April 23rd

A symbol of transition to national sovereignty, April 23rd is the most enthusiastically celebrated holiday of the Turkish children who represent the future of the Republic.

It was, April 23rd, 1920. In the early hours of the morning, people in Ankara had gathered in front of
the Parliament Building, imbued with the enthusiasm of owning their own country. A ceremony was held at the entrance to the building. At 1:45 p.m. the 115 deputies who had made it to Ankara gathered in the Assembly Hall. In line with tradition, the eldest MP, Şerif Bey, the representative from Sinop, stepped up to the podium and opened the first session of parliament. That historic moment, which changed the destiny of the Turkish nation, heralded a now irreversible fact. The Republic of Turkey would have a modern system of government in which the people ruled themselves rather than being ruled by a single person or specific group.

The idea of national sovereignty had begun to take shape in Ataturk’s mind already in the early 1900’s when he was a student at the War College. The notion of establishing sovereignty based not on the will of the sultan but on the power of the people had found support among young Turkish officers in the Balkans in that period. Meanwhile Mustafa Kemal took the first concrete step towards a Republic when he made is way to Samsun on 19 May 1919. The founding and convening of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 23 April 1920 marked an irreversible step on the path towards a republic.  Elected speaker of parliament the next day, Mustafa Kemal officially ushered in a new era in his speeches congratulating the Assembly and emphasizing the principle of national sovereignty. “Legitimacy in the affairs of the state,” said Mustafa Kemal Pasha, “is only possible based on national decisions and expressing the general inclination of the people. 
In order for our nation to survive in a strong, happy and sound order, the state must espouse national sovereignty in its totality and all its internal bodies must be based on and in complete harmony with that structure.” Following those words, which were received with a standing ovation, on 1st November 1922 he proclaimed to the whole world that the Ottoman regime and its government had been dissolved in a majority decision of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

The anniversary of the first opening of the Turkish Parliament on 23 April 1920 has been celebrated as ‘National Sovereignty Day’ since 1921. Because this holiday coincided with the start of Children’s Week (23 April - 1 May), which became a tradition in the 1930’s thanks to the Society for the Protection of Children, it was combined with Children’s Day and has been celebrated as 23rd April National Sovereignty and Children’s Day since 1935. The day acquired international significance with the declaration by UNESCO of 1979 as The International Year of the Child in 1979. The April 23rd Festival today is a giant event which has hosted tens of thousands of children from 100 different countries up to now. Organized only in Ankara in the early years, the festival is celebrated exuberantly all over the country today, in Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya, as well as in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and at many foreign missions.

This year as every year on April 23rd children from many countries in the world are going to come to Turkey, where they will be hosted in the best possible way in the homes of their little friends and their families who live here. On the morning of April 23rd they will all wake up together. Children from all over the world will don their colorful national costumes and put on a variety of demonstrations to share their cultures, because that day is their day, and everything will be done that day for the happiness of the children. Schools, houses, streets, avenues and parks will all be decked with red and white banners and pictures of Ataturk. Bands will play, and songs and marches will be played for the children, who will dance, sing and play games together to prove that we are all brothers and there is really no reason at all to make war. Even if only for one day, a child will sit in the Prime Minister’s seat and address the nation. And Children’s Day will be celebrated and remembered, as always, with the best and warmest feelings.

This year children from more than sixty countries have been invited to the Turkish Radio and Television’s (TRT) Children’s Festival, which is being organized for the 31st time. Two years ago the TRT broke its own record with child representatives from 62 countries. This year it aims to take that record a notch higher. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this year’s festival program too is going to be vibrant, colorful and filled with joy. Once again our adorable visitors from all over the world are going to be greeted that day with flowers in the tens of thousands. Hundreds, thousands of tiny bodies in gaily-colored national costumes are going to lock arms in brotherhood. Poems will be read, dances performed and another new link will be added to the chain of enthusiasm that will go on forever.