With Mustafa Cankat as the new president, the focal point of the organization began to drift northward again, first to Ft Lauderdale then where it is located now in Pompano Beach.
I would be remiss if I did not give the names of the series of FTAA Presidents to you. They are in correct order beginning with the late Kaya Kocaman whose wife Sharon Kocaman holds not only our love for her but also a lifetime honorary fee-free membership in the organization..
The past FTAA Presidents were:
KAYA KOCAMAN– MAHMUT ESAT OZAN– OMER BASAR–MUSTAFA CANKAT–LEVENT ERGUL– ATILLA MUTGAN–HALIS BEYATLI– YEKTA KAVASOGLU– TANER CAGATAY–GUNEY ADAK– ISMAIL ERCAN-SERMIN UNSAL-ERKAN NUR
The FTAA members elected Yekta Kavasoglu in 1995. Yekta continued the FTAA tradition of celebrating national and religious holidays. During his presidency, Mr. Hakan Urkmen and his friends formed the first FTAA Turkish folk dance group (1995-1997). The group performed at many social and cultural events. Yekta’s dedication to FTAA did not end with his presidency. He continues to take active roll in the organization. His unyielding dedication is much appreciated and valued by the community.
Guney Adak was elected President in 1997. Guney will always be remembered for his effort to help those affected by the devastating earthquake that struck Turkey in August 17, 1999. He raised money, medical supplies, and clothing for the survivors and made arrangements with Turkish Airlines for their free delivery to Turkey. Guney Adak and Ismail Ercan received Certificate of Appreciation from Kenan Evren Pasa for their contribution to the relief effort. During his presidency, Guney built a bond with Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and the Turk Dernekler Federasyanu. Guney hosted many Turkish dignitaries on their visits to South Florida. He continues to perform this very important function as Past President of FTAA.
In 2001, Ismail Ercan was elected to serve as the FTAA President. During his presidency, he successfully established FTAA as a IRS 501c3 organization (tax exempt). Zuhal Ocbe and Sermin Unsal received Certificate of Appreciation from FTAA for their contributions and achievements. Also during this time the first www.FTAA.com web site was developed, social functions were held to celebrate national and religious holidays, and the First Florida Turkish American Festival to celebrate 23 Nisan Cocuk Bayrami was organized, with Sermin Unsal as the Festival Coordinator. For Ismail’s great contributions to the Turkish American community, Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) awarded him the Meritorious Service Award in December 2002. Sermin Unsal was also recognized by ATAA with the Meritorious Service Award for organizing the first Florida Turkish American Festival.
Ismail Ercan was elected as FTAA President a second time in 2003. During his second term, Ismail remained committed to the Annual Florida Turkish American Festival and organized the Second and Third Annual Festivals with Sermin Unsal as the Festival Coordinator. The Festival allows FTAA to promote Turkey and the Turkish culture in South Florida. Last Year’s festival attracted over 3500 visitors. Many local businesses benefit from the festival by marketing their products and advertising their businesses. During the past 4 years, FTAA organized, supported and/or sponsored the following programs: Social function to celebrate national and religious holidays, FTAA Classical Turkish Music Choir, UNICEF, VOICE, Desperate Hours film presentations, Tsunami Relief Fund, FTAA Newsletter, and FTAA E-news.
Erkan Nur was elected as FTAA president in 2007. Erkan Nur and his team worked hard to serve Turkish community by organizing several events, almost once a month, organized Turks in South Florida under city and county represantatives, published newsletters, make them gathered for poety , book reading and art clubs and also managed to buy a real estate in one of the most prestigious location of Fort Lauderdale, to be used as Turkish Center (Türk Evi) which was our long dream.
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Note by Author: To so many people who have been helpful to the FTAA through the years.My apologies go to those I may have forgotten to mention here.
Mahmut Esat Ozan,
The co-founder and the 2nd President of FTAA -1983-1988
Note by publisher:
Mr. Ozan served 5 years in FTAA, and passed away in September 2009. Rest in peace.
Serap Odabas-Yigit became the 2nd female President of the organization in December 2008.
During her first year, countless volunteers put in an unimaginable amount of time to move the FTAA to the newly constructed Florida Turkish Center. While the team of architects and engineers consisting of Atilla Orkan, Fuat Ornarli, and Mustafa Cankat were working on the construction of the Center, the Board of Directors concentrated on fund raising both for the Florida Turkish Center and FTAA activities. She was the first person to look for funding outside the Turkish American Community for FTAA’s activities. Her first initiatives resulted in a grant from the City of Hollywood’s Community Redevelopment Agency for the annual FTAA Festival. She then expanded her efforts into identifying other grant possibilities with Broward County’s Cultural Division approving FTAA’s first major grant submission for the Festival, Turkish Chorus, and the Turkish School.
She also started the “Take A Seat” fundraising campaign for the Florida Turkish Center. With the help of many volunteers who worked diligently selling name plates to be mounted on the chairs about $35,000 was raised for the Center. The Turkish Cultural Foundation and Istanbul 2010- Cultural Capital of Europe Office were among the organizations which provided additional funding for the festival. Officials from the Turkish Embassy Cultural Office, and a representative from Istanbul 2010 –CCE office attended the festival. Also, www.FloridaTurkishFestival.org web site was launched during this time. Collaborative cultural and educational efforts were initiated between FTAA and the Turkish Embassy Cultural and Tourism Counselor’s Office, Assembly of Turkish American Associations (Washington DC), Federation of Turkish American Associations (New York), American Turkish Association of DC, Ataturk Society of America (Wash. DC), Turkish Coalition of America, Turkish Cultural Foundation, Istanbul 2010 European Capital of the World office, Macedonian Community of South Florida, Cinema Paradiso of Ft. Lauderdale, Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, all of which are the larger of these collaborative organizations. Another first time initiative was the organization of a piano concert by world renowned pianist Gulsin Onay at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The proceeds were donated to the Florida Turkish Center. US Congressional House Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen(FL), Virginia Foxx(NC), Alcee Hastings(FL), Turkish Parliamentarian Canan Aritman, NYC-based Turkish Consul General Mehmet Samsar and many distinguished speakers, writers, scholars visited the Turkish Center during this period.
Demographic distribution of Board Members made it possible to increase membership from West Palm Beach to Miami while keeping Broward County as the FTAA’s epicenter. All Board members assumed various roles and worked extremely enthusiastically to achieve the maximum number of activities with maximum profits to promote FTAA’s mission.
Fuat Ornarli was elected as the President of FTAA in February 2011.