Discovering Dalyan - Children's Day in Turkey

A delightful and innovative festival takes place across Turkey in March every year. Turkey is the only country in the world that dedicates a day a year specifically to all of the children in the world. As a result, some of the most wonderful and educational events take place in cities and towns across the country that involve children from all over the world as a lesson in politics and international relations.

Children's Day Speeches in Dalyan

Just imagine what the world would be like if it were run by children. There is something so endearing and magical about the innocence of children, their unspoiled, bright and positive outlooks make for some fantastic ideas and perspectives on life and the future. In Turkey, Children’s Day gives the brightest young minds of all nationalities the opportunity to put forward their thoughts and ideas about the world alongside an experience of a lifetime. The main event takes place in the country’s capital city, Ankara, but the festival is celebrated by children all over Turkey.

Children Speak About the Future

The History

If you have ever had any interest in Turkey, you will have heard of the infamous revolutionary and first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. During the First World War, Atatürk established a provisional government in Ankara and then defeated the allies, eventually leading to a victory in the Turkish War of Independence. Under the rule of the new Republic, Atatürk then implicated a number of new political, economic and cultural reforms with the intention of creating a new modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built and primary education was made free and compulsory, a system which is still in place today.

Ataturk With a Child

Atatürk loved children. Although he had no biological children of his own, he adopted seven and made the lives of children across Turkey a priority. He believed that the future of his beloved country lay in the hands of its children. As Atatürk endeavoured to achieve modernisation, he concentrated his efforts on educational reform and entrusted Turkey to the children and the youth and presumed that the Turkish children educated at schools resting upon positive sciences could attain his goals. Even on his death bed, his final words were “I give the Republic of Turkey to the children as they are the future”.

In April of 1920, during the Turkish War of Independence, following the dissolution of the last term of the Ottoman Parliament in Constantinople by British forces, Atatürk called for a national election to establish a new Turkish Parliament seated in Ankara. On the 23rd of April 1920, the Grand National Assembly opened with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as the speaker, effectively beginning a new era for Turkey as a Republic. While his work had only just begun at this point, Atatürk believed in a positive future for Turkey at this point in time and dedicated this day, the day of the Republic, to the children of the world. He decided that the 23rd of April should be a national holiday and bestowed the day to the children of the world as a gift.

Children Perform in Dalyan

While Atatürk also created a ‘Youth Day’ which occurs on the 19th of May each year and originated in 1919, the day that the Turkish War of Independence began, in fact, the very day that he escaped the allied nations after World War I and fled to Samson in the Black Sea Region, it is Children’s Day that garners the greatest importance and the more extravagant festival.

Currently, the 23rd of April is the only day in the whole world dedicated exclusively to children. Between 1920 and 1979, Children’s Day was only celebrated in Turkey, despite Atatürk’s wishes for it to be an international holiday. However, UNESCO proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child and so the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation took it upon themselves to promote a project aimed at embracing all the children in world, based upon the already established Turkish Children’s Day, which has since been an international festival. The first of its kind took place on the 23rd of April 1979 with the participation of five countries; the USSR, Iraq, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria. The festival has become increasingly more popular over the past three decades and in 2016, thirty countries from around the world took part, including the United Kingdom. Today, the festival is known as the TRT International Children’s Festival and its motto is “Love, Friendship and Peace”.

Ribbon Dances in Dalyan

Children’s Day in Ankara

The main event of the festival takes place in the capital city of Turkey, Ankara, and the celebrations have been known to last over a week. Children representatives from all over the world are invited to form their own government and run Turkey for the day. Through the primary schools in Ankara, each group of children from various countries across the world are hosted and entertained by the families of their Turkish peers, a true testament to the well known hospitality of the country. The week begins with a Festival Parade, during which guest children wear their own traditional outfits and give performances of their traditional music and dance, which eventually becomes a frivolous street party.

Children's Day in Ankara

Later in the week, the children of the world visit the mausoleum of Atatürk to learn about the history of Turkey’s great leader and the creation of the Republic and about why the festival was dedicated to the children of the world. The children are then welcomed by the President of the Turkish Republic, the President of the Turkish National Grand Assembly and the Director General of TRT.

Children Parade in Dalyan

On the 22nd of April, all of the children involved in the celebrations gather together to rehearse the gala which always takes place on the 23rd. The gala, which lasts over four hours is broadcast live on television and radio and all of the groups wear their national costumes and perform their rehearsed dances and music, promoting their national identities. A cabinet is formed and the Ministry of Education decides which children are picked for the various positions available. Generally, high achievers are picked to represent a certain seat in the cabinet. So a child who excels in mathematics would represent the economic seat and a child who shows exemplary promise in the arts would represent culture. A President and a Prime Minister are also appointed.

Traditional Dress and Dance in Dalyan

The children each make a speech conveying the greetings that they have brought from their home countries and they give messages about what they want for the future of the world. The international press then proceed to ask the children questions about the world and their thoughts and beliefs which are broadcast live on television. Once the children’s government has put forward their ideas and wishes for the future, the gala ends with a hand-in-hand dance of all the flowers of the world, embraced in sentiments of peace and friendship. The following few days allow the children to enjoy picnics and excursions in Turkey before saying their goodbyes to their new Turkish friends and returning home.

Children’s Day in Dalyan

The celebrations which take place in Dalyan are representative of what takes place in all towns and cities across Turkey. While the festivities in Dalyan are fun and certainly entertaining, they are not of the scale of the event that takes place in Ankara. However, months and months of work go into the preparations for the national holiday and then the entire town is treated to a vast and colourful array of talent by the children of the town and its surrounding areas. All of the local primary schools take part and shows are prepared by school children up to the age of thirteen. Each school prepares a visual treat of some kind, from gymnastics to dance. In Dalyan, there is a National Holiday Organisation Committee and each school informs the committee of what they have prepared. It is they who then decide the order of the programme for the 23rd of April.

School Classes Perform in Dalyan

On the day, officially everything in the town shuts down so that attentions can be concentrated on the children, though with Dalyan being so reliant on tourism, many of the restaurants and bars remain open. Audiences congregate on Mosque Square and excitement fills the air, as do the cameras of family members, and they wait with baited breath to experience what their little children have spent months preparing. Every class from all of the local schools perform their well rehearsed acts as their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and the local high school look on proudly. At the end of the celebration performance, the national dance of Turkey is always performed.

Where Can I Experience Turkey’s Children’s Day?

The event officially takes place every year on the 23rd of April. If you want to experience the real deal, the place to be is Ankara. However, visit any town or city in Turkey on this day and you will be treated to a show of true talent and you can watch the festivities in Ankara on your television.

Dalyan is the perfect place to be if you want to experience a local’s version of Children’s Day. Mosque Square is the perfect setting for the show, set right on the riverside under the watchful eye of the Atatürk statue and the Turkish Flag and usually at this time of year, the weather is warm and sunny. There are also a number of bars and restaurants, some with 2nd floor seating, from which you can watch the celebrations. Even if you are not in Dalyan specifically for the Children’s Day event, you should make the effort to make your way into town for this wonderful spectacle of young local talent and the future of Dalyan and indeed Turkey, just as Atatürk intended it!

Read our other Exposé articles here!

The Dalyan exposé has begun! The project will run until the 23rd of May and will include a lot of exciting articles and videos on our YouTube channel with interesting interviews with business owners and those who work in tourism in Turkey. We'll also be tackling safety issues and what terrorism means for Turkey and the beautiful riverside town of Dalyan.

See our Exposé Page Here

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