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All Eyes Are on the Turkish Football Federation For Possible Insight into Turkey’s Kurdish Policy

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Batman Petrolspor, a third division football team from Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, have been referred to the Turkish Football Federation’s (TFF) Disciplinary committee for…releasing white doves into the air before their season opening match. The gesture was meant as a way to symbolize peace in the wake of increasing violence all over Turkey, but the TFF was unimpressed; the team faces a fine because they had not gotten permission beforehand. Professor James Dorsey recognizes that this may amount to implicit support by the TFF for Turkey’s re-started war on Kurds—designed to appeal to hard-core nationalists—in the run up to the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for November 1.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/29908613.asp

 

It is important to note that, in the past, the TFF has been known to pick and choose which political gestures in football it disciplines. They backed down in the past in the face of public reaction; one can only hope that they will do the same in this case. Back in December of 2013 two political “statements” from the football field were set to receive punishment from the TFF before it backed down. In the first instance Fethiyespor, a football club from a district of Turkey’s Muğla province on the Aegean coast (itself a stronghold of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) that has voted overwhelmingly against the ruling AKP in all four of the last elections), lined up before a Turkish Cup match against Fenerbahçe with t-shirts that spelled out “Yüce Atatürk”—“Glorious or Honorable Atatürk”. Initially the TFF singled Fethiyespor out for disciplinary action on the grounds of “using national symbols as a means to create an argument. Six days later cooler heads prevailed and Fethiyespor escaped without a penalty; perhaps the words of Sports Minister Suat Kılıç held some sway in the decision: “I can say clearly: Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the founder of the Turkish Republic, a huge and common value for the Turkish society. His name cannot be described as a political message or something that can alienate people of each other”. It should be noted that the team repeated the action on 29 October 2014—the Turkish national holiday Republic Day, commemorating the founding of the Turkish Republic—in a Turkish Cup match against Keçiörengücü when they lined up with t-shirts bearing Atatürk’s picture; there was no disciplinary action threatened or taken.

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2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/25325999.asp

 

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One Year Later. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/135495/Gelenek_suruyor…_Fethiyespor_yine_Ataturk_tisortuyle_cikti.html

 

In the other instance on December 6, 2013, two of Galatasaray’s international stars Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboue wore shirts honoring Nelson Mandela under their jerseys following the club’s first match after the influential South African leader’s death. Both players were set to be disciplined by the TFF for “bringing politics into football”. Again Sports Minister Suat Kılıç warned against “divisive decisions” and the disciplinary actions were dropped on 17 December 2013.

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Drogba (Above) and Eboue (Below). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2520210/Galatasaray-stars-Didier-Drogba-Emmanuel-Eboue-facing-fines-Turkish-FA-displaying-Nelson-Mandela-tributes-vests.html

 

Both of these actions reminded many Turkish football commentators of the TFF’s flippant manner when it comes to taking disciplinary action. In August of 2013 the “Rabia sign”, popularized by the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Military coup against Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, were made by Turkish footballers Emre Belözoğlu—himself known for his religiosity—and Sercan Kaya after scoring goals in the Turkish Premier League. Turkey’s then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the same sign at a speech in Bursa the day after Mr. Belozoglu made it on the pitch while playing for Fenerbahçe when he compared Turkey to Egypt: “The games being played today in Egypt will be played tomorrow in another Islamic country…maybe they will agitate another country, may they will want to agitate Turkey because they don’t want a strong Turkey in the region”. Neither of these players had any disciplinary action taken against them for making what many view as an overtly political sign on the football field, perhaps that is because it was the “right” kind of political sign.

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Emre Belozoglu (Left). Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2520210/Galatasaray-stars-Didier-Drogba-Emmanuel-Eboue-facing-fines-Turkish-FA-displaying-Nelson-Mandela-tributes-vests.html

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Right). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/24538663.asp

 

Returning to the case of Batman Petrolspor we can hope that the TFF follows the precedents set in the cases of Fethiyespor, Didier Drogba, and Emmanuel Eboue. But don’t be surprised if the disciplinary actions are upheld by the TFF since—in this context, at least—the desire for peace may well be the “wrong” kind of political gesture at this juncture in Turkey, and the powers at be may not see it as innocuous as the cases of December 2013 were deemed to be. The TFF’s decision in the coming days will speak volumes about which path Turkey is headed on regarding the Kurdish issue.

