Racism In Progressive Society: A Short Example From the Sporting World and Why We Need More Communicative Action

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A few weeks ago on 12 February 2018, NBA head coach Gregg Popovich candidly stated that, in the United States, “we live in a racist country”. As someone who studies both sports and society, this was—of course—fairly obvious. Yet, it was not obvious in the sense that Mr. Popovich may have meant it to be. While he might compare the current state of the United States to “the fall of Rome”, the road to that trajectory was paved by the 44th President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama. Indeed, the racism goes much deeper than the surface level change in the White House which Mr. Popovich seems to allude to.

This kind of racism was clear on 8 Februrary 2018 when House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D of California) uttered these words regarding her six-year old grandson speaking with regard to his Guatemalan friend “Antonio”:

This was such a proud day for me because when my grandson blew out the candles on his cake, they said, ‘Did you make a wish?’… He said, ‘I wish I had brown skin and brown eyes like Antonio.’ So beautiful, so beautiful. The beauty is in the mix.

To me, as an American, the odd veiled form of racism contained in the above statement made me cringe; indeed it made me embarrassed to be an American. It was uncouth to say the least. Yet, sadly, this kind of veiled racism—disguised with the rhetoric of “tolerance”—is, sadly, everywhere in American society. It is this tendency to blindly subscribe to “tolerance” without actually believing it which has made so many Americans into what they should never be and, indeed, what they claim to fight against. Many Americans have become—unwittingly—racists, sexists, and bigots. It is a twisted and remarkable story.

I was reading an article for a graduate seminar last week and was struck by a passage written by the author, Ellis P. Monk, Jr. In his 2015 article “The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among African-Americans”, the author has this to say:


I find that medium-tone blacks actually perceive significantly less discrimination from other blacks due to their skin color than both the very lightest-skinned and very darkest-skinned blacks (both self-rated and interviewer-rated skin color measures produce this result, although I only present the self-rated skin color findings in table 4). Moreover, I find that both very light-skinned and very dark-skinned blacks report significant amounts of discrimination due to their skin shade within the black population (table 4, models 3 and 5).

Monk (2015: 422)


As I read this passage I was repulsed. How was it, I wondered, that in 2018 we were discussing something as banal as gradations in human skin color? I found it to be the epitome of racism; indeed, I thought to myself that 100 years from now (if the world still exists, of course) sociologists will look back at our era and comment on how backward—and indeed racist—our society really was.

It is my hope that, as individuals, we will be able to get over our collective hyper-sensitivity to all that is different and which has poisoned our society due to the emphasis on identity politics. The signs of this kind of hyper-sensitivity—which encourages division over unity—are visible all over the town I currently live in, from a sticker on a trash can which reads “this oppresses women” (how a rubbish receptacle can oppress an entire gender I will never know) to a ludicrous poster in the window of a local bar. I would never have thought that all races, religions, countries of origin, sexual orientations, and genders would not be welcome at a bar—until, of course, I saw this particular poster. Acting as if the default—that is, inclusion—is not actually the default, that it is somehow an exception, is not doing a service to wider society. Indeed, this kind of absurd virtue signaling only serves to further divides within society by erecting boundaries where there are none and–in turn–furthers the other-izing of marginalized populations.



A Few Absurd Images From Around the Town I Live In. Images Courtesy Of the Author.


I, for one, see the Besiktas ultra group Carsi as one example of how football fans can collectively poke fun at the small absurdities we see around us every day in order to combat these divisions. We cannot deal with a social problem like racism by further concretizing our differences; quite the contrary, we can only move forward and truly “progress” by abandoning the neo-fascistic ideology of modern progressivism which tends to concretize marginal identities in the name of “oppression”. That is why Carsi’s banners—which address social problems through humor—are so refreshing. During a match in 2009, the fan group acknowledged Michael Jackson’s death with a banner in the stadium which read: Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, the Great Besiktas Fan Who Lived Half His Life Black and Half His Life White [note: Besiktas’ colors are black and white].



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Carsi’s ability to shed light on social problems through humor with banners like “Carsi is against nuclear weapons”, “Carsi is against racism”, “Carsi is against terrorism”, or even “Carsi is against itself” allows for at least a semblance of communicative action (in the Habermasian sense) in Turkish society; this is how the group has become such a successful social movement. Unfortunately in American society, there is currently little dialogue since the real racists are hiding behind a neo-fascistic form of progressive ideology which only serves to mask a dangerous tendency to “other” everyone, whether they agree or (especially) if they disagree with the dominant strains of thought.


Football Fandom as Good Citizenship: Besiktas Fans Do the Right Thing

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In an increasingly globalized world characterized by a growing bureaucratic rationalism within the context of extreme capitalism, it is becoming harder and harder to have real—in the sense of meaningful—ties with our fellow humans. Even national identity—and the very concept of citizenship—has come under attack, with people like the globalist Turkish academic Deniz Ulke Aribogan lamenting citizenship itself: “If you are an individual you have rights. If you are a citizen you have duties,” she says, seemingly irritated by what she calls “walled democracies” which have replaced individual “rights” with “duties”. In her mind, it is the borderless globalist world that would be preferable. Yet in my mind, I know that the idea of a “borderless” world is just as fake as the idea that, in the (neo)liberal “modern” world, everyone has become “tolerant”. Of course, it is so clear that the very opposite is true; in fact it is just the political correctness and faux “tolerance” of the modern world that has only served to paint over the ugliness that resides in so many. Even if the “modern” world tries to paint over its blemishes—enacting smoking bans and even trying to phase out alcohol consumption by replacing it with a synthetic alternative—it is clear that the unpleasant and irrational still exist and will continue to.

