Türkiye'nin en iyi köşe yazarları en güzel köşe yazıları ile Hürriyet'te! Usta yazarlar ve gündemi değerlendiren köşe yazılarını takip edin.

Why do we have a children’s day, really?

Like every other April 23, last Thursday was Turkey’s National Sovereignty and Children's Day. There were celebrations throughout the whole country to honor this national holiday.

The one in Istanbul’s Taksim Square was a bit ironic, though. There were thousands of children from various Istanbul schools who were in uniforms tailored for this special occasion. The uniforms were bright and eye-catching, but also as thin as T-shirts. And, unluckily, it was a very cold day. No wonder the teachers and the bureaucrats who overlooked them were wearing thick coats. "We are almost freezing," said a little girl to the cameras. "I wanna go home."

Fun or indoctrination?
This reminded me of my own April 23rds, way back in the 80s. Like every other elementary school student, I, too, was made to join the compulsory celebrations. Actually it was a national holiday, so our classes were off. But we were still instructed to come to school early in the morning to join the ceremonies. "Those who don’t show up will go to the discipline council," our teachers would threaten us. And that scary council was a place where they would give you all sorts of "punishments."

That’s why all kids would come to school on this "holiday" and line up in the schoolyard to listen to the never-ending talks by the director, the vice director, various teachers and a few students who were made to memorize poems that praised Atatürk, our heavenly father.

In fact, the praising of Atatürk was the main theme of the whole extravaganza. After the speeches, students would make choreographed dances around his posters. In stadiums, where bigger celebrations were held, they would line up in the steps with colorful boards to form slogans such as, "O Atatürk, we are on your path." And at the very end of the day, we would all thank the Supreme Leader for "giving us this children’s festival, the only one in the world."

The bizarre thing was, and still is, this: April 23 is defined as the "Children’s Festival," but it really is not designed to entertain children. If that were the main goal, the best thing to do would be to bring up clowns to hand out candy, and then head to a theme park. But, no, the festival is not about kids having fun. It is about them being indoctrinated. In fact, all "national festivals" of Turkey are designed to indoctrinate society with the official ideology and its underlying cult of personality. After April 23 comes May 19, the day of the "Remembrance of Atatürk, Sports and Youth." It is another must-see. This time high school students line up in schoolyards and stadiums to sing the praises of Atatürk. Muscled young men make acrobatic shows in order to show how "fit" the Turkish nation is. And young girls in almost-mini skirts march in parades in order to assert the "modern" identity the national father has blessed us with.

The two other national festivals are August 30, the day when Atatürk won the greatest battle during the War of Liberation, and October 29, the day when Atatürk announced the Republic. A fifth "national day" of sorts is November 10, the day that Atatürk regrettably died. At 9:05 a.m., the very moment that he passed away, sirens go off and citizens stand up in silence and tears to mourn for the loss of "the greatest Turk ever."

As you can see, all these "national days" are designed to venerate Atatürk. Special care is given to children and the youth because they are "the future of the regime," and it is clever to engineer their minds when they are still fresh. "A tree can bend only when it is young," reads a Turkish proverb, and the Turkish Republic seems to know that well.

It is impossible to miss the similarity here with the usual methods that totalitarian regimes use in order to brainwash their societies. Indeed, both visually and verbally, Turkey’s "national days" very much resemble the ones in Mao’s China or Kim Il Sung’s North Korea.

Leader or demigod?
In fact, there would be no harm in respecting and honoring Atatürk, who, indeed, was a great leader who served the nation. Democratic societies have their heroes, too. George Washington or Abraham Lincoln would be good examples in the United States. But none of those heroes are elevated to demigods. And none of them are depicted as the only source of wisdom that the nation needs. In Turkey that is exactly what is done. The respect Atatürk rightfully deserves is raised to the level of worship. This gives Kemalism, the ideology created in his name, an aura of sacredness. And it gives the Kemalists an inherent right to rule. That is what our "Children’s Day" is really all about.