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History of Turkish Children's Day

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Everybody loves children. Although they can be frustrating from time to time, they are our hope and future.

Turkey emphasizes the love, hope and future of children by proclaiming a national holiday for them. As far as I know, Turkey is the first country to proclaim a national holiday just for children.

We celebrate National Sovereignty and Children's Day every April 23.

There is a lot of history behind this day. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I; English, French, Italian, Greek and Russian forces occupied Turkey.

The country's ruling sultan was only a figurehead because the occupying forces dictated orders to him in Istanbul, the capital of the empire and the Ottoman Parliament was closed. Some parliament members fled, some were exiled and others were put in prison.

Mustafa Kemal, later named Ataturk, didn't stand still. Knowing and believing in his nation, he left Istanbul and ignited the War of Independence in Anatolia. He set up resistance forces and organized congresses at different locations.

In order to succeed, he knew the nation had to unite. He sent messages throughout the country asking for support.

Representatives traveled to Ankara to help make decisions on the nation's future. Ankara was in a central region of Anatolia and was not occupied by the foreign forces. Ankara was later proclaimed as the capital of the country. The first Grand National Assembly opened April 23, 1920 under Ataturk. The vital decisions of the Grand National Assembly saved the country and led to the founding of Turkey.

During the War of Independence, many children had been left homeless orphans. Ataturk's concern for these children led to the founding of the Institute for the Salvation of Children. Ataturk then dedicated the day, the young republic's most important day, to the children of the nation in celebration of the opening of the Grand National Assembly.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of that happy and important event.

Major ceremonies and celebrations take place in Ankara, Istanbul and other major cities. Throughout the country, elementary schools are decorated and children wear special uniforms to commemorate the day.

One special activity is to have a child, symbolically, in charge of every administrative position from president to mayor. Children usually give orders like opening new playgrounds or schools.

In 1979, the United Nation's Year of the Child, the Turkish Government Proposed April 23 be declared a holiday for the children of the world. That same year, Turkey began inviting children from every country to come and participate in its Children's Day festivities. Every year children from more than 60 countries come together, celebrate the happy event and plant seeds of peace and brotherhood.