Vancouver’s Turkish community maintains Republic Day tradition half way across the world

On Oct. 29, nearly 10,000 km from Vancouver, Turkey will celebrate its 91st birthday, also known as Republic Day. The Turkish Canadian Society in Vancouver will also celebrate Republic Day with formal ceremonies, a dinner and a cultural evening. Members of the Turkish Canadian Society share their thoughts on why Republic Day is just as important in their adopted country as it is back in Turkey.

For Tolga Tosun, the founding of the Turkish Republic is special because it affected many members of his family. Tosun’s maternal great-grandfather was a soldier who was shot several times and survived; he passed away at the age of 110, when Tosun was still in his mother’s womb. Tosun says it was not only male soldiers who made grave contributions but also women and children.

“They helped with carrying and distributing weapons and food, whatever they could do to help,” he says.

Tosun moved to Vancouver from Istanbul in 2002 after the economic situation in Turkey left him unemployed. In the beginning, it was a hard transition but living with a host family and making friends with native English speakers helped Tosun feel more confident in his new surroundings.

In 2003, Tosun joined the Turkish Canadian Society (founded in Vancouver in 1963) and now serves as the organization’s president. For Tosun, the biggest is the change within the society is its demographics.

“In the last 10 years, there are more students, the population is getting younger and there are more activities for young people,” Tosun says.

Chichaklar Azeri Dance Group during the 2013 Celebration of the Turkish Republic and Turkish Canadian Friendship night | Photo courtesy of Turkish Canadian Society

Chichaklar Azeri Dance Group during the 2013 Celebration of the Turkish Republic and Turkish Canadian Friendship night | Photo courtesy of Turkish Canadian Society

Vancouver celebration

Republic Day celebrations in Vancouver will be held on Nov. 1, making this the fourth year in a row of collaboration between Vancouver City Hall and the Turkish Canadian Society. There will be a flag raising ceremony, complete with the Turkish national anthem and speeches, including one by the Turkish ambassador.

In the evening, the society will host a dinner and cultural night at the Scottish Cultural Centre – Tosun hopes the Turkish Canadian Society will get a place of its own in a few years. Last year, attendance was at about 350 and Tosun expects the same if not more for this year. The event is open to everyone, not only Turks, and the Society is promoting participation through its website and Facebook page.

“We want to share our culture with everyone. From folk dancing to singing and food, we want people to see and experience Turkish culture, and have fun,” says Tosun.

The next generation

Lal Koyuncu, 20, is a psychology student at UBC and president of the university’s Turkish Students Society – a group that aims to bridge the gap between students and the rest of Vancouver’s Turkish community. The student group also holds fundraisers to help causes back home in Turkey.

For Koyuncu, Republic Day in Turkey is a big festival where people are out celebrating in the streets, schoolchildren sing the national anthem and flags are on display everywhere. There are also traditional Turkish concerts and folk dances, plus homemade food shared among family, friends and neighbours.

“There’s nothing specific we eat, maybe more desserts,” says Koyuncu, who has a preference for Borek, a pastry filled with cheese, veggies or meat.

The UBC Turkish Students society also wants to promote educational opportunities- such as the Middle Eastern Studies Initiative- for those who aren’t as familiar with Turkish culture and would like to learn more, says Koyuncu.

Koyuncu will be volunteering with the Turkish Canadian Society at this year’s Republic Day celebrations and plans to call her family back in Istanbul.

“For me, it’s about celebrating the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He and everyone who fought for the country –
it still matters to young people. We’ve been taught this since kindergarten and often younger, by our parents. It’s embedded in us,” says Koyuncu.


For more inforation about Republic Day and the Turkish Canadian Society visit