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Anderson Stadium at Providence College: New England Revolution-Rochester Raging Rhinos (3-0)

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Almost a month ago I attended a U.S. Open Cup match at Providence College’s Anderson Stadium between the MLS’ New England Revolution and the second-tier USL’s Rochester Raging Rhinos. Among the almost two thousand spectators cramming a college stadium on an early summer afternoon I could not help but realize that—in some small way—this match served as an allegory for wider U.S. society amidst its current polarization. It was a David Vs. Goliath match, with a much richer MLS side facing off against a second division opponent (realistically, the outcome was never in doubt). Since the result was so predictable, I turned my attention to the fans—the most sociological aspect of a soccer match.

 

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Early Summer In Providence. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

The U.S. Open Cup is one of the most storied cup competitions in the world, even if it takes place in a country that does not value football. This year there have even been a few Cinderella stories, like the amateur side Christos FC. Given the history of this cup competition, one that is over one hundred years old, the fans had come out in full force for one of the few matches that the New England Revolution have ever played in Providence, Rhode Island.

The “hardcore” fans, on the other side of the field from where I stood, were vocal in their support while also advertising their increased politicization (a subject I have written about in the past). Some fans were waving a rainbow variation of the “Flag of New England”, an interesting meshing of Revolutionary War America and current LGBT movements, while on my side a priest (likely from the Catholic Providence College) was taking in the match. In that moment, I wondered if the LGBT activist/fans on the other side of the field—and the Catholic priest on my side—had ever had a conversation with one another. The likely answer is that they have not, and that the two should watch the match from opposite sidelines was an allegory for some of the issues we see these days in the polarized climate of the United States. If people holding opposing points of view do not even speak with one another, then how can they empathize with one another?

 

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Soccer Brings All Walks Of Life Together. Images Courtesy Of M.L.

 

This lack of communication, of course, is not specific to the United States; it exists throughout the global “West”. We believe in the myth of globalization bringing us closer together by cutting down the cost and time of communication; in reality society is just as fragmented as ever—people at a dinner table prefer interacting with their phones to interacting with their fellow diners. In Europe—and to an extent in the United States—the idea is that “pluralism” will bring a more diverse society and thus bring us closer together. This myth has been debunked by the ghettoization of non-whites in the United States and Muslims in Europe; just because “different” people are made to live in separate areas does not make a society more “diverse”, it just means that the disparate parts of society are not actually talking to one another; they are in fact drifting apart, rather than coming together.

This kind of situation—where communication between different social groups is discouraged—fosters a society where individuals are not able to make the connection between personal troubles and societal issues that C. Wright Mills once explained. The only way to make such sociological connections is through communication, something that is sorely lacking in the technocratic world of the modern-day West. As I watched the sunset over Providence behind one of the goals I thought about something my dentist had told me, when I said I was studying Turkish soccer: she asked me if “I was afraid to go there because it is dangerous”…clearly, she had not communicated with anyone from outside of her bubble. It is not, of course, completely her fault. But it is a characteristic of the individualistic society that has taken root in Western cultures.

 

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Sunset Over Providence. Image Courtesy Of M.L.

 

In order to actually get to know others, we must—as I have argued before—first travel. Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel makes some great points along these lines in an article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune, when he describes playing for Galatasaray in Istanbul (I have bolded the pertinent parts):

 

For one thing, on the pitch it was just an incredible game. It was quick and intense and it pushed me as a keeper. We won the Turkish Cup that year and qualified for Champions League. Off the field, it was absolutely phenomenal. For a kid from Bay Village, Ohio, to go and live in a Muslim country was an eye-opening experience.

 Which brings me to the sheep.

 We were walking to a game right after Ramadan was over, and the fans were holding a sheep. On a list of things you don’t expect to see on the soccer grounds, I’m pretty sure a live sheep would be somewhere near the top, but there it was. I had no idea what was about to happen, while the rest of my teammates couldn’t have been less fazed. There was a lot of yelling and then the fans just slit the sheep’s throat — right there in front of us. Blood everywhere. They dipped their hands in it, and swiped it on their forehead as a sign of good luck. Then they asked us to do the same.

 This wasn’t something that most Americans would consider normal, but it was absolutely brilliant to be a part of. I had teammates who, during Ramadan, had to fast during daylight hours even as professional athletes. We’d be at training and a call to prayer would go off and certain players who were very religious would stop their training, go pray and come back to the pitch. Once you learn that that’s how things work, it’s not a big deal, but in the U.S. you can go through your whole life in a little bubble. But when you live in these places, you find out that these people are very good human beings. It was incredible. It was understanding other cultures. It was a phenomenal thing to see.

 

Friedel goes on to explain, “I had two choices: Learn Turkish or don’t understand a word that anybody was saying. So three days a week, I took Turkish lessons”. Mr. Friedel should be commended for his willingness to communicate with—and assimilate into—a culture that was so different than his own. It is a lesson that all of us—whether football fans or not—would do well to heed. There are a lot of perspectives out there, the only way we can begin to understand them is by communicating with those who we might—at first—not think we have anything in common with.

