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From Tweets to Teetering on the Brink in Turkey

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Clash of the Titans: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, complete with Basaksehirspor Jersey (L) and Meral Aksener (R). Image Courtesy of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/958823/Aksener_den_rekor_kiran_tweet__Galatasaray_2-0_Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan.html

 

Last weekend Turkish football giants Galatasaray faced off against league leaders Istanbul Basaksehirspor in a battle for first place in the Turkish Super League. If Basaksehirspor won, they would move five points clear at the top with five matches to go. If Galatasaray won, they would move into first place, one point ahead of Basaksehirspor. That it was a critical matchup was lost on no one, since Istanbul Basaksehirspor is an invented team which garners its support from the Turkish government; indeed, I am not the only one who has pointed this out.

At times it seems as if the team’s biggest supporter is the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself! On 14 April 2018, one day before the match, the President spoke at his party’s Basaksehir congress. Complaining about the team’s lack of fans (a topic I have touched upon), Mr. Erdogan issued a call to Basaksehir fans:

 

Tribünleri Başakşehir’in gençliğinin doldurması lazım. Gençler şampiyonluğa oynuyorsunuz tribünlerin dolması lazım. Bunu halletmeniz lazım. Bakın aniden bir sürpriz yaparım. Başakşehir’in bir maçına gelirim, tribünleri boş görürsem olmaz.

The youth of Basaksehir must fill the stands. Kids, you’re playing for the championship the stands must be filled. You need to take care of this. Look, I could suddenly make a surprise visit to a Basaksehir match; if I see the stands empty it wont be good.

 

Almost immediately, Mr. Erdogan’s comments created a backlash on social media; one fan posted a picture of Istanbul’s municipal workers with the caption “Basaksehir fans are coming with 27 busses”, alluding both to the team’s past recruitment of municipal workers to fill the stands, and to the team’s previous incarnation as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s (IBB) team, Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyespor.

 

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Basaksehirspor’s “Hardcore” fans readying their Tifo with Drums. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/958500/1/Erdogan_in_Basaksehir_cagrisina_sosyal_medyadan_tepki_yagdi.html

 

Aside from humorous responses like the one mentioned above, the most important response on social media came in the form of a Tweet by Meral Aksener, herself a former cabinet member and former member of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP). Ms. Aksener broke from the hardline MHP and—seemingly following the populist line which has emerged from London and Washington in the past few years—started her own nationalist party, the Iyi (Good) party, in order to challenge the growing one-man rule of Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has seemingly subsumed the MHP and its “ancient leader”, Devlet Bahceli, to quote the Economist. Ms. Aksener’s Tweet was a brilliant response to Mr. Erdogan’s comments, reading:

 

Çok sayıda mesajdan, Sn. Erdoğan’ın AKP’li gençlere GS karşısında açıkça Başakşehir yanında yer almalarını isteyen çağrısının sporseverleri çok üzdüğünü gördüm. Bırakın gençler istediği takımı tutsun, bırakın futbol sahada oynansın ve futbol kulüplerinin renkleri kirlenmesin.

I read in many [social media] messages [posts] that many sports fans were upset by Mr. Erdogan’s open call for AKP supporting youth to support Basaksehir [Basaksehirspor] against GS [Galatasaray]. Let the youth support whichever team they would like to, let go and allow football to be played on the field and not sully the football teams’ colors.

 

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Meral Aksener Hits Back at Mr. Erdogan. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/958823/Aksener_den_rekor_kiran_tweet__Galatasaray_2-0_Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan.html

 

Following the match—which Galatasaray won 2-0, Ms. Aksener sent a follow-up Tweet with what could be considered the dagger in the heart: Galatasaray 2 – 0 Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This Tweet was many things:

  • It was funny.
  • It revealed the very real connection between the ruling AKP and Basaksehirspor; a form of social and cultural engineering designed to further the entrenchment of the AKP’s hegemony over all facets of Turkish cultural life.
  • It showed just how unafraid Ms. Aksener is of Mr. Erdogan, who—as The Economist notes—would never admit to being afraid of a woman.

 

Surprisingly, the globalist main (lame)stream media has not covered Ms. Aksener’s rising star. Given the post-modern world’s obsession with identity politics, it would have seemed that the story of a woman like Ms. Aksener’s challenge to Mr. Erdogan in an Islamic country would have been a popular one. Unfortunately, as in so many other cases, the main (lame)stream media only follows the stories that fit their narrative. And, sadly, that narrative is one which can have nothing to do with anything that strays from the logic of globalism.

That Mr. Erdogan was made very afraid by Ms. Aksener’s brazen Tweet showed just days later when, on 18 April 2018, he announced snap elections for 24 June 2018. It was a surprising move, especially considering how often Mr. Erdogan has spoken against early elections in the past. In 2010 Mr. Erdogan said “In the developed countries of the world there is no idea, no understanding of early elections. These are signs of backwardness”. In 2009 Mr. Erdogan called anyone who wanted early elections “traitors” or “sell-outs to the nation”. Yet, in 2018, Mr. Erdogan has gone against himself! Of course, such contradictions are not surprising. After all, this is politics in the globalizing world. There is, however, a rationale behind this madness. Mr. Erdogan has called these early elections—despite contradicting himself—for three main reasons.

 

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To Quote Mr. Erdogan: “In the developed countries of the world there is no idea, no understanding of early elections. These are signs of backwardness”.  Image Courtesy Of: https://listelist.com/erken-secime-karsi-cikmis-siyasetciler/

 

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The Above Reads “Early Elections Are A Betrayal To The Nation”; Mr. Erdogan’s Said On 15 March 2009 That “Wanting Early Elections Is a Betrayal To The Nation” While On 8 January 2010 He Announced That Early Elections Were A Sign Of Backwardness. Images Courtesy Of: https://listelist.com/erken-secime-karsi-cikmis-siyasetciler/

 

  1. Erdogan is looking to capitalize on the nationalist fervor while he can. As I have written earlier, Mr. Erdogan has looked to capitalize on the rise of populism following the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and Brexit in the U.K. by re-branding himself as a nationalist. He has looked to strengthen these “nationalist” credentials by rallying Turkey behind the flag (the oldest trick in the book, of course) during the Turkish operations in Northern Syria, designed to prevent the formation of an independent Kurdish entity. Indeed, Turkey has recently attempted to take a middle ground approach to Syria between the U.S., U.K., and France on the one hand and Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime on the other. This policy, of course, is reminiscent of Turkey’s neutrality during the Second World War, perhaps one of the best foreign policy moves in Turkish history. And it is also one born out of Ataturk’s own nationalist position, of an independent and sovereign Turkey. Indeed, it seems that Mr. Erdogan—and the AKP more generally—have re-discovered Ataturk and classical Turkish geopolitics (focused on sovereignty and defending the national borders) and are looking to ride this wave to five more years of power.
  2. Erdogan has become cognizant of the threats to his own power in domestic politics as well as international politics. As the aforementioned Tweets regarding the Basaksehir match show, Ms. Aksener is not afraid to challenge Mr. Erdogan domestically. Despite the AKP’s clear ideological influence over Turkish football Ms. Aksener was not afraid to take a critical stance. At the same time, on Tuesday 15 April, U.S. president Donald Trump sent out one of his famous Tweets, it was the first one which mentioned Turkey that I can recall. In it, he called for the return of an American pastor who the Turkish government has jailed for being a “spy”. Mr. Erdogan, over the course of the week, recognized that both the domestic and international tide may be turning against him, and thus he had to act. Perhaps he realized that—given this recent firestorm on social media—his party might not be able to survive until November 2019, when the next elections were supposed to take place.
  3. Erdogan (who owes his seat in power to the forces of global finance) also knows that he must pander to the interests of globalization and global finance. As The Washington Post notes, “analysts said Erdogan may also have decided to shorten the electoral timetable because of signs of a worsening economy, a major concern for Turkish voters”. Indeed, Bloomberg’s reports of the call for early elections focused solely on the economic interests of global capital. Bloomberg’s piece pointed out that “Lira stocks rallied” after the announcement and that “The lira extended gains after the announcement, appreciating 1.6 percent to 4.03 per dollar as of 6:30 p.m. in Istanbul; it has weakened this year against all 17 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The benchmark stock index added 3.1 percent, its biggest one-day gain in a year.” Of course, as one analyst noted, this might not be enough. Jan Dehn, head of research at Ashmore Group PLC in London compared Erdogan’s situation to that of Chavez in Venezuela and Kirchner in Argentina: “Markets hope that if Erdogan wins he can do some adjustment and get a bit more normal. A bit like how markets used to view Chavez and even Kirchner. In reality of course, they did not get more moderate. They got more radical instead.”

