Ask Mehmet: Children's Day

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to 39abw.pa@incirlik.af.mil. Then, look for an answer to the question on the 39th Air Base Wing's official website at www.incirlik.af.mil and Incirlik Air Base's Facebook page.

Question: Mehmet, what is Children's Day?

Everybody loves children. Although they can be frustrating from time to time, they are our hope and future. They are the flowers of human beings, like the flowers blooming in April.

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.

Turkey celebrates the holiday every year on April 23, and it is officially known as National Sovereignty and Children's Day.

There is a lot of history behind this day. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I; England, France, Italy, Greece and Russia's winning forces occupied Turkey.

The country's ruling sultan was only a figurehead, because the occupying forces, mainly England, dictated orders to him in Istanbul, the capital of the empire. The occupying British forces closed the Ottoman Parliament. 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 be united, so 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 proclaimed as the capital of the country later on. The first Grand National Assembly opened April 23, 1920 under Ataturk's chairmanship.

The vital decisions of the Grand National Assembly saved the country and led to founding the Republic of Turkey. During the War of Independence, many children had been left homeless. Ataturk's concern for these children led to the foundation of the Institute for the Salvation of Children. Then, because children were the future of Turkey, Ataturk 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.

Thursday marks the 95th anniversary of that happy and important event. It is a national holiday.

Major ceremonies and celebrations take place in Ankara, Istanbul and 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 on that special day for the children. Children usually give orders like opening a new playground or school.

In 1979, the United Nation's Year of the Child, the Turkish Government proposed that 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. The Turkish Radio Television Corp has been sponsoring an annual international Children's Day Festival. Hundreds of children from different countries march in the streets of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir and other major cities of Turkey in their national outfits and perform their native country's dances. Every year, children from more than 60 countries come together, celebrate the event and plant the seeds of peace and brotherhood.