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The Humor of the ZIraat Turkish Cup First Round Offers Some Relief for the Turkish Football Scene

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22 August 2017 was a rough day for Turkish football fans. Istanbul Basaksehirspor—a team I have written about in the past—was a post away from qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in their tie with Sevilla FC. Meanwhile, the chairman of Atiker Konyaspor—Turkish Super Cup champions—Ahmet San was questioned by prosecutors for having ByLock (an app used by the alleged planners of the 15 July 2016 coup) on his phone. After being questioned by prosecutors, his cellular telephone and computer were confiscated while he himself was released. After being released Mr. San resigned from his post at the head of Konyaspor, but it did little to quell the controversy.

 

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Mr. San Has Resigned, But The Controversy Rages On. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberturk.com/spor/futbol/haber/1606389-konyaspor-baskani-nin-bylock-sorusturmasinda-ifadesi-alindi

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Former Goalkeeper Omer Catkic Was Arrested For Possessing the Same App as Mr. San. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/darbe-girisimi-macka-ilce-jandarma-komutani-tegmene-gozalti/

 

An MP from the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), Metin Kulunk, questioned the decision to release Mr. San and asked the rhetorical question “Is there someone protecting this person [Mr San]?”. Indeed, it is a good question since—on the same day—former goalkeeper Omer Catkic was arrested for having the same “Bylock” app on his phone as Mr. San! Mr. Kulunk went on to say that the state needs to get tougher on FETO’s organization in Turkish football and that “football’s intestines must be cleaned”. (Here FETO refers to the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, a loose group of the followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for masterminding last summer’s failed coup attempt). Regardless of whether or not Mr. San is guilty, the double standard in use here is unmistakable. Since Konyaspor have reached unprecedented heights—experiencing the most successful period in the club’s history—due to investors with ties to “green capital” (businesses connected to the conservative community), it is clear that the Turkish state does not want to alienate too many of their supporters. It will be interesting the follow the fall out from this latest development but, in the meantime, I will share some new from the lighter side of football.

22 August 2017 was also the first round of the Ziraat Turkish cup, the national cup competition that brings together teams from all corners of Turkey. Since the first round is played by teams from provinces that are not represented in the top four (professional) leagues, this is grassroots football at its best. Turkish television showed five of the matches live, and it was a good way for fans to appreciate Turkey’s geographic diversity. Even if fans couldn’t go in person, they could see the different scenery ranging from the Central Anatolian steppe behind MKE Kirikkalespor’s stadium to the majestic peak of Mount Ararat rising behind Igdirspor’s stadium in Turkey’s easternmost province. The Aegean hinterland was represented by the derby between Kutahyaspor and Tavsanli Linyitspor, while the black sea could be seen behind the stand of Sinopspor’s stadium (even if it was blocked by one gentleman’s head in the broadcast).

Twitter users laughed at the small idiosyncrasies of small town football—like the post which blocked the view of television cameras in Sinop’s stadium, the weight of some of the amateur players, or the policeman who wandered onto the pitch seemingly oblivious to the match being played. As one Twitter user said, “if there is a better sports organization than this one, please tell us”. In response to the poor policeman’s embarrassing gaffe, an editor of an online news aggregator penned the headline “I cannot watch a match in another country!”. While the football may not have been great, these small moments from the first round of the Ziraat Turkish Cup gave Turkish fans something to laugh about and that is something to be celebrated during these troubling times. Football can unite just as it can divide, and in this case the Ziraat Turkish Cup allows fans to appreciate all parts of Turkish life regardless of what region of Turkey they may live in. I share with you some of the best moments from the first round and congratulate all the teams that have moved onto the second round!

 

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Clearly, Sinopspor’s Stadium Is Not Made For Televised Matches. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/search?q=bhdrizgec&src=typd

 

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The Gentleman Is Not Only Blocking the View of the Field, But Also Of the Black Sea! No, There Might Not Be a Better Sports Organization Than This One. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/mossmeister/status/899984776882532353

 

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The Footballers In the Lower Leagues Are…Not the Fittest. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/KocumKosecki/status/899982792439758848

 

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The Snowcapped Summit of Mount Ararat Rises Behind the Stands of Igdirspor’s Stadium in Turkey’s Easternmost Province. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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The Plains of Central Anatolia Behind the Stands of MKE Kirikkalespor’s Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).

 

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It Feels Like Your’e In the Stadium! As Fans Lean Over In the Stands, They Block the Cameras During the Kutahya Derby. Image Courtesy Of the Author (From ASpor Channel).
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Beşiktaş’ New Stadium Opens As a Political Event: What’s In a Name?

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On 11 April 2016 the 41,903 seater Vodafone Arena finally opened in Istanbul as Beşiktaş defeated their nemesis Bursaspor 3-2 on Monday night. It was a homecoming Beşiktaş fans could be pleased with, having been away from their stadium since May 2013. Incidentally, that was the same month the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul, a fact not lost on diken.com that noted that “the stadium opened like [the old Inönü stadium] closed”. That is to say with confrontations between fans and police; tear gas and water cannons were deployed on 11 May 2013 before the final match in the old Inönü Stadium. So, why is it that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same?

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BESIKTAS IN YENI STADYUMU VODAFONE ARENA YARIN ACILIYOR STADYUMDA SON DURUM(ALI AKSOYER/ISTANBUL(DHA))

The New Stadium in All its Grandeur. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailysabah.com/football/2016/04/10/black-eagles-besiktas-back-in-their-nest

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The Old, 11 May 2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/besiktas-savas-alanina-dondu-23259349

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And the New 11 April 2016: http://www.diken.com.tr/kapandigi-gibi-acildi-vodafone-arena-onundeki-taraftara-biber-gazi-ve-tazyikli-su/

The official government opening of the stadium came a day earlier on Sunday, 10 April 2016 as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former President Abdullah Gül, Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman, and national team coach Fatih Terim had an impromptu kick around at the center circle. Never mind that Prime Minister Davutoğlu missed the ball both times it was kicked to him; the out of form politician was duly mocked on social media and one sarcastic user noted that Mr. Davutoğlu’s ball control was far superior to Lionel Messi’s.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/513352/Sosyal_medya_bu_videoyu_konusuyor__Davutoglu_nun_topla_imtihanini.html

Meanwhile, former footballer President Erdoğan (who displayed much better footwork) wished Beşiktaş well in its new stadium; never mind that his government pursued a court case against the team’s fan group, Carsşı for involvement in “terrorism” and planning a “coup”. On this day Mr. Erdoğan used the event to underline that, due to the construction of new stadiums across the country, the subject of the country hosting the Olympics was a mere “formality” (Interestingly, the English version of this speech did not include the words “formality”). Following Turkey’s failure to land the Olympics two summers ago this opportunity was seen as a way to further foment national pride amidst the chaos that seems to be descending slowly on the Turkish state. For the record Carşı were not invited to the official opening, in their place a 1,000 person delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) youth branch were invited; they were the only “fans” invited to the opening, highlighting the political tensions overshadowing the stadium’s opening day. Indeed President Erdoğan cut a lonely figure on the opening of the “people’s stadium” as it was devoid of people. Reportedly, fans were kept out due to a fear of possible protests.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/42483/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-vodafone-arenanin-acilisini-yapti.html

11 April, game day, was more eventful. Beşiktaş fans faced tear gas and water cannons as they made their way to the stadium; the official comment from police was that they were clearing the way for visiting Bursaspor’s arrival to the stadium. Later, in the stadium anti government chants rose from the stands as fans sang a song born out of the Gezi Park protests “biber gazi sık bakalım/C’mon spray us with tear gas”, while some chanted “We are Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk] Soldiers”. CNN Turk reported that one police officer slapped a fan in what was supposed to be a festive event. Indeed, the scenes were eerily parallel to those from the last match at the old Inönü stadium in May 2013. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that—as with many things lately in Turkey—even the opening of a stadium is political.

