On October 29 every year, the Turkish people celebrate Republic Day and freedom. From Istanbul to Ankara, Izmir to Antalya, and even Van in the far east, students, families, and politicians gather to wave flags and remember Ataturk, Turkey's founder.
Millions of people all over Turkey celebrate Republic Day on October 29. In 1923, the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, helped establish the secular democratic Republic of Turkey. Also known as Freedom Day (or Cumhuriyet), this is a time for all Turks, young and old, to promote the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press that Atatürk fought so hard to establish.
In cities all over Turkey, from Istanbul in the northwest to Antalya in the south and Van in the far east, people gathered this year to remember Atatürk and the values he embraced. In the capital city of Ankara, 100,000 people assembled despite the fact that the current Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the Islamist Ak Party, declared that public celebrations for Freedom Day would be illegal. CHP, the Republican People’s Party (Atatürk’s party) helped promote Republic Day.
A baby holds a balloon designed with the Turkish flag
CNN covered the situation in Ankara. In Istanbul, thousands turned up at night with flashlights to form a living lighthouse. In Izmir, people paraded by the famous clock tower near the Aegean Sea. In Antalya, where I covered this story, huge flags and Ataturk banners adorned apartment buildings. People placed flowers near a statue of Atatürk in the old city of Kaleiçi by the Mediterranean Sea. Police watched, and some took notes about who placed the flowers. Flag-toting children climbed Atatürk's statue. People of all ages waved flags as they strolled around the cobbled shopping streets, fountains, and markets. Students marched, carrying banners and chanting “We are Atatürk’s Soldiers for Freedom” to the cheers of bystanders. Thousands attended an open-air patriotic concert later in the evening.
One Mediterranean University student declared, “Turkey will never forget Atatürk. We will never forget freedom!”
Lonna Lisa Williams