National rituals have always been charged ideological sites, but now that Turkey is rife with competing rituals (choose either National Youth Day or Holy Birth Week; they’re at the same time), the strife has reached epic proportions. The Ankara governorship has banned the celebration of October 29 Republic Day rituals celebrating the republic’s founding, it’s 89th birthday. Not surprisingly, a lot of people decided they wanted to celebrate, including CHP leaders. After the ceremonial visit to Ataturk’s tomb, they gathered in Ulus Square where they were dispersed with pepper gas and pressurized water. Gendarmerie forces stopped and searched numerous buses carrying passengers wishing participate in the celebrations and reportedly refused to allow 110 buses from entering the city, citing security reasons. (click here). (Here’s an update. There were two competing Republic Day celebrations.)
On Friday, I attended a “Cultural Mixer”, a celebration of Turkish Independence Day, ironically held at Boston’s American Islamic Congress Center. I say ironic because there was not a single covered head in attendance. Indeed, I had considered inviting one of my (covered) Turkish graduate students to come along and was glad I didn’t. I had the impression she might have been treated as a pariah. It was a fun event, with good Turkish food, nice people, and a three-tier cake draped with an edible Turkish flag and silhouette of Ataturk, as well as an icing border in Iznik tile design. A singer crooned old favorites, then the national anthem. Everyone sang lustily; big Turkish flags appeared from people’s purses and were waved about. No pepper gas, just biber spicing the food.
I felt sad that a celebration of the nation’s founding should have become such hostile territory, that joyful nationalist feelings are now contraband. On the other hand, I remember being startled in Turkey by the ubiquitous official posters celebrating the country’s 75th anniversary — a highly celebrated event (unfortunately I was unable to acquire one of the posters). The posters showed crowds of Turks representing the nation; not a single one wore a headscarf.