On 15 January 2018 a disabled youth was savagely beaten on a minibus in the southern Turkish city of Adana. According to reports, the twenty-year old—who is deaf—was approached by a group of four young men who asked him to move out of their way on the minibus. When he did not respond—since he was deaf—they started attacking him. When he tried to respond via sign language, his assailants redoubled their efforts. After their arrest, the savages—one of whom was a kickboxer and another who was a medical student (!)—claimed that they thought the youth was trying to make obscene gestures while he was just trying to communicate. This sad event is absurd on multiple levels: It is absurd that four healthy people should assault an innocent disabled young man is absurd; that one should be a kickboxer and another a medical student only serves to double the absurdity; yet perhaps the biggest absurdity is that passengers on the minibus did nothing as they saw this ugly beating unfold. The fact that the passengers on this minibus did not speak up only serves to show just how alienated we—as citizens of the modern world—have become from our fellow humans. Just like the modern world paints over unpleasantries like smoking and drinking, the modern rational individual paints over their lack of morals with political correctness and blind adherence to “progressive” ideologies. Yet, it is clear, that the rationality of “modern” man—which says “do not intervene in someone else’s fight”, even when it is clear that a disgusting attack is unfolding—has lost all connection to humanity.



Carsi Stand up For Racism in Football, Even Outside of Turkey. Image Courtesy of:


Thankfully, not all of us have accepted the doctrine of modern “rationalism”. The fan group of the Besiktas football team, Carsi, has been lauded as “A movement for society and self-improvement” ( . Indeed, I have written before on the positive contributions of Carsi to Turkish society whether by standing against authoritarian leadership or supporting earthquake victims. Recently, they stood up for a Brazilian footballer who suffered racist harassment in Serbia. But the team also keeps up with domestic issues in Turkey. In 2015, after learning that Reza Zarrab—the Iranian trader who orchestrated a billion dollar scheme to help the globalist leaders of Turkey skirt sanctions against Iran—had purchased a box seat at Besiktas’s new Vodafone Arena Stadium, Carsi spoke up.


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Carsi Stand Up For Their Country. Image Courtesy Of:


Their Tweet read “BESIKTAS will remain the team of the people, not the team of they who stand with those that say ‘we are going to F*** the nation’”. They were harsh words indeed, but they were words that show Carsi’s odd combination of anarcho-leftism, populism, and nationalism. Indeed, it is a potent combination that resonates with many in Turkey, and for good reason. Indeed, the disabled young man who was savagely assaulted in Adana was invited to Besiktas’ Vodafone arena on 18 January 2018 after he revealed that he was a Besiktas fan. Next week it is hoped that the young man, Agit Acun, will attend Besiktas’ match against Kasimpasaspor.



Young Agit Acun Poses at the Vodafone Arena. Image Courtesy Of:


How quickly Agit Acun’s fortunes turned thanks to his connection to football and the sense of community—of humanity—that the football fans have. In an age where humanity is being slowly whittled down into a wholly rationalized shell—and in a world where industrial football threatens to rationalize football as well—it is good to know that there are some of us who still express the most irrational of human emotions: love. Whether it is love for a football team or love for a fellow citizen, some football fans have it. That is something that we should all be grateful for. In a world increasingly driven by hate, true human compassion and true human emotion is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

Cheers to Besiktas and Cheers to Carsi for keeping it real.



Graffiti in Besiktas. Image Courtesy of the Author.

Sports and Society: Religious and Ethnic Identities Come to the Fore in Turkish Stadiums


In the past couple of weeks Turkish stadiums have become the venue of choice for the airing of political views. The tensions of the final weeks of the football season have only served to heighten tensions already existing in both sport and society. What is most interesting, however, that in the past weeks two groups within Turkish society—seemingly at odds with one another—have both been targeted in stadiums: Kurds and secular Turks. In the context of the stadium it is possible to see that these groups may have more in common than outside observers may initially believe.

On 17 April 2016, Altay, from Western Turkey’s liberal port city of Izmir that sees itself as representing the progressive idealism of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, faced Erzurum Büyükşehir Belediyespor in eastern Turkey in a third tier soccer match. After the first half, which ended 1-1, the Altay team claims that their players were attacked on the way to the locker rooms; allegedly one man brandished a knife. Before the match, fans in Erzurum chanted “Gavur Izmir”, or “Infidel Izmir” the (not-so-flattering) nickname of Turkey’s most cosmopolitan city, the old Smyrna. One Altay administrator claimed they feared for their lives. A local newspaper from Erzurum responded to these claims, noting all of the heroic acts that Erzurumians have done over the course of Turkish history including taking Greek soldiers hostage after the Greek invasion of Izmir. The local paper, Yeni Akit, also claims that the Izmir team’s fans called those in Erzurum “terrorists” and demanded an apology from Turkish football pundits who disparaged the city for the “infidel” chants. We may never know what truly happened in the stadium but it points to an important ideological division within Turkey that is not insignificant, one that I will return to in a moment.

One week later, on 24 April, 2016, MKE Ankaragücü faced the Kurdish side Amedspor in the Turkish capital in another third tier soccer match. After Amedspor scored to go up 2-1 in the 85th minute, some of the Kurdish team’s executives celebrated, prompting a vicious attack by Ankaragücü’s executives that was caught on video. In the end injuries ranged from broken noses to concussions and several people–including the chairman of the Ankara team—were taken in for questioning by police. The Ankaragücü team, in their second response to the violence, note that when their team played in Diyarbakir their fans were stoned and had to witness the whistling down of the Turkish national anthem; they further note that the Amedspor executives broke an unspoken rule. Celebrating like a fan in the executive seats is unacceptable.


