Wednesday, 24 April 2013

How we remember...

Back home now, it's the tail-end of Anzac Day. The morning will have been filled with patriotism and marchers. By early afternoon the booze will have kicked in. If we were in our house, we'd be hearing a roar surging from the pub crowd watching two-up in the Sackville pub's driveway. And all this because of what happened in Turkey.

I had the oddest experience a couple of days ago. I was walking along a shopping street towards the main square in Marmaris, vaguely heading for the arts and cultural centre which I meant to visit before we leave the marina in a few days. I knew it was a public holiday, Children's Day, whatever that meant. Sounded a bit saccharine to me, like Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. Ahead of me I could see the square. It was packed, and someone was addressing the crowd from a stage rigged up the day before. Better walk around it, I thought. I'd seen children dressed up in their new clothes, with their parents, and flags and balloons....

Then the speech stopped, and music came over the speakers. I had a delayed reaction, my mind elsewhere as usual. Then I heard it. The Last Post. Everyone around me was frozen in place by the lone trumpet, arms hung down by their sides, looking straight ahead, blankly, in respectful silence, like soldiers on parade, except they were citizens scattered on a footpath and standing up from their seats at cafes. Young women, children, men, everyone was still, and attentive. I was still among them. Then what I presume is the Turkish national anthem started up, and they all sang. It was very different from back home. You could feel the pride, but it was as much private as communal.

I decided not to walk around the square but through it, and I stayed a while, watching the children on stage - everyone there had a child, and I felt very conspicuous alone, so obviously a foreigner, photographing the tiny tots. But I stayed anyway.

I've just looked it up. April 23 is the day the first Grand National Congress opened in Ankara in 1920, at the beginning of the War of Independence. Because Ataturk - or Mustafa Kemal as he still was then - dedicated the new Turkish republic to children, Turks celebrate April 23 as Children's Day as well as National Sovereignty Day. Apparently in Ankara children are given the run of parliament for the day. They "govern" the country - a nice thought.

In Marmaris, they were dolled up, some had their faces painted, and in the square, troupes of little stars came onto the stage to perform for the cameras and crowd. A couple of small boys in dark suits and bow ties did the Gangnam Style dance, and the family crowd went wild, clapping and dancing along.

Further down the road, by the water, Ataturk's statue was festooned with flowers like a school Flower Day competition entry. It was very Turkish. And a million miles from the tragedy of Anzac Day.

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