Opposition channel Halk TV posted a picture on their Facebook page of the façade of the new Vodafone Arena; it was decorated with a Turkish Flag and a Beşiktaş flag along with portraits of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President Erdoğan, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu. The second picture says that “parallel winds” blew the portraits of Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu over. I have written previously about the politicization of stadium construction in Turkey, and it is not surprising that the Turkish political establishment would stamp its mark on the opening of the Vodafone Arena.

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Image Courtesy of: Halk TV Facebook Page. NOTE: It is unclear if these two pictures were taken on the same day, the left most portrait looks different in the two images. However, it is not important if the two images are from the same period in time; the main point here is twofold: 1) That the Government should stamp their mark on the opening of a sports stadium and, 2) That an opposition TV channel should  voice their opinion about it. This interaction further underlines the politicization of stadia in Turkey.

Yılmaz Özdil, a columnist for the opposition newspaper Sözcü, reminded the public of the recent politicization of—among all things—stadium names. His entire commentary is available at the end of this post, it does not require knowledge of Turkish to understand the main point. In short, the newly constructed stadiums in Turkey are part of an ideological battle for Turkey’s history. While many old stadiums were named after Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the new stadiums are being labeled with the generic name “arena”, often with the addition of some commercial brand attached at the end of it.

Fans of sports in the United States, England, and Europe should not be unfamiliar with the neoliberal undertones inherent in this practice, part and parcel of the spread of Industrial football. Multitudes of U.S. Baseball stadiums now boast corporate names, as do NFL (American) football stadiums. London’s Highbury was demolished to make way for Emirates Stadium. Dortmund’s Westfalenstadiuon became Signal Iduna Park while Bayern Munich (and 1860) moved from the Olympiastadion to Allianz Arena. But these were mainly economically motivated name changes, rather than ideologically motivated.

Mr. Özdil notes that Bursa’s old Atatürk stadium has become the Timsah (Crocodile) Arena. Antalya Atatürk Stadium has become Antalya Arena. Provincial Afyon Atatürk Stadium has become the Afyon Arena. Konya Atatürk Stadium has become Torku Arena, named after a local foodstuffs company. Rize Atatürk Stadium has become Çaykur Didi Stadium, named after a new iced tea brand. And Beşiktaş’s Inönü stadium—named after Turkey’s second President Ismet Inönü—has become the Vodafone Arena, named after a multinational telecommunications company. Mr. Özdil regrets the erasure of Turkish history from stadium names across Turkey, seeing it as an assault on Turkish history, while noting that—on 8 April 2016—Izmir’s Karşıyaka Sports club reversed the name of their basketball team’s stadium from Karşıyaka Arena to . . . Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu.

Because the name of another figure from Turkish history disappears from a stadium—and violence accompanies the new stadium’s opening as it did the old one’s closing—we can be forgiven for thinking that, indeed, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it has its good side as well. Football legend Pele once called the old Inönü Stadium “a great place to watch football” because it was the world’s only stadium with a view of two contintents. Indeed, we can take peace in the fact that the new Vodafone Arena is—at least—located in the same place as the old Inönü Stadium and the Dolmabahçe Stadium before it. Perhaps, in this round, industrial football has not achieved a complete victory. A stadium still stands at the center of a historic city like Istanbul while Beşiktaş’s fans remembered–despite the political sideshow–those who played an important part in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aksam.com.tr/sporbesiktas/besiktastan-inonu-stadina-veda/haber-204681

 

Appendix: Yılmaz Özdil’s Full column, detailing all stadium name changes.

Courtesy of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/yazarlar/yilmaz-ozdil/al-sana-arena-1176695/

Bursa Atatürk stadıydı.
Timsah Arena yapıldı.

Antalya Atatürk stadıydı.
Antalya Arena yapıldı.

Afyon Atatürk stadıydı.
Afyon Arena yapıldı.

Eskişehir Atatürk stadıydı.
Es Es Arena yapıldı.

Antakya Atatürk stadıydı.
Hatay Arena yapıldı.

Konya Atatürk stadıydı.
Torku Arena yapıldı.

Sakarya Atatürk stadıydı.
Sakarya Arena yapıldı.

Beşiktaş İnönü stadıydı.
Vodafone Arena yapıldı.

İzmit İsmetpaşa stadıydı.
Kocaeli Arena yapıldı.

Malatya İnönü stadıydı.
Malatya Arena yapıldı.

Ali Sami Yen stadıydı.
Telekom Arena yapıldı.

Samsun 19 Mayıs stadıydı.
Samsun Arena yapıldı.

Sivas 4 Eylül stadıydı.
Sivas Arena yapıldı.

Şanlıurfa 11 Nisan stadıydı.
GAP Arena yapıldı.

Gaziantep Kamil Ocak stadıydı.
Gaziantep Arena yapılıyor.

Adana 5 Ocak stadıydı.
Adana Koza Arena yapılıyor.

Batman 16 Mayıs stadıydı.
Batman Arena yapılıyor.

Kayseri Atatürk stadıydı.
Kadir Has stadı yapıldı.

Rize Atatürk stadıydı.
Çaykur Didi stadı yapıldı.

Diyarbakır Atatürk stadıydı.
Diyarbakır Arena yapılıyor.

Giresun Atatürk stadıydı.
Çotanak Arena yapılıyor.

Elazığ Atatürk stadıydı.
Elazığ Arena yapılıyor.

*  *  *

İzmir’de de arena vardı.
Karşıyaka arena spor salonu.
Dün resmen silindi.
“Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu” yapıldı!

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Göğsümüzü gere gere “ben İzmirliyim” dememize bir kez daha vesile olan… Karşıyaka belediye başkanı Hüseyin Mutlu Akpınar ve Karşıyaka belediye meclisinin değerli üyelerine yurttaş olarak teşekkür ederim.

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Memleketteki arena işgaline karşı Hasan Tahsin direnişidir bu.

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Ve, çağrım tüm Türkiye’ye…
Şehrinizdeki Atatürk izlerinin silinmesine geçit vermeyin.
Fair play çerçevesinde protesto edin, maçlarda pankart açın, sosyal medya grupları kurun, itiraz edin, alay edin, pişman edin.

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Tüm arena tabelalarını tek tek yeniden Atatürk’le değiştirene kadar “sportif kuvayi milliye”ye katılın kardeşim.

Goodbye Izmir Alsancak Stadium: The Past and Present of a Country as Seen Through the Eyes of a Football Stadium

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Last year I wrote about the impending destruction of the stadium where I watched my first ever football match: the Alsancak Stadium in Izmir, Turkey. On August 3, 2015, the demolition started. The stadium that hosted the first game in Turkey’s highest professional league in 1959—between Izmirspor and Beykoz 1908—has now been consigned to history. All that remains are the memories, the songs of fans that still echo in our minds and radio broadcasts from a simpler time. One year ago Turkish sportswriter Bagis Erten compared the lovable venue to London’s Craven Cottage; sadly for the Alsancak Stadium—one of Turkey’s oldest, with football having been played on the grounds since 1910—it has ceased to exist while Craven Cottage is into its third century and going strong. As Mr. Erten notes, the Turkish government, in the AKP years, has enjoyed destroying the old to make way for new at the expense of history. While it is still unclear if a mall will be actually be built in the space vacated by the stadium, the story of the Alsancak Stadium also tells the story of the Turkish republic from 1923 up to today.

