Turkey Wins…and Loses at the Same Time



Due to a bizarre combination of events (such as Kazakhstan’s improbable victory over Latvia) Turkey made it through to the finals of the Euro 2016 Football tournament after a Selcuk Inan freekick sealed a 1-0 victory over Iceland. The result should have been a cathartic moment for the Turkish nation following a deadly bombing in Ankara that killed at least 95 people on Saturday, October 10 2015. Reports say the perpetrators came from a tea house in Adiyaman that recruits for ISIS; the fact that even I have written about this before suggests that security forces should have known that an attack like this was imminent. Sadly, they weren’t aware. And sadly, the match was not the cathartic moment it could—and should—have been.

The match was held in the central Anatolian city of Konya, widely known for its conservative identity. Before the match a minute of silence was arranged to remember the victims of the Ankara Bombings. But the fans in Konya didn’t allow it to stand. They jeered and booed, and finished the minute out with resounding calls of “YaAllahBismillahAllahuAkbar”—God Is Great, as the Gulenist newspaper Today’s Zaman reported without an inkling of analysis. Turkish football fans bashed the insensitivity of the Konya crowd—in the video Iceland’s players and the referees are visibly uncomfortable as they shift on their feet and play with the hems of their shorts as the “AllahuAkbar” is clearly audible. For what its worth, Konyaspor’s fan group Nalcacilar issued a statement, claiming that the whistles were to “prevent small protests that were forming [in the stadium]” and that social media interpreted it as a general protest. The group added that they are “against anything that wants to break beautiful Turkey’s unity and togetherness”.

Whatever the group says, their Facebook profile says otherwise. On their Facebook page a picture was posted one day before the match. The image is of Turkish flags hanging from the rafters of the stadium, ringing the field; the caption reads “Ya ALLAH BISMILLAH”.

1 Day Before Match

The fans clearly tie Islamic rhetoric to a football match; the national community and the religious community are united. Immediately after the match, the same Nalcacilar group posted a video of the protests. Their caption reads “The moment of silence was not allowed in Konya…”. They call the dead “peace-loving traitors” (Baris sever vatan hainleri) and call the moment of silence “meaningless” (anlamsiz). To me, this renders their post-controversy statement meaningless. And many football fans feel the same way.

Saygi Durusu

One Tweet displayed on the leftist birgun.net says “Konyada saygı duruşunda yuhalayanlar tekbir getirenleri Maraştan Sivas’tan Suriye’den biliyoruz/We know those who booed the moment of silence and chanted the tekbir [Allahu Akbar] from Maras, Sivas, and Syria”. The criticism here is evident. The Tweeter is referring to the Maras massacre of December 1978 when over 100 Alevis were killed by right-wing Turks, the 1993 Madimak massacre in Sivas when 35 Alevi intellectuals were burned alive, and the ISIS led slaughter of non-Sunni Muslims in Syria. Indeed, the sentiments expressed in Konya have been expressed in much bloodier ways in the past. It is a nationalist/Islamist undercurrent within Turkish society that has occasionally raised its head with disastrous consequences, and one that now wants to equate all Kurds and leftists with the labels “terrorists” and “traitor”. It is, for lack of a better term, a dangerous latent Islamo-fascism lying just beneath the surface of Turkish society. It is the same undercurrent that expresses itself in the Turkish state’s ambivalence towards ISIS. And it is related to many other issues within Turkish society. Take, for instance, gender relations.

The same Konyaspor fan group, Nalcacilar, posted a picture of two Turkish fans sandwiching a blonde, female, Iceland fan. The female does not look especially happy in the picture yet, in the version of the picture posted pre-match, the caption reads “Dostluk Boyle Olur/This is how Friendship Is”. One could question the caption’s veracity, of course, but the second posting is even more upsetting. The same picture, posted after the match, has a different caption: “Vurur Yuze Ifadesi Nasil Koydu Bi Tanesi?/It can be seen in your expression how one of them put(did) it”.

Pre Match (Below):


Pre Match Nalcacilar

Post Match (Below):

