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BLOG The Republic Day of Turkey

28 October 2016 / Culture

Republic Day

Republic Day is one of the most fondly celebrated and historically significant public holidays in Turkey; a day which commemorates the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. In fact, Turkey had been a republic state since the 23rd April 1920, when the Grand National Assembly of Turkey was established in the midst of the Turkish War of Independence. However, the war culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on the 24th of July 1923, a document which allowed Turkey to be treated as an independent and sovereign state, equal with all other states attending the conference. This treaty ended the long years of warfare which had consumed the country and its people and finally, Turkey entered into a period of peace. On the 29th of October 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk officially confirmed the status of the nation as a republic, its name to be proclaimed, ‘Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’, the Republic of Turkey. A vote was held in the Grand National Assembly and Atatürk was elected as the first President of the Republic of Turkey on that very day.

Rising Against the Ottoman Empire

While the Ottoman Empire was one of grandeur and riches, it was not one that was admired by much of the world. In fact, for many European countries, it was believed to have more in common with the Chinese Empire than the Roman. Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, for example, was thought to bear a stark resemblance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, both being preserves of eunuchs and concubines. The Ottoman system employed concubines as slaves, and because it was forbidden to enslave one’s fellow Muslims, they were Christians who were enslaved and forcibly converted to Islam. The civil servants and soldiers of the Empire were also Christian boys, taken from their homes and converted to Islam by being forcibly circumcised.

Ottoman Sultans would rule from their decadent palaces while their servants and soldiers set about acquiring as large an empire as possible by invading and capturing as many areas of Europe, Asia and Africa as they could. Even today, people in the Balkans and Greece regard the Ottoman era as anything but a golden age. In fact, it was the actions of the Ottoman Empire that have led to many modern day misconceptions about Turkey, beliefs that Atatürk himself set out to rebuff, misconceptions that the Republic still defend today. When he founded modern Turkey, Atatürk chose to break with the past and to reject the Empire and Ottoman identity. Atatürk created a new and secularised Turkey, a country that worked with Europe and the rest of the world rather than against it. It was the Turkish War of Independence and the breaking of the Ottoman Empire that led to his successes.

The Turkish National Movement

The Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I. It had been no mean feat to go up against a dynasty which had been in existence for over seven centuries. However, in part due to internal conflicts such as the Arab Revolt of 1916 and various atrocities committed by the Ottoman government against the Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks, the Empire was eventually defeated by the Allied Powers following the war. The Ottoman Empire was partitioned and it lost its Middle Eastern territories which were divided between the United Kingdom and France. The Treaty of Sevres, signed on the 10th of August 1920, marked the beginning of the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and led to its ultimate annihilation. The terms of this treaty brewed hostility and a nationalistic feeling amongst Turks as Ottoman leaders were also agreeing to partition off part of Anatolia, which constituted a large chunk of modern day Turkey. This unrest led to the establishment of a group of revolutionaries who took to the political stage; the Turkish National Movement, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The Ottomans saw the Turkish National Movement as an internal conspiracy against them as the revolutionaries rebelled against the partitioning of the Empire and therefore against the ruling government. Atatürk and his people were a huge threat to the continuation of any kind of Ottoman Empire that may survive the negotiations with the Allied forces, and they were a threat to the absolute monarchy that had ruled for centuries. The Ottomans were right to heed the actions of the Turkish National Movement. The political developments during this period have made a lasting impact which continues to affect the character of the Turkish nation. It was the successes of this revolutionary party which led to a series of incredible events, culminating in the existence of Turkey as we know it today.

The Turkish War of Independence

The Turkish National Movement decided to fight back against the European partitioning of the Ottoman Empire and the break up of Anatolia (modern day Turkey). It was a bloody four year war fought between the Turkish Nationalists and the proxies of the Allies, namely Greece, Armenia, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. A short way into the war, Atatürk and his colleagues founded a new state out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire and established the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on the 23rd April 1920. In a speech he made on the 19th March 1920, Atatürk announced that “an assembly will be gathered in Ankara that will possess extraordinary powers” and communicated how the members who would participate in the assembly would be elected by the people; Turkey was to become a democracy.

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey also waged the Turkish War of Independence against the monarchist Constantinople government and Sultan Mehmed VI. The abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate, a grand move by the Turkish National Movement, officially ended the Ottoman Empire on the 1st of November 1922. The last sultan, Mehmed VI, departed Istanbul on the 17th of November 1922. The days of absolute monarchy and a country run under what was essentially a dictatorship was essentially over. Turkey was well on its way to finding a peaceful resolution with Europe.

