We could not decide if a new conductor was being trained or perhaps it was some special exercise checking the switches. The train just kept going back and forth each way on the tracks for at least 20 minutes. At one point my friend, who has a quick, dry sense of humor, started singing the tune, “The Grand Old Duke of York.” It may be a familiar tune from the days you sat on your granddad’s knee or were in scouts. The words go like this:
Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up they were up.
And when they were down they were down.
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
As we sat on the balcony watching the forward and backward action of this train, we decided it reminded us of life in Turkey in some ways. Sometimes you feel like you are getting somewhere and then you are not. A half hour later we counted a number of tanks being transported on the train and began to wonder why. Suddenly we realized what day it was and that Aug. 30, Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı), was just around the corner. We concluded it must be the beginning of preparations for grand celebrations around the country.
If you are new to Turkey, you will want to read up on the history of the country. A couple of my favorite books on this subject are “Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation” by Patrick Kinross and “Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey” by Hugh and Nicole Pope, and if you just want a quick summary, of course you should read my own title, “Culture Smart: Turkey,” which has a couple of chapters on Turkey’s history.
In “Culture Smart: Turkey” the details about what happens on Victory Day are explained as follows:
“This is the day of victory in the War of Independence, when the foreign powers were expelled from Turkish soil. A major military parade is held in Ankara, and in İstanbul navy and helicopter fleets display along on the Bosporus. The country is bedecked with flags and Atatürk portraits. Ceremonies are held at the statue of Atatürk in each city and dignitaries visit the Anitbakir. Civic parades are held in the evening, often with torchlight, along the main streets of most towns and cities.”
You may be wondering about the War of Independence. Unless you are a world history buff you probably do not know a whole lot about it. In short, in 1921 Greece ordered 100,000 troops into Anatolia, ostensibly to support the Greeks of İzmir. For the new Turkish nation there was no turning back. When Atatürk launched the counter-offensive, he told his soldiers to march to the Aegean Sea, saying “I offer you the choice: death or the sea.” This is a very famous quote, and if you can say this to a Turkish friend at the appropriate time, they will be impressed.
The Greek army was defeated at Dumlupınar on Aug. 26, and at İzmir on Sept. 9, 1922. The Turkish struggle for national sovereignty lasted three years, and by its end the Turks had driven all foreign forces from their land. The uniting of Anatolia undid the Treaty of Sèvres, which was perceived by Turks as an attempt by the victorious Allies to partition Turkey. Traveling around the country, you may have seen this phrase: “Bizim topraklarımız bölünmez bir bütündür,” which means “Our land is an indivisible whole.”
Don’t be alarmed if in the next few days you hear helicopters flying overhead and see other military vehicles, planes and ships on the move. It is all preparation for the parades on the day. Be sure to observe the celebration and enjoy the national holiday.
Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: email@example.com