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While we will never know the full details of either of these incidents because we can only hear versions of the events from either side, it shows that the divisions within society are being replicated—and amplified—in the stadium.

On Tuesday, 26 April 2016, the issue of religion again came to the fore as Turkey’s Speaker of Parliament, Ismail Kahraman, said Turkey needed a religious constitution. This provoked small scale protests from many who fear the country’s long-standing secularism is under threat. The response, once again, came from the stands. On 30 April, 2016, Besiktas fans in the brand new Vodafone Arena chanted “Turkey is secular and will remain secular” during their match with Kayserispor, while fans of Fenerbahçe echoed the same sentiments during their match that weekend.

As one local commentator noted, this kind of tension—often culminating in violence—has been present in Turkish football for the past thirty-five years. Just in the last month there have been incidents at major matches in Karabük and Trabzon, where a fan assaulted the referee. Smaller matches have also been affected; Police had to fire warning shots to disperse fans at an amateur match.


In Karabuk. Image Courtesy Of:,_E7O2BsgHk-PTv6L-r6EQg/w9WVT_8XlUKmpWg6YKDHkA?_sgm_campaign=scn_b80478c001c4e000&_sgm_source=d8ce4efc-201b-4f1e-8f4e-fe8bfabe8442&_sgm_action=click

What is different in the present, however, is that there is also violence—as we saw in Erzurum and Ankara—that is not just wanton aggression precipitated by fan anger at referees or at one another. Instead, we see violence with political undertones, based instead on religious and ethnic identities. More importantly, we see that two of the groups that have become victims of this violence—those perceived to be secular and those who are Kurdish—have for many years been on opposite sides of the Turkish political world; the divide between western and eastern Turkey manifested itself with secular Turks from “modern” western Turkey disdaining Kurds from “backward” eastern Turkey. The current marginalization of both groups within Turkish society, however, also offers a unique opportunity for them to come together in ways that were not possible in the past.

Turkish Football Fans Unite After Suruc Bombing Amid an Alarming Escalation of Violence


When an ISIS suicide bomber killed 32 and wounded 104 young men and women in Suruç, Turkey—near the Syrian border—on Monday July, 20 2015 everything changed forever. Some say that it means Turkey has now been sucked into the Syrian violence as a result of the Turkish leadership’s failed policies and thinly veiled support for ISIS in Syria; ten years ago, during the US-led war in Afghanistan, who would have thought that anyone would be able to say that “In many respects, Turkey has provided a safe sanctuary for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, playing a similar role as Pakistan does in support of providing safe haven for the Taliban in Afghanistan.” But the Independent did, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

One Cumhuriyet columnist, Orhan Bursalı, outlines eight reasons why Turkey could become an ISIS state. Again, who would have thought that anyone could say that because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s pro-Sunni sectarian stance—while occupying the highest political positions in the secular Turkish Republic—that Turkey could possibly go this route? Certainly no one would have thought it possible back in 2012, when US President Barack Obama named Mr. Erdoğan one of his top-five friends among world leaders. But Mr. Obama did, and this miscalculation is as great as Mr. Erdoğan’s in following a sectarian foreign policy, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

Now the divide-and-rule policies of the AKP’s 13 year one party rule have brought back a similar political divide to what was seen in 1970s Turkey, where fighting between members of right-wing and left-wing groups killed ten people a day for a decade. But 2015 is not 1980. The world has changed. There can be no military coup to stop the bleeding. The conflict is not confined within the context of the Cold War. The battle is no longer between right-wing Turkish nationalists and left-wing Turkish nationalists. It is between normal religious citizens—some who are supporting the Sunni Islamist militants of ISIS—and various left-leaning Turks—urban intellectuals and students—and Kurds, some liberal and some supporting the terrorists of the PKK—looking for a more inclusive democracy and a move away from divisive politics. But as the conflict rages the divisions get blurred. To see just how complicated the delicate situation is I will present the stories of a seven different Turks who were lost in this heinous attack and its aftermath.


Hatice Ezgi Sadet and Polen Ünlü were 20 year-old girls studying in Istanbul and fellow members of the Sosyalist Gençlik Dernekleri Federasyonu (Federation of Socialist Youth Organizations). The living tell a story of the dead that shows two girls who went everywhere together—whether it was to campaign for the HDP in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district or to attend Beşiktaş matches; friends from the stadium attended the funeral services in Beşiktaş jerseys and scarves. They went together to Suruç in order to help build a children’s park in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, instead of to party on the beaches of the Mediterranean like so many other twenty-something girls in Turkey during the summer. Now they lie buried together in the same grave, inseparable forever.


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Koray Çapoğlu was a thirty-two year old “revolutionary” in the sense that his friends say he always stood up for right in the face of wrong, faithfully attending every protest with the flag of the team he supported, Trabzonspor. The fan group he helped found—Devrimci Trabzonsporlular (Revolutionary Trabzonspor Supporters)—made an announcement following his death noting that though he was bringing toys to Kobane this time, he was in Suruç just as he had been at Gezi, as he had protested the building of a Nuclear Power Plant on the Black Sea coast, as he had remembered the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. These are the same things Beşiktaş’s Carşı group has protested in standing up for right in the face of wrong. Now all that remains are memories of a young man and a photo of his bloodied clenched fist wrapped in the claret and blue of Trabzonspor.


