Republic Day is celebrated on 29 October every year in Turkey to commemorate the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923.
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The background of Republic Day is the sultanate form of government of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which ruled from the 1300’s until it joined the Central Powers and was defeated during World War I. This defeat completed a long decline since the 1700’s that had earned the Ottomans the nickname “the Sick Man in Europe” and led to the loss of the Turkish empire.
Immediately after World War I, fighting again erupted in Turkey against the Allies who had occupied Istanbul and Smyrna. This war lasted from 1919 until 1922 and is called the “Turkish War of Independence.” The Greeks were pushed out of western Turkey and the French out of eastern Turkey by September 18th, 1922, and Turkey then turned to internal reforms.
The sultanate was voted out of existence by Turkey’s new parliament on July 24th, 1923, and the country’s name changed to “the Republic of Turkey.” It was not until October 29th of 1923, however, that the new republic was officially declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a hero of the Battle of Gallipoli and the main leader of Turkey’s recent “War of Independence.” Ataturk was soon elected the first president of the new republic as well. Also note that the name “Ataturk” (meaning “Father of the Turks”) is not original but was given him by the Turkish parliament in 1934 and denied to all other persons.
For those visiting the land of Turkey during Turkey’s Republic Day, four things that the locals and tourists alike often do to mark the occasion are as follows:
- Attend official celebrations at various key locations. There will be theatrical performances, poetry reading, folk dancing, and more. You can also likely find prominent political figures giving speeches in public places, and if you can’t hear them in person, you may be able to catch them on TV or radio.
- Visit the tomb of president Ataturk in Ankara, where many go on Republic Day to lay down wreaths to honour his memory. The building is made of stone and has a symmetrical layout with numerous tall, square columns. The approach to the tomb is lined with dozens of carved lions, and the immense greenery of Peace Park surrounds the ceremonial plaza.
- In Istanbul, visit Republic Monument in Taksim Square, which commemorates the 1923 founding of the Turkish republic. Ataturk purposefully had sculpted figures of famous Turkish leaders included in the monument because this was forbidden by the Sharia law of the Ottoman Empire. He wanted to make a bold statement that Turkey was now a “secular republic.”
- Later in the evening of the 29th, many localities have parades. There will be music, flag-waving, and much fanfare, and after the parade, you will likely be able to attend a fireworks display.
The transition from an empire to a republic was a radical change for the people of Turkey in the 1920’s, and Republic Day, declared by Ataturk to be “Turkey’s most important holiday,” is a perfect time for tourists to learn of the roots of the modern Turkish state.