 

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U.S. President Donald Trump Weighs In. Image Courtesy of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/986432143189512192

 

And this radicalization is what many in Turkey fear. Unfortunately, however, in the age of globalization which is characterized by an extreme form of capitalism, the markets are truly all that matter. You will not see wide-spread outrage at the fact that Mr. Erdogan is circumventing the constitutional democracy of the Republic of Turkey. This is because his move will bring “stability” to financial markets, at the expense of a populace which has been living under an official state of emergency for the better part of the last two years. His decision to call early elections will earn investors more money, even though Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists.

Unfortunately, global financial moguls care little for these trivial “details”. They care about the bottom line; “human rights” and “democracy” are just a footnote to that bottom line. As a commentator in a local Turkish newspaper points out, the early election is just an early call for the battle against imperialism at the ballot box. I have pointed out before how globalization and globalism are just colonialism and imperialism with a kinder face; it is time that we all recognize this—and take back our countries—before it is too late.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg
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Jerusalem and Football: In the Age of Industrial Football One Dimensional Thought Invades the Football World, Threatening to Silence the Voice of Fans World Wide

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In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s 7 December 2017 announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the football world took notice. It is notable that fans in both Scotland and Turkey—two culturally distinct locations—protested the Jerusalem decision in a similar manner. In Edinburgh, visiting fans of Glasgow Celtic unveiled a banners that read “Jerusalem is Palestine” and “Fuck Trump”. Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkish giants Galatasaray took to the field for their 10 December 2017 match against Akhisar Belediyespor with a banner reading “Jerusalem is Our Red Line” while footballers Younes Belhanda, Yasin Oztekin, and Sofiane Feghouli celebrated a goal in their team’s 4-2 victory by prostrating in prayer in the Islamic fashion. As one banner in the Turk Telekom Arena read—quoting the fourth Muslim caliph Ali—“If you cannot prevent persecution, announce it to everyone!”. Of course, the religious undertones of the Turkish fans’ message are unmistakable while the secular undertones of the Scottish fans’ message are equally unmistakable. They are both examples of global one-dimensional thought.

 

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In Edinburgh, visiting fans of Glasgow Celtic unveiled a banners that read “Jerusalem is Palestine” and “Fuck Trump”. Image Courtesy of: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-11-celtic-fc-supporters-fly-jerusalem-is-palestine-banner-at-football-match

 

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 “Western fan groups—like, perhaps, Celtic’s fan groups—have long supported the Palestinian cause (they have been fined by UEFA before for displaying Palestinian flags in the stadium)”. Images Courtesy of: https://mg.co.za/article/2017-12-11-celtic-fc-supporters-fly-jerusalem-is-palestine-banner-at-football-match

 

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Turkish giants Galatasaray took to the field for their 10 December 2017 match against Akhisar Belediyespor with a banner reading “Jerusalem is Our Red Line” (Bottom) while footballers Younes Belhanda, Yasin Oztekin, and Sofiane Feghouli celebrated a goal in their team’s 4-2 victory by prostrating in prayer in the Islamic fashion (Top).

 

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As one banner in the Turk Telekom Arena read—quoting the fourth Muslim caliph Ali—“If you cannot prevent persecution, announce it to everyone!”. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.ntv.com.tr/galeri/spor/galatasarayli-futbolculardan-kudus-mesaji,AEi4AlvU4kST3TVkeL9BEA/SMIgS97KR0KWQ2ZEhy_7Eg

 

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The Role of Religion in Turkish Society has Slowly Increased During the AKP’s rule. This has, of course, affected the average citizen. The top image is a flyer sent to a friend’s house scolding them for “celebrating” Christmas in a Muslim Country (this despite the fact that they have a church. The Second Image is one designed to show some of the feelings of average Turks; the Graffito reads “Sharia is the Only Way [forward]”. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

But this is where the similarities between the fan groups end, for the difference lies in the fact that the message of the Celtic fans was independent; the message of the Galatasaray fans was mandated by the Turkish Football Federation (TFF):

Turkish footballers and fans protested US President Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, unfurling pro-Palestine banners at domestic football matches.

According to Turkish media, protests followed the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) requesting all clubs playing in the Super League, 1st League, 2nd League and 3rd League to open Jerusalem banners while coming out on to the field for their matches this week.

(Baber 2017)

The choreography made by Super League side Yeni Malatyaspor one week later is a perfect example; on 18 December 2017—before their match with Galatasaray—fans of Yeni Malatyaspor revealed a choreography with an image of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque along with the message “Jerusalem is ours”. So why have the football fans in both Scotland and Turkey become so politicized? The answer is somewhere between Zeitgeist and political pressure. While Western fan groups—like, perhaps, Celtic’s fan groups—have long supported the Palestinian cause (they have been fined by UEFA before for displaying Palestinian flags in the stadium) as part of Western European liberal discourse, Turkish fans have tended to be less politicized–generally speaking–regarding the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

 

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Fans of Yeni Malatyaspor revealed a choreography with an image of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque along with the message “Jerusalem is ours”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.malatyasonsoz.com.tr/haber-47481-Taraftar_Kudus_Bizimdir_Dedi__Gonulleri_Fethetti.html

 

It seems that the appearance of this topic in Turkish Stadiums currently can be tied to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent identity crisis. As Erdogan looks to rebrand himself as a “nationalist”, he has continued his attempts to mold Turkey into a regional hegemon in the Middle East. Indeed, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) made a decision on 8 December 2017 to require all professional clubs in the Turkish league system (from the Super League to the fourth-tier third division) to enter the field with a banner reading “JERUSALEM IS OUR RED LINE” (a quote from Mr. Erdogan himself) . It is unlikely that this decision was made without political pressure. At the same time, it is clear that Mr. Erdogan’s rhetoric—both inside and outside of the stadium—is directed at international observers. He is not a nationalist; rather he is continually pursuing a globalist agenda that focuses on the world to the detriment of Turkey’s national interests. As a part of this agenda, Mr. Erdogan has recently began directing more threats toward the United States government while also looking to shore up support at home.

In Istanbul, new billboards have been put up that showcase the “righteousness” of Mr. Erdogan’s policies. Members of the Sivil Dayanisma Platformu (Social Solidarity Platform—SDP), a pro-Erdogan and pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) civil society group, are behind these billboards. One reads “To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Another reads “Not a World Where the Mighty are Righteous; A World Where the Righteous are Mighty”. As could be expected, pro AKP and pro Erdogan media have celebrated Erdogan’s message to various degrees.

 

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“To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ayhan_ogan

 

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“To Defend Jerusalem is to Defend Humanity: The Leader that Defends Humanity—Recep Tayyip Erdogan”. Image Courtsey of: https://twitter.com/sivildp

 

Yeni Akit columnist Ahmet Gulumseyen also celebrated the football teams’ message (via their “red line” banners) in his 13 December 2017 column. In his column, Mr. Gulumseyen slams the football fans for their “divisive” role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests (Author’s Note: The football fans were not divisive, as I noted here) while celebrating their “correct” attitude regarding the topic of Jerusalem; apparently for Mr. Gulumseyen the football fans are only useful insofar as they toe the party (the AKP) line. Of course, this is a fascistic line of thought which aims to neuter the social power of football fans. That such a position should come out of Yeni Akit is not surprising; it is—after all—known for its hate speech . According to Al-Monitor, Yeni Akit was cited as one of the major Turkish newspapers most guilty of engaging in hate speech against Armenians, Jews, and Christians. While Mr. Gulumseyen’s article does not constitute hate speech, it is an example of propaganda designed to influence–and perhaps silence–Turkish football fans!