These days the AKP government—which has made no secret of its disdain for “heathen” (gavur) Izmir—has had it out for Turkey’s third largest (and most liberal) city. And the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has followed suit, adding insult to injury by penalizing four of the city’s teams—Karsiyaka SK, Goztepe SK, Altay Izmir, and Altinordu Izmir—in the wake of the Alsancak Stadium’s demolition. Three of the teams have been fined 30 thousand Turkish Liras—Altay got away with a fine of just half that, maybe they were pitied because the official name of the stadium was the Altay Alsancak Stadium?—while all four teams had their applications for licenses to play rejected by the TFF. The reason? The teams don’t have a stadium in which to play their games. Obviously, this is bizarre. Some club officials noted that “It wasn’t us who destroyed the Alsancak Stadium one month before the start of the season”. But this is Turkey. The teams from Turkey’s oldest footballing city are being penalized for a governmental decision to destroy their stadium. But the absurdity doesn’t stop there.

Back in 1870 football came to Izmir. As one of the Ottoman Empire’s largest ports the city was open to foreign influence, and British sailors brought football with them. With the Sultan suspicious of organized sport it was mainly Italians, British, and local Greeks and Armenians who played the game. In 1910 the grounds that would become the Alsancak Stadium first hosted football. But it wasn’t Altay that owned the stadium then—it was the Greek team Panionios that owned the land. After the population exchange of 1922 Panionios relocated to the Athens suburb of Nea Smyrni. The club that was founded in 1890 in Izmir continue to play today across the Aegean in the Nea Smyrni stadium while their old land has been taken away from Izmir’s teams in 2015 like it was taken away from the Greek side in 1922. History is brutal like that, the wrongs only repeat themselves.

In 2012 Daghan Irak wrote an informative piece regarding the Alsancak stadium in which he uses history to help explain the present:

 

Tarihi bir kere köklerinden söktüğünde, yerine koyduğun her şey de köksüz oluyor. Mirası bir kez reddettikten sonra hiçbir şeye sahip çıkmak zorunda kalmıyorsun. Bugün Alsancak’ı yıkıp AVM dikebiliyorsun, çünkü Panionios Stadı’nın üstüne de Alsancak’ı yapabilmiştin. Aynı şekilde mesela İstiklal Caddesi’ndeki Circle D’Orient ya da Saray Sineması da AVM olabiliyor, çünkü onların gerçek sahiplerini 1955’te elinde çivili sopalarla kovalarken zihinlere de formatı çekmiştin. 1915’ten itibaren sistematik olarak müsadere edilen azınlık mallarını dağıttığın sonradan görmeleri “muteber insanlar” olarak takdim edebildiğin için artık her şeye saldırı serbest.

“When you uproot history, everything you plant in its place becomes rootless. When you reject your heritage once, then you no longer have to own up to anything. Today you can build a mall in the place of the Alsancak Stadium because you once made the Alsancak Stadium in the place of the Panionios Stadium. Just like Istiklal Street’s [Istanbul’s main pedestrian street off of Taksim Square] Circle D’orient and Saray Cinema can become malls because you chased away their real owners in 1955 with sticks, reformatting everyone’s minds. Because you have systematically confiscated the possessions of minorities since 1915, and called their new owners “legal owners”, now every kind of attack is allowed.”

 

If a country doesn’t respect its past—in this case the close relationship between Turks and non-Muslim minorities during the Ottoman years—in the present, then how could you expect any historical structure to have meaning? How can you stop the rampant thirst for money through construction projects—in the name of the AKP’s extreme capitalism—if you don’t care about history? The stadium wasn’t even owned by Turks before the population exchange of 1923, so now it can be taken from its new “owners” and who knows what will be built in its place.

A Turkish businessman living in France has claimed that he can make it ready for matches in 45 days, but that seems unlikely given the legal hurdles that will have to be jumped through. Meanwhile, the TFF explained the fines it gave Izmir’s teams. Apparently, they didn’t present a “Security Certificate” for the stadiums they will be playing in. That’s all well and good but how could a team present a “Security Certificate” for a non-existent stadium? It’s the same story just in different words: If you won’t vote for us, then you won’t have football.

 

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All Images Courtesy of: http://fotogaleri.hurriyet.com.tr/galeridetay/97592/2/1/izmir-alsancak-stad-y-k-l-yor

Half Built Stadiums and Promises Left Unkept: Turkey’s Political Landscape Seen Through Stadiums

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On 10 June 2015 Turkey’s Cumhurriyet newspaper ran an interesting story focusing on one of the “wreckages” to emerge from the ruling AK Party’s 13 year old rule: Half built soccer stadiums. In 2010 the then Minister for Youth and Sports, Suat Kilic, oversaw the beginning of a rapid stadium-building project “950 Sport Investments” (950 Spor Yatirimi) for the AKP government. This program has been continued by his successor Akif Cagatay Kilic (no relation), and there are currently twenty-six new stadium projects in twenty four different cities at various stages of development. So far only one of those stadiums, Mersin Arena in the Mediterranean city of Mersin, has been completed and brought into use but it was plagued by a grass problem that left Superleague side Mersin Idman Yurdu without a stadium for over a month and a half. And it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the other projects either.

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Malatya’s New Stadium? Image Courtesy of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/spor/295569/Enkazin_buyugu_spor_insaatlarinda.html

The stadiums were supposed to be finished in time for the elections that just passed; instead work on many is stalled as fifty-six of the construction firms involved (15 of which work directly with the Ministry of Youth and Sports) have either gone under or been unable to complete the projects due to a lack of funds. The owner of one of the construction companies in question committed suicide last year over debts he was unable to pay. Some of the stadiums where construction has stalled are in the eastern cities of Bingol, Batman, Hatay, and Malatya. The article’s author Arif Kizilyalin notes that the fact that so many of these stalled projects are located in eastern Turkey is not a coincidence. With the AKP recognizing that they could lose votes in the southeast (which they did) they wanted to win over young voters by promising stadiums and new sports infrastructure. In order to make it happen before the elections the government directed construction firms to work fast, promising extra payments after the elections. With money also needed to fund the campaign, however, extra money for the construction projects dried up. Now there are many half-built stadiums in cities that, frankly, have no need for them anyway!

Seventeen of the stadiums are being built for teams currently outside of the nation’s top flight. For instance Samsunspor, who recently missed out on a spot in next year’s Superleague by losing the second division play off final, will play in the second division next year at a new stadium, a 33,919 capacity UEFA approved ground with seven restaurants and shopping mall included. Hardly the kind of stadium one would think a second division side needs while Turkey’s oldest top flight team, Besiktas, are still without a stadium.

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Samsun’s New Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-samsun-stadyumu-yeni-sezona-hazir-7280985/

 

The Besiktas club had hoped that their new Vodafone Arena in central Istanbul would be ready to open on September 15 2015, but the Istanbul Metropolitian Municipality has decided to stop the construction. The reason given for the stoppage is that the stadium’s roof is over the stipulated height limit of 34 meters, but the team claims that the final height will be 32.70 meters, more than a meter less. Given that Besiktas’s fan group, Carsi, have been targeted by the government this latest development does not come as too much of a shock. In fact back in October of 2014 the sports daily Fanatik ran a story asking “What country’s team is Besiktas?”. The article points out that while so many stadiums are being built in the country, Besiktas’s is the only stadium being built without government money. To add insult to injury the team was forced to play in the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, which takes about two hours to get to from Besiktas district on public transportation, and pay 100,000 Liras per game for the privilege. It should be noted that the figure was increased from 50,000 for last season. For comparison’s sake, Galatasaray were allowed to play at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium for free while their new stadium was being built. Maybe this is because Besiktas didn’t give the land from their old stadium to the government, as Galatasaray did, and—with the stadium’s view of the Bosphorus making it prime real estate—are now paying the price for it (literally out of their own pocket).

