Home

Football, Politics, and Islam in Turkey: May 2016

Comments Off on Football, Politics, and Islam in Turkey: May 2016

When a country’s president is former footballer, the connection between politics and sport can be more apparent. At the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Congress on 22 May 2016, where new Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pledged his allegiance to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the festivities took an interesting turn. Spectators at the conference did a tifo consisting of choreographies; images of Mr. Yildirim, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Mr. Erdogan were raised to the rafters by spectators.

574190bf18c7735ab8a2c595574190c318c7735ab8a2c599

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ak-partililerden-uc-lidere-koreografi-40107385

This show was strangely reminiscent of football supporters’ Tifos. Here is a list of 10 great looking choreographies from around the world and fans of both Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have put on similar shows in Turkish football. The Galatasaray choreography shows the team’s ownership of Istanbul’s geography but showing a lion advancing towards the Bosporus Bridge while Fenerbahce’s combines the team’s badge with Turkish nationalism by using an image of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The tifo at the AKP conference, by contrast, confirms the old saying about Turkish politics—people support political parties as if supporting a football team.

koreografi-tepkisi-2213759

Image Courtesy Of: http://spor.milliyet.com.tr/koreografi-tepkisi/spor/spordetay/23.04.2012/1531627/default.htm

562cff1767b0a92dd4550aab

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/kadikoyde-muthis-koreografi-40005855

The football analogies, however, do not stop there. President Erdogan, wary of criticism, offered that—perhaps—parliamentary groups should not have observers since in the football world matches can be played without fans if fans misbehave. Therefore, the reasoning stands, if politicians misbehave then they should not be able to observe in parliament. The liberal Cumhuriyet offered a sarcastic second solution: Why not just disband parliament? But President Erdogan has gone to great lengths to prevent criticism from all walks of society. On 20 May 2016 the Turkish parliament voted to lift immunity for MPs, a move targeting MPs from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who are accused of being part of the terrorist PKK) and MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who have had charges of “insulting the President” levied on them. Outside of politics, on 31 May 2016 the 2006 Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac was convicted of insulting President Erdogan through social media postings. In this climate, it isn’t that far fetched that the President would consider treating parliamentary sessions like football matches.

Another important development happened at the Black Sea club Trabzonspor. The team’s new coach Ersun Yanal has decided to ban his players from sporting beards, with a 25,000 Turkish Lira (About 8,000 US Dollars) fine for appearing in a match with a beard. The player most affected by this will be Aykut Demir, who has been known as much for off the field incidents as for his on field play. Mr. Demir, born in Holland, has reflected the changing currents in Turkish society since transferring to Ankara’s Genclerbirligi in 2009. His nickname is “Commando”, stemming from his love of weapons and his strong sense of Turkish national pride according to Hurriyet. While at Genclerbirligi he posed for a photo shoot decked out like Turkish special forces, complete with war paint and a blue beret. These days, however, he has taken to appearing in public dressed in Islamic garb—complete with a beard even a haji would be proud up. With the arrival of Mr. Yanal, however, Mr. Demir’s beard will have to go. That Mr. Demir has taken a more outwardly pious appearance is no surprise given the gradual Islamicization of Turkish society; what is interesting is that Mr. Yanal has moved to distance his players from this kind of appearance. We will keep watching to see if other teams make similar moves in the future, since Genclerbirligi’s chairman Ilhan Cavcav made a similar move two years ago.

56417fd267b0a9406cf78017574e89c6c03c0e3ad83034c7574e89c6c03c0e3ad83034c9

Mr. Yanal Apparently Does Not Fear the Beard. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/trabzonsporlu-aykut-demirden-olay-fotograf-40012107

Attack on Fenerbahçe’s Team Bus Raises Many Questions: What is Happening in Turkey?

Comments Off on Attack on Fenerbahçe’s Team Bus Raises Many Questions: What is Happening in Turkey?

