This year’s celebrations marking May 19, Atatürk Commemoration and Youth and Sports Day, the anniversary of the day Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, landed in Samsun 93 years ago to launch the fight for national independence, were different than in previous years.
A new spirit of public involvement was showcased by the program, replacing the usual official ceremonies and outdated military displays in stadiums by young people, which used to remind one of similar events in communist countries. The government has started to change the way May 19 is celebrated, and to shed these fascistic and militaristic overtones.
According to Zaman’s Mümtaz’er Türköne, the previous program for May 19 celebrations, where youths were forced to participate in rituals unrelated to education, was an example of widespread and systematic disregard for human dignity. “The students used to take a break from their education for these performances. They used to be a simple part of a mass performance which had no educational value. They were treated like domestic animals, as there was neither intelligence nor competence in question,” says Türköne.
The goal, he says, of this previous version was to teach young people that they are a part of society rather than an individual, and that separated from the group they have no value as a person. “Is it not against human dignity to ignore the will of a young person and force them to act as a mass? There is only one aim in this: To indoctrinate youth with the belief that there is no individual, but a nation; there is no right, but duty. In what other part of the world are young people exposed to such a treatment?” asks Türköne.
Milliyet’s Fikret Bila disagrees with Türköne. Bila argues the previous structure of ceremonies was doing no harm to young people, and that these celebrations also involved the general public. He claims that attempts to civilianize May 19 celebrations should not result in a day when the state is disengaged from the public.
“May 19 is the date when the people of Anatolia launched a national struggle for liberation, national unity and independence. So it should be celebrated in unity. However, Saturday’s celebrations gave the signals of its being a day of separation. May 19 should not be a day of disunity when every party, every youth foundation, every municipality, every governor’s office celebrates differently according to their own political view,” he says.