Omer Aymali / History / World Bulletin
Seventy-eight years ago today, Turkey’s national poet and author of the national anthem, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, passed away.
Known for his articles and fiery sermons during Turkey’s war of independence, by rousing the emotions of his countrymen, he played a crucial role in Turkey’s national struggle. His famous poem, the ‘Independence March’, later became the national anthem of the new Turkish Republic.
However, after the republic was formed, due to a difference in opinion regarding the politics of the new state, he decided to move to Egypt in 1925. There, he worked as a literature lecturer in universities until he was forced to return to Turkey in June of 1936 due to poor health. After receiving intensive treatment for six months, Mehmet Akif Ersoy passed away in December of that year. The very next day, Turkish newspapers broke the news to the nation.
His funeral was held at Istanbul’s Beyazid Mosque, attracting thousands upon thousands of mourners who had turned up to pay their respects. Interestingly, however, not one single official attended his funeral. Professor Dr. Sulhi Donmezer, who at that time was a law student, attended the funeral. On January 5, 1987, Donmezer wrote of his experiences in the Tercuman newspaper:
‘…In those days the sovereignty of the country was completely in the hands of a one-party authoritarian system and nobody wanted to fall at odds with it, so the newspapers did not cover much about Mehmet Akif’s return or illness…despite the time for prayer approaching when we arrived, we were not able to see a coffin, so we all waited. Suddenly we saw a funeral car arrive in front of a restaurant. Two people lowered a coffin which didn’t even have a single covering. Assuming that some poor man’s coffin had arrived, some friends attempted to help carry it. However, when we found out that the coffin was actually that of Mehmet Akif, hundreds of youths suddenly began to cry…The youths took the flag from the Emin Efendi restaurant and covered the coffin. Later, some of Mehmet Akif’s friends began to arrive, but not a single official or party representative turned up.’
The one-party regime’s treatment of this beloved and respected symbol of Turkey’s struggle for independence shows just how much the regime had become distant from the people and the original ideals upon which the nation was founded.