Founded in 1920, Turkey's Grand National Assembly is a testament of what the country's independence struggle achieved.
The opening ceremony was timed to take place on a Friday which is the holiest day in the week for Muslims. Dignitaries and officers prayed at the Haci Bayram Veli mosque in Ankara. An iconic photograph form the opening ceremony shows dignitaries offering their prayers. Sheeps were sacrificed to inaugurate success. For success was needed in those perilous times.
A hundred years ago this week, the Turkish parliament was officially established on 23 April 1920. Known as the Grand National Assembly, this institution was instrumental in the war of independence and the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey.
The opening ceremony that Friday was imbued with religious symbolism for an institution that would come to be associated with secularism in the decades ahead. It also symbolically inaugurated Ankara as the new center of political power. The late Andrew Mango vividly described how the ceremony proceeded in his Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey.
A year and a half earlier, the Mudros armistice of October 1918 marked the end of the Ottoman Empire's involvement in World War I. The Allied Powers imposed punitive measures that set the stage for a territorial partition of the dwindling empire.
British, French and Italian occupation forces in Istanbul portended what was to come. The Greek occupation of Izmir in May 1919 and the march towards the Megali Idea was the trigger that mobilised resistance across the country. A full and detailed partition of Anatolia was laid out in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.
As the occupation proceeded patriotic officers and resistance groups across the country were determined to put up a fight. For the resistance to be successful, a centralised organization and leadership of the movement was crucial. Mustafa Kemal Pasha provided both, soon after his arrival in the Black Sea city of Samsun in May 1919 and this event marks the beginning of the war of independence.
The Ottoman officer who distinguished himself in fending off the Allied invasion at the Battle of Gallipoli was now at the helm of the Turkish resistance. In this time of peril, the new parliament assumed both legislative and executive powers. Thirty-nine year old Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected speaker and head of government.
The parliament established in Ankara was not the first parliament in Turkey but it was the first Turkish parliament. It was during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II that the first parliament was convened in 1877. The Young Turk revolution of 1908 led to the reinstitution of parliament and what is known as the second constitutional era.
The parliament in 1920 was founded during a transition phase from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic. During this period, the parliament undertook a number of important decisions of which two were particularly consequential. These were the abolishment of the sultanate in November 1922 and the caliphate in March 1924.
Military victories of Mustafa Kemal Pasha and the patriotic forces ensured that the carve-up of Anatolia envisioned by the Allies would not materialise. New facts on the ground generated as a result of these victories paved the way for a renegotiation of peace terms with European powers. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 recognised the new balance of power in Turkey's favour and cast the Treaty of Sevres into the dustbin of history.
On a recent trip to Ankara, I visited the building that housed the parliament founded that Friday a hundred years ago. Today, it is the War of Independence Museum (Kurtuluş Savaşı Müzesi). The parliament conducted its business in this building from 1920 to 1924 when it was moved to a nearby location.
The original chamber is a humble space for an institution that undertook such consequential decisions. Above the speaker's chair is a quote from The Quran: “Ve Şâvirhüm fi’l emr” meaning „...and consult them in the matter... „ (Ali Imran: 159).
Preserved in the museum is Ataturk's office, a prayer room for chamber deputies and a table that was used in the Lausanne negotiations. The table is a symbolic reminder of what the independence struggle achieved.
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