Friday, 30 October 2015

Turkey – the carnival atmosphere of Republic Day

29 October

Hello everyone!

Turkey is a relatively young nation. Its land formed the backbone of the Ottoman Empire, which crumbled in the aftermath of its defeat in the First World War. Though not strictly colonised by another nation, it took a few years for the place which we now see as Turkey to officially declare itself a nation, free from any Allied occupation. This announcement was made on October 29th, 1923: Republic Day. 


This is one of the most notable days in the Turkish calendar. It remembers the birth of the nation and reemphasises the importance of their favourite son, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk (the airport in Istanbul is named after him). It was Ataturk who expelled the Allied forces in 1922 and his parliament which formally disbanded the Sultanate, which had ruled for centuries before. When the Republic was officially announced on 29th October in the following year, Ataturk became modern Turkey’s first President.

Ataturk - hero of a nation

A billboard (possibly) reminding people of the date of Republic Day
Festivities take place across the country. One of the recommended places to enjoy Republic Day is a small town on the south coast called Kaş. By remarkable coincidence – it genuinely was as we decided to go before discovering the date of Republic Day – we happened to be staying in Kaş at this particular time.
Location of Kas on a map of Turkey
A photo from an old celebration of Republic Day in Kas' main square
A local drummer in Kas' main square
Turkey, however, has been experiencing a turbulent period in its history. Rocked by bombings in its capital, Ankara, earlier in the month, we were told upon our arrival in the south that a big party wasn’t likely to occur in Kaş for Republic Day. Perfectly understandable.

The aftermath of the Ankara bombings (picture from BBC)

Ever the optimists, we spent the morning of October 29th strolling around the alleys of the town, looking for signs of celebration. What we saw were masses of Turkish flags adorning almost every building. Pride for the nation was clearly unshaken by the earlier atrocities.

An old amphitheatre in Kas
Kaş’s main plaza is situated next to one of its many small harbours. As we ambled towards it in the afternoon sun, the volume seemed to increase. When we caught sight of the square, we saw a small group of men positioning tables from their restaurants…into the square. A canopy of flags hung over the entire square, gently flapping in the light wind. Clearly something was going on.

The main square in Kas, filled with tables in preparation for the evening's events

The main square in Kas
Turns out the big party was on after all! We excitedly made our reservation and were told to be in the square soon after sunset, at around 6:30pm.

Sunset - complete with Turkish flag - from our apartment in Kas

The next few hours were brilliant. It may not have been a truly authentic experience – we were by far not the only foreigners sat at tables in the square – but it was an explosion of Turkish pride.

Two locals capturing their Republic Day
 Red flags were waving frantically as songs capable of perforating eardrums boomed from speakers and the lungs of hundreds of Turks. Possibly thousands. The square was packed, with every table (apart from the table for 29 near us, which arrived so late I wouldn't call it fashionable) enjoying the food being prepared by the plethora of restaurants situated on the three land-facing edges of the square. The other side, where land meets sea, was dominated by a stage flashing its pyrotechnics and hosting a band.

Near the stage, a team of people holding flaming torches paraded through the square

Whilst devouring the salad buffet (my plate mainly consisted of hummus), it was announced that the national anthem would play. Everyone rose. Spines tingled. It was amazing to witness the fervour the locals have for their country. I know this is true in most countries; it still doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring.

Flag-waving and cheering shortly after the anthem had finished
The band played throughout the evening aside from taking cigarette and drink breaks. Lots of people were drinking, particularly their local liqueur of Raki, which surprised me somewhat. I was told that this is one of the few days in the year where ‘everyone drinks’.

People toasting the Turkish nation

A local man singing his heart out
Any area of the square which wasn’t heaving with tables filled with fish, kebabs and alcohol was space in which to dance. Dance we all did. Even if the band only had a few songs, which they mingled with apparently putting on a CD of more popular hits.

The band

Later on, the night sky looking out towards the Mediterranean was illuminated by a series of fireworks. As you’ll see on the video below, the noise from the square almost drowned out the bang from the fireworks.

Fireworks celebrating Republic Day in Kas' main square

Flag-waving and cheering as the fireworks exploded

With what happened in Ankara earlier in October, I would have completely understood if no large celebration had occurred for Republic Day in Kaş. The Turkish population, rather than mourning death, opted to celebrate life. And how. It was a privilege to be a part of. Happy birthday, Turkey!

Love you all


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