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The left-wing mainly Turkish students were killed by a fellow Turk from Adiyaman province who had joined ISIS; Şeyh Aburrahman Alagöz. The twenty-year old suicide bomber was studying mechanical engineering at the university, but he was no normal university student. He was neighbors with fellow Adiyaman resident Orhan Gönder who set off two bombs on June 5 2015 in Diyarbakir at a rally for the leftist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), killing 4 and injuring 402, despite the fact that police had—suspiciously—released him from their custody a day before the bombing. Alagöz had taken a break from his studies and was running a teahouse in the center of Adiyaman; the front of his Islam tea house was decorated with passages from the Koran and had an ISIS logo inside, and here he provided a place to recruit young Turks to the terrorist group. During the Kobane events the teahouse closed for a few days; locals say the owner and his patrons had gone to fight for ISIS against Kurdish militants. His teahouse was closed down three months after it opened last October but the Koranic passages remain on the storefront, just as those recruited from this terrorist cell remain anonymous and at large. More than 200 young people from Adiyaman province have left their homes to join ISIS.


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But such visions of martyrdom in the name of Islam are not only confined to young males. Seçil T. is a young 18 year-old girl with her life in front of her. On July 8, 2015 she ran away from her home in central Turkey’s Kırşehir province leaving just a note reading “I’m going to Afghanistan of my own accord, I am going to become a Martyr. Don’t worry about me.” She also texted her brother: “I am going to blow myself up and become a martyr. Vallahi victory is Islam’s”. Luckily the Turkish police stepped up their search for this young girl at her family’s behest and she was caught on July 22, 2015 in Hatay Province’s Reyhanlı district on the Syrian Border. But Seçil T.’s story is not unique. Her picture shows her in a headscarf, and some young conservative girls—just like their young male counterparts—have visions of fighting for ISIS in the name of Islam. James Traub, in a book review for the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that “Many of the European “lone wolves” who carry out attacks at home in the name of either ISIS or al Qaeda are . . . bored and alienated young men with giant chips on their shoulders who find in Islam a rationale for their violence.” It is in some ways similar to the young people, male and female, which were willing to risk their lives protesting for liberal democracy in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Young people in the prime years of their lives are lining up to fight for their political ideologies across the political spectrum, a very dangerous development that could be sowing the seeds for a violent civil war in Turkey amidst the global struggle of youth in the face of rising unemployment and frustrations with their governments and lives.


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Some people have noted this sharp rise in violence and can see the writing on the wall. On Wednesday July 22, 2015 two police officers were found dead in their home in Ceylanpınar, killed in their sleep. Terrorists from the Kurdish PKK said the killing was in retaliation for the Suruç bombing because Turkish police officers had been collaborating with ISIS (on July 29, however, the PKK denied responsibility in a strange development). The link between Turkish security forces and ISIS has been posited before, but I personally doubt that these two young men had anything to do with it themselves. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it doesn’t matter, now 25 year old Okan Acar and 24 year old Feyyaz Yumuşak are dead before they could even marry, victims of the failed policies of the country they served.


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This is just a small sample of the steadily increasing violence that threatens Turkey and the region. In the nine days since the Suruç bombing things have gone from bad to worse and 42 people have died—students, soldiers, generals, and police officers:

20 July: Suruç suicide bombing kills 32 dead and wounds 104.

20 July: Specialist Corporal Müsellim Ünal died in a firefight with PKK militants in Adiyaman.

22 July: Police officers Feyyaz Yumuşak and Okan Acar were murdered in their home in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa.

23 July: Sergeant Yalçın Nane was killed by ISIS militants in an attack in Elbeyli, Kilis. Two other soldiers were wounded.

23 July: Police officer Tansu Aydın was killed in Diyarbakir.

25 July: Gendarme Sergeant Major İsmail Yavuz and Gendarme Specialist Sergeant Mehmet Koçak were killed in Diyarbakir.

26 July: Police officer Muhammet Fatih Sivri was killed during unrest in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood.

27 July: Major Arslan Kulaksız was killed in Malazgirt, Mus. His wife was wounded in the attack.

28 July: Sergeant Ziya Sarpkaya was killed while talking to his father in civilian clothes in Semdinli, Hakkari.


The situation is confusing with everyone putting forth different opinions, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. The government seems to want chaos so as to prove that only it can provide security both domestically and regionally; a Cumhuriyet story showed how, over the last fifteen years, as violence increased so too did support for the AKP. By now bombing PKK positions in Syria and restarting the Kurdish-Turkish war of the 1980s and 1990s the AKP is trying to project an image of Kurds as terrorists so as to win back the votes they lost to the Kurdish HDP in the June elections. And, unfortunately, this means the United States may have miscalculated as well.

But what isn’t confusing, what is very clear, is that this needs to stop. The divisive policies of bringing back the left-right fighting of the 1970s, of fomenting Turkish-Kurdish mistrust and bringing back the war of the 1990s, of supporting ISIS on the battlefield as a bulwark against Kurdish gains on the ballot, will not get Turkey anywhere. It only means that more young people will die just so that the AKP can stay in power of a slowly disintegrating nation. It is reassuring that some people can see the dangerous path Turkey is heading down: On July 28, 2015 the fan groups of Turkey’s three biggest football teams came together again, as they did during the Gezi protests. Beşiktaş’s Carşı, Fenerbahçe’s Genç Fenerliler, and Galtasaray’s UltrAslan published a joint declaration on their websites, I have translated it to the best of my abilities and have presented it below in its entirety.