After the end of the Turkish-Armenian, Franco-Armenian and the Greco-Turkish fronts, the Treaty of Sevres was abandoned and the Treaties of Kars and Lausanne were signed. The peace treaty of Lausanne officially settled the conflict that had originally existed between the Ottoman Empire and the Allied Nations since the onset of World War I. In the treaty, Turkey gave up all claims to the remainder of the Ottoman Empire and in return, the Allies recognised Turkish sovereignty within its new borders, creating the Turkey that we know today. It was the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish War of Independence, the Abolition of the Sultanate and the Treaty of Lausanne that enabled Atatürk to instigate massive reforms that would create the modern, secular nation-state of Turkey on the political front.

Republic Day Celebrations

While the establishment of the Grand National Assembly may have paved the way for a republic state and the Treaty of Lausanne officially recognised the borders and political motivations of the republic, it wasn’t until the 29th October 1923 that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was officially voted in as the first President of the Republic of Turkey. Over the course of four years, Atatürk had achieved so much, most importantly, he had established a Turkish identity, he had found peace between the Turks and the rest of the world and he had founded democracy in a country that had been dependent on sultans and dictators for centuries. He realised that Turkey needed to move with the times and with the rest of the world to ensure a safe and prosperous future. He realised the importance of freedom and of the ability to express oneself without being judged. He was ever conscious that his people needed direction but without forced religious beliefs, he realised that Turkey needed to be recognised as a secular state.

It was Republic Day 1923 that paved the way for a new, secular, democratic and peaceful existence for Turkey, a day that has been celebrated ever year since. Turkey is in a state of party for 35 hours straight at this time of year, with festivals, parades, processions and music filling the streets. Particularly in Istanbul, incredible fireworks displays fill the skies with rich and beautiful colours, representing the celebrations of the whole country. School children celebrate this day with presentations, sing-a-longs, displays and readings. All official government offices and schools are closed and there are official celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, including a ceremony at the Anıtkabir, Atatürk’s Mausoleum.

The Presidential Symphony Orchestra and the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s State Polyphonic Chorus, featuring a total of 150 musicians perform each year and feature the Turkish national anthem. The first word of the national anthem is “Korkma” which means without fear, a phrase which has always been meaningful to the Turkish people given their history, but which has held extra sentiment in the past few years due to the unfortunate terrorist events that Turkey has been so highly linked to. On a more flighty note, the Turkish Air Force’s “wingsuit pilots” and other aircraft take to the skies to perform a series of incredible stunts across the country. They are celebrations that attract thousands of people to Turkey each year, culminating in city marches that demonstrate the people’s support for the Republic.

Republic Day 2016

Republic Day 2016 happens under a more sombre time this year, in the wake of several terrorist attacks and a failed coup attempt against the current government. While the country will be marking the day with celebrations and parades as it does every year, there is certainly a more political sentiment behind the day, with world leaders providing their own words of support to the Turkish people. But nothing puts a dampener on the spirits of Republic Day and if anything, the Turks rise in the face of adversity, they are fiercely patriotic and the celebrations of 2016 are to be just as exciting as any other year as the people celebrate their modern day country.

Turkish embassies all over the world have been holding grand receptions to mark Republic Day. An event in Azerbaijan, held on the 27th October was attended by government officials and ambassadors of foreign countries and representatives of the public. Erkan Ozoral, the Turkish Ambassador to Azerbaijan was the first to read out the congratulatory letter from the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, has also congratulated the Turkish people of their upcoming Republic Day with a heartfelt speech where he expressed again, the support that the US has for the Turkish constitution. He ended his speech with the words, “as you mark this special day, you have our very best wishes for a happy, prosperous and safe year to come”.

The celebrations of 2016 also marks the first visit of an Israeli minister to a Turkish Embassy event in six years, since the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz is the first Israeli minister to visit the home of the Turkish Ambassador to Israel since the incident as he chose to celebrate Republic Day with around 100 other people. Steinitz praised the renewed diplomatic friendship, saying that “the fact that Israel and Turkey are reaching out a hand of peace and cooperation again is important news…I hope that in the future, this will lead to a strengthening of trust, security cooperation, and a political cooperation between the two countries”.

If you want to party in Turkey, Republic Day is the time to do it. Turkey is often a mistaken country, one that is associated with dictatorships, political unrest. Perhaps due to its location, Turkey has been considered, incorrectly, an Arab state, a land filled with deserts and a backward way of thinking where people travel on camels and live in tents. Those who haven’t visited Turkey are missing out on a very modern culture that brings European and Asian ideals together as one. They are missing a place of incredible beauty where tree covered mountains of green meet sparkling rushes of blue rivers and astonishing lakes. They are missing out on the wonderful people of Turkey who are so incredibly proud of their country and welcome all visitors with open arms and a hospitality like no other in the world.

Atatürk attempted to show the world what Turkey truly is and the people today follow in his footsteps. Wherever you may be in Turkey, or indeed anywhere else in the world, join the Turks and fly their flag with honour in support this great country!

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