At the same time—and despite Yeni Akit’s support of Mr. Erdogan—it is clear that Mr. Erdogan is as much of a nationalist as Yeni Akit is a newspaper operating with the best interests of the Turkish nation in mind. Just like Yeni Akit denigrates Turkish citizens on the basis of their ethnic identity, Mr. Erdogan continually divides his own people. As Al-Monitor reports, a pair of

new decrees published in the Official Gazette on Dec. 24 grant immunity from prosecution for any person, regardless of whether they were acting in any official capacity, deemed to have been resisting “terrorists” or attempts to overthrow the government during the [15 July 2016] coup [attempt]. Most controversially, it grants similar immunity to the self-appointed guardians acting against anything that could be construed as a “continuation” of the coup attempt.

In effect, the government decree opens the door for vigilante justice; it is the kind of civil strife that the globalist logic encourages all over the world (in order to weaken national cohesion) and it is the kind of civil strife that we must resist if we value our countries and human lives. Clearly, the AKP are not nationalists. At the same time, the football fans are clearly not independent.

Ironically, it is the same case in Israel. Although much of the rhetorical discussion following Mr. Trump’s declaration has mentioned Jerusalem, there has been little discussion of Israeli society in the news. Football provides one small window onto Israeli society; specifically, the football club Beitar Jerusalem shows just how little independence exists among football fans in Israel.

The fans of Beitar proudly proclaim that they are “the most racist fans in the country”. While Beitar’s right-wing Israeli nationalism is certainly disconcerting to observers—to the point that fans left the stadium after one of the team’s first Muslim signings scored a goal for Beitar—it is not altogether surprising. After all, the club’s fans seem to be reflecting the national policies of Israel: Israel is swiftly becoming an apartheid state, and its Arab citizens are both separate and unequal. Thus, it should come as no surprise that one of the country’s leading football clubs has become a haven for racist sentiment. While some fan groups, like Beitar Nordia, have attempted to resist the racism of Beitar’s main fan group “La Familia” it is difficult. This is because, as Sean Oakley notes, “the complicity of Israel’s ruling class with the anti-Arab, Islamophobic bigotry of Beitar’s fanbase has real consequences”; after all, it is the continued division between Jews and Arabs which sustains Israel’s status as one of the worst examples of nationalism in the modern world: a racist form of exclusive ethnic nationalism. Given these examples, it is clear that both Turkish and Israeli fans are not independent of the whims of their respective governments; they are both at the mercy of the messages sent by their respective states. This kind of social control stifles the elements of football fandom which could challenge the state’s hegemony.

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Football provides one small window onto Israeli society; specifically, the football club Beitar Jerusalem shows just how little independence exists among football fans in Israel.. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Sports/Beitar-adopts-no-tolerance-policy-on-racism-485567

 

It should be noted that, since March of 2017, the Beitar club has taken a harsher stance vis-à-vis their racist fans. Still, it will be a difficult process. After all, in Israel, Palestinian football players are sometimes targeted by the state. As Dave Zirin of The Nation puts it, “If you degrade the national team [of Palestine], you degrade the idea that there could ever be a nation”. And it is not just the Israeli state that treats opposing footballers harshly; indeed, the cultural struggles of the region manifest themselves in football-related policies for other countries as well. In August of 2017, Iran condemned two Iranian nationals for just taking the field against an Israeli club while playing for a Greek side in the UEFA Europa League. Given the mutual animosity, it is difficult to envision a separation of politics and football in either Turkey or Israel in the near future.

U.S. President Donald Trump may have seen his recognition of Jerusalem as furthering America’s national interests, since he criticized the countries which voted against the U.S. decision in the U.N. for taking “hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars and then [voting] against us [the United States]”. While it is clear that “foreign aid” is inherently anti-nationalist (countries like the U.S. would be better off spending money on their own citizens, improving the lives of the impoverished African American and Hispanic communities, for instance, rather than spending on foreign adventures) it is also clear that Mr. Trump’s decision is a mix of low and high risk both domestically and internationally. Given that Jerusalem has, for years, been Israel’s de facto capital, the decision can be seen as low risk. Also, given that foreign aid has—for years—been a burden on the U.S., making a declaration that was bound to alienate most of the world provides a good opportunity for the U.S. to possibly absolve itself of foreign responsibilities (should the costs outweigh the benefits).

 

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View of the Rusting Subway System in New York City, seen from the Cross Bronx expressway on I-95 Southbound. Perhaps investing in  domestic Infrastructure could, indeed, be more profitable than expensive foreign aid campaigns. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

At the same time, of course, the decision has fueled anti-Americanism in the wider Middle east (as evidenced by the response from Turkish stadiums) and widened the rift between Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims (exacerbating the situation which gave Beitar fans their raison d’etre). While we will not immediately know how the fallout from Mr. Trump’s decision will effect the United States, we do know how the fallout has affected Turkish football: It has provided yet another opportunity for the Turkish state to influence the football fans through ideology, thus further dividing the country domestically while also silencing a significant portion of Turkish civil society in the name of a faux (and dangerous) form of exclusive nationalism.

Attendance Figures in the Last Matches of 2017 Reveal a Struggle Between Competing Visions for Turkish Society

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Attendance figures for the penultimate week of the first half of the 2017-2018 Turkish Super League varied greatly, and—according to data cited by Hurriyet—the the total attendance (minus season-ticket holders) of 72,453 paying fans for the 16th week fixtures represented the single biggest week of attendance in the Turkish Super League since the contraversial Passolig system was implemented. The previous record came in the 6th week of the 2017-18 season, when 55,248 fans purchased tickets. This means that the average attendance for the 16th week’s nine matches was almost 15,000 fans; a total of 130,920 fans (including season-ticket holders) attended the matches making for an average attendance of 14,546 fans league wide. While this is certainly an encouraging figure, showing that fans are still willing to attend matches despite the draconian form of social control that the Passolig system entails, a closer look at the individual attendance figures will show that the struggle for cultural hegemony is still ongoing in Turkish football.

As I noted above, attendance figures varied greatly. The highest attendance—33,027 fans—was seen for the match between traditional giants Fenerbahce and bottom-placed Kardemir Karabukspor. The lowest attendance was for the match between strugglers Genclerbirligi and Kasimpasaspor—the team from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neighborhood—which saw just 1,599 fans in attendance. The discrepancy here should not be surprising; the traditional giants of Turkish football—Besiktas, Galatasaray, and Fenerbahce—traditionally maintain high attendance figures. The “invented” teams, on the other hand—like Kasimpasaspor—and traditional minor teams that face financial struggles—like Genclerbirligi, founded in 1923—struggle to maintain high attendance figures. This trend was clearly visible in the 17th week, the final week of fixtures in the Turkish Super League’s first half.

According to date from Ajansspor.com, the traditional sides attracted a healthy number of fans. The contest between Galatasaray and Goztepe in Istanbul saw 45,809 fans in attendance, the match between Atiker Konyaspor and Fenerbahce attracted 20,458 fans in Konya, while Besiktas drew 16,173 fans (filling 87% of the stadium) when they visited Sivasspor. These strong attendance figures show that the traditional powers of Turkish football are still able to attract fans regardless of where they play. Unfortunately, these high attendance figures only tell half of the story. In fact, when we look at other teams, it is clear that local teams—as well as “invented’ teams—fail to draw fans.

The “derby” between teams from two neighboring provinces on the Turkish Riviera, Antalyaspor and Alanyaspor, attracted just 11,785 fans. Antalyaspor’s new stadium—built by the government—was 54% empty in what should have been a hotly contested derby. And while Antalya failed to fill their stadium they still attracted over 10,000 fans, because they actually have fans (the team has played in the top flight of Turkish football for the better part of the last three decades), other teams were not so lucky. Contrast the attendance in Antalya with the attendance for the match between Kasimpasaspor and Basaksehirspor. Normally a city derby—between two neighborhood teams—would draw a large crowd. Especially when one of the teams involved, Basaksehirspor, is topping the table. Yet, in a city of over 15 million people, only 2,265 Istanbullu fans attended the Istanbul “derby”. It is in this match that one can see just how “invented” Istanbul’s new teams are; neither of them have fans or any real football culture. That one of the teams in question should be topping the table—yet not even draw 3,000 fans in a city with a population of 15 million—is absurd to say the least.

