Turkey marks 99th anniversary of national anthem

By Erdogan Cagatay Zontur

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey on Thursday marked the 99th anniversary of the Istiklal Marsi, or March of Independence, Turkey's national anthem.

Mehmet Akif Ersoy’s poem was enshrined as the national anthem by the Turkish Grand National Assembly or parliament on March 12, 1921.

Nearly a year after the assembly was established on April 23, 1920 and the Turkish people declared sovereignty, the idea of writing a national anthem emerged to marshal the excitement of the people following World War I and stress patriotism at a time when Anatolia was still being occupied.

This idea was supported by how other countries have their own anthems and so the Turkish nation should have one too.

A contest was organized by the Education Ministry to determine a national anthem, offering a prize of 500 Turkish liras – a princely sum at the time.

The participants were asked to write a march expressing the spirit of the War of Independence which started on May 19, 1919 and led to a great victory on Sept. 9, 1922, crowned with the proclamation of the republic on Oct. 29, 1923.

But with more than 700 poems submitted for the contest, none was found sufficient to express the nation's feelings.

It was then that Education Minister Hamdullah Suphi Tanriover requested that Mehmet Akif Ersoy, then a deputy in parliament, write Turkey’s national song.

– March reflects historical depth, national character

Ersoy initially declined to participate in the contest because he did not want to write a national song for financial gain. But eventually, Tanriover convinced Ersoy to contribute his talents.

In the march, Ersoy immortalized his nation's battle for survival, in the wake of World War I, culminating in its national liberation in 1921 during the Turkish War of Independence against foreign occupation.

Ersoy’s poem, which started with the dedication to “Turkey’s heroic army,” was declared the official national anthem by a parliamentary vote on March 12, 1921.

The anthem, consisting of 41 lines and 12 quatrains, centered around timeless themes such as independence, war, civilization, faith, spirituality, courage, heroism, and hope.

Years later, when a book of his collected poems was published, Ersoy declined to include the Istiklal Marsi, saying that the work belongs to the Turkish nation.

Ali Rifat Cagatay composed the first music to accompany Ersoy’s poem, in 1924.

The song’s current arrangement, from 1930, is the work of Osman Zeki Ungor, who served as conductor of the Presidential Orchestra.

Played at Turkish schools to usher in the week, and at solemn state occasions, the Istiklal Marsi never fails to stir the heart of patriotic Turks, evoking for them the courage, spirit, and sacrifice of the Turkish national character.