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Current State. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/29169739.asp

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The Proposed Plan. Image Courtesy of: http://stadiumdb.com/designs/tur/bjk_inonu_stadi

 

The fact that even the building of stadiums has become a political issue in Turkey shows the results of the AKP’s uncontested 13 year rule. By making even the smallest issue—from a football team’s stadium to the residency of the President to a park—political, the governing party has created an “Us Vs. Them” siege mentality in order to win votes. But votes are all that could ever be hoped to be won from such a strategy, certainly not real democracy or–evidently–new stadiums.

Sports and Separatism: The Dark Side of Football in Southeast Turkey

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Football, as a sport and a culture, is powerful. It can bring people from all walks of life, from all nationalities, together. Its power is fluid, it is exciting, and it is always changing. That’s what makes it beautiful. But that is also what makes it so very dangerous. As much as it can bring people together it can also tear people apart in the most savage of ways. For those who don’t know, a little background reading on Zvonimir Boban’s “kick that started the Yugoslav Wars in Maksimir Stadium” might be useful in the context of understanding this article:

Duke University has an interesting page here: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/

The Daily Mail’s article on a recent Serbia Vs. Croatia International: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html

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Images Courtesy of: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/ And http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html

One need not go back to the break up of the Yugoslavia to see such displays, in fact we can even stay in the Balkans. The abandoned Serbia-Albania international in Belgrade on October 14 2014 served as yet another reminder of football’s ability to uncover and exacerbate the differences in divided societies.

It is because of the precedence such events provide that I am deeply scared about recent developments in Turkish football. Lets start with Gençlerbirliği’s shrewd chairman Ilhan Cavcav, the man who discovered former Chelsea and Real Madrid man Geremi Nijitap. On December 26 2014 Mr. Cavcav made a “bold” (in his own words) announcement, suggesting that the Turkish National Anthem should be forbidden before domestic matches and that it should only be played before international matches. For me—both as an American and a Turk—his announcement is anathema. After all, what would a baseball game be without the Star Spangled Banner? In America, of course, it is part of the pageantry. In Turkey it is, admittedly, different. As I outlined in my thesis, the national anthem came to be sung in Turkish stadia as a reaction to the Kurdish crisis in the mid 1990s when violent clashes between the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) and Turkish Army were at their height in the country’s southeast. And now Mr. Cavcav’s call stems from unfortunate developments in the same region of Turkey twenty years later.

His main qualm with the singing of the national anthem is seemingly logical, especially given the Balkan precedent:

“Gazetede okudum: İstiklal Marşımız’a ıslıklar çalınmış. Bu milletin bir evladı olarak, bu millet için çalışan ve uğraşan bir sanayici olarak yarın bir gün bu olayların çoğalması kargaşalara sebebiyet verebilir. Bu nedenle sayın Başbakanımız’ın talimat vererek İstiklal Marşımız’ı lig maçlarında yasaklaması gerekir” diye konuştu.

“I read in the papers that our National Anthem was whistled down. As a son of this nation, as an industrialist working and struggling for this nation one day these events could proliferate and cause major chaos. Therefore our esteemed President should give an order and forbid the National Anthem at [domestic] league matches.”

His fear may be grounded—but running away is never the solution when the consequences are so grave, so obvious. His team Gençlerbirliği were drawn in Group H of the Turkish cup along with Giresunspor, Konyaspor, and—most notably—Cizrespor. Cizrespor is the only team from Turkey’s amateur league to make it to the group stages of the Turkish Cup, but how they got there has been a lesson in the geopolitics of a nation and its football.

 

I visited Cizre back in 2009 during quieter times and I have no doubt that the city I visited then is not the same city today. A city of now almost 100,000 people, it was an important gateway to both Anatolia and Mesopotamia during the Abbasid period of Islamic history, situated on the crossroads of both regions. Today the city is situated where the volatile borders of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet. Cizre has a long and distinguished history, from its foundation by Noah to being the site of Alexander the Great’s crossing of the Tigris in 331 BC. Sadly, now the city is best known for being the site of violent clashes between the PKK and the Sunni Muslim Huda-Par group, related to Turkish Hezbullah, who have been emboldened by the actions of ISIS across the border in Syria’s Kobane. Since Kobane fell under ISIS’ attack in early October Turkey’s Kurds, enraged by Turkey’s ambivalence towards—and reluctance to resist—ISIS, have taken matters into their own hands and are actively fighting the Islamist militants. As a result the area has fallen in to chaos (three people were killed in fresh clashes December 27), a chaos that threatens the integrity of the Turkish state.

So back to the football. Cizrespor started their Turkish cup adventure on a clear late summer day on September 3, 2014 at the Yüksekova Şehir Stadium against Yüksekova Belediyespor in the first qualifying round. As a match between two teams from neighboring southeastern provinces—both without any representatives in the professional leagues—it was bound to be a grudge match, a grind-it-out kind of match. Indeed it was a tough victory for Cizrespor, who took the match 2-1 despite some tension between players during the match. But these two teams were from the same under-developed regions of Turkey, there was no underlying tension stemming from off the field matters. It all went off without a hitch.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://haberciniz.biz/turkiye-kupasi-on-eleme-turu-3143353h.htm

Next up in the first round proper for Cizrespor was a trip to another neighboring province, this time Mardin, for a match against fellow Regional Amateur League side Mardinspor. No one knew what to expect, given that on February 2, 2014 a match between the same two sides (in Cizre) descended into violence following a 1-0 Cizrespor victory; 15 people—including one police officer—were wounded in the fighting that even a police presence of 700 could not prevent. But that match was an amateur match, no one heard too much about the events; such violence—even if not on that scale—happens often in tense amateur league encounters. But nothing untoward happened during their September 10 2014 encounter. After a pre-match meal where officials from both teams met to bury the hatchet and spread a message of peace and togetherness the match went off without any problems, even as Cizrespor humbled their hosts in a 1-4 victory. After the victory fans took to the streets in Cizre in celebration, escorting the team bus to the grounds with chants of “Cizrespor are the Champions!”. After all, the people of the region need all the cause for celebration they can get.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/cizrespor-a-coskulu-karsilama—1938698-skorerhaber/

 

In the second round of the Turkish Cup the competition goes national and opponents are no longer from the same region. Cizrespor’s opponents in this round on September 24, 2014 would be Aydınspor 1923 from the Aegean province of Aydın some 1500 kilometers away—in Turkey, that distance spans two different worlds. The players of Aydınspor 1923 would soon learn that. Despite having a side valued at more than 4 times that of Cizrespor’s (1,300,000 Euro to 245,000 Euro) Aydınspor 1923 conceded two goals in the first six minutes and went down 3-1 on their visit to Cizre. Anyone looking at the team’s values would raise an eyebrow at the result; after the match a few Aydınspor 1923 players told their tale.

Aydınspor’s thirty two year old journeyman defender Aytek Aşıkoğlu has seen a lot in his time. Born in Istanbul, his career started at neighborhood team Gaziosmanpaşaspor in 2002 before taking him to Adanaspor, Gaziantepspor, Elazığspor, Boluspor, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Çaykur Rizespor, Göztepe (Izmir), and finally Aydınspor 1923. The teams span Turkey’s geography: Istanbul to the Mediterranean, the southeast to the Black Sea, Central Anatolia to the Aegean coast. But I am sure that none of that could have prepared him for what he lived through in Cizre on that September day. His Twitter posts tell a dark story:

“Şükurler olsun TÜRKİYE CUMHURİYETİ VATANDAŞIYIM şükürler olsun ATATÜRK’ÜN EVLADIYIM”

“Thankfully I am a CITIZEN OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY thankfully I AM A SON OF ATATÜRK”

“Bir tane Türk bayrağinın olmadığı, bizden başka kimsenin Türkçe konuşmadığı, İstiklal Marşımızı sadece bizim söyledigimiz bir yerde, Türkiye Kupası maçı oynadık. Tehditler içinde sözde stada girerken yediğimiz dayaklar arasında arama yapılmadan içeri alınan 5000 eli taşlı kişilerin içinde bazı arkadaşlarımızın haklı olarak oynamak istemediği, bazılarının ise korkudan elinin ayağının titrediği kupa maçı oynadık”

“In a place where there was not even one Turkish Flag, in a place where no one other than us spoke Turkish, in a place where only we sang our National Anthem, we played a Turkish Cup Match. We entered what was apparently a stadium among threats and beatings. In a place where 5000 people entered without any searches carrying sticks and stones in their hands, and where some of our friends rightfully didn’t want to play—where some where shaking from head to toe with fear—we played a cup match.”