On the night of Saturday April 4, 2015, the bus carrying Turkey’s Fenerbahçe football team fell under attack on the way back from a convincing 5-1 victory over Rizespor. Subsequent reports said that the attack involved stones and—interestingly—two shots from a hunting rifle, according to Abdulcelil Öz, the governor of Trabzon. This attack, which occurred on the Sürmene-Araklı highway between Rize and Trabzon, is unprecedented in Turkish football history. The side window of the bus was shattered while the front window was damaged in five spots. The driver, Ufuk Kıran, was seriously injured by a gunshot wound to the face and is currently in stable condition. Now, the obvious question is why did such an attack happen? In Turkey it is relatively common for team busses to be attacked with stones by rival supporters, but such a confirmed and violent armed attack has—to my recollection—never happened. To dig deeper into this tragic event it is worth looking into the past week in Turkey that has been uncharacteristically violent.

_82130416_bullet2 _82130412_bullet4 _82130418_fenerbahce_getty _82130415_bullet3

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/32187388

 

On Tuesday the week started with a massive blackout that plunged most of the country into darkness. Officially, the blame was put on two plants in Izmir and Adana that severed Turkey’s connection with the European power grid. The same day, prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz who was investigating police in connection to the death of 15 year-old Berkin Elvan last March was taken hostage in an Istanbul court and shot by members of The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Police also killed the hostage takers belonging to the Marxist organization when they stormed the office. The next day, April 1 2015, police shot a woman carrying guns and hand grenades when she tried to attack Istanbul’s police headquarters in the Istanbul district of Aksaray. On the same day an armed man was detained by police after breaking in to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) office building on Istanbul’s Asian side in the Kartal district and hanging a Turkish flag with a sword on it from the window.

n_80440_1

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/armed-man-detained-after-breaking-into-akp-building-in-istanbul.aspx?PageID=238&NID=80440&NewsCatID=341

 

Interestingly, before the woman’s attack in Aksaray, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned of the risk of “provocations” saying “We are aware that we face an axis of evil and there is an attempt to instigate an atmosphere of chaos ahead of the election.” While the rhetoric of an “Axis of Evil” is similar to that of former U.S. President George Bush, Mr. Davutoğlu was not so kind as to enlighten us as to who (or what) exactly this “axis” consists of. In the void, many Turks on social media chose to make their own interpretations. An entry on popular online forum Ekşi Sözlük—the Sour Times—had this to say on the DHKP-C:

yılda bir iki defa adlarını duyarsınız. iktidarın en sıkıştığı dönem ortaya çıkarlar ve ortaya çıktıklarında sebep oldukları tek şey chp ve solcu partileri halkın gözünde sıfırlayıp iktidarı halkın gözünde yükseltmek.

You’ll hear their name once or twice a year. They’ll appear at a time that the administration [ruling party, read: AKP] are most in trouble and the only reason they’ve appeared is to discredit the CHP [Main opposition party] and other leftist parties in the eyes of the public and raise the stature of the administration [ruling party] in the eyes of the public.

 

While I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories this interpretation doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me—especially in light of current events. Why would this leftist group take hostage a prosecutor investigating the role of police in Berkin Elvan’s death? To me, this simply does not make sense—and it wouldn’t, at least in the immediate term—seem to serve the DHKP-C’s interests either. So are they just a government scapegoat, involved in false-flag operations in order to provide an excuse for further government crackdowns?

On Monday, April 6 2015 we may have come closer to an answer. Social media sites in Turkey—including Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook—were blocked. Even search engine Google was part of the ban according to Al-Jazeera. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin gave the reason for the ban in comments cited by Reuters, saying that “some media organisations had acted ‘as if they were spreading terrorist propaganda’ in sharing the images of the hostage-taking.” This is, of course, not the first time social media has been banned in Turkey. It happened last March in the run up to local elections. This time a similar ban was necessitated not by elections but because of last week’s events. But even this may not be unrelated to elections.

 

Ex Fenerbahçe star and popular Turkish football pundit Rıdvan Dilmen made comments on his program “Yüzde Yüz Futbol” (One Hundred Percent Football) on NTV Sports that resonated throughout Turkey:

. . . Bu ciddi bir problem. Son 7 günü bir düşünelim neler olduğunu; çok uzağa gitmeyelim. Elektrik kesintisi, Emniyet Müdürlüğü’ne saldırı, rahmetli olan savcının durumu, dünkü olay… Sonra yargılamalarda mesela; Çarşı Grubu’nun yargılanması var…

Bu bir sportif olay değil, bunun kupayla bilmem neyle de ilgisi yok. Bu 3 Temmuz sürecinden önce de Fenerbahçe-Trabzon maçları gergin geçerdi. Benim dönemimde de gergin geçerdi.

