A Family’s Journey from Turkey and Argentina to San Antonio

Banjamin Ammar, age 2, gives his father Beytullah Colak a kiss goodbye before he heads to work. Photo: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
Banjamin Ammar, age 2, gives his father Beytullah Colak a kiss goodbye before he heads to work. Photo: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report


Date posted: December 3, 2016

Kathy Hamilton

Beytullah Colak’s journey to San Antonio began in Southeast Turkey. Adiyaman is a largely Kurdish city situated in an agricultural area that has been continuously populated for more than 40,000 years. Tourists are drawn to the region to visit the giant carved stone statues at Mount Nemrut, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to legend, this is the burial site of Biblical King Nimrod.

“I was born in Adiyaman and later, I went to high school in Antioch, which is a very important city in Christianity,” Beytullah said. “After high school, I moved to Izmir for university, graduating with a degree in theology.”

In 2001, Beytullah moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to work on inter-religious affairs with the Hizmet movement, a service organization inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen. He helped set up a kindergarten, elementary, and middle school as well as a Turkish cultural center. At the same time, he began working with the Dialogue Institute to further interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

Beytullah and Gabriella Colak sit for a portrait at the Raindrop Turkish House. Photo: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

“I was in my last year of studying literature at university,” she continued, “and I needed volunteer hours for my university, so I helped the cultural center organize literary and coffee nights. I also was in the ethnic choral group. It was a diverse group, singing in Italian, Turkish, and many other languages. We met at the center and since I was so involved in volunteering there, my mother and father also became involved.

“Argentina is a majority Catholic country,” Gabriella said. “There are very few Turkish people in the country, but there are many Arabs. They are mainly third generation. Many married Christians, some became Christian and some only kept parts of their religion. But, they kept their Arabic culture. You can find great Arab restaurants in Buenos Aires. They retained the culture, the music, and dance but the actual Muslim community is not all that big. One of our goals was to open the Muslim community up to interfaith activities. There is a huge mosque in the city, but they tended to keep to themselves. The Christians and Jews never had much chance to meet and talk with Muslims. So, we created opportunities for them to get together.”

“Socially, they were living side by side and there were no problems. But there were no initiatives to create programs together,” Beytullah said. “There was not much interaction between the different groups at that time. We organized the first iftar (shared evening meals during Ramadan) in Buenos Aires. At this gathering, there was a good showing of inter-religious representatives from different religions as well as academics and politicians. It was a new idea for Argentina. That first one was groundbreaking. Now there are many public iftars throughout the month of Ramadan.”

It was during this period that Beytullah and Gabriella met Archbishop Bergoglio, now Pope Francis.

“He touched me deeply,” Beytullah said. “I was reciting from the Koran at the funeral of the president of the Islamic Center of Argentina and the Archbishop was there to pay his respects. He was working to create relationships between Catholics and Muslims in Argentina. We were invited to the cathedral for interfaith prayers, with him leading the service. Together we prayed, side by side, Muslims, Catholics, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, everyone was there. After that, I visited with him many times. He told me that he knew that our group was making great progress in building bridges throughout Argentina.”

“Yes, he was involved in all these interfaith activities long before he became Pope,” Gabriella added. “We remember it all. He was a friend to all the different religious communities in Buenos Aires.”

Although they planned to raise their family in Argentina, in 2010, Beytullah was offered a job in Texas that required Spanish, Turkish, and English language skills. After much debate, they decided to take the risk and explore new horizons. Settling into San Antonio, they discovered there were many unexpected differences between South American and North American cultures.

“I haven’t experienced any discrimination here. We are very comfortable in San Antonio,” Beytullah said. “Although the people are very warm and welcoming, the structure of society is different. In Buenos Aires, a city of around 15 million, you take the metro or taxi or you walk. Transportation is very different. Here you need a car, you take it from your garage to work. No one is walking on the street. That makes human interactions different.

‘In Argentina, the relationships are vertical,” he continued. “Most people there live in large buildings and you meet your neighbors all the time in the elevator. In San Antonio, it is horizontal. You meet your next door neighbors, you know who lives on your street. In Argentina, there might be 50 families in one building and you met them all every day in the elevator. On the streets of Argentina, you met people on the street. The streets were never empty, no matter what time of day. So, our human interactions changed here. In San Antonio, we have learned to adapt.”

After moving to San Antonio, both Beytullah and Gabriella continue to be involved in interfaith and intercultural awareness by volunteering at the Raindrop Turkish House and the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest. They also have maintained contact with Pope Francis.