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Barışın, kardeşliğin, sevginin ve saygının gönüllere hitab eden, birleştirici diline olan inancımız vesilesi ile derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize sonuna kadar inanıyoruz. Beraber ektiğimiz toprağı, beraber içtiğimiz suyu, beraber soluduğumuz havayı bizden sonra gelecek olanlara kirletmeden teslim etmek insanlık borcumuzdur. Bunu başaramadık belki, bari birbirimizi sevelim ve saygı duyalım.

Formalarımızın arkasında hepimizin gizli adı “BARIŞ” yazsın. Hepimizin sponsoru hayat olsun.       

Dünyayı devredeceğimiz çocukların renklerini, seslerini birbirinden ayırmadan o çocukların gözlerine utanmadan bakmak istiyorsak insanlığımızı yeniden hatırlamamız gerekiyor. Medeniyetlere beşiklik yapmış bu toprakların hamurunda şiddet ve ona karşı gelecek kardeşlik ve merhamet duygusunun bu günde var olduğunu biliyoruz. Bize benzemeyenlere ve hayatlarına insan oldukları için saygı duymak zorundayız. Bu aynı zamanda kendimize saygının da bir gereğidir. Dilin bir anlamı da gönüldür. Kalpten kalbe yolun olduğuna inanıyoruz. Dilden ve insandan umudu kesmediğimiz için derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize bu günden yürekten inanıyoruz.

Bu geçici dünyaya insani güzel huylar eşliğinde kırıp dökmeden, kesip biçmeden insana yaraşır, onurlu izler bırakmak istiyoruz.

Taraf olduğumuz yarışmalara, müsabakalara, maçlara olimpiyatlara evet, yenmeye yenilmeye, beraberliğe evet. Ama öldürmeye ve bir insan eliyle ölmeye, “ŞİDDETE” HAYIR.

Bu yüzden çeşitli sebeplerle sürekli olarak haksız ve acımasızca şiddet ve ayrışmaya örnek gösterilen tribüncüler olarak biz söz konusu vatanımızın milletimizin birlik beraberliği, huzur ve güveni olduğu zaman gerisi “TEFERRUAT”tır!



Due to our belief in unifying language appealing to hearts with peace, brotherhood, love, and respect we believe without question that we can make ourselves understood with words. It is our human responsibility to surrender the soil we have plowed together, the water we have drank together, and the air we have breathed together to those that come after us without polluting it. Maybe we didn’t succeed in this, at least let us love and respect one another.

Our secret name, “PEACE”, should be written on the back of our jerseys. Our sponsor should be life.

If we want to look without shame into the eyes of the children we will hand the world over to, without separating their colors and voices from one another, we need to once again remember our humanity. We know that these days violence and, on the other hand, feelings of brotherhood and compassion exist in the essence of this land that formed the cradle of civilization. We have to respect those who are unlike us, and their lives, because they are people. At the same time this is also a requirement for respecting ourselves. One meaning of language is also heart. We believe there is a road from one heart to another. From this day on we believe from our hearts that we can make ourselves understood with words because we haven’t lost hope in language and people.

We want to leave honorable traces worthy of humanity on this ephemeral world in a kind and humane way, without destroying or killing.

Yes to the competitions we are part of.

Yes to the games we are a part of.

Yes to the matches we are a part of.

Yes to the Olympics we are a part of.

Yes to winning. Yes to losing. Yes to tying.

But NO to “VIOLENCE”, no to killing and dying at the hands of human beings.

Because it is us as football supporters who have constantly—for various reasons—been unfairly and mercilessly depicted as examples of violence and division, we say that when our country is secure, peaceful, and united the rest is just “DETAILS”!

Even a casual fan of Turkish and European football knows the deep divisions between the fans of Istanbul’s fierce rivals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t come together when something bigger than football is at stake. All football fans are not violent thugs intent on destroying everything in sight just like not all Muslim Turks are ISIS sympathizers and not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and not all Ataturkists are anti-religion. Such blanket labels on groups of people only serves to further divide them into rival camps making cooperation impossible; one Turkish political commentator put it well when he described the one division that does exist–are you, as a person, one for peace or one for fighting? Answering that question will go a long way toward uniting people and saving human lives, preserving the future of a country, and determining the future of a region.

Remember the words of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when proclaiming the caliphate, “RUSH, O Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis.” ISIS’ Caliphate “constitutes an exercise in nation-building and a viable alternative to the apostate regimes otherwise covering the face of the earth,” according to James Traub in the Wall Street Journal. Clearly ISIS has an ability to appeal to frustrated Sunni Muslims across the Middle East and beyond, uniting them across the imagined boundaries of the imagined states created in the aftermath of the colonial regimes. By using Sunni Islam as the unifying identity they are able to recruit a vast number of members from many different national backgrounds.

If this global culture war is not to become a violent regional war—or worse—then those of us on the side of democracy, peace, and justice—both political and economic—must unite as well. Whether American or Turkish or Kurdish or any other nationality or religion or ethnicity it is important to remember—like the football fans did—one thing: United we stand, divided we fall.

