Last week saw my youngest son’s first birthday. We had been hoping that despite being a weekday we would be able to have a suitable celebration to mark the day. Unfortunately both boys had come down with flu on the weekend and so his birthday party had already been cancelled. Fatso was quite perky but the whole present thing went over his head, especially with Smelly trying to hog the present as a typical older brother would. It wasn’t till later that I twigged on to the rather unfortunate date for Fatso to have entered this world, not a problem for anyone other than a Turk. How so? November 10th in the Turkish calendar is the day of enforced (for some) and genuine (for others) misery of the nation. It is the day that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the nation, died. So at precisely 9:10 each November 10th sirens wail throughout the country (the time of his death) and everyone leaves what they are doing and stands for 2 minutes in silence. For the whole time that I’ve lived here I’ve managed to gloss over it unless teaching at that time. But having been away for two years it had completely slipped my mind.
We now live next to a very small military unit guarding a bunch of pylons calling itself the radar station. The military are VERY visible here and you can’t seem to move an inch without bumping into some form of military installation. Even so this was new for me. After breakfast I kept hearing a strange ‘parping’ sound, similar to a trumpet. I thought I was going mad because no one else seemed to notice. Our doors and windows were open because it was still a lovely warm day. I soon found out that I wasn’t going mad, at 9:10 precisely as the sirens began to wail, from the military station came the clear sound of the trumpet playing the Last Post.
My heart sank, poor old Fatso. For the next 5 years this will be the sound of the beginning of his birthday. To those outside Turkey it may be hard to understand, 2 minutes and then you move on surely? Not always so here, when I was teaching I distinctly remember some of my students, aged only 17/18 at the time, who had never met the man, in tears within seconds of the sirens wailing. So deep does the indoctrination pierce their brains. So firmly held the belief that were he still alive Turkey would be not just a great nation but that it’s citizens would be living in some kind of Nirvana. Just ask Boris Johnson who so aptly pointed out that he is worshipped as a God here, and he hadn’t seen the great Temple Shrine of Anitkabir, his final resting place and where all heads of state, ambassadors and other significant foreigners are thrust towards before any business can be undertaken.
Fortunately he’s only one, so too young to understand. Even so doors and windows were swiftly shut. We may leave his faith to be a matter for him to decide, but whatever he chooses we hope that it won’t be in that man, but rather in a God of love and peace.