Settlement of the early Turks in Rochester is closely tied to the first wave of migration of highly educated workforce that occurred from Turkey to US in the early 1950’s. In order to specialize further in their subject and advance in their careers, especially between the years of 1950-1970, many doctors, engineers, academics and technical experts from the young Turkish Republic came to US to receive more advanced training. Some of those eventually settled in the US taking advantage of the specialized labor need of the US after World War II. It is estimated that within this context, approximately between 10 to 15 Turks, mostly doctors and engineers settled in Rochester, NY.Second wave of arrival of early Turks to Rochester is due to a pure coincidence. This interesting story begins with a newspaper article published on New York Times in 1966. In this article, it is reported that Mr. Walter Hickey, Sr., head of Hickey Freeman, a men’s clothing factory located in Rochester, NY, states that the lack of desire from the young US population to learn the tailoring skills, was causing men’s clothing companies in US to experience a severe reduction in skilled workforce. Mr. Hickey further states that looking for skilled tailors from Europe and bringing them to US would be very advantageous since this approach would not only help the US clothing companies directly but also would help in training the young US workers by these foreign master craftsmen.
Prof.Dr. Talat Halman, who at the time was working at the Princeton University, read the article and contacted Mr. Hickey to see if Turkish tailors could be brought to US to work for these companies. Upon positive confirmation from Mr. Hickey that any qualified Turkish tailor can work in US, Mr. Halman contacted the Turkish newspaper Milliyet. Six days later Milliyet published an article stating that men’s clothing companies in US were in need of skilled tailors and were interested in bringing Turkish tailors to US to work for them for an equivalent pay of 5,000 TL per month. Journey to Rochester started for many Turkish tailors with this article.
Mr. Aziz Somali, a Syriac in origin who migrated from Mardin many years ago, was working as a manager for Bonds Clothing Company. Originally Cleveland based, Bonds Clothing also had a production facility in Rochester. Like Hickey Freeman, they had similar needs for skilled tailors. Mr.Somali persuaded his management to bring tailors from Turkey and initiated the hiring through Turkish Government’s Work and Labor Institution. Turkish tailors who passed an exam in Turkey started arriving to Rochester in small groups towards the end of 1967.
By 1969, the number of Turkish families who came to Rochester to work for Hickey Freeman and Bonds was around 100. The other Turkish professionals living in Rochester at that time were not aware of the recent migration of Turkish tailors until Sahap Emirbay, an engineer working at Xerox, met one of the families coincidentally. When Mr. Emirbay learned about the other families and started meeting them; he realized the difficulties they were facing due to their limited language skills and cultural differences. To help the integration of these families to their new lives, Emibay thought about gathering all the families under one roof. With the help of other Turkish professionals, Turkish Society of Rochester was established in 1969.
The society became instrumental in helping the new comers to integrate into their new lives, also filled a major gap in the social lives of the Turks in Rochester by arranging family events and celebrating the national and religious holidays. As the number of Turks multiplied with the arrival of relatives and friends of settled Turks, Society started feeling the need to have its own building. Society bought an old Church on Culver Road as its first building in 1979. In 1980, Society started the Turkish School in this building to teach Turkish Language and History to the children who are either born in US or came at a very early age.