Turkish Football Federation Elections: Gaziantepspor Vote to Re-Elect Yildirim Demiroren But Might Lose Their Youth Team Facilities To The Government

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On June 25, 2015 Yıldırım Demirören was re-elected as president of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) with 214 of 219 votes; 5 votes were invalid. Mr. Demirören’s tenure started in 2013 in the wake of the match-fixing scandal that Turkish football has yet to recover from and he was able to stave off the challenge of former TFF president Haluk Ulusoy who, in announcing his candidacy, criticized the federation for the controversial Passolig system. Mr. Demirören himself is a controversial figure and his time as Beşiktaş president was marked by extravagant spending—in his eight years at Beşiktaş 84 players and 8 managers were signed—that left the team swimming in debt; as an example Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque’s tenure at Beşiktaş lasted just 233 days but he and his assistants left with a severance package worth 7,961,767 Euros after interest. Still, despite his perceived shortcomings and known rapport with President Erdoğan, Mr. Demirören was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.


Mr. Erdogan (L) and Mr. Demiroren (R). Image Courtesy Of:

Some commentators, including the daily Cumhuriyet, noted that President Erdoğan’s influence on the federation showed through. To be honest most of the article is pure speculation, such as the point about current Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman who—despite protesting Mr. Demirören earlier in the season due to the financial mess he left Beşiktaş in—gave his support to the current TFF president anyway during the elections. One of the few concrete points made is that former Ankaragücü president Ahmet Gökçek (who compounded the club’s debts from 15 million Turkish Liras to 95 million Turkish Liras), son of Ankara’s outspoken AKP mayor Melih Gökçek, will appear in Mr. Demirören’s administration.


What is interesting about this election, however, is the division between football clubs and—seemingly—the inability of the clubs to stand up to either the Football Federation or the government (if it is indeed influencing the federation). On June 10, 2015 the Külüpler Birliği (“Union of Clubs”)—a foundation consisting of all the teams in the Turkish Super League—met and 14 of the 18 top flight teams voiced their support for Mr. Demirören; 4 clubs including Trabzonspor, Gençlerbirliği, Kasimpaşaspor, and Osmanlispor abstained. Gençlerbirliği have always preferred to be independent, with their chairman Ilhan Cavcav having formed the foundation, and with a mainly leftist fan group (Sol Cephe) their abstention wasn’t surprising. On the other hand Kasimpaşaspor and Osmanlispor are teams known to be close to the ruling party (one is from the president’s neighborhood and plays in a stadium named after Mr. Erdoğan, the other was formed out of a team run by the Ankara municipality, Ankara Büyükşehir Belediyespor), so their abstentions were surprising. Trabzonspor’s abstention was also a surprise since their president, Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, is very close to the ruling AKP. Indeed, after it became clear that Mr. Hacıosmanoğlu ended up supporting Mr. Demirören, local media in Trabzon was up in arms calling it “shameful”. 5 members of the Trabzonspor board resigned in the wake of the elections, and former club vice president Sebahattin Çakıroğlu took to Twitter to say “If I don’t spit in your face Haciosmanoğlu I have no honor”. These are harsh words in Turkey, and the division created by the election within Trabzonspor is indeed shocking.


Choice Words For Mr. Haciosmanoglu From Mr. Cakiroglu. Image Courtesy Of:

But what about the teams that supported Mr. Demirören? Despite the ongoing enmity between the government and Beşiktaş’s Carşı fan group Beşiktaş stood behind the current TFF president. Gaziantepspor, from the southeast, are another team that supported Mr. Demirören despite recent developments that warrant a mention. TÜRGEV, Türkiye Gençlik ve Eğitime Hizmet Vakfı or Turkish Youth and Educational Service Foundation, are a foundation known for its closeness to President Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, who is one of the foundation’s directors. In the wake of the December 17 corruption scandal it became clear that many officials in TÜRGEV, including the president’s own son, were involved in a scheme to buy government land for low prices. The government describes the foundation as a charity.

Now TÜRGEV has set its eyes on land belonging to the Gaziantepspor football club. A 90 thousand square meter plot of land that was rented to the Gaziantepspor football club for 49 years in the late 1990s by the Gaziantep Municipality as grounds for the club’s youth team system is being claimed by TÜRGEV. According to reports a smaller plot of land will be given to the club in return, but even that land is not slated to be for the team’s private use. Apparently the land was promised to TÜRGEV by Fatma Şahin, the only female member of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s cabinet from 2011-2013 and AKP mayor of Gaziantep since the 2014 local elections.


Gaziantepspor’s Youth Team Facilities. Image Courtesy Of:

Of course Gaziantepspor have yet to say anything in order to not ruffle the feathers of the AKP, so perhaps their silence also explains why they pledged their support to Mr. Demirören in the TFF elections. Celal Doğan, Gaziantepspor’s president from 1993-2006 and Gaziantep mayor from 1989-2003, was a member of the CHP for ten years before being elected as an MP from the leftist Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2015, spoke out about the attempted land seizure:

“Gaziantepspor’un elinden alınmak istenen bu tesis için Antepliler neden ses çıkarmıyor, anlamak mümkün değil? Burası Bilal Erdoğan’a çok mu lazım? Altyapıda yetişecek çocuklar için bu tesis daha önemli değil mi? TÜRGEV’in milyar doları var, bu yere ne ihtiyacı var? Bu kadar hırs niye? Sanırım seçimden önce verilmiş. Trene bakar gibi bakıyoruz. Verenler utansın”

“It isn’t possible to understand why people from [Gazi]Antep are staying quiet regarding this facility that is wanted to be taken from Gaziantepspor. Is this space so necessary for Bilal Erdoğan? Isn’t this facility more important for the kids who will grow up in [Gaziantepspor’s] youth system? TURGEV has millions of dollars, why do they need this space? Why is there this aggressive desire? I think it was given before the elections. We’re watching this as if watching a train. Those that gave [the facility away] should be ashamed.” 

