Every Monday morning before classes, and every Friday afternoon before we leave, the entire school assembles for The Ceremony. On my first day at the school, I thought it must be some kind of terribly significant and important occasion when I witnessed The Ceremony. Turned out it was just 4pm.
Usually, so far, I’ve seen The Ceremony taking place indoors – a couple of times lately, though, we’ve gathered outside in the playground, now that the weather’s getting warmer. Indoors, each class lines up in the corridor outside their own classroom at 9am/4pm – teachers stand with them to assist with the (very necessary) shushing. At the end of every corridor, a principal or head of department will stand with a microphone, next to the child who has been elected to hold the flag. I always feel slightly sorry for the smaller kids in this role, as you see the concentration and increasing struggle in their faces as they proudly but painfully hold the heavy flagpole that touches the ceiling even at a slant.
The person in charge (on my floor, the head of the first grade) calls for attention, and either greets everyone and wishes them a week of good lessons, or congratulates them on a hard week’s work and wishes them a good weekend. At least, I think that’s what’s going on. My listening skills are still weak, but improving! Then everyone stands to attention and sings along loudly as the national anthem blasts out over the tannoy system.
Outside, the procedure is similar except that the elected child has the less strenuous job of raising the outdoor flag as the anthem begins – and that it takes forever to organise everyone in their lines, get the entire school’s attention, and file out afterwards. It’s taken pretty seriously, with the exception of the occasional chatty child who is usually shushed or given a mild clout to remind them to take it seriously. Even the very youngest kids sing with great concentration and enthusiasm. Here’s one of our ceremonies from the other week:
It’s nice, in a way. They’re patriotic people, as is evidenced not only by The Ceremony (which isn’t unique to my school), but also the abundance of national flags everywhere you look. Parks, streets, shops, schools… hanging out of random windows… honestly, if you look up at any apartment building, you will see at least two or three Turkish flags pasted in windows, or fluttering from them. It’s intense, but it’s nice that they love their country so much. What I find slightly unusual, however, is the almost worshipful reverence there is for Atatürk. His name (granted to him by the country, and forbidden by parliament to be taken by anyone else) means “Father of the Turks”, and as far as I can understand it, it’s against the law to insult his memory. That sets off a few Kim-Jongish alarm bells for me. To be fair, though, he did basically make Turkey what it is today. He was pretty much the founder of the Republic of Turkey, transforming it into a modern, secular, democratic (hmm) nation after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WW1. He was a military leader who led the troops to victory in the Turkish War of Independence in 1922, and then went on to make some impressive reforms – particularly in terms of education and women’s rights.
And so the Turks love their Atatürk.
He is everywhere. Statues, pictures, plaques, and busts adorn every imaginable location throughout the country.
His portrait can be found in every classroom, every school book, every home, and on every banknote.
And twice a week, in case all that’s not enough, they gather around a golden(ish) image of him, raise a flag, and sing…