 

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Last Week In Istanbul I Caught a Glimpse of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Stadium During Kasimpasaspor’s Match With Istanbul Basaksehir. The Two Invented Teams Failed To Fill the Stadium in What Should be a Local “Derby”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Yet this was not the only absurdity of the final week of the first half of the 2017-2018 season, since there was an even lower attendance! In the match between Osmanlispor (Ottoman Sports Club) and Akhisar Belediyespor; Ajansspor reported an attendance of 199 (!) but their figure may have been generous since Oda TV reported an attendance of 181. Regardless what the true figure is, that a top flight match in a football crazed country like Turkey should attract less than one thousand fans is embarrassing to say the least. The reasons for such a low attendance figure, however, can be traced back to politics.

Both Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor [Ankara] are “invented” teams, so to speak; both were invented by the ruling AKP government to provide alternatives to the teams that currently hold a hegemonic position in Turkish football (Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray in Istanbul; Genclerbirligi and Ankaragucu in Ankara). Due to their lack of any “real” fan base (fostered out of a neighborhood or class identity in the manner of many European clubs), these artificially created teams struggle to attract fans. Osmanlispor’s struggles have been compounded by a power struggle within the Turkish political establishment. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan forced out the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, on 28 October 2017 it meant that Osmanlispor had lost a major benefactor. Mr. Gokcek’s 23-year long reign in Ankara coincided with a lot of social engineering in the form of urban development (the odd structures he built in Ankara have become legendary; among them were a dinosaur and a giant robot–the latter got him sued by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers for wasting taxpayer money on . . . a robot statue in a traffic island).

 

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The Fact That I am Even Typing the Phrase “A Giant Robot on a Traffic Island” is Certainly Absurd–But Perhaps Not as Absurd as the Fact that Hard-Earned Taxpayer Money Was Spent on This Monstrosity; It is the Ultimate Insult to Ankara’s Working Class. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/turkish-mayor-sued-over-giant-transformer-robot-statue-10169516.html

 

But giant robot statues were not the only thing that Mr. Gokcek spent taxpayer money on. He also spent money on getting Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation—Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor (the municipality’s team) promoted to the top flight of Turkish football. After a conflict of interest (as Mr. Gokcek took over ownership of one of Ankara’s oldest teams, Ankaragucu), Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor became Ankaraspor and ultimately Osmanlispor (the neo-Ottoman undertones should be unmistakable here; it is a topic I have written about before). Mr. Gokcek even spent time sending municipal employees to Osmanlispor games in a bid to boost their attendance figures. Now that new mayor Mustafa Tuna is in office however, the municipal employees are no longer going to the stadium, which explains the low attendance figures for Osmanlispor’s final home match before the Turkish Super League’s winter break. Ankaragucu fans delighted in the development, of course, joking on Twitter that more than 200 people watch the municipality’s backhoes during construction.

 

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Ankaragucu Fans Amuse Themselves on Social Media With the Apalling Emptiness of Osmanlispor’s Stadium. Images Courtesy Of: https://odatv.com/osmanli-yikildi-2712171200.html

 

While it is refreshing that this corrupt politician’s meddling in the sports world is finally coming to light, it remains to be seen if the attempted social engineering of Turkish society through sport can be reversed. Istanbul Basaksehir is currently leading the Turkish Super League at the halfway point despite being unable to make it out of a weak UEFA Europa League group consisting of Hoffenheim, Sporting Braga, and Ludogorets Razgrad, suggesting that the team’s success is purely domestic. Also, not only is Istanbul Basaksehir the team with the highest rate of successful completed passes in the Turkish Super League, it is also the team which has committed the least amount of fouls this year. These observations suggest that while Istanbul Basaksehirspor are certainly a good side, they might also be getting by with a little help from the (Turkish) referees as well. Time will tell just how far this particular social engineering project will go, since there can be no doubt that the failure of the Osmanlispor project will have repercussions in Turkish football going forward.

Turkish Super Cup Fiasco Shows the Deepening of a New Hegemony in Turkish Football

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New Season, Same Old Story. Image Courtesy Of: http://saudigazette.com.sa/article/514890/Sports/Brawl

 

The Turkish Super Cup contested between Besiktas and Konyaspor on 6 August 2017 descended into violence between rival groups of fans (for video, please click here), showing that–once again–the E-ticketing system (Passolig) has done little to curb stadium violence. Instead, the social divisions that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has encouraged over the course of its fifteen year rule spilled onto the pitch. Euronews (from Reuters) reported:

 

Supporters of Atiker Konyaspor, the main team from Turkey’s central Anatolian province of Konya, chanted slogans accusing Besiktas and its fans of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the state. Fans of Besiktas, an Istanbul side whose supporters include a vocal leftist element, responded with a song popular among secular Turks, aimed at the rival fans from Turkey’s conservative heartland. The two groups rushed onto the field and fought after the final whistle.

 

That Besiktas’s fans should be accused of being terrorists is absurd, but so is the conservative fans’ revulsion to Besiktas’s fans singing the Izmir Marsi seeing as how it is…a nationalist song (for video, please click here). Is not Konya part of Turkey? Apparently, the divisions sown by the AKP run deep.

Yet, for all of the failures of the Passolig system to prevent violence, one thing it did succeed in was uncovering “undesirable” fans—those fans who have political messages. Arrest warrants were issued for seventeen fans for opening a banner “in support of two educators [academic Nuriye Gülmen and primary school teacher Semih Özakça] who have been on hunger strikes for over 150 days”. According to the authorities these two are members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), an outlawed leftist group in Turkey. How the banner ended up in the stadium is a mystery. Another mystery is how a switchblade knife, of all things, not only got into the stadium but got onto the field of play.

 

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Somehow, a Bad Banner Got Into The Stadium . . . Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/siyaset/797587/Basaksehir_macinda__Baskomutan_Erdogan_a_izin_var__Super_Kupa_da__Mustafa_Kemal_Pasa__disarida.html

 

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Along With a Switchblade Knife! Image Courtesy of: http://skor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/08/06/besiktas-konyaspor-macinda-gergin-anlar-taraftar-sahaya-atladi-ve-649731/

 

Despite “tough” security measures (including the presence of 1200 police officers and 1100 private security guards), scores of violent fans entered the stadium and brawled, causing large amounts of damage to the brand new Yeni 19 Mayis Stadium.

 

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The Aftermath of Senseless Violence. Image Courtesy Of: http://skor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/08/07/samsun-polisi-super-kupa-sonrasi-olaylarla-ilgili-statta-400-guvenlik-kamerasini-inceliyor-649946/

 

Despite what seems to have been complete chaos, it is amusing that there was one thing that was not allowed in the stadium: A banner reading Yasa Mustafa Kemal Pasa Yasa (Long Live Mustafa Kemal Pasa), supporting the founding father of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Although this is absurd—and very surprising, considering what was allowed inside the stadium—it is part of the consolidation of a new hegemony in Turkish society, one that aims to roll back the traditions of the secular Turkish state both politically and—more importantly—culturally; this is why sports has become such a battle ground in the culture wars.

 

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Apparently, This Was One Of the Few Items That Was Successfully Kept Out Of the Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: http://skor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/08/06/mustafa-kemal-pasa-pankarti-stada-alinmadi-iddiasi-649686/

 

Fikret Orman, President of the Besiktas club, defended the authorities decision to not allow the pro-Ataturk banner, saying “Stada gelen insanlar, siyasi slogan atmaya değil, yıldızları izlemeye geliyor. Siyaset yapmak isteyen, partilere gidebilir (People come to the stadium not to yell political slogans but to watch the stars. Those who want to do politics can go to the [political] parties),” but he did not acknowledge the absurdity of allowing a knife—and not a banner—into a stadium. After all, is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as the founding father of the Turkish Republic, not beyond politics for those who believe in Turkish civic (I remind you, not ethnic) nationalism? It is not when the matter at hand is cementing a new kind of hegemony. Besiktas, as one of Turkish football’s traditional powers representing the eponymous liberal district of Istanbul, is the antithesis of what their opponents on the night, Konyaspor, represent. Konya is Turkey’s most conservative province, located deep in the country’s Central Anatolian heartland. The team is backed by the “green capital” of Islamic businessmen who have prospered during the past 15 years of AKP rule, and their goal is to challenge the existing status quo in Turkish football.