Indeed Mr. Doğan can only watch the proceedings as if watching a train (wreck), and the analogy is fitting. Under the AKP the Turkish government has followed an aggressive policy of securing valuable land in and around city centers and sell it for a profit to various developers. This is the same trend that sparked the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and forced Beşiktaş to re-build their stadium at their own expense (land in central Istanbul is, for obvious reasons, very valuable). This is also the same trend that has sparked various urban renewal projects throughout Turkey, gentrifying neighborhoods and pushing less affluent citizens into mass government built housing outside the cities. With the precedent clear it is unlikely that Gaziantepspor will be able to keep this land since, under the current system, the government has been very successful in getting the land it wants regardless of opposition.

The Varying Roles of Turkish Airlines: From Football to Foreign Policy


A few weeks ago I boarded an early summer Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Izmir and, like weary travellers all over the world, slumped into my seat. My first task was to explore the seat-back pocket in front of me. Not currently in need of any Davidoff or Hermes products I eschewed the in-flight shopping magazine and dug into the airline magazine Skylife instead. Alongside the usual articles about cities to visit (Mardin, Brugges, and Sochi, in this case) and interesting foods I stumbled upon one piece focusing on football. Curious, I dug in. It was an interview with Besiktas’s prolific Sengalese striker Demba Ba. The short interview had just twelve questions, mainly standard ones focusing on the player’s past exploits and favorite players—the (now) standard Messi or Ronaldo question, for instance. None of this was remotely surprising. What was surprising, however, was the focus on Islam and religiosity. A quarter of the interview—three questions—focused on the player’s religious views, two of which have no relation to football whatsoever. I have provided these three questions below for reference purposes courtesy of Skylife; the bold sections are the questions put forth by the interviewer:

Though you’re born in France, you’re deeply attached to the Senegalese culture and Islam. Did this play any part in your decision to come to Turkey?

I try to be a good Muslim; this definitely had an effect but it wasn’t the only reason. The fact that Turkey was mostly a Muslim country was very important and it enabled me to live easily.

Recently, you’ve made a donation for a mosque in Senegal, Koussanar, where your mother was born. What do you think about the mosques in Istanbul? Which one impresses you the most?

Istanbul is home to many beautiful mosques. My favorite is the Mimar Sinan Mosque in Ataşehir. It’s rather new but has a very impressive design. My favorite among the historical ones is the Blue Mosque.

What do you think about Islamophobia? It has been a fast-spreading phenomenon in recent years.

Islam is a 1,400-year-old religion and can’t be besmirched by foul mouthing. If there’s such a widespread feeling towards Islam, we should look ourselves in the mirror and try to find the reasons why. We have to try to promote Islam in a better way.


Obviously, these questions seemed out of place to me and stuck out due to the shear number of them. The interviewer goes from asking about penalty shots and how it felt to leave Chelsea to…discussing Islamophobia? It is a strange melding of sports and ideology. But, then again, not so strange given the fact that this is Turkish Airlines. In its quest to become a major global airline Turkish Airlines has paid great attention to the world’s game. They have become the official sponsors of, among others, FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and the UEFA Champions League. They are also official shirt sponsors of French club Olympique Marseille and in the past they also sponsored Manchester United FC.


Turkish Airlines also profit from Marseille’s celebrations. Image Courtesy Of:

Turkish Airlines planes often sport livery advertising the clubs they sponsor:

during the departer to the UEFA Champions League Final in London at airport Dortmund on May 24, 2013 in Dortmund, Germany.

during the departer to the UEFA Champions League Final in London at airport Dortmund on May 24, 2013 in Dortmund, Germany.

Borussia Dortmund. Image Courtesy Of:


Manchester United FC. Image Courtesy Of:


FC Barcelona. Image Courtesy Of:

In any given issue of Skylife it is also easy to find a picture of either (or if you’re lucky, both) Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu or President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the context of inaugurating new projects; in this case the new Ordu-Giresun Airport. The magazine’s online version of a similar story omitted their photos this month but a picture of the in-print version of the same article is provided below for comparison’s sake. In fact, Skylife sometimes reads like a piece of government propaganda—and this is the category that the aforementioned article falls under, at least for me. To explain we have to look deeper into what Turkish Airlines as a business entity means to Turkey.


Online. Image Courtesy Of:

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In Print. Author’s own Photo.


Two years ago Turkey analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy mentioned Turkish airlines in an article he wrote about the contradictions inherent in Turkey’s economic growth and simultaneous rising political conservatism. He said that Turkish Airlines is:

“[A] publicly owned company whose ascent exemplifies the new and economically rising Turkey. The airline flies to more than 200 destinations from its hub in Istanbul, up from about 75 in 2002. It twice has been voted Europe’s best airline….Today, [their flights] are full of Europeans flying to Istanbul for connections across Turkey and Eurasia. But even as Turkey’s supercharged economy propels the airline forward, parochial conservatism is pulling it in another direction. The company recently announced that it will ban alcohol from most of its domestic flights. If Turkish Airlines aspires to be a global brand, it needs to stop acting like the Muslim airline for a Muslim country.”