 

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Brad Friedel Appearing for the United States National Team. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/2016-6-26-brad-friedel-soccer-copa-america/

 

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Brad Friedel (R) In Turkey (Please Note the Classic Adidas Shirt Designs). Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/galatasaraylilarin-duygulanarak-bakacagi-nostalji-goruntuler-512738
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Live by the Sword, Die By the Sword: Globalization, Sports, and Media in Turkey

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Given the recent geopolitical events in Turkey and the wider Middle East, it is no wonder that Turkey is swiftly being seen as a “dangerous” destination. After the United States ordered the families of Consulate staff to leave Istanbul, UEFA made a statement to reassure Manchester United fans ahead of the team’s visit to Istanbul. The Express reported that UEFA told Sky Sports: “Whilst there is no information that the threat to US citizens in Turkey also extends to UK citizens, UEFA has today sought the necessary security guarantees from the Turkish Football Federation and the local public authorities regarding the visit of Manchester United and their supporters to Istanbul.” The Manchester Evening News also reported that United fans visiting Istanbul for the match would be given an armed police escort to and from the stadium. The letter sent to fans read “Manchester United advise all fans to remain in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul ahead of kick-off, where a security bus service available to catch outside the Dolmabahce Mosque will run to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium. The hour-long journey will be under armed police guard”. Never mind that Taksim square would be the last place I would want to be in Istanbul in terms of safety, but then again I’m not sure that Manchester United’s staff has any real knowledge of Istanbul—other than, of course, that it is “dangerous”. After all, another UK sports figure, golfer Rory Mcllroy, pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open golf tournament on 31 October 2016 citing security figures. Once again, I am not sure that Mr. Mcllroy has a deep knowledge of Turkey—or really any other place, for that matter—either; he also pulled out of the Olympics due to fear over the Zika virus.

I do not, of course, blame either the Manchester United club or Mr. Mcllroy for their fears. The fact that Turkey has become so unstable in recent years is directly tied to globalization; the conflict in Syria has spread across the Middle East, fomented by backers in Russia, Europe, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf. While Turkish society (and by extension, sports) embrace globalization for its economic benefits, the country itself—in the context of geopolitical reality—falls victim to the globalization of conflict. The state can live by the sword of globalization but must also be prepared to die by the sword of globalization.

The third axis of this kind of globalization—that one that exacerbates the fear portion—is, of course, the media. The stories written tend to increase, rather than decrease, misconceptions about the country and disseminate them to the global media. For starters, none of the three British papers cited even know what the capital of Turkey is:

30 October 2016-Manchester Evening News: “Istanbul has a history of football violence. The capital was recently the centre of an attempted military coup in Turkey.”

31 October 2016-The Express: “But UEFA are concerned that recent terrorist attacks in the Turkish capital and a failed military coup could affect safety of travelling fans.”

1 November 2016-The Mirror: “English football has a troubled relationship with the Turkish capital – two Leeds fans were stabbed to death before the Uefa Cup semi-final in 2000.”

The capital, of course, is Ankara, so to expect neutral or objective reporting from outlets with such amateurish editing standards may be asking too much. And that is without even getting into the content. The Manchester Daily news, in back to back sentences, links “football violence” to an attempted military coup. This, of course, is misleading to the reader. (Never mind, also, that they believe a city can be the “centre” of an attempted military coup; a city could be the “focus” of an attempted military coup, but probably not a “centre” of one). The Mirror, taking a different approach, links Istanbul to hooligan violence in 2000 with no context at all. The Express provided the content that is nearest to anything remotely objective.

As a humorous anecdote, The Mirror added a story about Manchester United’s 1993 visit to Istanbul for their tie with Fenerbahce’s arch-rivals, Galatasaray. United famously crashed out after the tie, but it remains in football-fan folklore as the “Midnight Express” of football. Thankfully, the Mirror added Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor to their piece, writing “Even hardman boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested ‘the police were even more frightening than the fans’, though he did add he’d seen worse at a Glasgow wedding”. Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor aside, the point here is twofold. The first point is that Turkey’s rise (driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), has been characterized by an unquestioning desire to support and join the global capitalist system and neo-liberal economics. The country lived by the sword when foreign capital came streaming in, they began dying by the sword when the Syrian civil war (which the government, along with a number of other external actors, exacerbated) began to spill over the border. The second point is that global media is rarely neutral; the supposedly benevolent journalist is rarely interested in telling the full truth. Rather, they tell the “truth” that pays the bills—and that money tends to come from those who (again) benefit from the global capitalist system.

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Cantona Escorted Off the Pitch (Top); United Are Welcomed To “Hell” at the Old Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993 (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-bryan-robson-istanbul-9173277

 

Author’s Note: As I publish this, Turkey is experiencing the latest repercussions of the globalization of conflict I mentioned above. A blast has hit police headquarters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, after 11 pro-Kurdish MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained. At the time of writing internet services–which represent the globalized world–such as WhatsApp Messenger and Twitter have been shut down in Turkey.

