Wood Green’s New River Stadium hosted an all-day youth festival for London’s Turkish community on Sunday to commemorate the annual 19 Mayıs [May] Commemorating Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day.
Hundreds of school children and young people participated in the day’s activities, which had been jointly organised by the Education Attaches of the Turkish Embassy and Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) London Representative Office, the UK Turkish Language Culture and Education Consortium, and the British Turkish Community Football Federation (TTFF).
The day started with a colourful parade of pupils from different Turkish schools in the UK, along with young athletes and footballers.
The youth then took part in sports displays and mini tournaments, as well as a big tug-of-war and a sack race, to the delight of the big crowd assembled in the main stand in the stadium.
Schoolchildren sang and danced to folk songs in traditional costumes, all adding to the festive atmosphere. Young people and VIPs also read out poems and made speeches about the significance of 19 Mayıs.
Among the keynote speakers on the day were the Turkish Ambassador Osman Koray Ertaş and TRNC Ambassador Çimen Keskin.
Community leaders, including newly elected CTCA President Kenan Nafi, Education Consortium President Nuriye Mertcan, TTFF Head İrfan Davulcular, and NOTCO chair Osman Ercen were also present in the audience. Other notable guests included European Turkish Brands Association President Vehbi Keleş and businessman and TTFF Honorary President Nural Ezel.
Addressing the stadium, Ambassador Ertaş said, “These celebrations are very important instruments to convey the values that make us who we are to our new generation, our youth and our children.”
““I am very happy and proud to be celebrating such a meaningful day in London with you. Due to the pandemic, there has not been such a comprehensive programme for the last three years. So, we all missed it. I see it in all of you. I hope we will not experience such things again and we will continue to celebrate our holidays in this beautiful country, in the capital, with such unity and enthusiasm”, the ambassador added.
In her speech, TRNC London Representative, Ambassador Keskin focussed on the importance of the day, reminding those present that it “commemorated the struggle for national existence and independence that was started by the Great Leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk by lighting the torch of liberation in Samsun on 19 May 1919.”
Ambassador Keskin referenced the day’s powerful symbolism, that “difficulties can be overcome with perseverance, unity, togetherness and courage.” She also underlined the “great trust” that Atatürk attached to youth on this “blessed day”.
Why 19 May is important for Turks
This annual day of celebration is hugely important in Turkish history as on 19 May 1919, Mustafa Kemal landed in Samsun, on the Black Sea, to start the Turkish War of Independence to repel multiple invading forces that were seeking to conquer Anatolia after the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
Kemal, dubbed Atatürk (‘Father of the People’) led the Turkish people to victory four years later and then oversaw the creation of a new secular modern Turkish republic. He placed huge importance on the country’s young people, to whom he entrusted the defence of Turkiye’s borders, as well as its values and secular heritage.
In 1936, 19 Mayıs Youth and Sports Day started to be celebrated. The state passed a decree in 1938 to make it a public holiday, and in 1939 the first national Youth and Sports Day was held. In 1981, the name of the day was changed to Commemorating Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day, to ensure the link between Atatürk’s legacy and youth was not broken.