Albayrak: The Red Flags all Over Turkey!
I will start by saying that I’ve never seen so much Red in my life, as I saw in Turkey in a few weeks, when I visited a couple of years ago. Whether on boats sailing past the Bosporus, on the façade of buildings, over balconies of private residences, or in cafes, gardens, small businesses, public squares, parks, or even into the sky if you cared to look looked overhead, ‘Red’ is all over.
What is Red?
A creamy white crescent moon and a star facing each other, against a lush backdrop of red. This for you is Turkey’s national flag also called “Albayrak”( the red flag) or “Ayyıldız”(the moon-star). To be honest, I did not know this until I stepped out of the aircraft into Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, and was accosted by its presence everywhere. Alighting from the Hawas airport shuttle bus at Taksim Square, I swear I could have counted close to 200 flags in the span of an hour. Certainly an impressive figure because back home in India, our flag mostly makes its appearance on Republic Day and Independence Day. And I’ve never seen our tri-colour hung down the entire length of a colossal building.
Turkish friends told me that on National Days namely 29th October (Republic Day of Turkey), the country is drenched in pools of crimson. Even individuals and commercial establishments readily sport their country flag.
Turks who have never travelled out of their country are habituated to its ubiquity however those who have started to travel abroad return home to look at their public spaces in an increasingly new light.
It’s true that countries such as Thailand also match up in this respect. Bhutan comes close with its banners of the King and Queen all over the hilly landscapes. However the Turkish flag (Albayrak)hits home in a big way with tourists because of its primarily red hues with splashes of white. This flag is far from being forgettable!
Walking through Istanbul’s historic pedestrian street, Istiklal Caddesi, I look up at the skies and make a half-hearted attempt at counting. Am amused group of Turks are more than happy to share their opinions, telling me that though it appears overly-nationalistic and militaristic, the flag is sacred to most Muslim Turks because of the crescent moon (hilal) embellished upon it. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Father of Modern Turkey himself did not alter the flag much despite efforts to depart from the Ottoman regime.
Another guy I met in the Island of Assos (Behramkale) surprised me by saying that the flag is hoisted when a Turkish couple gets married. Also it could be used to cover the coffins of martyrs, soldiers, presidents, teachers, veterans, world and Olympic champion athletes, etc. His list was definitely longer that what I remember today. Meanwhile in the coastal city of Izmir, sellers walk around the Old City centre with meter long flags.
But Everyone is Not as Gung-Ho
I remember the first time I stepped into my friends’ apartment, I was sure it would be adorned by flags but it wasn’t. These guys were all young Turks who didn’t see the point of their flag being thrust into the public eye, as if to remind people lest they someday forget. Clearly every Turk did not feel the same allegiance though they were fiercely proud of their Turkish roots.
Ezra, a passionate young Turk had a radically different opinion exclaiming, ‘Turkish flag means being proud of being a Turk. There is a quotation “Ne mutlu Turkum Diyene!” means “How happy is the one who says “I am a Turk”. This sentence is the ending sentence of the oath that every kid living in this country have to say loud before starting their classes. Every day I had to shout this sentence till my age of 17. Such arrogance…
Why am I so against being proud about being Turk? Because Turk means oppression of other nations living in Turkey. They are not Turk, but Kurd, Laz, Cherkes Aserian, Armenian, Greek or any other ethnic culture which have been living on this geography for ages. And now, they have to call themselves Turk, they have to speak Turkish, they have to be Muslim, above all they are not welcome any more. Otherwise, they have to live with heavy discrimination. Calling someone Armenian is a bad word in Turkey. Can you believe that? State puts flag shapes even on the mountains of Kurdish region. This is insane.’
In sharp contrast, another Turkish woman Sule mulls, ‘Our flag, my flag is holy for us. We never let a flag fall into place -ground. We represent it everywhere because it represents us,our honourable history and ancestors. If the subject is to talk about the flag, words fail here. Flag is our independence, our history and honour.’
I can conclude saying this much, and only this much:
Albayrak is one of the most aesthetic and deeply engaging flags I ‘ve seen this far. To me, it evokes memories of a sojourn where I lost count of the times chai (tea) was offered on the house at bus stops, tourism offices, fruit markets, even outside mosques and cafes.
Until then, Görüşürüz! (pronounced go-roo-shoo-rooz)
See you later! (in Turkish)