Post Match Nalcacilar

The comment is a play on words taken from a poor rhyme (Ifadesi/Tanesi) in the lyrics of a popular Turkish pop song by Merve Aydin. There is no equivalent translation in English so I have included a literal translation; the most important point is the use of “koydu”. The Turkish verb Koymak means “To Put”. Of course, Turkish football fans give it a clearly sexual connotation when—after victories—they collectively ask the rhetorical question “Koyduk mu?/Did we put it [in/on]?”. To anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Turkish language the problems with this Nalcacilar post are obvious; most glaringly it is the implicit sexual statement written below the picture that is disrespectful to the female in this case. In fact, the four captions visible below the photos also express displeasure. Regarding the pre-match posting, one Facebook user writes (with a touch of irony): “Bu dostluk değil bence 🙂/I don’t think this is friendship :)”. Another adds “Kaldırın bence bu fotoyu.Konyalıya yakışmaz.BİZ KONYAYIZ!/I think [you should] un-post this photo. It is unbecoming of Konyans. WE ARE KONYA!”. Regarding the post-match posting, one respondent writes “abazalığın başkenti/The capital city of the horny”; another writes “Müslamanız[sic] diye geçinirsiniz oruspu[sic] çocukları/And you all claim to be Muslims, sons of bitches”. The tension between masculinity and Islamism is uncovered in the responses of some Facebook users, and shows the underlying tensions evident in Konya’s stance regarding recent political events in the country. That the country is currently deeply divided is undeniable; all we can hope is that cooler heads prevail since disrespecting a moment of silence for the deceased is not reflective of wider Turkish society, believers and non-believers alike.



Journalists Attacked After Turkey’s 3-1 Victory over Kazakhstan: What It Means

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Often sports can provide an interesting lens through which to view societies. The aftermath of Turkey’s 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan in Sunday’s Euro 2016 Qualifier provides a very good example of this phenomenon. While the game was supposed to be an awakening for a Turkish side that has had a shaky start to the qualifying campaign, it instead became a showcase for many of the issues affecting Turkish society in general and Turkish sports in particular.

Before the game Turkey’s first choice goalkeeper and Fenerbahce stalwart Volkan Demirel (Not Suleyman Demirel) was subjected to verbal abuse from the home fans (In Turkish). The match was played at Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena and evidently some fans forgot that this was not the Istanbul derby. Sadly, the profanity got the best the goalkeeper and he refused to play. In fact, he opted to leave the stadium entirely.

While the fans were unquestionably wrong to abuse a player suiting up for the national team—club rivalries should be forgotten in such cases—I personally think that Volkan should have shown a little more professionalism in this instance. After all, he is on the field and they are in the stands. Instead of responding to the crude jeers he should just do what he does best—playing hard and stopping shots. But on this night it was too much for him.

His deputy Volkan Babacan suited up instead and the victory came. But after the game it was an ugly scene, a scene that truly shows the darker side of today’s Turkey. A group of journalists trying to get access to Volkan Demirel and take video of him leaving the stadium were attacked by private security guards inside the stadium.

Video of the incident is here:

Police intervention came too late and many journalists were savagely beaten. Following the attacks the Turkish Sports Writers Association (TSYD) made a strongly worded statement calling for justice; afterwards five of the private security guards were detained and taken in for questioning by prosecutors.

Attacking journalists—especially at a sporting event—is unforgivable, but for a moment let’s look at Turkey’s press freedom rankings in general. They don’t make for good reading. Most recently Al-Jazeera wrote a piece one month ago noting that according to “Turkish media watchdog Bianet media freedom is at its lowest point in decades”. One year ago the US based Committee to Protect Journalists noted that Turkey is the world’s leader in jailing journalists—211 to be exact, ahead of such bastions of journalistic freedom Iran and China. Others rounding out the top ten (or bottom ten) of this list were Eritrea, Vietnam, Syria, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Uzbekistan. Not exactly honeymoon destinations, although both Egypt and Uzbekistan are undoubtedly beautiful in their own ways.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 154th out of 180 countries, their summary is below:

Despite its regional aspirations, Turkey (154th) registered no improvement and continues to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. The Gezi Park revolt highlighted the repressive methods used by the security forces, the increase in self-censorship and the dangers of the prime minister’s populist discourse. In view of the upcoming elections and the unpredictability of the peace process with the Kurdish separatists, 2014 is likely to be a decisive year for the future of civil liberties in Turkey.

Turkey’s ranking of 154th—one step below Iraq and one step above Gambia—is abhorrent for a country whose leader always sings the praises of democracy. In fact, in 2002—when the current ruling Ak Party came to power—the country was ranked 99th. That spot now belongs to Turkey’s long time geopolitical rival Greece.


Image Courtesy Of: http://rsf.org/index2014/data/carte2014_en.png

But Turkey’s precipitous drop in worldwide rankings in the years since 2002 is not confined to journalistic freedom alone. According to the most recent FIFA World Rankings Turkey is ranked 46th—tied with Serbia (a country with their own sporting problems) and just below Israel (a country with their own political problems). In September 2002 Turkey was ranked 7th in the world—a spot now occupied by France.

What has become clear in the aftermath of a dark Sunday night is that Turkey has declined in several societal aspects in the past twelve years. What the future holds is an open question…

Turkey’s Hopes for EURO 2016 Take a Big Hit in the First Rounds of Qualifying: A Statistical Analysis of Why This Happened


 “Çok üzgünüz. İnanın, bu kadar gol kaçmaz. Belki birlik, beraberlik, bütün Türkiye birlikte olamadığımız için olabilir. Gerçekten şaşkınlık içindeyiz.” 