“Kimse kusura bakmasın biz bugün burada kazansaydık maçtan sonra kimse sağ kalmazdi. Tek tesellim tekrardan ailemi görecek olmam”

“No one should think otherwise, if we had won here today no one would have come out OK. My only consolation is that I will see my family again.”

“Bazen nefes aldığına hayatta kaldığına şükredersin. İşte öyle bir gündü.”

“Sometimes in life you are thankful to even take a breath and still be living. This is one of those days”.

 

While his posts may be hyperbolic at times, his teammate Sezer Sezgin confirmed his reports via Twitter both before and after the match:

“Hoşgeldin yaptılar otobüsün camlarını indirdiler”

“They welcomed us by breaking the glass of our bus”

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He went on to tag the Turkish Football Federation in a post to register his complaint with the situation:

“Bugün bizi futbol oynamamız için gönderdiğiniz stattan maçtan önce dayak ve tehdit, maçtan sonra da zırhlı araçlarla canımızı kurtardık”

“Today at the stadium you sent us into to play football there were pre-game beatings and threats, after the match we saved our lives with armored cars.”

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The Caption Reads: “Buda cikisimiz mac sonu… Zırhlı aracın icinde … Tek sucumuz futbol oynamak…” (“And this is us leaving after the match…inside an armored car…our only crime was playing football”).

Images Courtesy of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2014/09/24/aydinli-aytekten-tuyler-urperten-itiraflar-388069

 

Aydınspor’s coach Akif Başaran also confirmed the events implying that his team lost on purpose—during a dinner served by the Cizre Chamber of Commerce the night before the match they were told to lose. Meanwhile the team’s vice president Erdal Karakavukoğlu added hyperbolically that, “it would have been impossible for even Real Madrid to win that day in Cizre”. Coach Başaran’s statement is below:

“Futbolcularıma maçı oynamazsak stattan çıkamayacağımızı söyledim. Zorla sahaya çıktılar, 3-1 yenilip canlarını kurtardılar. 42 yıldır futbolun içindeyim, böyle şeyler yaşamadım. Otelden stada eskortsuz ve korumasız olarak gittik. Ortalıkta ne polis, ne asker vardı. İçeri girerken bir futbolcumuzun boğazını sıktılar, bir diğerine tekme attılar. Doğru düzgün ısınmaya bile çıkamadık. Her şey kendiliğinden gelişti. Teknik direktör olarak oyuncuma yenilmesini söylemem mümkün değil. Ancak o anki psikolojisini anlamak lazım. Bu atmosferde hangi takım kazanmak için oynar? Nitekim ilk 7 dakikada 2 gol yedik tansiyon bir anda düştü, herkes rahatladı.”

“I told my players that if we don’t play we won’t be able to get out of the stadium. They went out and played under duress and lost 3-1 to save their lives. I have been in football for 42 years and have never lived through anything like this. We went from the hotel to the stadium with no escorts or protection; there were no police or soldiers anywhere. When we entered they grabbed the throat of one of my players and kicked another. We couldn’t even warm-up properly. Everything happened on by itself. As a coach it is impossible for me to tell my players to lose. But you have to understand the psychology at that moment. What team can play to win in such an atmosphere? Then we conceded two goals in the first seven [sic] minutes and the tension fell suddenly, everyone relaxed.”

On the Cizrespor side club spokesman İdris Bingöl rejected Aytek Aşıkoğlu’s Tweets. He responded to Fanatik.com.tr’s questions by saying:

“Aytek Aşıkoğlu’nun yazdıkları gerçeği yansıtmıyor. Cizre, futbol sevdalısı bir ilçedir. Böyle suçlamaların yapılmasının sebebi Kürt ili olmamız. Cizrespor, halkımızın ve Cizreli iş adamlarının sayesinde ayakta duran bir kulüp. Takımımız, ilçemizdeki gençlerin spor yapmasını teşvik ediyor. Gençlerimizi kahve köşelerinde oturmaktan kurtarıp spora yönlendirmeye çalışıyoruz…Maça çakmak, su şişesi, hatta poşet bile sokulmadı. Eli taşları kişilerin stada alındığı iddiası kesinlikle doğru değil. Kürt ili olduğumuz için böyle şeyler söyleniyor. Takımımızda 2. Lig ve 1. Lig tecrübesi bulunan iyi oyuncularımız var. Bugün de çok iyi oynadık ve kazandık. Sanırım Aydınsporlular amatör bir takıma yenilmeyi kaldıramadığı için böyle sözler sarf etti. Biz her şeye rağmen maçtan sonra Aydınspor’la yemek yedik ve onları öyle yolcu ettik” diye konuştu.

“What Aytek Aşıkoğlu wrote doesn’t reflect reality. Cizre is a district that loves football. The reason such allegations are being made is that we are a Kurdish province. Cizrespor exists because of the support of its people and Cizre’s businessmen. Our team encourages the youth in our district to play sports. We are trying to save our youth from sitting in coffee houses by directing them to sports instead…No lighters, water bottles, or even plastic bags where allowed into the stadium. The claim that people with stones in their hands were allowed into the stadium is certainly untrue. Things like this are being said because we are a Kurdish province. We have good players with first and second division experience on our team, and today we played very well and won. I think that Aydınspor[‘s players] are saying these types of things because they can’t accept having lost to an amateur team. Despite everything we ate a meal with Aydınspor after the match and sent them off.”

While I would like to believe Mr. Bingöl the photos tweeted by Aydınspor’s players tell a different story. While I would like to fault Aydınspor’s coach for bringing the game into disrepute—and implying that his side lost on purpose—I can’t imagine being a footballer playing in such an atmosphere either. But all of this took place in the second round of the Turkish cup, between an amateur side from southeast Turkey and a relatively unsupported second division team from Aegean Turkey. Again, not too many people—aside from football maniacs like me—heard of the events and life went on.

 

The next month, on October 28, 2014, Cizrespor hosted Göztepe (Izmir), one of Turkey’s most famous clubs and one with an international fan base. When the draw was made I was in London with my friend, himself a Göztepe fan from childhood, and told me with a straight face that “there is no way we will win in Cizre”. Well if he knew it, then why did the Turkish football federation not move the match to another city? It’s a good question—the kind that makes one ask “Do they want trouble?” We will never know that much, but after Göztepe’s 2-0 loss only 57 words were used in the match summary by Fanatik.com.tr—with no mention of the extracurricular events that took place…just the fact that fans were sitting on the stadium’s roof.

But it could never be covered up. As one of Turkey’s oldest—and biggest—clubs, any match involving Göztepe would become national news. And it did. Even CNN Turk—themselves famous for showing a penguin documentary during the Gezi protests—picked up the story. Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe got a police escort from the airport to the stadium. But the three armored busses and five armored cars couldn’t prevent the team bus from being stoned en route.

