Why do the Turks debate over their Sovereignty Day?
There are few nations who are resilient enough and can do whatever possible to survive.
The Turks are among those. Almost a century ago, as the six-century-old Turkish empire was losing not only its multi-ethnical, multi-theistic, multi-lingual nature but also territories rapidly in the Balkan Wars and then World War I, that resilience started to boil up among the middle classes and the bureaucracy. Through a War of Independence against invading armies, Turkey not only adopted its new and shrunken borders but also its regime and capital as well; with the fall of the Ottoman dynasty in Istanbul, the regime transformed into a republic and the capital was established in Ankara.
Ankara, an ancient trade town in the middle of the Anatolian plateau, had been the headquarters of the revolution. It was the place where the Grand National Assembly was established 96 years ago on April 23, 1920, after the last parliament of the Ottoman Empire was closed down by the British invaders of Istanbul almost a month pervious. Then, some of the members of the old parliament and some ministers of the last sultan, including the defense minister, migrated to Ankara to join forces with the emerging leader of the resistance, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk). Only after the establishment of the new parliament was the regular army formed to fight back, and they succeeded.
The new regime was announced as a republic and it was the legitimacy given by the parliament to its army which made it possible for the new regime to sit around a table with the victors of World War II and get the Turkish Republic recognized as a sovereign state; the Turkish empire under the Ottomans was over.
That is why Atatürk himself, as the first president, designated April 23 as National Sovereignty Day and dedicated it to the children of the country. Since then, April 23 has actually been popularly known as the Children’s Festival.
This year, Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman cancelled the traditional reception held in parliament, saying it would hurt the memories of the fallen soldiers in the ongoing fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government took similar steps not to mark the day with much cheer this year.
That triggered a debate, as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the founding party of the republic, said ignoring the April 23 traditions would hurt the fallen martyrs; they decided to organize a reception in the parliament compound. “We are not going to have fun,” CHP leader Kemel Kılıçdaroğlu said, “But [we will] pay respect to our republic and the parliament which made it possible.”
It can be seen as another indication of political polarization in Turkey, that even national holidays are now a subject of debate after almost a century.