An untimely power outage couldn't dim the mood of hundreds of people who gathered Saturday to celebrate the new Turkish American Society of Chicago Cultural Center in Mount Prospect.
"There's some irony here because out of today's darkness, this center will be a real beacon, a light on the greatness of your community," U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat, said, illuminated by the light of a video camera.
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Despite the darkness -- a ComEd spokeswoman said 46 customers were affected by a broken utility pole -- visitors still managed to tour the sprawling 80,000-square-foot center at 501 Midway Drive. It features dining facilities, guest rooms and suites, conference rooms, a sports complex, offices and catering services.
They took in traditional folk music and dance performances, and watched as women created paper marbling artwork known as "ebru" and designed hand-painted plates.
The day was years in the making, with the village originally approving the cultural center and adjoining school back in 2003. Executive Director Muhittin Er said a combination of factors contributed to delays, including financing problems, the economic downturn and the relocation of some board members.
Er said the pieces eventually fell into place, however, and that the project timetable was able to be expedited so that construction took less than seven months.
There are about 20,000 people of Turkish descent in the Chicago area, but Er emphasized the facility is open to everyone. The nonprofit organization offers a variety of lectures, classes and a weekend school.
"It's a wonderful place to celebrate our language, our religion and our culture," said Algonquin resident Ali Namik, who's been coming to the facility every week since the school opened last September and the cultural center in December. "It's important for my children (ages 9, 12 and 15) to learn."
Several American and Turkish leaders briefly spoke including Fahrettin Poyraz, chairperson of the Turkish Parliament. Through a translator, he spoke of the importance of having these types of gathering places.
"The more we have these facilities, the more we have dialogue to overcome problems," Poyraz said.
His Grace Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos, the bishop of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, also emphasized that the center can help bridge differences despite past feuds.
"This building represents so much to so many, but I think it represents an even more significant spot in the history of our people," he said. "Greeks and Turks living together in harmony and mutual respect is a dream come true that my grandparents probably never saw."