 

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.goztepeliler.com/haber-2326-Dun-Cizrede-Kaybedilmek-Uzere-Olan-Bir-Vatan-Oldugunu-Gordum.html#

 

Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe was able to come out for warm-ups…under a rain of foreign objects hurled from the stands. It took Cizrespor president Salih Sefinç to calm the irate fans down himself. After the events during and after the Aydınspor 1923 match Cizrespor arranged for 1000 scarves with “Cizrespor-Göztepe” written on them to be put on the seats of the stadium in a bid to create a friendship between the clubs…the majority of these scarves were thrown onto the pitch. No one wanted them. And just like during the Aydınspor 1923 match, the Turkish National Anthem was whistled down:

In the 63rd minute Göztepe tried to take a corner kick and a tear gas bomb was thrown onto the pitch along with fireworks. The referee had to take the teams to the center of the field while the police tried to calm the situation down—how much they succeeded is questionable; the governors of Şırnak Province and Cizre District left early due to security concerns. After the final whistle hundreds of Cizrespor supporters staged a pitch invasion while their players helped their Göztepe counterparts to the locker rooms.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.radikal.com.tr/spor/cizrespor_goztepe_macinda_yuzlerce_taraftar_sahaya_girdi-1221882

 

After the match an anonymous Göztepe player wrote his version of the events on one of Göztepe’s fan sites Goztepeliler.com, which was subsequently picked up by Turkish Eurosport. The title he chose, “Yesterday I saw that what was lost in Cizre was a country [more than a match]”, spoke volumes and became truly national news. I have attempted to translate some excerpts below:

 

“Dün oynadığımız Cizrespor – Göztepe Maçında, bir Maç’dan ziyade kaybedilenlerin çok daha fazla olduğunu gördük.. 

TFF’nin Ziraat TÜRKİYE Kupası adı verilen oragnizasyonda, kendi vatan ve topraklarımızda, zırhlı araçlar ve Toma’lar eşliğinde stada güclükle gelebiliyoruz.. Yol boyunca Takımımızı taşıyan Polis Araçlarına taşlar ve patlayıcı maddeler atılıyor.

Isınmak için sahaya çıkarken üzerimize atılan yabancı maddeler (Taş, Kremit, ses bombaları, havai fişekler) ve sahada kim oldukları belli olmayan onlarca insan, gerek ısınırken gerekse maç boyu sürekli tehditler savuran ama hiçbir şekilde sahaya girme izni olmayan sözde görevliler..

Armasından Türk Bayrağını çıkarmış olan Cizrespor Maçı öncesi atılan Terör örgütü sloganları ve hem Stad çalışanları hemde ordaki Cizreliler tarafından sabote edilen (okunmayan) Istiklal Marşımız..

Bütün bu olanları bilen gören ve protokolden sessizce izleyen, herşey cok normalmış gibi davranan, sözde devletimizin bir Valisi..

Maç boyunca tribünlerden ve tribünlerin çatısından sahaya atılan taşların ve yabancı maddelerin, Maç oynanırken sürekli sahaya giren görevliler tarafından toplanmaya çalışılması ve hakeminde buna sessiz kalması. Maçı uzatmaya taşımamak için verilen bir Penaltı ve hakeme ”neden Penaltı verdin” diye sorulduğunda, bende bilmiyorum diye alınan cevap.

Maç’dan önce ve Maç boyunca atılan tezahüratlarda bölücük ve terör örgütü propagandası olmasına rağmen hiçbir şekilde müdahale edilmemesi ”burası Kürdistan burdan cıkış yok” sesleri ve bunlar görülmesin, duyulmasın, bilinmesin diye Maçın Canlı yayınlanmak istenmemesi ve Canlı yayınlanmasına engel olunması..

Türkiye Futbol Federasyonu bunların hesabını kime ve nasıl verecek?

Dün Cizrede kaybedilen sadece bir Maç değildi.

Dün Cizrede kaybedilmek üzere olan bir vatan olduğunu gördüm, devletin hiçbir şekilde etkisi olmadığı bir bölgede vatanını korumak isteyen koca yürekli Polis ve Askerlerin olduğunu gördüm, o şartlarda Terör yuvası dönmüş mahallelerde kalbinde Türk Bayrağı taşıyan ve nöbet tutan Adam gibi Adamlar gördüm..

”Siz bizi düşünmeyin, sadece bu Maç’ı bizim için kazanın” diyen o Polislerimiz, hakkınızı helal edin..

 

“Yesterday’s Cizrespor-Göztepe match showed us that what was lost was much more than a match.

In an event the Turkish Football Federation calls the Ziraat TURKISH Cup we were barely able to make it to the stadium escorted by armored cars and riot control vehicles, in our own country and our own lands. All the way to the stadium the Police vehicles carrying our team were met with rocks and explosive materials.

We saw foreign objects (rocks, bricks, sound bombs, fireworks) thrown at us when we came out for warm ups and the unidentified tens of people on the field, those threatening us before and during the match, but who had no right to enter the field and were supposedly working [for the team]…

We saw a Cizrespor who took the Turkish Flag off of their jersey [NOTE: this is true, I have a Cizrespor jersey from my visit which has the Turkish Flag on it, the team’s current shirts do not have it] and the terrorist slogans being yelled, we saw our National Anthem sabotaged by the Cizre fans and stadium workers…. 

We saw a supposed governor from our country who also saw and knew all of these things but who chose to watch in silence and act as if everything was normal.

We saw the stones and objects being thrown from the stands before and during the match, we saw the fans continuously attempting to enter the field and the referee remaining silent. In order to not take the match to extra time a penalty was given and when the referee was asked ‘Why did you give that penalty?’ his answer was I don’t know either… 

We saw the separatist and terrorist propaganda that was being yelled from the stands before and during the match that was not stopped at all; so that the sounds of “This is Kurdistan there is no way out” could not be heard, could not be seen, could not be known, the match was not recorded live…

How will the Turkish Football Federation answer this? 

What was lost yesterday in Cizre was not just a match. 

I saw that what was lost yesterday was a country. I saw an area where the state has no power whatsoever and where brave Police and Soldiers want to protect the state. I saw real men who carry the Turkish Flag in their hearts standing watch in neighborhoods that have become havens of terror.

Bless those Police who said “Don’t worry about us, just win this match for us”.

 

 

 

For anyone who has love for a country this is indeed a grizzly account of stadium terror in its worst form. Yet no one knows, as the player said the game was not televised live (when many such matches are). And as he also said, the match was not stopped despite the materials raining onto the field. In any other context, in any other place, the match most likely would have been abandoned. But it wasn’t.

 

Cizrespor’s officials responded to these allegations as well. President Salih Sefinç’s statement is below:

 

“28 Ekim 2014 tarihinde Türkiye’nin köklü kulüplerinden bir tanesi olan Göztepe ile Cizre’de bu güzel coğrafyada, güzel bir futbol müsabakası yaptık. Bana göre fair-play içerisinde geçen, karşı takımın yöneticileri ve futbolcuları ile Cizresporlu futbolcular ve yöneticileri açısından kardeşçe geçen bir müsabaka olmuştur. Derbi maçlarında çıkan olayların yüzde beşi kadar olayların yaşanmamasına rağmen bazı medya kuruluşu ve gazetelere bakıldığında kendilerine yakışmayan ve Cizre’yi hedef alan üsluplarla haber yazıldığı görülmüştür. Biz bu yazılanları gerçekten tasvip etmiyoruz. Cizrespor Yönetim Kurulu olarak spor anlamında doğudan batıya uzanan bir köprü olmak istiyoruz. İstanbul’daki bir takımımız Cizre’ye ya da Bursa’ya gidip güzel güzel futbolunu oynayacak. Bursa da gelip burada oynayacak. Bunun güzelliğini ancak bu şekilde yaşayabileceğiz. Batıdaki Türk kardeşlerimiz ile Doğuda yaşayan Kürt kardeşlerimiz arasında provokatörlük yapan ya da güzel olmayan, kendi üsluplarına yakışmayan şekilde yazı yazmak bence basın yayın kurallarına aykırı olan şeylerdir. Biz bunları tasvip etmiyor ve buna karşı olduğumuzu belirtmek istiyoruz”

“In Cizre on October 28, 2014 we played a beautiful football match in this beautiful geography with one of Turkish football’s most storied clubs, Göztepe. For me this match was played with Fair-Play and brotherhood between the Cizrespor players and officials and our opponent’s players and officials. Despite the fact that less than five percent of the things that happen in derby matches happened here some media outlets and papers wrote stories unbecoming of them and that target Cizre. We really don’t approve of these lies. As the Cizrespor Board of Directors we want to be a sporting bridge stretching from the east to the west. One of our teams from Istanbul can come to Cizre or Bursa and play football comfortably. Bursa will come and play here too. We can only realize this beautiful [thing] this way. I think that writing provocative things about our Turkish brothers in the west and our Kurdish brothers in the east, and writing unbecoming stories, is a violation of press and media rules. We do not approve of these things and want to make it clear that we are against them.”