And they are not alone in mounting this challenge, as another banner controversy will show. Istanbul’s Basaksehirspor (An invented team I wrote about in passing when I wrote about Gazisehir Gaziantep Football Club) are the long term project of the Turkish state, and this is why they will be playing for a spot in the UEFA Champions League on 16 August 2017. Even foreign commentators have noted Basaksehir’s attempts to challenge Istanbul’s traditional giants. A recent article in the United Arab Emirates’ The National opens with this passage, referring to last week’s Champions League qualifier with Belgian side Club Brugge: “The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a point of being at the stadium of the club he supports two weeks back. Erdogan likes to be associated with victory . . .”. Since Basaksehir is the team Mr. Erdogan supports, they did not have any problem getting a banner reading “Baskomutan (Commander in Chief)” alongside Mr. Erdogan’s portrait into the stadium. The term historically refers to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but this re-writing of history is typical of a changing Turkey.

 

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A Kafkaesque Situation: Supporting the Current Leader of Turkey In the Stadium Is Allowed, Yet Supporting the Founder of Turkey In the Stadium Is Not Allowed. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/siyaset/797587/Basaksehir_macinda__Baskomutan_Erdogan_a_izin_var__Super_Kupa_da__Mustafa_Kemal_Pasa__disarida.html

 

And now Basaksehirspor will face Sevilla in a bid to further their challenge to Turkish football’s traditional powers. Even the team’s Tweets reflect the crude nature of Turkey’s new ruling class. After besting Club Brugge in the previous round of Champions League qualifiers, the team asked Sevilla “Don’t you want to win the Europa League once again Sevilla FC?” [Author’s Note: The team that loses the final qualifying round tie for the Champions League earns a spot in UEFA’s second tier competition, the Europa League]. Sevilla FC responded to Basaksehir’s jab brilliantly with “Thanks, but we have a lot of them …. Better the first one for you”. For a team with minimal European experience (eight matches in total), Basaksehir’s gall can only be classified as classless but that is sadly the manner of behavior that has become de rigeur in Turkey these days (please recall a post I wrote criticizing Turkish Airlines’ claim that their airport lounge in Istanbul is bigger than some airports).

 

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An Interesting Exchange Between Official Twitter Accounts. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/sporarena/basaksehir-ve-sevilla-sosyal-medyada-atisti-40551429

 

Since a member of the AKP claimed a few weeks ago that “a new state had already been formed” in the wake of last summer’s failed coup, it has become clear that there is a real attempt to consolidate the gains of the last 15 years ahead of President Erdogan’s power-grab election in 2019, especially given the large scale dissatisfaction with AKP rule that surfaced during the April 2017 referendum. This attempt at hegemonic consolidation manifests itself in all facets of Turkish society, and sports is–as always–no exception.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mytripolog.com/2011/07/largest-most-detailed-map-and-flag-of-turkey/

 

 

A Footballer’s Response to Turkey’s Referendum Shows The Failure of Europe’s “Multiculturalism” in the Context of Extreme Capitalism

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After the Turkish referendum of 16 April 2017, the plaudits came in from some unexpected sources including U.S. President Donald Trump and dual Turkish/French national footballer Mevlut Erdinc (Erding in Europe). What is notable about both responses is that they show the extent to which “democracy” and “freedom” are relative terms; in the modern world they have become mere words far detached from their actual meanings. I will first discuss Mr. Trump’s response before focusing on Mr. Erdinc’s, in order to show how both responses represent the flaws inherent in what we—in the West—have come to believe “democracy” means.

Following the “YES” victory in the Turkish referendum that paves the way for a constitutional change, U.S. President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the fact that the President is a ceremonial position in Turkish politics, and is technically impartial, was apparently lost on the U.S. leadership). Perhaps recognizing this fact, the U.S. government later backtracked and claimed that the call was not so much congratulatory, rather that it “focused on terrorism”. Regardless of what was discussed, it is likely that the U.S. was truly just “checking in”, so to speak, so as to ensure that Turkey was still on board with Mr. Trump’s war on ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East. While the call may have been a poor decision—and CNN certainly thought it was —Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article makes a useful point:

Erdogan will never do away altogether with democracy: It’s not in his interest. Keeping a semblance of democratic norms can be useful to the ruler; it allows him to refute any charges that he’s a dictator.

 Unfortunately for Ben-Ghiat, whose point here is well taken and one I will expand on further, she (like so much of State media in the United States) loses credibility by following up with this statement:

Trump’s public support for Erdogan is a serious thing: It’s another nail in the coffin of America’s prestige in the world as a beacon (no matter if flawed) of freedom. Trump’s seeking out the favor of Erdogan, like his shameless courting of Putin, should startle Republicans out of their favorite recurring fantasy: that Trump will go “mainstream” and support democratic norms in America and elsewhere.

She—like many in U.S. mainstream media—misses the point that “democracy”, whether espoused by the U.S. or Europe, is on the ropes (please see the BBC for a detailed explanation of Democracy’s recent failures). Indeed, State media’s Washington Post similarly embarrassed themselves with this line in Daniel W. Drezner’s column:

If it were president Hillary Clinton or president Barack Obama at this moment in time, they probably would have publicly voiced qualms about the referendum while still maintaining a prickly partnership with Ankara.

 Mr. Drezner attempts to qualify his position with this statement:

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

What Mr. Drezner essentially advocates is lying to the American people: in his mind Mr. Obama (or Ms. Clinton) would have publically squawked while privately continuing their work with Turkey. How this is preferable to a leader actually coming out and openly showing (through rhetoric) the problems with America’s pursuit of “democracy” is beyond me; I might not agree with Mr. Trump’s decision to “congratulate” Mr. Erdogan (if that is even what he actually did) but I still prefer it to the fakery that Mr. Drezner seemingly prefers. In order to understand just how deeply the failures of democracy run, however, we need to move beyond Mr. Trump and the United States. After all, the United States does not seem to be as bad as Europe when it comes to contradicting democracy.

Another public figure who praised Mr. Erdogan in the wake of the referendum is Turkish national team footballer Mevlut Erdinc, himself a dual Turkish and French national. In a Tweet Mr. Erdinc says “Before being a footballer I am a normal person; I have a position I have thoughts I am free”. Beside this caption Mr. Erdinc posted a picture of Mr. Erdogan, seated, with the word “Baskan” (Turkish for “President”) written in the font the Godfather movies made famous. That this picture essentially equates the Turkish leader (himself known for corruption) with a mafia leader is a fascinating topic on its own, yet it also goes much deeper—into the issues of mainstream European politics.

 

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A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/04/17/referandum-sonrasinda-mevlut-erdincten-erdogan-icin-baskan-paylasimi-614120/

 

That a sports figure would openly express support for Mr. Erdogan’s government—despite the government’s failure in the field of sport (which has seen a rise in doping related penalties and a 70 percent decrease in attendance for football matches in the top two tiers since the beginning of the Passolig system) —is notable in and of itself. Yet this support is understandable when we recognize that Mr. Erdinc is a “European” Turk, by virtue of his French citizenship.

“European” is in quotation marks because Europe has, in recent years, strayed from what it was known for: free thought and democratic values. The Gatestone Institute wrote a recent piece entitled “Europe: Making itself into the new Afghanistan?”, which underlines the odd way that catering to the sentiments of the Muslim minority actually makes Europe less democratic in the long run; artists self-censor their art while museum directors cancel exhibitions for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. Algerian writer Kamel Daoud puts it well:

Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan.

This comment—which I am sure is controversial to some—underlines the limits of cultural pluralism in Europe (something Stephen Steinberg has noted has limits in the United States, much to the consternation of Sociologists who are threatened by the notion that celebrating difference can be problematic and undemocratic). Unfortunately, sometimes the focus on diversity means that the perceived “difference” of others becomes concretized; the social construction becomes real because society over-emphasizes it. Nowhere is this more evident than modern Europe, as results from the Turkish referendum show.

