Ataturk Youth and Sports Day

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Ataturk Youth and Sports Day in Kas, 1996

Anyone who follows my blog will know I’m a Kadıköy girl. It was the first district where I lived in Istanbul, and other than a brief six month foray on the other side, Kadıköy has always been my home in Istanbul. So it was exciting to learn that Ataturk Youth and Sports Day, commemorated every May 19, actually originated in my neighbourhood.

Back in 1916 a gymnastics festival was held at a sports ground known colloquially as Papazın Çayırı (The Field of the Priest). It’s not certain whether the festival was held in April or May of 1916. What is known is that Selim Sirri Bey, a sports official and politician who helped establish the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, brought back a music score he’d obtained during his time in Sweden. He had lyrics written in Turkish, it was named Dağ Başını Duman Almış and sung by competitors at this first ever gymnastics festival. The grounds were officially run by the Union Club and were home to the first football games in Istanbul. They came under the management of the Kadıköy Ittihad Sports Club after World War I and are now the site of the Fenerbahçe Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium.

Festival of Youth & Sports Day 1939

According to writer and researcher Ismet Bozdağ, twenty years after the first festival, his best friend Şükrü Kaya, the then Minister for the Interior, was chatting with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his close friends. It was 1936 and Atatürk was quizzing them on the relevance of the day. When he asked, “Do know what day it is?” none of them answered correctly. It was May 19, the anniversary of the day in 1919 when Atatürk landed in Samsun. Atatürk was meant to be overseeing the dismantling of the Ottoman Army as required by the Treaty of Sévres. Instead he started the Turkish Nationalist Movement that initiated the Turkish War of Independence and ultimately led to the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

May 19 was officially gazetted as the Festival of Youth and Sports in 1938. Dağ Başını Duman Almış was introduced as the Gençlik ve Spor Bayramı Marşı (March of the Festival of Youth and Sports) but is more commonly known as the Gençlik Marşı, meaning Youth Anthem. On this day in villages, towns and cities throughout Turkey, young people march proudly through the streets, sing the national anthem, perform folk dances, recite poems and re-enact victorious battles and important moments in Turkish history.


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