Turkish national anthem: what are the lyrics and who wrote the ‘Independence March’?

11 June 2021, 13:55

Turkish national anthem: what are the lyrics and who wrote the ‘Independence March’?
Turkish national anthem: what are the lyrics and who wrote the ‘Independence March’? Picture: PA/IMSLP

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Turkey’s national song turned 100 years old this year, on 12 March 2021. As we hear it played out at the Euros 2020, here’s how this anthemic march came to be.

The İstiklal Marşı – or Independence March – was formally adopted as Turkey’s national anthem on 12 March 1921, two years before the Republic of Turkey was established, in 1923.

With troops fighting in the Turkish War of Independence, the new anthem served as motivational music for those at war, and as an aspirational hymn for a country yet to be created.

Today, it is also the anthem of Northern Cyprus. Here’s a dive into its lyrics and history.

Read more: Watch Andrea Bocelli perform at UEFA Euro 2020 Opening Ceremony

Who wrote Turkey’s national anthem?

724 poems were submitted to a competition to find the best original composition, that would form the words to Turkey’s anthem.

A poem by Mehmet Akif Ersoy, who is regarded as among the greatest writers of his time, was adopted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly. His poem spoke to an affection for the Turkish homeland, long-desired freedom after the war, and a deep faith.

A second competition took place to find the right musical setting for Ersoy’s poetry. 24 composers put forward their compositions, after which the Council chose the music of Ali Rifat Cagatay.

Eight years on, however, the music changed to a new composition by Osman Zeki Üngör, an established composer and the conductor of the Presidential Symphony Orchestra (watch today’s orchestra play below).

Two years later, the Turkish government commissioned Edgar Manas, a Turkish composer and conductor of Armenian descent, to arrange an orchestral version of Üngör’s melody. Manas’ arrangement is the version we hear today at state and military events, sporting events and school ceremonies.

Read more: Turkish builders who worked tirelessly on concert hall treated to a concert

What are the lyrics to Turkey’s national anthem?

Only the first two stanzas of the anthem tend to be sung at public events.

Korkma! Sönmez bu şafaklarda yüzen al sancak,
Sönmeden yurdumun üstünde tüten en son ocak.
O benim milletimin yıldızıdır, parlayacak;
O benimdir, o benim milletimindir ancak.
Çatma, kurban olayım, çehreni ey nazlı hilal!
Kahraman ırkıma bir gül; ne bu şiddet, bu celal?
Sana olmaz dökülen kanlarımız sonra helal…
Hakkıdır, Hakk’a tapan milletimin istiklal.

What do they mean in English?

Fear not! The red banner that ripples in this dawn shall not fade,
Before the last hearth that is ablaze within my homeland is extinguished.
It is the star of my people, which shall shine;
It is mine; it only belongs to my people.
Frown not, I beseech thou, oh thou coy crescent!
Smile upon my heroic nation once! What is this violence, what is this rage for?
Our blood which we shed for you shall not be worthy afterwards…
Freedom is the right of my God-worshipping people.