Youth and Sports Day

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Host Nation Adviser
Turkey celebrates Ataturk's Memorial, Youth and Sports Day on Friday, May 19. 

This special day is the 88th anniversary of when the country's War of Independence was ignited. 

Mustafa Kemal founded the Republic of Turkey on the ashes of a collapsed empire and started civil reforms to westernize and modernize the newly founded republic. 

One of the civil reforms he initiated was the adoption of last names. The Grand National Assemly gave him the name ATATURK, which means father of Turks. 

While his new identification card was being prepared, Ataturk was asked his birth date.
"You can write May 19 as my birthday," Ataturk said. 

May 19 was chosen by Ataturk because it was the birthday of the Republic of Turkey. 

The Ottoman Empire was on the losing side during World War I. In accordance with the treaty signed at the end of the war, the Turks were disarmed and the land of the Ottoman Empire was divided and occupied by the victorious forces. The strategic straights, Bosphorus in Istanbul and Dardannels in Canakkale, connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean were occupied by England. Russians occupied eastern Turkey, Italians the Antalya region, the French took southern and southeastern Turkey including Adana and Greeks occupied the Aegean region including Izmir. 

Ataturk, the hero of Gallipoli, couldn't sit and watch his country be invaded. He decided to go to Anatolia to ignite the War of Independence. 

He and 18 friends boarded the ship "Bandirma" and secretly set sail toward Samsun from Istanbul. Ataturk arrived in Samsun May 19, 1919, and began the struggle for independence. 

After driving the occupying forces out of Turkey and founding the Republic, Ataturk, who had a great belief in youth, dedicated the day to the Republic's youth. 

In his address to them he said: "Turkish youth ... your first duty is to preserve and defend forever Turkish independence and the Turkish Republic. 

This is the only foundation for your existence and your future. The principle is your most valuable source of strength. In the future, too, there will be enemies in your homeland and abroad who will try to deprive you of this. 

If one day you are compelled to defend your independence and the Republic, you should not hesitate to perform your duty with whatever possibilities and circumstances may present themselves. These circumstances may be extremely unfavorable. It may be that the enemies who nurture designs on your independence and Republic have won a victory unprecented in the history of the world. 

By force and by deceit, all the fortresses and shipyards of your sacred homeland may have been seized, all her armies dispersed and every corner of your homeland invaded. 

What is more tragic and awesome than these eventualities, those in power in your country may have fallen in ignorance and error. 

Moreover, those in power may identify their personal interests with the occupying enemy's political goals. The nation may have fallen into complete destituation, into the most extreme distress. 

Turkish youth of the future: Even under these conditions your duty is to save the Turkish independence and the republic. The strength you need for this is already present in your noble blood that flows through your veins." 

In memory of Ataturk's declaration, young athletes carry soil and a Turkish flag from Samsun to the border of the province toward Ankara on May 19. Each athlete carries the soil to the next province's border. The soil and flag arrive in Ankara in time to be forwarded to the president during the ceremonies held there. 

Adana hosts ceremonies which include music, gymnastic shows and colorful parades at the Adana stadium which start at 9 a.m. The Ankara and Istanbul ceremonies are broadcast live on Turkish TV and Radio.