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Ask Mehmet: Turkey celebrates Republic Day

Turkish Flag

Turkish Flag

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Ninety-one  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 Wednesday.

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.

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, ruling lands on three continents for more than 600 years, the Ottoman Empire was diminished to be known as the 'sick man of Europe' after World War I.

The decline of Turkish power started in 1571 when the Turkish navy was defeated by the Combined European Navy and the siege of Vienna failed. 

The Turkish-Russian War, which lasted from 1877 to 1878, gave Bulgaria independence while Romania and Serbia seperated 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.

In World War I, Turkey was allied to, and fought with the Germans. As a result of Germany's defeat, the allied forces divided and occupied Anatolia, which is geography the peninsula of land that today consititutes the Asian portion of Turkey.

The Greeks took Izmir and the Agean region, the British gained Istanbul and straits, the French occupied 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 Dardannels, the hero of Gallipoli and victorious commander during the war.

Deciding to create the nation of Turkey, with the current borders, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk left Istanbul May 15, 1919, traveling to Samsun. Four days later, May 19, he started the War of Independence in Anatolia. He fought the ruling sultan as well as the invaders.

In spite of many difficulties he drove the invaders, and the sultan, 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 allied forces, had been a political victory for the rulers of the new state and freed the country from foreign occupation. The treaty also established the territory and 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.

However, in order not to sow the seeds of indifference, he had not spoken of it, not even to his closest friends. Following the abolishment of the Sultanate, he decided it was time to take action, to strengthen the political structure of the Turkish state.

The country needed to name its new form of government. To end the debates in the assembly, Ataturk consulted with his closest friends over a dinner held around midnight Oct. 28, 1923, and made the decision to proclaim the country as a republic.

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.