Turkish Fest attracts thousands to downtown Houston

November 17, 2018

The smells of doner kabobs and sounds of energetic Middle Eastern music floated through downtown Houston Saturday, as people swarmed to Jones Plaza for the 26th annual Houston Turkish Festival.

“Houston is home to 3 million people, but a very small percentage of these people ever have the opportunity to travel to the other end of the world and experience Turkish culture,” said Ozlem Adra, president of the American Turkish Association of Houston. “With this festival we bring Turkey to them.”

With everything from Turkish art, dancing and music; to a traditional grand bazaar filled with trinkets like Turkish coffee cups, jewelry and bags; to of course food like doners, falafel and Turkish flatbreads; Houstonians get to experience a piece of the rich and diverse culture without the expensive and long flight.

Karen Couey, who was attending the festival for the second time Saturday, said Houston’s diversity attracts her to a multitude of cultural festivals in the city — especially when the weather is beautiful.

“I like international stuff, international food, the music and songs,” said Karen Couey. “It’s fantastic, I like to support that.”

Couey was standing in front of the booth of Enes Baskan, where he was selling traditional Turkish calligraphy and glass art.

“It is very important in Turkish culture because back in the day, (some art) was forbidden, so the artists in the past expressed themslves with some other arts like calligraphy,” said Baskan, who traveled from San Antonio for the festival. “The importance is to bring that back to the art in the present time.”

Morad Jasmin, a ceramics teacher at the Harmony School of Fine Arts and Technology, also presented traditional Turkish art with his blue-themed ceramic plates, delicately painted with floral and geometric designs, and Arabic calligraphy.

“This art is very difficult,” said Jasmin, who is originally from Erbil, Kurdistan and moved to the U.S. in 2005. “Each plate takes three or four days.”

Jasmin demonstrated how he makes the plates — freehand drawing intricate designs, painting the color on with a thin horsehair brush, then the glaze with a thicker one, before eventually putting the plates in an 1,800-degree oven for almost 30 hours.

While most of the expected 13,000 to 14,000 attendees are not Turkish, the festival is a comforting connection to home for the Turks who do attend.

For Elvin and Evren Keles, who moved to Houston from London last year, the festival has been a great opportunity to connect with the Turkish community in Houston — estimated to be about 10,000 people. Plus, “the food is very good, like we have at home,” Elvin said.

“And we’re drinking our own beer!” she added, holding up a bottle of Efes.

The festival, which charges a $10 entrance fee, will open its doors again at 11 a.m. Sunday.

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