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Turkey Set To Hand Over Power to Children, Marking National Sovereignty and Children’s Day

By Gunay Hajiyeva April 21, 2017

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan while meeting children in the Presidential Palace on April 19. / South China Morning Post

Children from around the world are flowing into central Turkey’s Nevşehir city to attend the 39th International Children’s Festival, which is running from April 18-25. The week-long celebrations are centered around National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, recognized every April 23.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed participants at the presidential complex in nearby Ankara on Wednesday.

“I feel younger in your presence,” the 63-year-old Erdogan remarked.

"We have only three days until April 23,” Erdogan said to the children, “and even in that period, more children will likely suffer. I greet all the children caught in the middle of war in Syria and Iraq, facing starvation in Somalia and other African countries," Erdogan said.

Turkey has become a shelter to over three million Syrian refugees as a result of a civil war and multinational clashes with Islamic State. The majority of Syria’s refugees coming into Turkey are children.

April 23 is considered a public holiday in Turkey and Northern Cyprus and dates to 1920, when Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, or parliament, met in Ankara to lay the foundations of an independent and secular republic in the aftermath of World War I and following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

According to a tradition begun by the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who recognized the significance of posterity, adults are required to give up their authority for a while – including those serving in government.

The president, the prime minister, cabinet ministers and provincial governors all hand over their positions to children's representatives on April 23. These children sign executive orders relating to educational and environmental policies. Children also replace the parliamentarians in the Grand National Assembly, and hold a special session to discuss matters concerning youth-related issues.

In addition, concerts, competitions, seminars and briefings among students are organized throughout the week. A gala featuring national dance performances will be held on Sunday, April 23.

This year’s festival brings together children from Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Morocco, Palestine, Guinea, Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Hungary, Macedonia, Mongolia, Romania, Seychelles, Serbia, Sudan and Ukraine. Moreover, representatives of Kosovo, Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the Autonomous Region of Gagauzia and Sakha Yakutia Republic of the Russian Federation are also among attendees.

In 1979 the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) decided to adopt the Turkish holiday and recognize every April 23 as International Children's Day.