According to NTV, it was European Turks who all but turned the tide in the referendum. While the general result was a win for “YES” by 51.4% to 48.6%, the result among international voters was 59.5% to 40.6% in favor of “YES”. Among these “YES” votes, the highest percentages came from Western European countries: Germany (63% “YES”); Austria (73% “YES”); Belgium (75% “YES”); Denmark (61% “YES”); France (65% “YES”); Holland (71% “YES”); Norway (57% “YES”). Clearly, international votes were crucial in the referendum, and unstamped votes were counted even in the international voting.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#yurt-disi

 

It should be worrying to Europeans that Turks living within the perceived “liberal” climate of Europe chose to vote “YES”, since it shows the distinct failure of Europe’s “liberal” policies. Clearly, the Turks living in the context of Europe’s cultural pluralism did not internalize the “values” of Europe—freedom of expression and freedom of speech (the same values that are under attack in art galleries and museums which silence artists for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities)—rather they voted to increase the power of a president who aims to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. In effect these “European” Turks—like Mevlut Erdinc—became more, and not less, conservative despite living in Europe. They effectively doubled down on their ethnic identity—itself tied to Islam—in the wake of European othering under the guise of cultural pluralism.

This is just one example of how “democracy”, as it is known it in the West, can be subverted. As Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute points out, “Turks Vote[d] To Give Away Their Democracy”. Mr. Bekdil points out that the voters chose to support a party that has purged thousands: 

According to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu:

  • 47,155 people have been jailed since the coup attempt on July 15;
  • 113,260 people have also been detained;
  • 41,499 people have been released with condition of judicial control and 23,861 people have been released without any condition; 863 other suspects remain at large;
  • 10,732 of those who have been arrested are police officers, while 168 military generals and 7,463 military officers have been jailed as of April 2, 2017;
  • 2,575 judges and prosecutors

 

The fact that “democracy” has supported such undemocratic policies may be astounding, yet it shouldn’t be. Mr. Erdogan, in his bid to ingratiate himself to the “West” in order to continue the inflow of capital in the context of neoliberalism, has celebrated his response to the 15 July 2016 Coup attempt as being in the name of “Democracy”. This obsession with the word—and not the practice—of democracy has manifested itself in many ways: A new “Martyrs and Democracy” museum is opening in Ankara to remember victims of the failed coup of 15 July 2016. and the island of Yassidada—where former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hung, among other political figures—has also become “Democracy and Freedom Island”. The AKP even moved to authorize construction on the island (and increased the amount of construction allowed after the referendum), turning the former prison island into a tourist resort, since it is one of the few unspoiled spots of land available for development. These are just small examples of how the ideas of Western liberalism are being used to support decidedly illiberal policies; it is a failure of “the West” to separate “neoliberalism” from “liberalism”.

 

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The “Original” Yassiada. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/infamous-istanbul-island-home-to-menderes-trial-renamed-democracy-and-freedom-island.aspx?pageID=238&nID=57571&NewsCatID=341

 

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Yassiada Now. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/ekonomi/yassiada-daha-da-beton-olacak-1803736/

 

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The Name Change Is Complete on Google Maps. Image Courtesy of Google Maps.

 

Unfortunately, this trend—of putting capital before community—looks set to continue. The European Union has looked to “reset ties with Turkey”, in the eyes of The Wall Street Journal, perhaps seeking a return to the status quo ante. Regardless of what happens, it is clear that the European brand of liberal pluralism has failed. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess, but it would behoove all of us to realize that “democracy” has become just a word, used in certain contexts in order to receive certain returns in political and material terms. In effect, the concept of “democracy” itself has become commodified; it has become something to be bought and sold in intellectual and political circles, like so much else in the age of extreme capitalism.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/illustration/turkey-flag-map-with-business-man-shouting-royalty-free-illustration/585516128

 

A Marginal Sociologist’s View on the Turkish Referendum and What the Future May Hold: The Fault lines Revealed Say Something About the World, Not Just Turkey

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Despite my earlier predictions, Turkish voters chose “YES” for a new constitution in the referendum of Sunday 16 April 2017 by a narrow 51.3%-48.7% margin. In my defense, the vote was marred by irregularities including ballot stuffing and a controversial decision to allow unstamped ballots to count. According to CNN’s piece, monitors

 

described a litany of shortcomings.

  • The state of emergency imposed after a failed coup last July had a profound effect on the political process. “Fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed,” the monitors’ report said. “The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment.”
  • State media was biased in favor of Erdogan and did not adequately cover opposition. “The legal framework for the referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media,” she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said.
  • Monitors saw “no” supporters subjected to police intervention at events and senior officials in the “yes” camp equated them with terrorists.
  • The involvement of Erdogan and other national and local public figures in the “yes” campaign led to a “restrictive” and “imbalanced” campaign framework, she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said. The decision on the day of the vote to allow unstamped ballots “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”

 

In typical fashion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the monitors’ report, telling international observers to “know their place”. Given that Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—all said no, it is very likely that voting irregularities did indeed turn the tide for the “YES” side. Indeed, it was noted that many polling places in southeast Turkey recorded clean sweeps (as in 97 for “YES” to 0 for “NO” in one case where all vote counters were relatives), the kind of questionable results that are common in authoritarian regimes. In fact the results were much closer in many Istanbul districts than would have been expected, as a look at Istanbul’s district by district results show. In conservative Eyup “NO” won out 51.54% to 48.46% while in conservative Fatih “YES” won with a similarly narrow 51.38%-48.62% result. With results this close—in even notoriously conservative districts—in an election where the majority of big cities went against the AKP for the first time since the party came to power, it is unrealistic to think that the “YES” win was truly “free and fair”.

 

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Three Largest Cities Say No. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39622335

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97 “YES” to 0 “NO” in Southeast Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province. Note the vote counters’ last names—they’re the same! Image Courtesy Of: http://ilerihaber.org/icerik/aile-boyu-saibe-urfada-dokzan-yedi-evet-0-hayir-cikan-oylari-sayanlarin-hepsi-akraba-70744.html

 

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Results Were Closer Than Expected In Some Conservative Districts of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/istanbul-2017-referandum-sonuclari-evet-ve-hayir-oy-oranlari-1784854/

 

 

Despite the controversy, the “YES” side won. As President Erdogan said—using a football analogy, no less—“I come from a football background. It doesn’t matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.” Given that the “game” was won—albeit with an offside goal (!) perhaps—we now need to analyze what it means. I believe that the fault lines that the referendum revealed in Turkish society mirror the fault lines we see in the world today, but it is not all doom and gloom for Turkey since the future could be brighter than many “experts” seem to believe.

Many political pundits seemed despondent in the wake of the results, with The Guardian’s Yavuz Baydar saying “Erdogan’s referendum victory spells the end of Turkey as we know it” and Foreign Policy penning a piece titled “RIP Turkey”. At first glance, the pessimism seems warranted; the kind of polarization seen in the election map—where, in this case, the tourist and industrial centers on the coasts and Kurdish areas in the southeast voted “NO” and the long-neglected peripheral provinces of central Anatolia voted “YES”—is reminiscent of the societal polarization seen in the wake of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States.

 

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Turkey’s Results. Blue is “NO”, Red is “YES”. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

While I have seen many observers describe this phenomenon as one pitting the “educated” and “cosmopolitan” urban areas against the “ignorant” and “backward” rural areas, I believe there is another answer; it an answer that does not try to degrade one group in the face of another, rather it is an answer that tries to get to the root of what might be called a budding global crisis. Rather than an “urban/rural” divide, I think we are seeing a divide between “capital-rich regions” and “capital-poor regions”. This is to say that regions rich in capital—due to foreign investment or development—are typically urban while regions rich in capital—devoid of foreign investment or development—are typically rural. Of course the ethnic aspect of the Kurdish areas (themselves also capital-poor) adds another dynamic to the Turkish case, but—generally speaking—ethnically Turkish “capital-poor” regions voted along the same lines for “YES”. It is also important to note that the terms “capital rich” and “capital poor” do not refer to individuals living in those areas, rather it refers to general regional attributes (like the number of foreign companies present, etc.).

