Over 100 friends of Hiawatha joined Ambassador to Türkiye Jeff Flake, renowned Turkish industrialist Rahmi Koç, and Istanbul Consul General Julie Eadeh at a festive gathering in Istanbul on September 27 to celebrate the venerable vessel’s 90th year.
The evening reception was held in perfect early Autumn weather at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum on the banks of the Golden Horn. Hiawatha, polished up for the occasion, sat quayside as a dramatic backdrop for the evening’s remarks.
Ambassador Flake recounted the history of Chief Hiawatha, whose diplomacy, centuries ago, brought peace to the North American Great Lakes. Much like her famed namesake, he said, our own Hiawatha has become the stuff of diplomatic legend, plying Istanbul’s Bosporus for four generations, flying our two nations’ flags as a symbol of friendship.
The Ambassador thanked Muhtar Kent and Ozen Kuzu for their lead donations. He asked attendees to meet their challenge and give generously to keep Hiawatha––already Istanbul’s oldest continuously operating vessel––going strong. Above all, the Ambassador concluded, Rahmi Bey deserves our thanks. He gave Hiawatha safe harbor when her fortunes were low, just the latest example of his generosity and statesmanship toward generations of American diplomats in Türkiye.
Rahmi Koç spoke of his lifelong affection and admiration for Hiawatha. Decade after decade, he reminisced, she sailed proudly up and down the Bosporus under the loving care of her captain of 50 years, Naci Gülten. When Hiawatha later fell on hard times and he offered to take her in, he recalled the Consulate General’s tough negotiating position: the Koç Museum could have her only if it bore most of her expenses and the United States retained ownership. Naturally, he said, he took the deal.
Consul General Julie Eadeh concluded the formal program by reading a statement of support and greetings from Under Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Türkiye John Bass. Writing from Washington, Ambassador Bass joined in extolling Hiawatha and thanking Rahmi Koç for his wisdom and for providing her “safe harbor.” He wished all assembled, “long life, great happiness and smooth sailing.”
After the reception, Rahmi Koç hosted a warm and convivial dinner to cap off the celebration. He and his guests reminisced further about Hiawatha, and both he and the Ambassador encouraged guests to give generously to keep her in service for future generations as a symbol of U.S.-Turkish friendship.
Pictured above in front of Hiawatha are (left to right): Mrs. Cheryl Flake, DCM Scott Oudkirk, U.S. Ambassador to Türkiye Jeff Flake, Rhami M. Koç, and CG Julie Eadeh.