 

Some of Mr. Sefinç’s comments are spot on. Sports should serve as a bridge between east and west, between Kurds and Turks, between under-developed and developed parts of nations. But not everyone thinks this way. Mr. Sefinç himself had to calm down his rowdy fans, so perhaps he would be better served to work on his own fans and community instead of targeting news outlets in a manner that only serves to fan the flames of mutual accusations.

 

 

So now we come to December 9, 2014 when Ilhan Cavcav’s Gençlerbirliği visited Cizre for their Turkish Cup group stage match. The team was again taken by armored car to the stadium. In an ironic coincidence, these were the same armored busses that took the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to Kobane in their fight against ISIS. This is, after all, a team from the Turkish top flight—their safety must be ensured!

 

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27738366.asp#

 

The stadium was empty due to a stadium closure stemming from the events outlined above but…it didn’t change much. The Cizrespor fans watched from a concrete apartment block towering over the small stadium, yelling slogans for Kobane and even flying the flag of Kurdish Northern Iraq. And throughout the match firecrackers and fireworks were thrown onto the pitch.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27740633.asp# And http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27738366.asp#

 

The aftermath of Gençlerbirliği’s victory was predictable: pitched battles between Cizrespor’s citizens (I don’t know how many are “fans”) and the police. The Gençlerbirliği team were stranded in the stadium for almost an hour, while nearby schools had to be evacuated when children were affected by the tear gas drowning the streets.

 

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27740633.asp#

 

 

The story of five matches in four months truly tells the story of a Turkey threatened to be ripped apart by the chaos engulfing its neighbors. It was enough for columnist Zafer Büyükavcı of the sports daily Fanatik to write a warning concerning these events: “Gentlemen are you aware: The country is slipping through our fingers.” Unfortunately his warning fell on deaf ears.

 

 

On December 24, 2014, Turkish giants Galatasaray visited the heart of Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, Diyarbakır, to face Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor in their Turkish Cup match-up. It shouldn’t have been an issue—Galatasaray voluntarily played the 2000 Turkish Cup Final in Diyarbakır and in my thesis I mentioned that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan asked for a TV set in his prison cell to watch the 2000 UEFA Cup Final between Galatasaray and Arsenal since he is a Galatasaray fan. Galatasaray even chose to go to the hotel without an escort—Vice President Abdürrahim Albayrak said “The people’s team will go to the hotel among the people.”

 

Nothing happened around the hotel, until match day when a group of 10-15 people stoned the Galatasaray bus. Still, it wasn’t enough to ruin the friendly atmosphere. According to the Cumhuriyet article the differences couldn’t overcome a mutual distaste for industrial football, and signs were written in both languages:

 

“Kürdistan’da spor yarış değil kardeşliktir, Futbol sahada güzel borsada değil. TOKİ sizin stat bizim.”

 “In Kurdistan sports aren’t a race they’re brotherhood. Football is good on the field not on the stock market. TOKI [NOTE: Turkey’s state run housing administration which builds most stadiums—see the construction and corruption scandals] your stadium is ours.”

 

But still the Turkish-Kurdish problem proved inescapable and the bad apples were out there at the match. Most fans were yelling for “Diyarbakırspor”—but the from the younger fans came “Amedspor” (the Kurdish and Syriac name of the city). In the 88th minute the match was stopped when a stone was thrown at one of the linesmen. And the fans still whistled down the national anthem. And the fans still yelled support for Kobane. And the Diyarbakır Büyüksehir Belediyespor President Ihsan Avcı—despite his expressing regret at the stonings–still said the team came out to not be “Diyarbakır’s” team but “Kurdistan’s” team: The people’s team.

 

The situation is fluid. But it is also dangerous, and that must be kept in mind. Torku Konyaspor, ahead of their upcoming match in Cizre, asked for it to be moved in the wake of the recent violence in Cizre (both related to sports and unrelated to sports). According to the Turkish Football Federation’s website there has been no change, the match will take place at 11:30am local time at the Cizre stadium. Regardless of what happens in relation to football I hope that the government realizes that what is happening in southeast Turkey today is very dangerous for Turkey’s future going into the New Year. They need only look west to the Balkans for an example of what could happen.

 

A few pictures of the dusty Cizre Sehir Stadium taken during my visit in May 2009:

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Adnan Menderes Stadium, Aydin, Turkey — Aydinspor 1923

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The Adnan Menderes Stadium is the biggest stadium in Turkey’s Aegean Province of Aydin with a capacity of 10,988 (although Wikipedia will tell you its capacity is 15,000). It is a fairly modern stadium home to Aydinspor 1923, currently playing in the third tier of Turkish football. The previous incarnation of Aydinspor 1923—“real” Aydinspor—were dissolved in 2011 after falling to the amateur ranks but they played in this stadium during their appearances in the Turkish top flight from 1990-93 (including a famous 1-6 victory over Turkish giants Fenerbahce on 26 August 1990, to this day still the biggest loss Fenerbahce have ever suffered in their home stadium).

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Image Courtesy Of: http://dobrayorum.blogspot.com/2010/08/fenerbahce-tarihinde-bugun-26-agustos.html

 

The Adnan Menderes Stadium was built in 1950 with the name Aydin Sehir (City) Stadium before being renamed in August 1980 after former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Prime Minister Menderes was a controversial figure as the founder of the fourth legal opposition party of Turkey—the Democrat Party—and led Turkey from 1950 to 1960. Under his rule Turkey modernized rapidly and joined NATO, but many of his reforms were seen as going against Ataturk’s ideals and the Istanbul Pogrom—where many Greek homes and businesses where destroyed—remain a dark spot on his legacy. After the 1960 Military coup Prime Minister Menderes was deposed and, on September 17 1961, executed despite pleas for his pardon by many including US President John F. Kennedy.

But politics and history can move in different directions, and those who die at the gallows can go on to become martyrs; Prime Minister Menderes and those under him where posthumously pardoned 29 years to the day on September 17 1990. His name now lives on at the Aydin Adnan Menderes UniversityIzmir Adnan Menderes Airport, and the Aydin Adnan Menderes Stadium:

 

 

Bonus: On the way back from the Stadium–with my Aydınspor 1923 shirt in hand–I was treated with a beautiful rainbow rising over the hills of Aydin province’s Söke district:

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Capital City Blues: Cebeci Inönü Stadyumu, Ankara, Turkey (Ankara Demirspor); Ankara Demirspor-Anadolu Uskudarspor (0-2) BONUS: Ankara Demirspor Home Shirt 2012-13

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Walking down Ankara’s Dikmen Boulevard you know you are in a capital city. The drab blocks of government buildings go on for as far as the eye can see. The General Directorate of the Police. The Finance Ministry. The Coast Guard. The Department of Navy. (The Irony of the last two being located in a land locked city in central Anatolia not withstanding). The Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Residence. The State Water Management. The Highway Department. Its all here. I shudder at the thought of the red tape that must line the hallways of those drab buildings as I walk on towards Kizilay Square, the center of life in the capital.