This situation affects traditional voting patterns. In the past people voted on what they thought was best for their country; while there may have been different parties with different goals, they tended to be different visions for the same end goal: the betterment of the country as a whole. In the current situation, with politicians more and more beholden to corporate interests and capital and less to their countries, there is little middle ground to be had for voters. For many politicians and wealthy donors the end goal is not the betterment of the country, rather it is the betterment of personal bank accounts. Thus the stark divide as politicians look to win votes (to better their own economic situations) by polarizing the electorate: it is a classic situation of divide and conquer in the context of a zero sum game.

An example of how this manifests itself is the case of Izmir businessman Selim Yasar, a member of the board of Yasar Holding, which owns the foodstuffs brand Pinar, the sponsor of the Pinar Karsiyaka basketball team (the Yasar family has also been involved with the Karsiyaka football team). After posting a Tweet reading “YES thank you to the Turkish public that made the right choice!”, fans of the Karsiyaka team slammed Mr. Yasar on Twitter to the point that the Tweet was deleted. This is not surprising, since Karsiyaka’s fan group Carsi has ran foul of the government before for sending political messages (much like the other Carsi group, fans of Istanbul team Besiktas). When fans confronted Mr. Yasar on social media, reminding him that his district (of Karsiyaka) voted overwhelmingly against the referendum (83.2% “NO”, one of the highest rates in the country), Mr. Yasar responded with a threat that the team’s sponsorship deal would need to be “reconsidered” so as not to fall afoul of Ankara [the government] following such a high percentage of “NO” votes in the district. In the authoritarian climate fostered by the referendum results, of course, such bold threats are not surprising.

Here we clearly see that the businessman is putting his own interests first, likely knowing that cultivating good relations with the government will mean more business deals and increased profits; for Mr. Yasar is voting along the lines of what will bring more money in. Mr. Yasar is a good example of how, under extreme capitalism, politics can get polarized (and, at times, ugly). Indeed the local—and even the team—is of no concern to Mr. Yasar. In order to cultivate support from the government, Mr. Yasar is willing to end his relationship to the sports team (or at least publically threaten to do so in the name of appeasing the state).

 

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Mr. Yasar Vs. The Fans. Images Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/evet-kutlamasi-yapan-yasar-holding-karsiyakali-taraftarla-karsi-karsiya-geldi-193445 (TOP) and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/karsiyaka-taraftarina-tezahurat-sorusturmasi-40074959 (Bottom).

 

This brings me to why it may not be all doom and gloom for Turkey. First of all, there is a disconnect between what the state wants (the “YES” camp) and what the capital rich regions want (they mainly voted “NO”). This kind of divide will likely not be sustainable, especially given that the AKP has built itself on a foundation of economic “stability” and “development” (processes that affect capital rich regions). Mr. Erdogan has upped his populist rhetoric to speak to the capital poor regions of ethnically Turkish Central Anatolia, but that betrays his neoliberal leanings. His recent attempt to bridge these contradictory positions shows how untenable the situation is. At a ceremony marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammed on 22 April 2017, Mr. Erdogan said:

How can one who does not listen to the voices of millions of Muslim children who have been killed in Syria regard himself a follower of the Prophet? You must have seen the father who was holding his deceased twins after the chemical attack [in Syria]. How long will those villains continue their cruelties without paying the price? What are we called just because we speak against them? They call us dictator. Let them say that. We will continue to raise our voices against them. Because our Prophet preaches ‘consent to cruelty is cruelty.

While his pursuit of justice in the Muslim world is underlined here, it also conspicuously ignores the role that Turkey played in undermining Syrian stability by turning a blind eye to militants streaming into Syria from Turkey; this type of hypocritical position is not sustainable in the long term. Neither is the fact that, following the coup of 15 July 2016, much of Turkey’s civil society (including government officials, diplomats, and judges) has been purged for relationships with reclusive cleric Fetullah Gulen. The AKP was built on the foundations of a relationship with Mr. Gulen and his followers; without that deep-seated support—which penetrated all levels of the Turkish state—it is unlikely that the AKP can retain its institutional cohesion.

Perhaps most heartening, however, is the fact that—for arguably the first time in Turkish history—we truly see the liberal communities of coastal Turkey taking the same side as the Kurdish communities of eastern Anatolia. One look at the voting map shows this convergence based on shared interests. When one takes into account the close vote in conservative districts—and the fact that the biggest cities all voted “NO”—we can infer that many conservative Turks were also against the constitutional change. In this atmosphere, we see a rare opportunity for Turks of all stripes—conservative and liberal, Muslim and secular, ethnically Turkish and ethnically Kurdish—to come together.

 

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Most Big cities, Excepting Bursa, Voted “NO”. Among the Top 10 “YES” Voting Provinces (In the Red Column), Most Were From Central Anatolia. The Top 10 “NO” Voting Provinces (In the Blue Column) Were a Mix of Kurdish Provinces (5) and Liberal Coastal Provinces on the Aegean and Thracian Coasts (5). Note also that “NO” percentages in Turkey’s most Liberal City (Izmir) and Turkey’s Main Kurdish City (Diyarbakir) Were Virtually Identical: 68.80% to 67.59%. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

Likely, it will necessitate the rise of a new political party or at least a new charismatic political leader to bring these disparate groups together. Such a party would probably have to be socially conservative (but not Islamist), much in the way America’s Republican party is conservative and not specifically religious, and it would have to be nationalist (civically, and not ethnically, so as to include Turkey’s Kurdish citizens) to have success. If such a movement mobilizes, it is likely that it will also benefit from fractures that have emerged within the AKP following the split with the Gulenists, and could mount a challenge to Mr. Erdogan in the 2019 Presidential election (which this referendum ensures). This means that a new opposition party could emerge to exploit the close nature of the referendum; if well-organized enough it would be able to challenge Mr. Erdogan, who could then actually lose the election in 2019 (and with it the power) he hoped to gain through the referendum in the first place! Hopes for a truly inclusive Turkey may actually be more alive after the referendum than they were before the referendum, and that is another perspective from which the referendum results can be viewed.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg

 

Crowd Trouble Mars UEFA Europa League Clash Between Besiktas and Olympique Lyon: What the Media Won’t Say About the Events

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European football’s second tier competition, the Europa League, is often derided for being less exciting than its more illustrious big brother, the UEFA Champions League. This week, the Europa League defied the preconceptions by providing a lot of unexpected excitement, albeit for the wrong reasons. The April 13 2017 quarterfinal match between Turkish side Besiktas JK and French side Olympique Lyon started 45 minutes late because of crowd violence, pitting fans of the two teams against one another and prompting a pitch invasion before the match.

While the unprecedented level of violence is alarming—and not to mention extremely disappointing—it also raises many questions. Why did this kind of violence happen at this particular match, and at this particular time? Who is to blame for it; Turkish supporters or French supporters? I hope to answer these questions by putting forth two theories. Likely, the truth is somewhere in between, but it is a lot more of an interpretation than much of what I have seen provided in main-stream media outlets.

As would be expected after an event like this, both sides blamed one another. The Turkish news media (especially the pro-government daily Sabah) blames the French police and supporters. Their articles carry headlines like “French Hooligans Attack Besiktas Fans!” and “French Police Attack Besiktas Fans”. In the mean time, Lyon’s president Jean-Michel Aulas claims that it is Besiktas fans who are to blame. Mr. Aulas hyperbolically said “We can always say that the match organiser has to face these issues but either we make stadiums that make it possible to do family football or we build blockhouses with barbed wire. It is not football that you love”. In the end, UEFA found that no one was innocent in this ugly situation and charged both teams.

Unfortunately, much of the foreign media took the blame game to the next level by strongly accusing the Turkish fans. In this regard British daily/tabloid The Sun was the most egregious, and their piece of photo-journalism, written by Gary Stonehouse, is a poor and misguided attempt at journalism; the pictures don’t even match the captions!

