Cumhurriet Bayramı, celebrated on 29 October, is the date celebrating the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the day the state was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a national holiday, the equivalent of the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. As such, we had a half day of work the Monday prior, and classes were cancelled and the university closed in observance of the holiday on Tuesday. In my classes the week before I discussed the similarities in the commemoration of the two days between America and Turkey, including the presence of parades, fireworks, the hanging of flags, and speeches by politicians. Some may argue that both celebrations, aside from their obvious nationalism, can perhaps be seen by their celebrants as inherently anti-colonial as well.
In the morning I went with my roommate to purchase a flag for us to display from our balcony- it was important for her to express her pride in the Republic through this gesture. Though flags and Ataturk’s image are displayed throughout the year in some/many places (particularly at government establishments, like my public university, where Ataturk’s image is displayed in each classroom, my office, at the entrance to the building, in a statue outside the building, at the university gates, etc.) on Republic Day a Turkish flag was hung at the entrance of nearly every shop in the city center, from windows and apartment balconies as well.
For many complicated political and social reasons, celebrations in Kırıkkale, to my knowledge, were primarily limited to these displays, though there was a small gathering in the city square in the evening. However, my roommate and I followed observances of the holiday across the country via news on TV. In the morning, we watched commemorative celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, where the Prime Minister and President were present. An elaborate parade was held that included Ankara sword dancers in traditional costumes, a symphonic marching band, and flanks of costumed marchers imitating Ottoman battle marches, in full regalia. The colors and types of their costumes including symbolic representations of Islam, the former provinces of the Ottoman empire (intended to symbolize the unity of the Turkish nation) and more.
My roommate and I took advantage of the day off by hosting my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and their Turkish roommates for a veritable Turkish smorgasbord. The meal included my first attempts (in Turkey at least) of two classic traditional foods: milföy and sarma dolma, with the necessary accompanying cecik (pronounced jeh-jik). Incidentally, those familiar with the food of the region in general, and/or my cooking may be aware that these foods have cousins if not twins in Arab cuisine: Milfoy is like börek (another Turkish food), which is similar to fatayer (stuffed, flaky, savory pastries, i.e. the popular spinach pie often known in the States by its Greek name, spanakopita); mine were stuffed with a mixture of beyaz peynir, a soft, sour white cheese, paprika, and finely chopped parsley.
Sarma dolma and cecik are simply the Turkish names for my favorite food combo: warak ‘einab wa laban wa kheir, stuffed grape leaves and a yogurt sauce (which includes cucumber, garlic, salt, and when I make it, more akin to the Turkish variety, lemon juice, dill, mint and sumac).
Later in the day we watched new coverage of the grand opening of the Marmaray in Istanbul, which runs underneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian continents via standard gauge rail for the first time. It is also the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel. The political and symbolic significance of the choice to debut this incredible technological achievement on the date of the 90th anniversary of the Republic couldn’t be missed—in a speech President R.T. Erdogan said, in effect, even if you don’t like me, please be proud of this achievement. The vision of progress with which the Republic and its founder began, the message is sent, continues today.
Later, we watched gatherings in Izmir, where massive throngs of people stood chanting the equivalent of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, which was recently made non-mandatory in a package of ‘democratization’ reforms. Back in Ankara, many marched with candles, symbolizing their individual roles in Turkish democracy. As is tradition, thousands visited Anitkabir, the final resting place of M.K. Ataturk as a commemorative act as well. In the evening, Istanbul had a fantastic fireworks display along the Bosphorus river, which was shown live on national news networks. A friend with whom I watched the display very genuinely remarked: “I hope Ataturk can see us now. I wonder what he would think.”