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Ask Mehmet: Republic Day celebrates Turkish independence

graphic showing Turkish flag

Ninety-eight years ago on Oct. 29, 1923, Turkey declared itself an independent republic and in commemoration of Republic Day, ceremonies, parades and other events will take place throughout the country on Friday. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. Andrea Salazar)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

Ninety-eight  years ago on Oct. 29, 1923, Turkey declared itself an independent republic and in commemoration of Republic Day, ceremonies, parades and other events will take place throughout the country on Friday.


The history of Republic Day starts with the Ottoman Turks when they first appeared in the early 13th century in Anatolia subjugating Turkish and Mongolian tribes. Pressing against the eastern border of Byzantium, their empire began to spread throughout the region.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf in the east to the outskirts of Vienna in the west, including all of northern Africa and present day Balkan and Middle Eastern countries. After having one of the biggest empires the world had ever seen, and ruling lands on three continents for more than 600 years, the Ottoman Empire was severely diminished after World War I.

The decline of Turkish power began in 1571 when the Turkish Navy was defeated by the combined European Navy and a land attack during the Siege of Vienna.

Turkish power continued to slide after the Turkish-Russian War from 1877-1878. The war gave Bulgaria independence while Romania and Serbia separated from their nominal allegiance to the Ottoman sultan. The Turks revolted at home in 1909 when a group of young liberals, known as the "Young Turks," forced Sultan Abdul Hamid to grant a constitution and install a liberal government.

During World War I, Turkey fought alongside the Germans. After Germany's defeat, the allied forces divided and occupied Anatolia (Turkey). The Greeks took Izmir and the Agean region; Istanbul and the Straits were considered a demilitarized zone administered by the British; the French took the Adana-Gaziantep region while the Italians took the current Antalya area.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, general of the Turkish forces, could not accept the partition of his country. He was the man who stopped the British Armada at the Dardanelles, the "victorious commander" and hero of the battle of Gallipoli.

Deciding to create the nation of Turkey with its current borders, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk left Istanbul May 15, 1919, and traveled to Samsun. Four days later he started the War of Independence in Anatolia. He fought the ruling sultan as well as the invaders and drove them out of Turkey.

Ataturk founded the Grand National Assembly April 23, 1920, during the War of Independence, and was elected the GNA chairman.

The treaty of Lausanne, signed by Turkey and the allied forces, was a political victory for the rulers of the new state and freed the country from foreign occupation. The treaty also established the territory and integrity of the land.

Long before the nation's push for independence, an idea had taken shape in Ataturk's mind: The state would be a republic.

The country needed to name its new form of government. To end the debates in the assembly, Ataturk made the decision after consulting with his closest friends over a dinner Oct. 28, 1923.

After the meal, Ataturk rose and declared, "Friends, we shall proclaim the republic tomorrow." The next day, an amendment to the constitution was proposed and the Turkish state was proclaimed the Republic of Turkey.