150 years of Kızılay, also known as the Turkish Red Crescent: top 10 facts

Turkey’s largest humanitarian organisation, the Turkish Red Crescent, or Kızılay, has been celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Established on 11 June 1868, it has been a core part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Headquartered in the Turkish capital Ankara, Kızılay provides first aid, collects blood donations and provides assistance during natural disasters and wars both in and outside the country. It has 700 centres across 81 districts in Turkey.

The organisation has achieved multiple milestones in its 150 year history. Here are our top ten facts about Kızılay:

1. Kızılay became the first ever Red Crescent in the world when it was founded in 1868. It shares the same fundamental principles as the International Red Cross and wider Red Crescent Movement, which are humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, volunteer service, unity and universality.

Kızılay’s Be Their Hope aid boat reaches Yemeni port of Aden in July 2017. Photo Facebook / Kızılay


2. It was Kızılay which gave the Red Crescent movement its emblem: a red crescent on a white background, facing left. The open side of the crescent faces the opposite direction from the flag pole. No other “individuals, committees or institutions” are allowed to use the sign, which symbolises “immunity and neutrality at war”.

3. The organisation was initially called the ‘Society for Aiding the Wounded and Ailing Ottoman Soldiers’. It has undergone a number of name changes over the decades, including the ‘Ottoman Red Crescent Society’ in 1877, ‘Turkey’s Red Crescent Community’ in 1923, the ‘Turkish Red Crescent Community’ in 1935 and the ‘Turkish Red Crescent Society’ in 1947. It was Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, who gave the institution its permanent name of ‘Kızılay’.

It was Turkey’s founding President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who gave the organisation its permanent name Kızılay (Turkish Red Crescent). Photo © Kızılay


4. The first president of the Turkish Red Crescent was a Greek physician, Marko Apostolidis, or Dr Marko Pasha.

Ottoman Greek physician Marko Apostolidis was the first president of the Turkish Red Crescent


5. The Turkish Red Crescent has provided medical response to thousands of wounded soldiers – including Turkish and enemy fighters – from the Ottoman-Russian war in 1876 to the Cyprus Peace Operation of 1974.

A Kızılay banner reflecting its role in Cyprus following War of 1974


6. Kızılay Mineral Water, bottled and sold by the Turkish Red Crescent, was an idea first developed by President Atatürk in October 1926. He wanted the institution to sustain itself in the long-term with regular income so it can continue to serve the public independently of government. In 1932, Kızılay Mineral Water won the Gold Medal for its mineral content and high quality at a London contest.

The idea of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, since 1926 Kızılay has produced its own mineral water to help fund its work


Today profits from the water, produced and bottled at mineral water plants in Afyon and Erzincan, allow Kızılay to make significant contributions to local and international disaster operations, and to give major social assistance. The two mineral water facilities have the capacity to produce 1 billion bottles a year and are increasingly expanding their export network.

7. Over the last 10 years, Kızılay volunteers have helped people in 78 different countries, including Indonesia, Palestine, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Somalia and Pakistan.

Kızılay teams prepare food and hygiene parcels for Indonesians in the wake of a series of devastating earthquakes in the summer of 2018.


8. Every year, Turkey celebrates Kızılay Week on 29 October-4 November with several events to increase awareness about the organisation and the causes it supports via the Red Crescent Movement. The awareness week helps to engage Turkish society, with most events taking place in primary and secondary schools so younger generations can become familiar with Kızılay’s work.

9. Ankara’s most iconic square is called Kızılay, taking its name from the Kızılay team that was based in the city during the Turkish War of Independence, which collected food, clothes and medical materials with the help of local people. Later, a Kızılay building was also built in the square.

Kızılay Square, Ankara. Photo © Nedim Ardoğa Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0


10. Kızılay has an incredible archive of its history that is open to the public. The archive contains documents and pictures from the past 150 year, and other fascinating insights including letters from prisoners who have benefitted from the help of the Turkish Red Crescent. It is hoped these artefacts will be used in a future museum dedicated to Kızılay.

1913 – Hilal-i Ahmer Hanımlar Merkezi Sanat Evi (Ladies Centre Handicrafts House). Photo © Kızılay


Additional contributions by Eltan Halil.

Main photo top © Kızılay: Osmanlı Hilal-i Ahmer Cemiyeti Cağaloğlu Hastanesi Sağlık Heyeti (Ottoman Hilal-i Ahmer Society Cağaloğlu Hospital Health Delegation), Facebook/Kızılay