Today is a day of remembrance, as it turns out. I say “as it turns out” because it is not a part of my tradition in the U.S., but it happens to be so in two different cultures that I am part of here, for two totally different reasons.
Here in Turkey, today is a day commemorating Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s death in 1938. He was the founder and the first president of the Republic of Turkey, and he is THE national hero. Every November 10 at 9:05 a.m., the time of his death, the sirens blare and everyone stops what he/she is doing and stands in silence for two minutes to pay respect to his memory. I was unfortunately not clued in enough to be outside to see it, but even on the streets people stop their cars and get out to stand beside them. His image is everywhere — today even more than usual, if that’s possible. I thought that Taras Shevchenko’s image and name was everywhere in Ukraine (and it was), but the number of pictures of Atatürk definitely gives Shevchenko a run for his money. The same picture of him looking up into the distance in a deep and thoughtful pose is placed prominently on the wall in most buildings, and most places that sell souvenir-type items have at least some with his name and signature on them. Today I stopped by a crafts fair outside the metro station and saw these on offer:
Today is also Remembrance Sunday in the U.K., a day to remember those who have given their lives in war and military conflict since World War I. It began as Armistice Day in 1919, precisely 100 years ago, as a commemoration of the armistice signed on November 11, 1918 to end WWI. After World War II, it shifted to the second Sunday of November and became known as Remembrance Sunday. In the U.S., it remained on November 11 and became known as Veterans Day after the Korean War.
This observance of Remembrance Sunday was also a part of my day today, as I attend an Anglican church here in Izmir. Whereas attendance is usually in the 30’s or so, today’s attendance was closer to 100. This was mainly due to British ex-pats who consider this an important Sunday to attend church, and NATO servicemen who came in their regalia. One of them, a British lieutenant colonel, gave a short history of the red paper poppies that most everyone wears pinned to their clothing. The poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance after the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae was published in 1915. Earlier that year, McCrae, a Canadian physician and soldier, survived a horrendous six-week battle in Belgium and buried his friend. Even though the ground had been torn up by battle and burial, poppies were flourishing on top of the new graves, and he was inspired to write this:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
McCrae himself died during the war, in 1918; it is interesting to think that the poppies he made popular became a symbol of remembrance for him as well.
In the service this morning at church, the names of British soldiers who have died in Izmir were read from a plaque that hangs on one of the sanctuary walls. Two minutes of silence followed, marked by short trumpet pieces at both ends. Our pastor, Father James, highlighted one of those names in his sermon and gave a few details about him. He noted that whether or not his family keeps him in mind on this day, the church always will; year after year they will read his name and pause in honor of his life and his death.
Two different cultures pausing for two minutes this morning to pay respect to the death of those held in honor, those to whom home, country, and way of life are owed: I find this very significant. Each of these countries has been paying their respect in this way for the better part of the past 100 years, and plans to continue doing so. It causes me to stop and think about those who have paved the way for my life and its comforts; it also causes me to muse on the importance of observations and commemorations. Sure, we should be grateful to these people all the time, but in reality, would we think of them if there were not spaces carved out for them to be remembered? This is the power of such events. In the U.S., our observations of respect — holidays begun as a remembrance of Jesus, All Saints (All Hallows), Saint Valentine, Saint Patrick, and service men and women — have for many evolved into something quite different, yet there are still corners of our country and this world that remember those persons of honor at their core. Perhaps we could all pause for some minutes to pay a fraction of the respect that they — and others to whom we owe much — deserve.