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November, November, who do you remember?

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In so many ways November is the month to remember – remember what has come to pass the last ten months, recollect the resolutions made almost a year ago when the year was so shiny, new and evergreen, reminisce on the good times and the bad. This is even more so if you have the pleasure to live in the ‘sceptre’d isle’ that is England.

At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, the British gather on village greens, public squares, war memorials to remember the end of World War One and pay respect in a two-minute silence to those who have died in the wars. The first two-minute silence in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, one year after the end of the war, when King George V asked the public to observe a silence at 11am so “the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead”.

Incidentally, in the May of the same year, following the atrocious defeat and fall of the Ottoman Empire, a young Turkish officer named Mustafa Kemal, was heading from Istanbul to Anatolia to sow the seeds of resistance which would turn into the Turkish National Movement which would turn into the Turkish War of Independence which would lay the foundations of the modern Turkish Republic.

Incidentally, the republic was declared on 29 October 1923 which, as only I found out recently, was not so incidental after all. The Armistace of Mondros, concluded on 30 October 1918, signed by the Ottomans and the British, marked the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottomans surrendered their remaining garrisons outside Anatolia, as well as granted the Allies the right to occupy forts controlling the Straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus; and the right to occupy the same “in case of disorder” any Ottoman territory in the event of a threat to their security. The Ottoman army including the Ottoman air force was demobilised, and all ports, railways, and other strategic points were made available for use by the Allies. The armistice was followed by the occupation of Constantinople (Istanbul) and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.

It is said that, in deep Anatolia, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk placed his hand on what is today the capital of modern Turkey, Ankara, and said he will start the resistance against this partitioning. It is also said that, once triumphant, declaring the republic on the 29th of October was Atatürk’s final slap and subtle message to the Western world: “I never recognised the 30th October; I am one step ahead of you, and you will recognise the 29th.” When asked about the date, he had said it was the “revenge of an oppressed people.”

So why on the eve of Remembrance Day am I giving you a crash course in Turkish history?

As a first-generation migrant from Turkey, I must admit I am conflicted about Remembrance Day which pays tribute to the very men fighting to carve up my homeland and serve it on a silver platter to their allies. While paying homage to the fallen soldier and paying respect to those fallen in defence of their country is every nation’s right, part of me balks at the colonial nature of some of these wars that have so gratuitously claimed so many British and “other” lives. It is one thing to fall in defence of your country, quite another to fall in the pursuit of another.

Incidentally, on the eve of Remembrance Day, there is another Remembrance Day I observe more whole-heartedly. If you happen to visit Turkey on the 10th November, and at exactly 9.05, life comes to a standstill, people stop their cars and get out for a minute’s silence as sirens wail, fear not; it is not the end of the world. As a nation, ever 10th of November, at the very minute he shut his eyes for one last time, we commemorate the founder of the Turkish Republic. A man envied for his “great genius”, credited for leaving “Turkey without a single enemy”, defined as “one of the most attentive and attractive men of history” and admired for “estimable qualities that we are not used to see in other leaders: modesty, competency and success”, regarded as the for “the only statesman who has served his people in that magnitude, in such a short time.”

The man, to whom, we as Turks, owe our freedom, our language, our homeland. To whom, as Turkish women, we owe our right to an education, to a career, to a vote, long before women in most European countries had the right to vote. And for us Turks, November is bittersweet, the month of remembrance of the founder of the Turkish Republic whose last name literally translates as “The Father(Ancestor) Turk” and a chance to reminisce on our endless love, respect and gratitude for him.

In the light of my new discovery on the secret of the 29th October, I can’t help but also think now of 10th November as this great leader’s final ckeey check mate against the supposed colonial masters – as if to say, “Yet again, I a day ahead of you.”

Someone recently said, “You are what you remember.” If there is any truth, despite the last 20 years in Britain, I am still very much my Father’s child. What about you? Who, or what, do you choose to remember this November?



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