23rd April is a holiday in Turkey, and it falls on Thursday this year, which, when added with exam week gives you a long weekend.
It’s called Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı or National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. Everyone was excited in class yesterday (for the long weekend of course). Then, out of curiosity I asked our hoca (prounounced as ho-ja, chicher as we say it in Brunei) why is there a festival for children. The celebration is quite massive I would say. So many activities will be carried out, like literally almost everywhere. The answer is quite heart-warming, honestly speaking. It’s a gift from Atatürk to the children of Turkey. Our hoca further explained that because the children are the future of the nation, so a day off to celebrate them was established.
“This national day (23 April National Sovereignty and Children’s Day) in Turkey is a unique event. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, dedicated April 23 to the children of the country to emphasize that they are the future of the new nation. It was on April 23, 1920, during the War of Independence, that the Grand National Assembly met in Ankara and laid down the foundations of a new, independent, secular, and modern republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Following the defeat of the Allied invasion forces on September 9, 1922 and the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923, Ataturk started his task of establishing the institutions of the new state. Over the next eight years, Ataturk and his followers adopted sweeping reforms to create a modern Turkey, divorced from her Ottoman past. In unprecedented moves, he dedicated the sovereignty day to the children and entrusted in the hands of the youth the protection of this sovereignty and independence.” [source]
It is pretty impressive that children are respected to this extent here. One day of festival from one end of Turkey to the other end. I even heard that the Princes’ Island is only open for children today. I’m not sure whether this is true or not. But still isn’t that just cool?
Most of us know that the children are our future, but in all honesty I don’t really see much effect from actions taken to brush up the future leaders who lead for real, who will make real progress and improvement, not just enjoying the thousands dollar of cash flowing into their bank account. The level of Sami’na wa Atho’na in our culture is quite worrying, though the Atho’na part is most of the time involuntary. Development can never be done when the fresh ideas that come from current generation are silenced, taken for granted, or preserved for snacks (read : jaruk) and questions are left unanswered just because they “are not worth answering”.
Turkish youth are nationalistic, brave, and they know how to speak up. And the best part is most of the time, they are heard and taken into account. When the hot water dispenser in our floor was not working and some of the Türk girls were going crazy because they couldn’t get their çay fix, they provided a portable one for us to use first before they could get the repair done. And imagine as a person coming from a place where even protests are non-existent, let alone riot, to see the tear gas tank and abang-abang polis waiting right outside of the campus compound already gives me chill. They usually do protest during exam season. I thought it was because sometimes they do protest because they don’t want any exam (illogical, I know, but that’s what I heard), but recently a senior explained that it’s actually because they will do protest if they are not satisfied with the exam question. And you will never know to what extent will they go. My view might be wrong as it’s only my 6th month here, but that is what I see. These characteristics of Turkish youth, in my opinion, could be the result of the amount of respect the country has given to them.
All in all, I’m quite touched how this sunnah of honouring children is upheld in a country which by constitution is a secular country. Of course Rasulullah SAW did not specify any day to celebrate children, but the Children’s Day is still an excellent effort in shaping the future of a nation. It also should remind us of the sunnah Rasulullah SAW has left us with. Çocuk Bayramı Kutlu Olsun!