In September 2015, although he was not participating in the ceremony, Beytullah attended the interfaith religious service held at the 9/11 Memorial. As Pope Francis exited the event, he spotted Beytullah in the crowd and paused to speak with him privately, much to the confusion of the Pope’s assistants. For days afterwards, Gabriella said, they received numerous calls from friends and family in Argentina who had seen it on the news.

In September, Gabriella and Beytullah traveled to the Vatican to participate in the Protecting Our Common Home conference. Organized by the Organization of American States and the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue, this year’s theme was “A Platform For Inter-religious and Inter-cultural Dialogue.” Included in the program was a meeting with the Pope.

“For international relations, this meeting with the Pope was very important,” Beytullah said. “I think his presence right now is very important for world peace. He speaks as a citizen of the world and he speaks to all religions, not just Catholics. He talks about how we need dialogue, understanding, and unity. This is not something we can learn in a classroom but something we have to experience personally. “

Beytullah and Gabriella Colak cook together in their kitchen. Photo: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

“Our friends in Argentina were amazed to see videos of our meeting with the Pope during the conference,” Gabriella said laughing. “A very religious Catholic friend thought it was funny that she had never met him, but two Muslims she knows have met him several times.”

“We have good relations with people of all cultures and religions,” Beytullah added. “There are people who want to destroy bridges, which is so easy. It is not as easy to build bridges. You need the time, effort, passion and patience to build bridges. We have to use knowledge to meet people and rise above prejudices.

“There are problems everywhere in the world,” he continued, “but we are the ones responsible for fixing those problems. We can’t tell one person or group to ‘fix it.’ We have to work together to fix the world and make it a better place.”

Source: The Rivard Report


Related News

Turkish Cultural Center aims to bridge East and West

PAUL GRONDAHL Staff writer MENANDS — The Turks are rising in the Capital Region. In the past six months, Turks have bought a building on Broadway in Menands, renovated it and created the Turkish Cultural Center of Albany with the help of the organization’s first paid full-time employee. Once limited mostly to a few graduate […]

Syracuse Turkish community celebrates their heritage with a Children’s Festival

The Syracuse Turkish community and representatives of the Turkish Cultural Center celebrated their National Sovereignty and Children’s Day at Syracuse City Hall

Turkish Cultural Center Holds Annual Friendship Dinner

The Turkish Cultural Center Queens held its 12th annual friendship dinner and award ceremony at Flushing Town Hall last week. In the words of Turkish Cultural Center representatives, the dinner and awards ceremony brings together community leaders, elected officials, non-governmental organizations, clergy, academicians and others “to foster mutual understanding, respect and love.”

Celebrating Turkish Cultural Day

Both the Turkish Cultural Center and City Hall were turned into a Turkish festival, complete with music, food, and dancing. The entire local Turkish community, as well as other cultures, took part in the celebration. Organizers say it’s important to make sure everyone feels welcome.

‘Turkish people not silly to believe slanderous news about Gülen’

Lawrence E. Carter, the dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, stated that a campaign of slander has bene launched against religious scholar Fethullah Gülen and Hizmet Movement but Turkish people are not stupid to believe such defamations.

Turkish Cultural Center holds friendship dinner

The Turkish Cultural Center of Staten Island (TCCSI), held its is Sixth Annual Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony at The Vanderbilt in South Beach on Thursday.

Latest News

Crimes Against Humanity in Erdogan’s Turkey

Exiled journalist warns of a genocide in the making in newly released book

Vague terrorism charge used to target supporters of the Gülen movement: UN special rapporteurs

ECtHR urges Albania not to deport Gülen follower to Turkey

Woman detained over links to Gülen movement after giving birth

Formerly Gülen-linked schools in Albania face growing gov’t pressure

Exclusive: Turkey, Kosovo violated fundamental rights of expelled teachers, UN body says

Sacked policeman’s grim death sparks debate on COVID-19 data in Turkish prisons

Dissidents of the Turkish government are living in fear in Canada

In Case You Missed It

German spy agency chief says does not believe Gulen behind Turkey coup attempt

Volunteer doctors to perform surgeries in Mali under leadership of Kimse Yok Mu

PakTurk School lauded for serving a wide range of students

A way to hide the truth: the Hizmet Movement

Ten thoughts on the [Erdogan] way of trolling

Writers, journalists gather to discuss media’s role in social cohesion

Students from 32 countries participate in international cultural festival in Cambodia

Copyright 2021 Hizmet News