I walk on down the streets in the shadows of the state apparatus to the Cebeci Inonu Stadium. Built in 1967 it was Ankara’s first large stadium and, with a capacity of 37,000, it is surprisingly Turkey’s sixth biggest. Of course, I would later learn that at least half of that capacity is unusable due to urban decay—but the facts are the facts, according to the Turkish Football Federation.

Crossing from the Cankaya into Cebeci district it feels like a time warp. Even the Uludag Gazoz signs on the coffee houses remind me of a bygone Turkey, the Turkey I grew up in.

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The stadium is a forlorn sight rising into the blue sky ahead of me as I delicately traverse the crumbling steps. It looks like a bomb exploded somewhere nearby and I’m unsure of what to expect as I walk beneath the rusting sign that reads “Inonu Stadyumu”. I pay my three Lira for a ticket at a booth that makes me feel like I’m visiting a prison. Once I’m through the obligatory pat down I’m in the stands along with another 17 souls (I counted) on a clear Monday afternoon. I head to the top of the stands and look out at the dilapidated sections of Ankara spreading out below me. All sections of life must live in those apartments, who knows what kinds of marriages and childhoods are being lived? I shudder at the thoughts and turn to back my seat in order to stand at attention for the National Anthem. Its lyrics echo through the emptiness, it feels like a funeral.

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As the match kicks off I can the players yelling instructions to one another, its like I’m on the field. “Come back back BACK!” yells the Ankara Demirspor goalkeeper trying to keep his defense focused. It is no use, and just three minutes in Cagatay Ceken puts the visitors up 0-1. The stands are silent and all the noise comes from the home team’s bench as the irate Ankara Demirspor coach attempts to rush the field, held back by his assistants. The choice words he has for the referee echo through the stadium and up to me but the goal will not be disallowed.

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After the first ten minutes a few more fans trickle in, including a small group of young kids who could only be playing hookey for this rare weekday afternoon fixture. With nothing much to watch on the pitch I turn my attention to the moss growing out of the concrete stands, thinking to myself that it must be a rare species.

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At half time I head down to the gates for a water but, alas, there is no café. In fact, there is just a gate with a few security guards who look bored out of their minds. I ask for water and the female shrugs.

“Its outside, but I can get you some. It costs a Lira”.

I hand her the coin between the metal bars and she returns, handing me a plastic cup. As I drink it down eagerly, I watch a fellow fan pass some money through the bars for a simit, a sesame covered bagel. I think that this is what prison must feel like.

“There is no system like this,” says the male security guard looking at me.

“There is no stadium like this,” is my reply and we both laugh.

 

Indeed there is not be. Even the concourses feel like a prison, despite the sunlight flowing through. I take the halftime break to explore the innards of the stadium—the chipped paint tells me that this stadium’s days are numbered. I’m just glad to have gotten the chance to visit another place that will soon fall victim to the urban renewal sweeping Turkey, such demolition and construction serve as ready sources of income for a government looking for investment to keep the economy going.

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The second half witnesses a few more fans in the stands, taking the total to just over 70 (again, I counted). Sadly the extra support fails to jump-start the Ankara Demirspor players who seem to be stuck in third gear—it is surprising, since the team is currently in the playoff spots. Ankara Demirspor pay for their inability to turn the screw and Uskudar Anadolu add a second goal in the 74th minute through Seyit Ali Akgul. Down by two goals the fans know that there will be no return and decide to spend their energy berating the team—what else can they do?

After the final whistle I head to the player’s exit in order to inquire about an Ankara Demirspor shirt. As one of Turkey’s most famous teams (they were founding members of Turkish football’s top tier for its first season in 1958-59). I felt like it would be a necessary addition to the collection, and I make an appointment to meet one of the team’s officials the next morning at the Ankara Demirspor grounds.

 

As befitting such an historic team, Ankara Demirspor’s history is fascinating. There are two interesting Turkish Language websites that outline the histories of all of Turkey’s various “Demirspors”: http://www.kentvedemiryolu.com/icerik.php?id=301 and http://demirsporlar.blogspot.com.tr. My thanks to Mr. Yavuz Yildirim and the blogger Mustava for their valuable insights, some of which I will translate for English language readers below:

Ankara Demirspor were founded in 1930, but at that time there were already a few Demirspors in Turkey. Such teams are, of course, the teams of the railways. In many ways they are similar to the eastern European railway teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow, Lokomotiv Sofia, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Locomotive Tblisi, CFR Cluj (Romania), and Zeljeznicar Sarajevo to name a few. As Yavuz Yildirim notes, the such Demirspors were a critical way of tying the country together after the founding of the new republic in 1923 since they connected the industrial strength of an emerging country to the cultural aspect of a sports club becoming a symbol of the country’s modernization. Generally, these clubs were formed in major cities along the rail network according to the 26th element of the Youth and Sports General Directorate law numbered 3289 (it is still in effect today) which states “factories and foundations with more than 500 officers or workers must make sports facilities and hire a coach for the physical education of their personnel.” (“memur ve işçi sayısı 500’den fazla olan kuruluşlar ve fabrikalar, öncelikle kendi personeline beden eğitimi ve spor yaptırmak için spor tesisleri yapmaya ve antrenör tutmaya mecburdurlar.”). The reason for such a law was simple: To keep the country’s youth fit in order to preform national guard duties in interwar period of instability—in many ways this is similar to the rationale in the former Soviet Union for the formation of Lokomotiv, Torpedo, Dynamo, and CSKA teams which were all tied to important industries and entities critical to the state (Please see my article on the history of Lokomotiv Plovdiv for more on this).

According to Yavuz Yildirim’s piece there were (in 2007) 38 Demirspors throughout Turkey. The same article claims that in 1942 the following Demirspors were in operation: Haydarpaşa, Derince, İzmit, Bilecik; Ankara, Irmak, Çankırı, Karabük, Çatalağzı, Zonguldak; Balıkesir, Bandırma, Soma, Tavşanlı, Kütahya; Kayseri, Sivas, Zile; Samsun, Çetinkaya, Divrik, Yerköy; Malatya, Diyarbakır, Maden; Adana, Fevzipaşa, Mersin, İskenderun, Ulukışla, Afyon, Konya , Uşak; İzmir, Manisa, Alaşehir, Nazilli, Çamlık; Denizli, Dinar; Sirkeci, Edirne; Erzurum; Sarıkamış, Erzincan; Eskişehir; Mudanya; Edremit. Alongside these cities various other Demirspors are in operation currently, such as Kars Demirspor and Kocaeli Demirspor—they all play in the amateur leagues of their respective provinces. Of the Demirspors, only Ankara Demirspor and their famous cousin—Adana Demirspor—are in the professional leagues.

 

On Tuesday morning I am at the Ankara Demirspor grounds before lunch. A sign advertising the team’s wedding packages greets me. Who (other than maybe me) would want to get married at a soccer team’s grounds by the Ankara Region train depot is beyond me but, I suppose, some people have interesting tastes. Since I won’t be getting married any time soon, I hope they find people to fill the reservations as I walk on past the train repair yard trying to avoid a couple stray dogs that are looking a bit too menacing.

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Inside the offices I meet the team’s personnel manager for a tea and am presented with an amazing Ankara Demirspor shirt. The TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) sponsor is fitting, along with a rear sponsor from the Ulastirma Bakanligi (Ministry of Transportation). The colors are striking and top off a truly amazing shirt. I send my unending thanks to all the folks at Ankara Demirspor for the tea and the shirt, truly Turkish hospitality at its best.

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