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An Overlook to Festivals in Turkey

Turkey’s culture is a fusion of Asian and European cultures with influences from the history of both Anatolia and Thrace. Different cultures in Turkey emerge from main civilizations in the world including but not limited to Hittites, Ionians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans all of which contributed to the diversity. Therefore, Turkey as a territory presents many historical and cultural assets that could be easily transformed into a tourism product through the medium of festivals. Turkey is a host to a great diversity of festivals in conformity with its diversity in its culture. Some of these festivals are organized in big cities and in popular tourist areas, while many others are taking place in small towns and even villages. While some of the festivals have gained worldwide attention and are attracting many international visitors, many others have remained local in character attracting only national visitors. Also, while some festivals in Turkey have long traditions that can be measured in decades and even centuries, others are one-time events that are never repeated. So, Turkey is growing in festival tourism with baby steps by having unused potential of festivals as tourist attractions in the country.

Contrary to the small-scale festivals that are struggling to survive, the highly reputed international festivals are able to attract substantial sponsorships and benefit from intense media coverage. This sketches a positive global image for the destination, which, in turn, can stimulate tourism demand. So, tourism planners can use festivals as a marketing strategy to create awareness about a destination among tourists. From the tourists’ point of view, festivals should also aim to create enjoyment through cultural and entertaining elements. Additionally, festivals in Turkey also provide extensive benefits to the marketing and branding of the destination when combined with strategic planning. Basically, the success of the festivals relies on the proper selection of the theme, and thanks to the cultural diversity in Turkey, finding a proper theme is intrinsically never an issue.

Thereby, competition in tourism and investment in Turkey’s cities have resulted in generation of innovative and creative ideas about new attractions. Thanks to the low capital investment needed to organize a festival, the number of such short-duration events has constantly increased over the last decades and festivals have become more diversified. Along with the local festivals held in small- or medium-sized cities or towns of Turkey, international festivals are organized in mostly metropolitan cities such as Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya. Festivals representing traditional Turkish and/or Anatolian culture are the exact reflection of cultural richness of the places where festivals are held. Yet some festivals presenting regional or local aspects of the Turkish mosaic may be regarded as more valuable than the others, and Istanbul is still the most important destination for national and international festival organizations. While some cities in the globe are associated with one festival, Istanbul as a destination is associated with a series of festivals and that distinguishes Istanbul from other places. Moreover, natural and man-made attractions in Istanbul complemented with a variety of thematic festivals create an additional tourist potential.

Festivals are different from mega events in many respects, not only because the latter are one-time events organized by a destination after winning a global or regional bid. On the other hand, organization of a festival does not require a bidding competition. Any public or private institution can decide to organize a festival with or without the support of sponsors with any frequency they see appropriate. Turkey applies a branding strategy through both mega events and international festivals to create a distinctive image that perceives the participants as tourism ambassadors for Turkey. Hence, in addition to Turkey’s historic and cultural resources, festivals also stimulate international or national demand to Turkey as a tourist destination. Festivals in Turkey are important in generating some business and income for the local community, creating a unity of culture as well as enhancing positive image of the place. Communicating cultural aspects to outsiders and preserving those assets for the future generations are some of the other aspects of festivals. Turkey also encourages the development of cultural tourism and event tourism through festivals in small towns and villages. By attending these festivals, tourists can get a better sense of the local culture and, at the same time, contribute to the local economy of the destination. The contribution of the festivals to the local economy can be significant when they manage to attract international visitors. Sponsors also play a major role in the continuity and the sustainability of a festival in Turkey; their support depends on the link between sponsor brand associations and the festival concept.

Most festivals in Turkey are organized by municipal authorities, nongovernmental organizations such as cultural, educational, or social institutions, or the private sector. The private sector is involved mainly in the organization of cultural and art festivals, such as the Akbank International Jazz Festival, the Garanti Children’s Film Festival, or the Yapi Kredi Art Festival (all of which are sponsored by major banks in Turkey). There are also festivals organized by associations but sponsored by the private sector companies like the Gtimti^ltik International Classical Music Festival (organized by Bodrum Classic Music Association and sponsored by Denizbank). Other music festivals organized in Turkey by the private sector are the Anadolu Efes Blues Festival (sponsored by a beer company) and the Rock’n Coke Festival in Istanbul sponsored by Coca-Cola. Private sector companies become main or cosponsors of festivals to improve their image, prestige, and credibility. Municipalities, on the other hand, prefer to organize festivals that have the potential to increase tourism demand during shoulder or off-season periods and to create a strong economic drive to the region. Two such festivals are the Seferihisar Tangerine Festival and the Adana Orange Festival.

Other festivals are organized to increase awareness of certain cultural assets the destination or the region has to offer. For example, the Yunus Emre Sufi Music Festival is organized annually in Eski^ehir to introduce Sufi musical traditions and the heritage of the great Sufi poet Yunus Emre who lived in this city to the visitors. Another example is the Izmir International Festival that has been held annually for 29 years. This festival encompasses a wide range of classical, traditional, and contemporary works not only in music but also in ballet, theater, and opera and is organized in a number of historical venues.

Also, there are national and international film festivals organized in Turkey each year, the most important of which is the International Antalya Film Festival, organized since 1963. Another film festival, the International Istanbul Film Festival, organized by the Istanbul Culture and Art Foundation for both artistic films and documentaries, has surpassed the 25th edition.

A number of other festivals are held in historical locations in order to promote these centers to the public visitors. For instance, Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival is organized in the ancient theater, Aspendos, in Side (Antalya Province). Another example is the International Bodrum Dance Festival which has been held for more than a decade in the ancient theater situated within Bodrum Castle, which is also the Underwater Archeology Museum.

Additionally, the traditional Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival has been organized in the city of Edirne for the last 655 years, being perhaps the oldest festival in Turkey dating back to the Ottoman Empire. This weeklong festival attracts large audiences of visitors coming from various cities. Manisa Mesir Festival is another festival that dates back to almost 500 years. The festival celebrates the Ottoman invention of a paste, known as mesir, in the city of Manisa. Mesir includes 41 different types of plants and spices and was used as a medicine. It is thrown out to the public from the domes of a historical mosque during the festival. Both Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival and Mesir Macunu Festival are included into UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mevlana Whirling Dervishes Festival is another authentic event organized annually in the city of Konya. Each year, for ten days, the Whirling Dervishes are honoring Rumi’s death with a fusion of music, dance, listening, and spiritual experience. Celaleddin Rumi (known also as Mevlana—“The Guide”) was a Sufi poet who lived and created during the thirteenth century. His poetry and religious philosophical work are well-known and respected in the Islamic world and even in the Western countries. He believed that whirling was a way to achieve divine harmony. This festival, often referred to as the wedding night,[1] is one of the UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

  • [1] Rumi’s death is often referred to as his “wedding night with Allah”.
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