Saturday saw another difficult test for Turkey’s civilianization and democratization efforts as Turkey, for the first time, celebrated May 19 -- Atatürk Commemoration, Youth and Sports Day -- without any trace of coups and militarism. Until this year, militarism had been at the forefront of the May 19 celebrations. High school students used to parade in military formations with perfect precision in stadiums and perform athletic routines. On Saturday, however, official ceremonies and military parades were replaced by civilian festivities, with people taking to the streets and public squares to mark the day, which was welcomed by most people and nearly all columnists.
“Kenan’s holiday,” reads the headline of an article by Engin Ardıç in the Sabah daily, highlighting the fact that the militaristic rituals carried out during May 19 celebrations were largely introduced during the 1980 coup period, led by former Chief of General Staff Gen. Kenan Evren. “I don’t feel that I have to commemorate Atatürk only on certain days in a year; I certainly don’t have to do this just because Evren ordered us to,” says Ardıç. Just like Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, Zhivkov’s Bulgaria and Kim Jong-il’s Korea came to an end, Evren’s Turkey is finally coming to an end for good. However, he says, those Kemalists, who oppose every move from the government as they are afraid that it will turn Turkey into a Shariah country, loudly and exaggeratedly celebrated May 19 in streets and squares, just out of spite. Yet, the government’s aim in removing military-style celebrations is not to remove national holidays altogether, but to remove militarism. And as long as the sincerity of this aim remains, it will be met with support, he says.
“Everyone agrees that this year’s May 19 was far better than the previous ones,” says Bugün’s Gülay Göktürk. Tanks were not rolled through stadiums; human pyramids were not built; boring, senseless and long speeches were not made; students were not obliged to wear uniforms or to walk in militaristic formations. As a matter of fact, some meaningful activities were seen instead, such as a football match between some famous figures and some disabled people. Göktürk interprets all of these developments as Turkey “becoming a community of individuals,” by getting rid of meaningless directives. However, if we manage to celebrate a national day not in a way that is dictated to us, but in the way we want, and if we call this “heartily adopting the values of our republic,” then we should show the same determination in opposing coups and in other efforts at civilianization, she argues.