Ben açıkçası bu yaza kadar, seçime kadar böyle şeylerin olabileceğini düşünüyorum. Çünkü yaşananlar bunu gösteriyor…

…This is a serious problem. Let’s think in the last seven days what all has happened; let’s not go too far back. The blackout, the attack on Police headquarters, the deceased prosecutor, yesterday’s events [the attack on Fenerbahçe’s bus]…Then the trials for instance, there is the trial of the Çarşı Group…

 This is not a sporting incident, this has nothing to do with the cup or I don’t know what else. Before the events of 3 July [The matchfixing scandal that targeted Fenerbahçe in 2011 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Turkish_sports_corruption_scandal)] Fenerbahçe -Trabzon matches were tense. They were tense in my time [as a player] too. Honestly I think that until this summer, until the election, things like this might happen. Because what has happened shows this…

 

It is important to note that Mr. Dilmen is right. Matches between Fenerbahçe -Trabzonspor have always been tense, and fans of Trabzonspor were known in the 1990s to fire guns into the air in celebration. A Turkish language football blog, Dobrayorum, put together a small history of violent episodes during and following Fenerbahçe Trabzonspor matches. There are examples from the 1974-75 season, 1978-79 season, and even a similar bus attack (one player claimed a gun was used then as well) from the 1984-85 season. But those events were all, seemingly, standard football hooliganism; they all happened after Fenerbahçe either won (1974-75) or tied with a late goal (1978-79 and 1984-85) at Trabzonspor’s famously intimidating stadium. The events of Saturday night did not happen after a hotly contested Fenerbahçe-Trabzonspor derby (Look to 2010 for an example), instead they happened after a comfortable Fenerbahçe victory against Trabzonspor’s local rivals Rizespor. It doesn’t add up.

ScreenHunter_29 May. 11 22.49 14_Nisan_1985_Trabzonspor_Fenerbah_e_ma_ 17_Eyl_l_1978_Trabzonspor_Fenerbah_e_ma_

The first two images are from 4 April 1985 (Suspiciously coincidentally, exactly 30 years to the date of Saturday night’s attack), the second image is from 17 September 1978. Images Courtesy Of: http://dobrayorum.blogspot.com/2012/05/biraz-geciklemli-de-olsa-bu-satrlarn.html

 

Is the government looking to create an atmosphere of chaos ahead of the June elections, in a bid to show that only a continuation of the ruling AKP party can provide security and stability in the country? In some people’s minds, this is exactly what is happening. Keep in mind the newly passed security laws in Turkey (for a detailed outline of the new internal security package please see Al-Monitor) that have been widely criticized as draconian and anti-European. It is clear that the government is prepared to go to any length to prevent a repeat of the June 2013 Gezi protests.

 

Meanwhile, there will be no football this week in Turkey. Following the attack Fenerbahçe called for the league to be suspended but initially Interior Minister Sebahattin Öztürk told reporters that there was no need to stop football in the country. On Monday, April 6 2015, the Turkish Football Federation announced a one-week suspension of all league and cup matches in Turkey.

Something is amiss in Turkey and it seems even sport is not immune from it. I hope that someone finds an answer to the problem before it is too late. The country has become polarized to an alarming degree, and this sickening attack is no exception. Following the Gezi protests football fans were united, it even sparked a documentary. Now, some fans of Fenerbahçe’s rivals have distastefully taken to social media to voice their support of the attack by noting all the past violent incidents involving Fenerbahçe and their fans. Perhaps the government was alarmed at the brewing solidarity among football fans in support of Beşiktaş’s Çarşı group, and the bond the Ultras made with their society, and wanted to end the nascent unity. Or maybe it was provincial football fans committing an (albeit advanced) act of hooliganism. Or maybe it is just a couple deranged maniacs who decided to organize this despicable attack on their own. In my mind—and, it seems, also in the mind of Mr. Dilmen—the facts just don’t add up in support of the latter two possibilities and produce a clear picture of what happened yet.

