During the month of November, TAA member organizations have kept busy hosting annual Friendship and Dialogue Award Ceremonies. They included the Turkish Cultural Center in Maine, the Peace Islands Institute in Massachusetts, the Niagara Foundation in Nebraska and the Turkish Cultural Center in Vermont.
In Maine, the Turkish Cultural Center (TCC-ME) together with the Peace Islands Institute (PII) hosted their First Annual Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony on November 12th at the Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland. The Honorable Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, was the evening’s guest of honor as well as recipient of the 2013 PII Leadership Award. In his acceptance speech, Governor LePage highlighted the positive and diverse commercial and cultural contributions of Turkic communities in Maine, which Governor LePage maintained could directly enhance relations between the United States and Turkey. Additionally, the Governor praised the Turkish Cultural Center in Maine for recently sponsoring intercultural trips to Turkey for State Representatives and Senators, expressing his interest in attending a trip at the earliest opportunity.
As the program continued, the State Senate President of Maine, Senator Justin Alfond, addressed the audience by describing his efforts to make Maine more open and welcoming to immigrants, whom Senator Alfond praised as having already proven to be invaluable assets to the Commonwealth. State Senator Roger Katz also shared highlights from the trip to Turkey he took with his wife this past summer through TCC-ME. Senator Katz confessed that while at first feeling nervous about being Jewish and traveling to a Muslim country, his anxiety was quickly eased by the warm and welcoming hospitality that he and his wife received in both Turkish homes and professional settings. Senator Katz also mentioned that he attended several formal meetings while on that trip that focused on economic and educational cooperation between Turkey and the state of Maine.
Finally, the recipient of the 2013 PII Dialogue Award was the Mayor of Augusta City and Maine’s Deputy Attorney General, William Stokes. Mayor Stokes spoke very highly of the establishment of the Sister City relationship between Augusta and Üsküdar (a borough of Istanbul) and recalled the story of how this relationship came to be. When first approached by staff of TTC-ME about the Sister City proposal, Mayor Stokes asked, “Why?” TCC-ME staff simply responded, “Friendship.” According to Mayor Stokes, this reply moved him and formed the foundation for bonds of amity that will strengthen over time and will continue to foster valuable social and economic developments between the cities and perhaps in their larger national contexts.
Roughly a two hour drive south of South Portland, the Peace Islands Institute of Massachusetts (PII-MA), held its Fifth Annual Friendship and Awards Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston on November 13th. Guests included honorable members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. The recipient of the Humanitarian Award was the Honorable President of the Massachusetts State Senate, State Senator Therese Murray, in recognition of her excellence in public service and humanitarian missions to Pskov, Russia.
Halfway across the country, the Niagara Foundation in Nebraska hosted the Niagara Peace and Dialogue Awards on November 15th at the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel Ballroom in Lincoln, Nebraska. Distinguished guests included the Honorable Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska Lavon Heidemann, the Honorable Speaker of Nebraska’s State Legislature Greg Adams, and various Nebraska State Senators.
Back in New England, the Turkish Cultural Center in Vermont (TCC-VT), in collaboration with the Peace Islands Institute (PII), organized its First Annual Friendship Dinner and Peace Islands Institute Awards Ceremony on November 20th at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont. The Honorable Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, was the guest of honor and recipient of the 2013 Peace Islands Institute Leadership Award. In his acceptance speech, Governor Shumlin noted that “the Turkic communities in Vermont are steadily increasing in number and are a great example to the rest of the state of how different cultures can successfully cooperate with one another.” The Governor also went on to praise the leadership of TCC-VT for establishing the foundation for current economic and educational projects and expressed his appreciation for PII’s Honorary President, Fethullah Gülen, for his “intellectual contributions that have inspired these Hizmet activities, or efforts to be of service.” Governor Shumlin also had the privilege of announcing that TCC-VT would soon be opening a cultural center in Burlington.
Also attending the First Annual Friendship Dinner and PII Awards Ceremony were Vermont State Senator Christopher Bray, who shared with the crowd his experience of traveling to Turkey; TCC-VT Advisory Board member and Vermont State Representative Jean O’Sullivan, who spoke highly of her trips to Turkey and Azerbaijan and highlighted the Sister City relationship of Burlington and Ümraniye (a borough in Istanbul); and the Honorable Attorney General of Vermont, William Sorrell, recipient of the 2013 PII Community Service award.