“We are very sad. Believe me, we can’t miss this many goals. Maybe unity, togetherness–maybe its because we in Turkey aren’t together [that this happened]. We are really in shock.”

These words were spoken by goal scorer Bilal Kisa after Turkey lost points again during the European Qualifiers following a 1-1 draw with Latvia. Of course, this is not normal. A country the size of Turkey, with the economic strength that its leaders continually boast about, should not be struggling this much in football. But Mr. Kisa was able to point to one serious problem: the lack of unity not only in the context of the Turkish national football team on the pitch, but also the lack of unity in the country itself as it faces internal conflict as a result of ISIS’ continued attacks on Kurds in northern Syria—an issue that has proved to be extremely divisive in Turkey’s domestic political scene.

In order to shed some light on the subject I decided to compare Turkey and the three countries it played against in the context of three variables: Population size, economic strength (as measured by GDP), and the number of footballers—registered and unregistered—as a percentage of the population of each country involved (I did a similar study following the World Cup which will be forthcoming). Here are the results:



Population Rank: 180th—317,351 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 22nd—39,996 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank.

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 32,408

Registered Players: 21,508

As Percentage of Population: 10.2% Players, 6.8% Registered


Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank : 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered


Iceland won the match decisively, 3-0, despite being a much smaller country than Turkey. In fact, their population is almost the same as that of Turkey’s Nigde province! That said, we can clearly see that Iceland’s GDP per capita is almost double that of Turkey’s, while the percentage of their population that plays football is almost three times that of Turkey’s—despite the fact that Iceland is a northern European country where football is all but impossible to play in four months of the year! When looking at registered players—those actively in the Football Association system playing for clubs, the disparity is even greater. Almost seven percent of Iceland’s population is registered as a player, while only .03% of Turkey’s is. With this kind of organization—combined with a stronger economic base—in Iceland, it is not hard to understand why Turkey were humbled in the way that they were.


Turkey’s Hope’s are Crushed as Iceland Celebrate (Image Courtesy of: http://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/spor/184216.aspx)



Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered


Czech Republic-2

Population Rank: 83rd— 10,627,448 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 37th— 27,344 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank)

Players (From Fifa):

All Players: 1,040,357

Registered Players: 686,257

As Percentage of Population: 10.1% Players, 6.1% Registered


In this match Turkey took a 1-0 lead early on, bolstered by the home crowd, only to lose 1-2. Again, Turkey is much larger than the Czech Republic but the Czech GDP per capita is almost one third again bigger than Turkey’s. Also, when it comes to footballers, they are more organized. Almost ten percent of the population plays, while a hefty six percent are registered footballers. In fact, the Czech Republic has more than three times as many registered footballers than Turkey, despite being one eighth of Turkey’s size in terms of population. Organizationally, the Czech Republic is miles ahead of Turkey. Again, the loss is disappointing but by no means surprising.


Arda Is Left to Rue Miss Chances as Turkey Fall in Istanbul (Image Courtesy of: http://www.turkiyegazetesi.com.tr/editorunsectikleri/193254.aspx)



Population Rank: 144th—2,165,165 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP: 49th—23,028 International Dollars (From Wikipedia and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 85,285

Registered Players: 8,385

As Percentage of Population: 4% Players, .04% Registered



Population Rank: 17th—81,619,392 (From CIA World Factbook)

GDP Rank: 59th—18,975 International Dollars (From Wikipedia  and World Bank)

Players (From FIFA):

All Players: 2,748,657

Registered Players: 197,657

As Percentage of Population: 3.4% Players, .03% Registered


In this match Turkey drew Latvia, a moment that will certainly go down as a turning point in Turkish football history. On this day all commentators realized that something is rotten in state of the Turkish Football Federation, to borrow the words from Shakespeare. Latvia’s population is near that of Turkey’s Adana province, one of the larger provinces and home to current Turkish national team coach Fatih Terim. The GDPs of both countries are similar, as are the numbers of total players and registered players (Latvia still has a slight edge in both categories). Again, based on the statistics, a draw in this match is a fair result. But that is what is scary about the situation. In no way should Turkey and Latvia be on the same plane. A country of Latvia’s size should not have the same amount of footballers—registered or not—as a country almost forty times as big in terms of population!


Turkey’s Players Walk Off Frustrated as Latvia Celebrate an Unlikely Draw in Riga’s Skonto Stadium (Image Courtesy of: http://www.ankarameydani.com/spor/letonya-turkiye-1-1-mac-ozeti-ve-golleri-h36918.html)


Although just an amateur statistical analysis, these numbers should still serve as food for thought not only to those in Istanbul running the Turkish Football Federation, but to those in Ankara running the country as well. After all, organization—both in terms of foreign policy and in terms of football associations—is born out of sound leadership.