That was in March of 2013. Since then the alcohol ban has been enforced, but that isn’t the only prohibition. The Airline made headlines again two months after that in May of 2013 when it banned flight attendants from wearing red lipstick. This was after the company had already banned flight attendants from sporting dyed red hairstyles, bleached platinum blonde hairstyles, and silver make-up. Later, in December 2014, a Turkish Airlines flight attendant was fired for “sexy” photos and videos that surfaced of her that were taken while she was off the job. The president of the airline’s labor union said that it was “totally down to Turkish Airlines management’s desire to shape the company to fit its own political and ideological stance” since Turkey was becoming “more conservative and more religious”. It is these motives also led to an attempt to change the cabin crew’s outfits earlier in 2013 which, thankfully, never came to fruition (I say that as someone with a modicum of fashion sense, and many designers agree. The outfits in question are below).


1974. Image Courtesy Of:

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In 2013 it was back to the….(Ottoman) Past? Images Courtesy Of: AND


It is clear that Turkish Airlines, despite being partially privatized, still receives massive amounts of government support—a third airport is being built in Istanbul just so that the national carrier can continue its unprecedented growth as one of the world’s top airlines. What separates Turkish Airlines from the other airlines on the list, however, is the work it does for the government in the shadows.


Turkish Airline’s Unprecedented Growth from 2003-2013. Image Courtesy Of:


Back in November of 2011 the victims of a Mogadishu suicide bombing were flown from the Somali capital to Ankara on a Turkish Airlines plane in order to receive treatment. It was part of the beginning of what the BBC termed an “unlikely love affair” between the two countries. For Turkey’s ruling AKP party it seemed to have grabbed the low hanging fruit; reaching out to an impoverished Muslim country forgotten by the west allowed Turkey to step into an unoccupied vacuum and gain influence in the horn of Africa—a strategic geopolitical location.

The move hasn’t made Somalia a top tourist destination yet, however, and many Somalis used the opening Turkey provided to travel to Europe on fake passports, something that Turkish officials were either unaware of or turned a blind eye to. After all, before Turkish Airlines, no major airlines flew to Somalia; they had a monopoly.

In May of 2014 the problems with Turkey’s vision of Muslim solidarity hit hard when a Turkish Airlines security official was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Mogadishu. This followed a July 2013 attack by al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab militants on the Turkish embassy in Mogadishu that left several special-forces police injured. Pro-government writers in Turkey claimed that it was Western powers backing al-Shabaab out of jealousy for Turkey’s new role in Somalia that led to the attack. In January of 2015 Turkish nationals were again targeted in Mogadishu days before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was set to visit.

All the violence suggests that Turkey’s attempts to woo Somalia haven’t been accepted by all parts of Somalian society, despite the best of support from Turkey’s national airline. Still, four years on, this partnership is continuing in the name of “muslim solidarity”. Jason Mosely, from the think tank Chatham House, explains that “Turkey’s efforts in Somalia are much different than the Western approach in the country. It has much more legitimacy and popularity…Turkey has the support of the grassroots of Somalia. They have appreciation because Turkish involvement is only business, no counter-terrorism or anything else.”

Meanwhile just across the horn of Africa, in the sands of another impoverished and country forgotten by the West, Turkish Airlines is serving their country. The place this time? Yemen. On February 10 2013 Yemen and Turkey mutually lifted the entry visa requirement for their citizens travelling between the two countries. With the conflict in Syria raging, it was certainly interesting timing. Before that, in October of 2012, Turkish Airlines started flying four flights a week direct from Istanbul to the cities of Aden and Sana’a—hardly high volume international tourists destinations. Even without Business Insider explicitly stating the connection, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. It seems that Turkey’s national flag carrier was transporting young Jihadis from Yemen to Turkey, where they made the trip overland to fight in Syria against the Assad regime that Turkey had—and still is—taking a hard line against. These flights were stopped in April 2015 following unrest in Yemen, but it all amounts to too little too late. The damage has already been done.

Turkey’s main geopolitical rival in the region, Iran, also focused on Turkish Airlines and through the Fars News Agency published stories claiming that weapons were being delivered to Yemen under the guise of humanitarian aid and that Taliban fighters were being transported from Pakistan to Turkey’s border with Syria. Although Fars News is known for its sensationalism, these stories did not come out of a vacuum. In February of 2015 some Arab commentators also noted that the reverse has started happening, with Turkey transporting Sunni fighters from Syria to Yemen in order to fight Iranian-backed Shiites:

“Media in Yemen recently reported that Turkey is using this process to repeat the scenario that played out in Syria, when it helped in bringing extremist Sunnis to fight Bashar al-Assad. Now Ankara is trying to do so under the pretext of trade and tourism exchanges in Yemen. Abdullah al-Shami, a senior politician in Yemen, said that Turkey is trying to take advantage of the current political vacuum in southern Yemen to help terrorist organizations operating in its territory.”

The veracity of such claims is, of course, debatable. In the world of Middle Eastern politics events are rarely clear, and the competing interests of those involved mean that reporting is often biased. What is clear—at least for me—is that Turkish Airlines is actively serving the interests of the Turkish government above and beyond its role as a partially privately owned business. Even in an airline magazine’s harmless interview with a football player the subtext is clear: The image of Turkey that is to be presented to the outside world is that of a conservative Muslim country that also likes its football. Unfortunately for the Turkish Airlines security official that lost his life in Somalia al-Shabaab’s terrorists did not accept that image…

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


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


Malatya’s New Stadium? Image Courtesy of:

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

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


Samsun’s New Stadium. Image Courtesy Of:


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


Current State. Image Courtesy Of:


The Proposed Plan. Image Courtesy of:


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

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