Turkey’s March 30, 2014 Municipal Elections Complete After Turkish Politicians Donned Team Colors on the Campaign Trail

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The Turkish municipal elections have come and gone, and finally all votes have been counted. Many out there are writing on the relevance —and irrelevance—of the outcome. As some may know, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 45.43% of the vote nationally with 20,560,513 votes compared to 27.77% (12,567,556 votes) for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 15.27% (6,910,256 votes) for the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)—(For complete results please see CNN Turk’s election homepage, from which I have taken all statistics mentioned in this post unless otherwise noted: http://www.cnnturk.com/secim2014/).

Personally I am not surprised that the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party won the most municipalities in this election—after all, most districts in Turkey are rural and therefore are part and parcel of the AKP’s main constituency. What is important, however, is how close the vote was in two of the three largest municipalities in the country, Istanbul and Ankara (The third largest city, Izmir, has been a traditional secularist stronghold and this did not change as the CHP won 49.66% of the vote in the province). In Istanbul the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won 4,096,221 (47.92%) of the vote as opposed to 3,426,602 (40.08%) for the CHP challenger Mustafa Sarigul, and an even closer vote in Ankara (the results of which are currently being contested) resulted in 1.415.973 votes (46.33%) for the AKP incumbent Ibrahim Melih Gokcek and 1,383,786 votes (43.78%) for the CHP challenger Mansur Yavas. Interestingly candidates from the ultra-nationalist third party in this election, the MHP, won just 339,346 (3.97%) in Istanbul and 245,624 (7.77%) in Ankara. Both numbers are far below the 15.27% they garnered nationally.

At this point it helps to look at the results of the last municipal elections in Turkey back in 2009 (Again all statistics are courtesy of CNN Turk: http://secim2009.cnnturk.com). Then too the AKP won, this time 40.04 percent of the vote with 19,073,953 votes while the CHP garnered 28.16% with 13,413,030 votes and the MHP followed with 14.70% with 7,002,686 votes. Interestingly—despite the corruption scandals and ongoing street protests stemming from both domestic and international polices—the AKP gained more than five percent of the vote in 2014’s municipal elections (with just 1.5 million more votes, strangely enough) while the CHP lost just under a percentage point (with a loss of under a million voters) and the MHP gained under a percentage point (with almost the same number of voters). In the big cities is where we see a rather large discrepancy in the 2014 results, however. In the 2009 elections the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won Istanbul with 44.20% (3,080,593 votes) over the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu who garnered 36.96% (2,578,623 votes). In the same year Ankara was won by AKP stalwart Ibrahim Melih Gokcek with 38.47% (939,465 votes) over CHP candidate Murat Karayalcin who got 31.50% (769.299 votes). As a note, this years CHP candidate Mansur Yavas ran for the MHP in 2009 and got 656,895 votes, and 26.90% percent of the total vote. This number is much higher than the MHP’s figure this year, which stands at 245,624 votes and 7.77%. What is clear is that despite the results in the rural provinces—which are the AKP’s breadbasket, so to speak—do not reflect on results in the urban metropolises, which have gone against the ruling party.

But what will this mean for Turkey’s future? Unfortunately, I have to say that it does not look good. Such a divided polity—especially in the cities—does not bode well for stability in any democracy. It bodes even less well in a country like Turkey, where the leader’s democratic ambitions have been questioned, and where widespread claims of voting irregularities (In Turkish and English) were answered in the most comical of terms. When questioned as to why electricity was lost on election night in several districts—home to mainly CHP support—in major cities and hindering the vote count, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz blamed the failures on a cat (in English and Turkish). The fact that this was not an April Fool’s joke is certainly cause for concern.

The ruling AKP government will certainly have to answer some questions in the coming days, but their hypocrisy recently makes me doubt that any concrete answers will come. Back in the summer I wrote a post about how politics were to be outlawed in the soccer stadium (also please see: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-322363-turkish-govt-seeks-to-curb-political-chants-in-stadiums.html). Yet, interestingly enough (and in a cynically hypocritical move), Prime Minister Erdogan did not shy away from donning the “home team’s” scarves when on the campaign trail in various cities—the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu, not to be outdone, did the same; pictures are below. So much for politics and sport being separate in Turkey.

