‘International Festival of Language and Culture’ Comes to NYC

Students from Kenya performed “Jambo” at the International Festival of Language and Culture in NYC on April 27. (Photo by Orhan Akkurt for Voices of NY)

A festival featuring 50 students from 16 countries, aimed at promoting mutual understanding and peace across cultures, took place Saturday at the Manhattan Center on West 34th Street, with more than 2,000 attendees including politicians, academics and community leaders.

It was the 17th annual gathering of the International Festival of Language and Culture (IFLC), supported for the past two years by Swiss-born Turkish national Enes Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. The festival, which in earlier years had the support of the Turkish Cultural Center and business executives here, has been banned in Turkey.

Young students from France, Australia, Belarus, Germany, Indonesia, Tanzania and elsewhere took to the stage with song, dance, poetry and more. Performances were staged to the accompaniment of recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream,” and music by Elvis Presley. One group of performers took their inspiration from the silent film comic Charlie Chaplin and danced beneath a projection of stills from Chaplin’s movies.

The event was supported by NBA player Kanter and hosted by Fox Business Network anchor Cheryl Casone.

The Enes Kanter Light Foundation, which the basketball player established, “fosters awareness and provides assistance for children’s development in areas of education, poverty alleviation and social harmony.” The Kanter Foundation explained Kanter’s support for the event in an email, stating that: “Kanter is motivated by his love of dialogue, peace and providing any positive atmosphere for youth from all over the world. Enes Kanter promotes an inclusive world for all.”

IFLC representative Sadri Altinok said at the start of the event that the IFLC “is an annual celebration that showcases the range of linguistic talents and cultural diversity from around the world.”

Eliot Engel, the Democratic congressman who represents part of the Bronx and Westchester and is chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the audience that “One of the things we work on in the Foreign Affairs Committee is to make sure that U.S.-Turkish relations are close and are warm…someone told me today that this festival was banned in Turkey. Well, that’s a shame. What is wrong with those politicians in Ankara? How can they ban something as wonderful as this? (…) let’s work hard and let’s keep Turkey and the U.S. close together. The U.S. and Turkey need to be good partners. Thank you and God bless.”

Kanter, who has a shoulder injury and was hoping to be in the NBA playoff games, addressed attendees via a video link. Kanter spoke of the “incredible atmosphere tonight,” with participants coming form different countries, backgrounds and cultures “for one common purpose: universal peace. I wish I could be with you tonight but as you know I have to be here with my team for the playoff games. I only want to say one thing tonight: I trust you for the future, I always trust the younger generation to build a better world, to build a better future, to build a better brighter generation for us. I trust you all. Thank you.”

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