Some 925 people gathered in Istanbul for the regional Baha’i conference for Albania, Cyprus and Turkey, making it the largest Baha’i event in the history of the three communities. The gathering was held at a conference hall at Yeditepe University, where a brand new dormitory – never before used – provided lodging for the visitors.
Participants from across Turkey were joined by 41 Baha’is from Albania, 51 from Cyprus, and seven from other nations. The Albanians, including some who were elderly and some with disabilities, undertook a difficult, 30-hour bus ride in very cold temperatures to reach the gathering.
Istanbul itself is one of the largest cities in the world, a metropolis of some 11 million people that straddles the Bosporus strait, putting half the city in Europe and half in Asia. Baha’is know it as the place Baha’u’llah stayed for four months in 1863 – a fact which created “an extraordinary spiritual atmosphere,” the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Turkey wrote later in its report of the conference.
The event began at 9 a.m. Saturday with a devotional program that included prayers in the languages of the participants and music offered by a Baha’i choir. A beautiful bouquet of red roses graced the front of the stage, honoring the friends in Iran.
A representative of the National Spiritual Assembly welcomed the guests and noted that those present had in effect performed an act of service by responding to the invitation to the conference issued by the Universal House of Justice.
Representing the House of Justice at the gathering were Mr. Stephen Birkland and Dr. Ayman Rouhani, both members of the International Teaching Centre.
Mr. Birkland gave the opening address, filled with examples of service from the history of the Baha’i Faith. Current work, he said, requires the participation of everyone. “Our success depends on everybody being empowered,” he said.
“This conference gave me such energy that I cannot wait for two minutes more before I go home and start new core activities.”
Cansu Inhan, 19 - Istanbul, Turkey
The afternoon session focused on the institute process and how it serves as the engine of growth in the Baha’i work. Dr. Rouhani explained how it is a technique for grassroots community-building that goes far beyond just the Baha’is in a given locality.
“This institute process from the very beginning was for everyone,” he said. “It is not only for us.”
Representatives of the three participating national communities presented the status of the Five Year Plan in their respective regions.
A number of people shared experiences of core activities in their home communities. A young man from Turkey currently studying in Cyprus recounted how he began investigating the Baha’i Faith and soon decided to join the Baha’i community. He took part in study circles and began participating in home visits and teaching activities. He had learned, he said, that such activities “are not difficult.”
A young married couple talked about their decision to move to a district of their city where there would be greater response to the Baha’i core activities.
An 85-year-old woman from the Adana cluster in Turkey told how she had started devotional gatherings three years ago, dedicating them to her late husband. Fourteen of the people she invited have since joined the Baha’i community, and all were at the conference. “I thank Baha’u’llah and wish to be able to continue these devotionals as long as I live,” she said.
At one point on Saturday, participants divided into 20 workshops to study two messages from the Universal House of Justice, the 20 October 2008 letter to the Baha’is of the world and the newer message addressed specifically to the Istanbul conference. Young teens had their own workshop for reflecting on the messages.
“I thank Baha’u’llah and wish to be able to continue these devotionals as long as I live.”
Mrs. Behjat Mokhles, age 85 - Adana cluster, Turkey
Proceedings in the plenaries were in Turkish, English, and Albanian, with simultaneous translation provided to everyone who requested earphones.
Also on Saturday
The cultural program on Saturday evening was very rich, with musical offerings from different parts of Turkey, a special stage performance of pantomime, Turkish folklore dances, traditional music with violin and a Turkish lute, and African music and dances.
Two films about Baha’u’llah’s stay in Istanbul as well as His route through Turkey during His exile were shown during the first day.
The planning workshops
Miss Fevziye Baki and Dr. Ilhan Sezgin, both members of the Continental Board of Counselors, gave a presentation on Sunday morning outlining current needs in terms of establishing core activities and programs of growth.
Participants then divided into 22 workshops for consultation that focused on specific communities and the work ahead. Plans were made to establish three programs of growth by April, another six by the end of 2009, and an additional four by April 2011. Twenty-three people said they would move to a different community to help with the work, and many individuals offered to initiate core activities or undertake trips to support others.
Cansu Inhan, 19, Istanbul, Turkey: “This conference gave me such energy that I cannot wait for two minutes more before I go home and start new core activities.”
Emel Turker, Famagusta, Cyprus: “At the moment I have devotional meetings, but … I started to review my plans and am thinking what I can do more in the future regarding other core activities.”
Nevin Barıseri, Konya, Turkey: “I was very much touched and impressed by the old and new friends I met here. When I go home I will start a devotional meeting.”
Denise Bayer, 30, Ankara, Turkey, originally from Brazil: “I have been in Ankara for six years. It is the first time I see so many people from many countries and to observe that friends are hungry to learn.”
Frederick Jeans, South Cyprus: “The conference is helping us build a vision …”
Azim Karacanta, 16, Istanbul, Turkey: “When I go back home I know what I should do.”
Destina Sezgin, 15, Manisa, Turkey:” This conference gave me understanding and opened new paths to me.”
Yeditepe University facilities were used for the conference. Some 925 people participated.
Dr. Ilhan Sezgin, a member of the Baha’i Continental Board of Counselors, addresses the gathering.
Baha’is from throughout Turkey attended the conference and constituted the vast majority of the participants.
Dr. Susan Merter delivers a report from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Turkey on the state of the Baha’i work in that country. The National Assemblies of Albania and Cyprus also gave reports.
This workshop was for people from the Tirana cluster in Albania.
Ramiz Albayrak of the Amasya cluster in Turkey only recently joined the Baha’i community.
Participants from the Librazhd/Elbasan cluster in Albania consult together.
Attila Bagcuvan plays a long-necked lute at the Saturday evening cultural program.
Baha’i friends perform together during the cultural program.
Ali Riza Aribas is from the Eskisehir cluster in Turkey.
Dilara Sezgin Zhou of Istanbul talks about her family’s decision to move to a different area of the city in order to initiate Baha’i core activities.
Henza Shkreta from the Tirana-Durres cluster in Albania participates in a workshop.
At the conferences, everyone is invited to participate.
Mrs. Behjat Mokhles, 85, of the Adana cluster in Turkey has hosted a devotional gathering for three years. Fourteen of the people she has invited have joined the Baha’i community, and all came to the Istanbul conference.