Educationist Mehmet Karadayı narrated the story of the 23 April Peace March organized by the PakTurk Schools in 2004 and the repercussions of the function. He wrote how the march, organized comprehensively under slim means, was first cancelled and then put back on track with the intervention of the Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in Islamabad.
We marched, with pennants and flags in our hands.
We marched, with prayers rising to the sky from innocent lips.
We marched, with a keen yearning in our eyes
We marched, with the passion for peace on faces
We marched and flew balloons into the sky
We marched and placed flowers on the grey chest of the city
We marched with cries, slogans, and applause
We marched, with beaming smiles
We marched, with songs of fraternity on our lips
We marched, with roses and carnations in our hands
We all marched that day chanting
With a wish on our lips, “Long Live Peace!”
Had I been holding a pen after the ‘Peace March’ we held in Islamabad on April 23, 2004, I would have written the lines above. If I can write this poem when I remember that day years later, it means we made a great accomplishment. To say otherwise would be disrespectful to the efforts of our colleagues.
When I said, “Let’s march, friends!” the exhaustion in the eyes of the friends who pondered for days “How should we celebrate?” suddenly vanished. April 23 marked the day Turkey had embarked on her journey of independence. Atatürk had gifted that day as a festival to all the children of the world through the Turkish children. We had gathered to exchange ideas for celebrating the April 23 International Children’s Day. A wave of excitement spread across everyone’s face when they heard my proposal, but it was short-lived. “How are we going to do that?”
Everyone thought the same question posed by Mr. Ebubekir. Curious about my reply, they trained their eyes on me. “We will hold a peace march with the children,” I replied. “We will prepare balloons, banners and pennants. We will distribute brochures explaining the significance of the 23 April International Children’s Day. We will decorate our school, the marching route and the hall of celebration with colourful banners. We will invite students from other schools to join our peace march. We will make sure everyone in our school and the parents participate in the march with the schoolchildren.”
Okay, let’s walk… but how do we get permission?
Heads shook in deep contemplation. Eyes narrowed. Hands clasped on chests. A period of reflection began. “Marching means sealing streets or avenues to traffic. How do we get permission?” Mr. Bayram, with ample experience from the organization of the ‘Science Festival’, fired the right question, but no one knew the answer. It was time to act, then. A heated division of labour started around the table.
Mr. Bayram and Mr. Ebubekir, two experienced figures in receiving permissions, were assigned for official procedures. I was given the tasks of writing the project factsheet, presenting the budget for approval, announcing the schedule of events and executing it with no disruption. Two friends took charge of transportation and supervision of orders.
We sprung to action right away. First, the project was finalized; its title, objectives, date and detailed execution were listed. A budget was allocated from our educational foundation. Later, the project factsheet was dispatched with a cover letter to the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for official permission. I also took a copy of the project factsheet to the Turkish Embassy in Islamabad and presented it to the Ambassador in person, requesting him to preside over our function. We became elated when the Ambassador warmly received us, appreciated the forthcoming function and said he would grace the program. We wrote invitation letters to several schools. We had three weeks to be exact. Although it seemed like a long while, the days passed like the wind.
We decorated the whole place with flags and banners!
While we continued preparations, we were also curious about the official response from the CDA. The response from the CDA arrived ten days later. Our request was granted and we were allowed to march on the street next to the Jinnah Park. When our joy combined with excitement, we clung to our tasks better. We contacted the schools which had accepted our invitation. We finalized the number of participating students. We requested each school to participate with a pennant bearing the name of their institution, and students would come in their school uniforms.
We inflated hundreds of balloons. The flag of Pakistan has green and white, and the flag of Turkey has red and white. We tied green and red balloons next to the shared white balloon, emphasizing our brotherhood with those to symbolize our union. We decorated our school and our vehicles. We also festooned a few vans we used to hang the banners and pennants with the same banners and pennants. We prepared green, white and red ribbons for children to wave in their hands and scarves to drape around their necks. We bought paper Pakistani and Turkish flags to wave.
Everything was going well and our excitement increased each day. Only two days were left when a letter from the CDA turned dampened spirits. The letter started with familiar official statements and ended with the resolute statement that the marching permit had been revoked ‘for security reasons’. Suddenly, our moods were spoiled.
The sudden cancellation of the program disappointed everyone
We didn’t know what to do. When our insistent requests over the phone were turned down, we had no choice but to announce the cancellation of the program. Embarrassed, I called the Turkish Embassy and apologized, and said the function had been cancelled by the CDA for security reasons. The secretary said he would deliver the message to the Ambassador. I had to call and inform the schools. Everyone was virtually devastated. No one wanted to make a phone call. Suddenly they said I had a phone call from the Turkish Embassy. The Turkish Ambassador was on the phone. He asked me the reason for cancelling the function. I mentioned the CDA letter and said we could help nothing. “Do not cancel the program, wait to hear from me,” the Ambassador said. With replenished hopes, we eagerly looked forward to the Ambassador’s call.
The news arrived at midnight. The Turkish Embassy official said that the essential permits were obtained through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the marching route had been changed. The march was to start from the Turkish Embassy building and move along the Atatürk Avenue, where the Embassy was located. A cricket ground at the end of the avenue was arranged for the function. We erected the tent and installed the technical equipment. The venue was readied for the program after a short rehearsal. It was then the time to wait the next day.
On the morning of April 23, we gathered with our students and parents in front of the Turkish Embassy building. When all participating schools arrived, the march started with tri-colour flags, tri-colour ribbons and tri-colour scarves in our hands. The parents marched with us. We chanted one slogan in unison: “Long Live Peace!”
They read the echo of a single voice: Long live peace!
People met us with great interest. Those who saw us joined the march behind the children. The crowd grew steadily and the ranks never broke. From then on, we – young and old, men and women – conveyed a prayer to the sky in unison: “Long live Peace!”
Print and TV journalists arrived to cover the event. They took photos and conducted interviews with students, parents, teachers and the public. They filed news reports on the spot and recorded segments for news bulletins. They heard and read the echo of a single voice: “Long Live Peace!”
We finally reached the cricket ground at the end of the avenue. The national anthems of Pakistan and Turkey were chanted. The Turkish Ambassador in Islamabad mentioned the significance of the message given with an emotional speech in tears and emphasized the brotherhood of the two countries. Our function ended after the performances of our students. On the way back to our homes, we all had the happiness of experiencing an exquisite feeling.
We marched that day, always loving love
We marched by vilifying hostility
We marched all in one step
With a prayer in our lips, “Long Live Peace!”