Turkish Football Fans Accused of Attempting to Bring Down the Government

13 Comments

Yesterday the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office for terrorism and organized crime investigations announced the results of a year long investigation of the Beşiktaş Ultra group Çarşı for their role in last summer’s Gezi Park protests. Previously, I had written extensively about the Çarşı group following the events one year ago during the Galatasaray-Beşiktaş derby. The results of the investigation would be humorous if they were not all too real. After all The Onion didn’t announce it, CNN Turk did. The thirty eight-page indictment calls for life sentences for thirty five members of the Çarşı group, including one of the founders, “Sari” Cem Yakışkan and “Deve” Erol Özdil, who makes the groups famous banners. The charge? Attempt to bring down the Government.

The indictment says that “at first the Gezi Park protests started in a democratic fashion before the motives of the protests changed when ‘marginal’ groups joined. These marginal groups then encouraged the protestors in Taksim against the government, aiming to bring it down through non-democratic means.” It continues, saying that Çarşı brought foreign press officers to the protests “in order to show the world media scenes that would create an image similar to that of the ‘Arab Spring’, calling for leadership change and bringing down the Turkish Republic’s legally founded government by illegal means”.

Apparently proof of this attempt to bring down the government comes from telephone conversations and Tweets. Allegedly, some such telephone conversations contained statements such as “I don’t care about the park”, “We will bring down this government” and “This could turn into a civil war,” among other things. To me, such words seem to hardly be the makings of a plan to bring down the Turkish Republic but apparently the prosecutor’s office sees things differently.

 

Today an MP from the opposition CHP, Umut Oran (himself an ex-footballer, according to the story) brought the issue before the Turkish Parliament in order to get a response from the new Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Mr. Oran asked many questions that I myself would like to hear the answers to:

–“If Çarşı encouraged a coup during the Gezi events, then why did you [your party, the AKP] allow Çarşı signs to be opened at the [pro-government] rallies in Kazlıçeşme at that time? Are there no AKP members within the ‘pro-coup’ Çarşı Group, and will anything be done to them if there are found to be any?”

–“Does the Istanbul Police department not have pictures and audio of the Çarşı group when they yelled ‘Çarşı Darbeye Karşı’ (Carsi against coups) and carried signs to the same effect?”

carsi_bildiri_yayinladi_carsi_12_eylule_karsi_h2992

(Image courtesy of: http://www.sonkulis.com/gundem/carsi-bildiri-yayinladi-carsi-12-eylule-karsi-h2992.html. Author’s Note: Indeed, the proof Mr. Oran asked for does exist–this refers to Carsi’s stance against the military coup of September 12, 1980).

–Is it not our [the Turkish] government that does not designate ISIS as a terrorist group, the same group that the United Nations and the United States have designated as a terrorist group for their savage actions? Is it not contradictory that our government, that calls ISIS ‘Angry Youths’, should take such a harsh stance when it comes to the Çarşı Group?”

–Members of the AKP cabinet of ministers and party leaders said the Gezi events were ‘just the work of a few ‘çapulcus’ (looters) and that it is nothing to be blown out of proportion’. Then how is it possible that today it has come to the point of ‘attempted coup?’

–“When Mr. Davutoğlu was Minister of Foreign affairs he stated to foreign leaders that ‘we are proud that these protests in Turkey are taking place in a similar fashion to those in Europe’. How is it then possible to indict these protests as an attempted coup?’

 

Later Çarşı’s lawyer, Mehmet Derviş Yıldız, made a press announcement in the middle of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district:

“We have always existed in the name of this country’s conscience. We were created in 1982 in the period following the [1980] military coup amidst martial law, and continued in periods of coalition governments and with our conscience stood in society alongside everyone who saw no preferential treatment from any group. There were times that we donated our blood to blood drives, there were times that we gave the clothes off our backs to those living in tents amidst the rubble of their destroyed homes. In the Gezi protests—that our whole society reacted to with a mix of sadness and surprise—we drew attention to the disproportional use of force and uncontrollable violence being used. We called for this violence not to escalate. And in return for this, immediately after the first arrests, some people—with hate and jealousy—had the face to label us as mercenary protestors. And now we see this label on the pages of the investigation.” He went on to explain that it was Civil servants who first called on Çarşı to de-escalate the tension, to use their influence on the neighborhood as football fans—in a way, a civil society group—in order to stop people from entering Taksim Square during the protests. But, in the end, they are the ones who are blamed in a blatant attempt to further make every segment of Turkish society political.