 

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The Young Girl in the Turkish Flag Hat Is Portrayed as “Launching a Terrifying Attack” By the Sun. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

The caption here reads “The travelling Besiktas supporters launched a terrifying attack on the home end”, yet in the picture we clearly see a group of masked men clad in black—with one wielding a metal rod—attacking a group of Besiktas supporters including a young girl with a Turkish flag hat! Unless this terrified young girl is a hardened football hooligan, I am unsure how Mr. Stonehouse could characterize this scene as one of Turkish supporters attacking innocent French supporters. The Sun’s piece is also keen on pointing out how scared “the children” were (one caption reads “A small child snapped along with thousands of Lyon fans fleeing onto the pitch in terror”) yet conspicuously ignores the plight of the terrified young Turkish girl.

 

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The Sun Is Cleary Concerned About The Well-Being of “The Children”…As Long As They Aren’t Turkish, Apparently. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Unfortunately, this is a prime example of a biased—and perhaps xenophobic—press. Even the image with the caption “Besiktas fans launched fireworks and missiles into the home end” is misleading, one can figure it out just by looking at the image. Clearly it is the masked hooligans, again clad in black, from the French side that are attacking the Besiktas fans (on the left) who are seen running in the opposite direction. Unfortunately The Sun seem to have lost their ethical sense and chose to run a biased story rather than do their job—provide unbiased journalism.

 

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Clearly It Is the Masked Men In Black (From the Lyon Side) Who Are Attacking The Turkish Fans (In White and Red, Mainly); It Is As If the Captions Describe a Different Event. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Given this example of poor journalism, it is clear that a better explanation for what happened is necessary. While there was violence both inside and outside the stadium, it appears that there is no way to establish blame at this point. This is why I will put forth two theories; it is likely that the truth lies somewhere in between:

  • The violence pregame was planned as a way to stoke the fires of Turkish nationalism before the critical referendum on Sunday 16 April 2017 in Turkey.
  • The violence during the game was a planned attack by ultra-nationalist and far-right French hooligans as a response to the pre-game fighting and is indicative of rising Islamophobia in Europe.

In terms of the first theory, we must first understand that the fighting before the match makes little sense. Besiktas—in this Europea League Campaign alone—faced teams from two countries with which Turkey has (geo)political tensions. Two rounds ago Besiktas faced Israeli side Hapoel Beer-Sheba, and the most interesting thing to happen was that some of Besiktas’ board members laid a wreath at a bust commemorating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. One round ago Besiktas faced Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus (who got into a Twitter spate with Osmanlispor, the Turkish side they faced earlier in the competition) and the matches were played without visiting fans. Given that both of these matches carried political tension but went off without a hitch, the situation in Lyon raises questions.

Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas said that shops were damaged before the match, and The Sun (in a different piece) reported that “Fans were snapped angrily clashing with armoured police, most wearing black signalling the club’s Ultras – and some waving the Turkish flag and letting off smoke bombs”. Here it should be noted that Besiktas’ “Ultras”—known as Carsi—do not look like the gentleman below who is pictured attacking stewards.

 

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The Above Image–of Men In Black Tracksuits Attacking Stewards–Does Not Fit Carsi At All; They Look More Like Hired Thugs. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328782/besiktas-fans-clash-with-french-police-in-violent-scenes-in-lyon/

 

In fact, Carsi gained notoriety for protesting against the government in 2013 and have a reputation for their liberal stance on social issues; they are not a group known for wanton violence. The key issue seems to be that, as the Lyon president noted, many fans entered the Turkish section without tickets. Sports Illustrated reported that “Lyon’s director of security, Annie Saladin, said about 50 Turkish fans forced their way inside the stadium and were responsible for the trouble”. Again, this is not something that Carsi are known for doing; having attended a Besiktas away match in London I can attest to the fact that the Carsi fans I met were largely rule-abiding decent human beings. So what happened in Lyon?

Given the history of framing Carsi (the pitch invasion at a 2013 Besiktas-Galatasaray derby comes to mind) by blaming them for crowd violence in order to discredit the group after they participated in anti-government protests, it is possible that this event is a similar framing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lofty goals for Turkey—reiterated in an editorial for the daily Sabah on 15 April 2017 where he speaks of plans for as far off dates as 2053 and 2071–and he cannot afford to lose in Sunday 16 April’s nation-wide referendum which would give him executive power. Given this obsession, it is not unlikely to believe that he took a page out of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s playbook: stoke the fires of nationalism through soccer hooliganism. In this past summer’s European championships, Russian fans clashed with British fans while Putin mocked the violence. Later, it became clear that the Russian “hooligans” had ties to the Kremlin.

Regarding the case in Lyon, it is possible that either Erdogan sent fans from the Turkish community living in Europe to cause trouble or members of the European Turkish community went of their own accord to cause trouble. In either case, the troublemakers knew that the response from police would solidify the “Us vs. Them” narrative that Mr. Erdogan feeds on: the narrative that Turkey is a Muslim nation bullied by Europe and that—in order to stand up to this injustice—Turkey must be strong and, therefore, allow Mr. Erdogan to have complete power to “strengthen” the country. Even Mr. Erdogan’s response to the Lyon events carries an unprovoked denial: “The match is happening in France, there is no Erdogan there. If the French [fans] went onto the field that is dangerous. I suppose there have been some changes there too lately […]”. Why would Mr. Erdogan voluntarily tie himself to this event, as he does in the first sentence, if he wasn’t involved?

The second theory is that the French fans came looking for a fight. The rush with which Lyon’s president—and much of the European media—moved to blame Turkish fans for the violence suggests a tacit acknowledgement that the French fans held some culpability. The images provided above also tell an important part of the story. Scenes of French fans clad in black and attacking children with metal rods—or screaming, shirtless, on the pitch—do not give the impression of an innocent group. Quite the contrary, they look like members of a paramilitary group.

 

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The Section of Lyon Fans “Reacting To their Turkish Attackers” Don’t Look So Innocent To Me. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/3328924/europa-league-clash-between-lyon-and-besiktas-delayed-as-thousands-of-fans-pile-onto-pitch-following-violence-in-stands/

 

Given the recent incident involving the bombing of German side Borussia Dortmund’s team bus (initially blamed on Islamic terrorists) and the rising tide of terrorism in Western Europe, it is quite possible that some of the French fans came ready to fight the Besiktas fans because they represented Turkey, a Muslim country. In short, Lyon’s fans may have been expressing the kind of Islamophobia that has been on the rise in Europe recently; they are not innocent.

Unfortunately, much of the Western media has ignored the guilt of Lyon’s fans. Besiktas’ main fan group, Carsi, has sent out a series of tweets detailing the atrocities committed by Lyon’s fans. It is also important to note that on 11 April 2017 Carsi Tweeted a warning to visiting fans, telling them to not travel in small groups, wear team colors, or respond to any agitations; Carsi was aware of the possibility that there could be trouble in Lyon which leads me to believe that they would not go out looking for trouble.

 

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Carsi Sends a Message To Traveling Fans Urging Them To Not Respond to Provocation From Home Fans In Lyon. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

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Carsi’s Twitter Feed Points Out the Errors In the Western Media Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/forzabesiktas?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

Once again, I do not believe that Besiktas’ “Ultras” themselves–the “real” ones–had anything to do with the horrible scenes we saw unfold in Lyon. Rather, it seems as if the match was used in order to further different narratives concerning Turkey and its relationship with Europe. I don’t know which is sadder: that football is being tarnished to further political goals, or that Western media cannot separate fact from fiction? On the other hand, what is important to recognize is that this was certainly not the work of real football fans; it is instead a classic example of what happens when politics gets mixed up with football.  Given that matches in the Turkish league have been postponed this weekend due to Sunday’s referendum, we are likely to see politics mix further with Turkish football in the coming weeks.

 

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As The Banner Shows, Many Of the Besiktas “Fans” Came From Europe, In this Case Berlin. It is Likely that the Majority Were Not Part of Carsi’s Core Support From Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4410138/Lyon-Besiktas-fans-fight-pitch.html

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For Those Who Think The French Fans Are All Innocent, This Is A Picture That Speaks A Thousand Words. Thanks To The Daily Mail For Correcting The Sun‘s Egregious Error In Reporting. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-4410138/Lyon-Besiktas-fans-fight-pitch.html

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