Independence is ‘Turkey’s character’
“Starting like a German and finishing like a Turk” is a rather famous saying. Why? Is it not obvious? Obviously, democracy is not a game and the Turkish republican history testifies to the very same reality that unfortunately we could not play well in this game. Did we start like a Turk? Indeed. It was a challenging move to launch a war of liberation without sufficient arms and a proper army, insufficient resources and a death warrant by the imperial palace under occupation against the leader of the nationalist elements.
Officially, the aim of modern Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s trip to the Black Sea province of Samsun on board the aged “Bandırma” freighter was not to organize a national movement for the liberation of the homeland from occupying forces and to build a new republic on the territory that remained from the shrinking “ill man of Europe,” the Ottoman Empire.
A shrinking empire, very few men with arms, insufficient arms and ammunition, a country under occupation buried in deep pessimism… That was what was prevalent when the founder of modern Turkey launched the movement the moment he arrived in Samsun. Therefore, May 19 is the anniversary of the beginning of the transformation of the resistance of scattered groups of patriotic people against the occupation forces into a full-fledged national mobilization and struggle, the motto of which was “Independence or Death.”
“Independence is my character,” said Atatürk when describing himself and the Turkish nation. May 19, therefore, was the anniversary of the demonstration by the Turkish nation of its determination not to accept occupation or domination even at a time when its armies were dissolved, weapons were confiscated, the forces of all major world powers were united in aggression against it and the government of the country, including the sultan, was collaborating with the occupying enemy forces.
For the most part of the post-2007 governance of the country by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) there were no parades or militaristic ceremonies to mark the anniversary of May 19. That was a good start as the Turkish resistance and liberation war were not just military undertakings, it was the nation that united and fought for its own independence, honor and future. Why for most parts of the republican history were we using militaristic flavor to mark the most important anniversary or the anniversary of the “mother event” that led us to the birth of a set of consecutive developments which, altogether, enabled Turks to declare the modern Turkish Republic four years later?
Years ago, just after the restoration of “democratic governance” in 1983, I happened to be in the Black Sea town of Bafra where I witnessed for the first time in my life a totally civilian celebration of May 19 in the evening hours after a full day of militarism, the then-routine parades, orations, wreath-laying ceremonies and such… All political parties – back then there were almost no NGOs in the country – and labor and business organizations in the small town lent support to the mayor in a non-partisan understanding in organizing a night of civilian celebrations of May 19. It was just great.
Since then I have been supportive of the “civilianization” of the ceremonies marking the anniversaries of important dates of the glorious National War of Liberation of the people of Anatolia. Yes, these “wrong guys” might have implemented this “civilianization” with some other motives. I could care less; it was a step in the right direction. The nation has started marking May 19…
Indeed, democracy is no game. It is a serious challenge particularly for a militaristic society obsessed with the use of force rather than a culture of compromise, a key component that we seriously need for democratic governance. The founding fathers aimed to achieve that challenge. Did they succeed? Looking back, it is rather difficult to produce an affirmative answer to such a challenging question.