But such attempts to make everything political can also have the side effect of waking people up, and banding them together. This became evident when fans of Besiktas’s rivals—Fenerbahce—also voiced their support. Sol Acik wrote:

 “Faşizme karşı kardeşimsin çArşı”

“You’re my brother against fascism çArşı”

 

Sadly, these events have not seen much coverage in English language press but they are a very real sign of regression in the Turkish justice system. That life sentences should be sought for a group of football fans is, quite truly, unbelievable. As one of those named in the indictment, founding member of Çarşı Cem Yakışkan said today:

 “Dünyada herhalde bir ilktir. Darbe ile suçlanan taraftar grubu. Gülelim mi, ağlayalım mı bilmiyorum.”

“This is probably a first in the entire world. A fan group charged with a coup attempt. I don’t know if we should laugh or cry”.

Indeed, it probably is a first. That it comes in a country that knows all too well about coups—three to be exact—only makes it more shocking.

 

To pull this topic out of football, I will close with a some words that come from a few members of Çarşı who sat down with journalist Erk Acarer for the Turkish paper Cumhuriyet since they are worth hearing. For me, they truly show the gravity of the situation:

“Türkiye isyan etti ihale bize kaldı. Bu kitlesel bir hareketti. çArşı vicdan sahibi bir gruptur. Biz büyük iş yapmadık aslında. Toplum ‘mute’ tuşunda olduğu zamanlarda da biz ‘titreşimdeydik’. Üşüyen çocuklara atkı gönderdiğimiz, haksıza karşı haklının yanında olduğumuz ağaçlara dokunma dediğimiz için zaten yıllarca çıban başı olarak görüldük. Söylemlerimiz sistemi rahatsız etti. Hiçbir demokratik ülkede protestocular darbe girişimiye yargılanmazlar. Kasti yapıyorlar. Esma’ya ağlayıp Berkin’e ağlamayanlardan değiliz. Çifte standarta karşıyız.”

“Turkey protested and we got stuck with the bill. This was a mass action. Çarşı is a group with a conscious. Really, we didn’t do much. When society was on “mute” we were on “vibrate”. Because we sent scarves to freezing children, because we were on the side of right in the face of wrong, because we said don’t touch the trees we have for years been seen as a delicate problem. What we said made the system uncomfortable. In no democratic country can protesters be tried for attempting a coup. They’re doing it on purpose. We are not among those who cried for Esma and not for Berkin. We’re against double standards.”

The gravity of the situation lies in a strange confluence of football fans, morality, and a very delicate time in world politics. These football fans—Ultras—are talking about standing up for the righteous, the voiceless, the oppressed, in the face of persecution and oppression. Think of anyone you’d like. Martin Luther King comes to my mind due to recent events in the United States but that is a topic for a different time.

Here the name “Esma” is invoked. It is the Turkish name for Asmaa el Beltagi, who became a symbol of the Egyptian revolution when she was shot and killed in Rabia Square by snipers. Out of her death the “Rabia” symbol was born, one that Turkey’s newly-elected president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (and more than a few footballers) has not shied away from flashing. The other name, “Berkin”, refers to Berkin Elvan, a fifteen year old boy shot by police in Istanbul while on his way to buy bread who I wrote about previously.

In this globalized world protests are occurring in more and more spots all over the world, tying us all together—wherever we live—in a web characterized by a battle between right and wrong, the oppressed against the oppressors, the strong against the weak. Yet depending on one’s politics—as Çarşı’s members imply in the above quote—some people choose who to cry for.

We can only hope that cooler heads prevail and that these life sentences are not upheld, since life in prison—not to mention death—as a result of one’s beliefs is truly a sad fate. Football fan or not that is something I hope we can all sympathize with, whether we are Turkish, Egyptian, American or anything else.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: All translations are my own. Some of the lengthier ones have been paraphrased, while others are more literal. I apologize in advance for any issues in comprehension arising from my translations, and I have attached links to the original Turkish news stories in all cases. Thank you for your understanding.