(TURKISH NATIONAL ANTHEM)
An interesting sidelight to the creation of modern-day Turkey—as it jettisoned its Ottoman past—as well as a reflection of its visionary founder, Kemal Ataturk—is that the national anthem of Turkey did not come about in a hurry or without design.
Turkey did not win its independence until 1923. This came about in an unusual way: after World War I, Turkey—or what was left of the defeated Ottoman Empire—was occupied by no less than five nations: Britain, France, Italy, Armenia, and Greece. The War of Independence was fought by the Turkish National Movement on three fronts against these occupiers. Ataturk was not only a brilliant military leader and strategist but a political leader on par with any great leader from any era.
A small part of his foresight involved the creation of a national anthem—two years before the Turkish War for Independence had even been won! It was inevitable in 1921, that should the Turkish forces prevail, Ataturk would be the country’s leader. Ataturk felt that, in order to boost the morale of the troops fighting this war, as well to provide the best inspirational national anthem possible for the future of the new nation—it was imperative for the young nation to have a great national anthem.
Accordingly, three of the most qualified persons in the about-to-be country were called upon to create a fitting national anthem. The music was composed by Osman Zeki Ungor, who would later be the conductor of the Presidential Symphony and the person responsible for the establishment of the State Conservatory of Turkey. The anthem’s lyrics were written by Mehmet Akif Ersoy, a poet and one of the great literary minds of his day. Edgar Manas, an Armenian-Turk, was a composer who arranged the anthem for orchestra.
The poem which was written and utilized for the anthem is quite long—41 lines of verse. Only the first 8 are ever sung:
Fear not, the crimson flag, waving in these dawns will never fade
Before the last hearth that is burning in my nation vanishes.
That is my nation’s star, it will shine;
That is mine, it belongs solely to my nation.
Oh coy crescent do not frown for I am ready to sacrifice myself for you!
Please smile upon my heroic nation, why that anger, why that rage?
If you frown, our blood shed for you will not be worthy.
Freedom is the right of my nation who worships God and seeks what is right.
All of my friends and probably most of my readers know I am married to a Turk. But that fact is only peripheral to my loving this anthem: she certainly did not propose the idea of posting it. Obviously, I have a lifelong acquaintance with the anthem now, which I would not have had without Tiraje. But, as we all know, a lifelong acquaintance with a work of music in no way qualifies it as a work worth loving.
During my shortwave listening days, it was unavoidable for me to eventually hear the national anthem of whatever station I happened to be listening to. I heard national anthems from most of the countries of the world. Over time, I’ve heard quite a number of them. Most are quite boring, four-square, hymn-like, repetitive, and triadic with a limited vocal range. Most are martial in spirit, intended to be marched to. (I do not put our own national anthem in this category, by the way. Despite its very wide vocal range requirement, it is still a well-constructed piece of music.) Some anthems make you wonder what in the world were they thinking: Greece and the Philippines come to mind. Others are interesting, verging on the beautiful—South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, Zambia.
Since I listened quite often to the Voice of Turkey, I would hear the national anthem at the beginning and conclusion of every broadcast. These were real moments of pleasure for me. Oscillating between a minor I and minor IV chords, and always sung by a chorus (at least in my experience), one can easily imagine this as a choral insert in a Verdi opera.
Interestingly, the imagery in the anthem’s poem refer to the flag, the human spirit, and the soil of the homeland—but there are no specifically nationalistic references—no mentions of “Turk” or “Turkey.” In this regard, the anthem could be sung and loved the world over.
I know this is a lot of talk about a piece only just over a minute long. But…what an enjoyable minute!
Pics: Turkish flag–star and crescent, composer Osman Zeki Ungor, lyricist Mehmet Akif Ersoy.