And finally, on a lighter note, this is how some Trabzonspor supporters chose to vote. On Twitter—the same social media site that was banned in Turkey (a ban that President Abdullah Gul himself circumvented, in keeping with his occasional opposition of Prime Minister Erdogan), Trabzonspor fans gave their apathetic opinion on the elections. On their ballots they wrote “2010-2011 Champion Trabzonspor” in reference to the season they finished second to Fenerbahce, who were later indicted in a match fixing scandle, “My Party is Trabzonspor”, “labor’s fight against money” and “our vote won’t count but our conscious will rest’’. It is a strange—and strangely fitting—way to end this particular discussion on Turkish politics.

 

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Trabzonspor Voters Make Their Voice (But Not Vote) Heard (Courtesy: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26116581.asp)

 

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The Culprit Has Been Found–A Cat! (You entered the [electric] Transformer?)

 

Football as the Opiate of the Masses? Turkey’s Politicians Don Team Colors on the Campaign Trail:

23607571 Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Sanliurfa province March 11 with a Sanliurfaspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25981102.asp). Erdogan and the AKP won Sanlifurfa province with 126,637 votes, an overwhelming 60.76% of the province’s vote.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Batman province with a Batman Petrolspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011564.asp). Erdogan and the AKP came in second in Batman province with 50,243 votes, 30.78% of the total. The Kurdish BDP won the province with 91,962 votes, 53.83% of the total.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Adana province March 16 while carrying the duel threat of BOTH an Adanaspor scarf (orange) and Adana Demirspor scarf (light blue) (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26013823.asp). This is ironic on a couple levels. First of all, the two teams are–as can be imagined–bitter rivals. Ideologically, however, the irony should not be lost on anyone. Adana Demirspor are one of the most staunchly socialist teams in Turkey–the team was founded by the railway workers of Turkish State Railways (TCDD). They are, undoubtebly, the workers’ team. In fact, a few years ago the team faced “communist” Italian side Livorno in a well-publicized friendly–unprecedented, since at the time Livorno were in the first division and Adana Demirspor were mired in the third division. Please see this write-up on another blog about the match (http://fireandflames.blogsport.de/2009/09/13/socialism-a-la-turca-or-adana-demirspor-livorno/), and note the communist flags in the stands. Then think for the moment of the absurdity of a conservative Islamist-leaning Prime Minister campaigning with that team’s scarf around his neck. Oh, and by the way–the AKP finished second in Adana province with 63,594 votes and 32.38% of the total. The winners? None other than the (sometimes) fascist sympathizing MHP (whose supporters fought pitched battles with leftists on the streets of Turkey in the 1970s) who garnered 66,800 votes and 34.01% of the total.

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Zonguldak province March 26 with a Zonguldakspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/basbakan-erdogan-millet-pensilvanyaya-osmanli-tokadi-atacaktir-14004.html). Due to the large amount of mining in the region Zonguldakspor are also a worker’s team, supporting the miners. The CHP secured a narrow victory in Zonguldak province with 22,375 votes, 38.80% of the total while the AKP garnered 21,805 votes, 37.81% of the total (Results from Radikal Newspapers website (CNNturk.com still shows the AKP as the victor): http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=67&bs=1).

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Ordu province March 25 with an Orduspor Scarf (Courtesy of:  http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26073880.asp). The AKP won in Ordu Province with a majority of 95,244 votes, 52.02% of the total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Kocaeli province March 15 with a Kocaelispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011498.asp). The CHP could only get 34,787 votes in the province–24.02% of the total–compared to the victorious AKP, which won 71,334 votes and 49.25% of the total.

 

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Denizli province March 25 sporting a Denizlispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.haberler.com/chp-lideri-kilicdaroglu-denizli-de-5828037-haberi/). Again, the CHP finished second in the province with 237,144 votes, 38.76% of the total as compared to the AKP’s 276,927, which was good for 45.26% of the province’s total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Karabuk province March 12 sporting a Kardemir-Celik Karabukspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25993636.asp). The CHP managed a paltry 1,738 votes in the province, good for just 2.61% of the total. The MHP took the province with 34,463 votes and 51.81% of the total (Courtesy of: http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=78&bs=1). I’m not sure whether or not the MHP candidate Rafet Vergili campaigned in the Karabukspor colors.