Recent Violence in Turkey Affects Everyone Equally, Including the Football World

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On Sunday, 13 March 2016, a car bomb exploded in the Turkish capital of Ankara killing 37 and injuring more than 100 in the city’s Kizilay district. As the author has spent time in the Kizilay district—and has many friends who live in the area—this bombing hit close to home. The fact that it is the third such bombing to hit the city in less than six months makes it even more of a cause for concern.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35798517

The bombing, attributed by the Turkish government to the Kurdish PKK, comes on the heels of several noteworthy developments on the Turkish political scene. The first was on Friday, 4 March 2016, when the government shut down the offices of an opposition newspaper, Today’s Zaman, run by erstwhile Erdogan ally cleric Fethullah Gulen . Later, on 8 March 2016, a conference at Ankara’s Ataturk Sports and Presentation center marked the 92nd anniversary of the Islamic Caliphate’s abolishment; the conference, organized by Hizb-ut Tahrir, called ISIS/ISIL a “military organization”. Finally, on 10 March, 2016, Turkish first-lady Emine Erdogan made controversial remarks that described the Ottoman Empire’s harem as an “educational establishment that prepared women for life”. These three events were worrisome in and of themselves, markers of an increasingly authoritarian state that harbors visions of recreating the Ottoman past in the modern republic.

Unfortunately, the consequences of such polarizing rhetoric hit the country hard in the form of Sunday’s bombing. Don’t expect much news out of Turkey, however; the organizers of a group of academics who criticized the Turkish offensive on Kurdish cities in January were arrested on Monday while a ban on media coverage of the bombings has been ordered as well as a ban on social media.

The saddest part of it all is that violence has become so commonplace in Turkey that it is affecting all strata of society—including the “rich and famous”. Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut’s father, Kemal Bulut, was tragically killed in the Ankara blasts on Sunday night. The wide-reaching consequences of this violence cannot be understated. The 12 Numara fan group of the Fenerbahce football team tweeted “The team you support is not important. If you want to give a solid message against terror write #DerbideOmuzOmuza [#ShoulderToShoulderInTheDerby] to give support” ahead of the weekend’s Istanbul derby against Galatasaray.

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The situation in Turkey is becoming more and more unstable, as many media outlets have noted. The recent events show that no one is immune, and that is certainly a something we all need to keep in mind—people living in the West included. Ankara may not be Paris or New York to many, but to me all cities, regardless of their geographic location, are the same.

My thoughts go out to Umut Bulut and all those who were affected by this tragic event.

Başımız Sağolsun.

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.

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

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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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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gunun-icinden/polen-ve-ezgi-yan-yana-defnedildiler-890340/

 

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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Image Courtesy Of: http://gencgazete.org/koray-gibi-olmak/

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bedeni-bayrakla-ortulu-bordo-mavi-gundem-2090473/

 

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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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/327893/iste_islam_Cay_Ocagi.html

 

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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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/kendimi-patlatip-sehit-olacagim-890287/?_sgm_campaign=scn_b80427cad0440000&_sgm_source=890287%7Csozcu&_sgm_action=click

 

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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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/sanliurfada-2-polis-sehit-889987/

 

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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KAMUOYUNA

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!

 

TO THE PUBLIC

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.

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

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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.

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Malatya’s New Stadium? Image Courtesy of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/spor/295569/Enkazin_buyugu_spor_insaatlarinda.html

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.

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Samsun’s New Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sondakika.com/haber/haber-samsun-stadyumu-yeni-sezona-hazir-7280985/

 

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).

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Current State. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/29169739.asp

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The Proposed Plan. Image Courtesy of: http://stadiumdb.com/designs/tur/bjk_inonu_stadi

 

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.

Sports and Separatism: The Dark Side of Football in Southeast Turkey

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Football, as a sport and a culture, is powerful. It can bring people from all walks of life, from all nationalities, together. Its power is fluid, it is exciting, and it is always changing. That’s what makes it beautiful. But that is also what makes it so very dangerous. As much as it can bring people together it can also tear people apart in the most savage of ways. For those who don’t know, a little background reading on Zvonimir Boban’s “kick that started the Yugoslav Wars in Maksimir Stadium” might be useful in the context of understanding this article:

Duke University has an interesting page here: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/

The Daily Mail’s article on a recent Serbia Vs. Croatia International: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html

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Images Courtesy of: http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/category/yugoslavia-2/ And http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2297037/Croatia-Serbia-clash-time-Yugoslav-war-1-500-police-deployed-despite-ban-away-fans.html

One need not go back to the break up of the Yugoslavia to see such displays, in fact we can even stay in the Balkans. The abandoned Serbia-Albania international in Belgrade on October 14 2014 served as yet another reminder of football’s ability to uncover and exacerbate the differences in divided societies.

It is because of the precedence such events provide that I am deeply scared about recent developments in Turkish football. Lets start with Gençlerbirliği’s shrewd chairman Ilhan Cavcav, the man who discovered former Chelsea and Real Madrid man Geremi Nijitap. On December 26 2014 Mr. Cavcav made a “bold” (in his own words) announcement, suggesting that the Turkish National Anthem should be forbidden before domestic matches and that it should only be played before international matches. For me—both as an American and a Turk—his announcement is anathema. After all, what would a baseball game be without the Star Spangled Banner? In America, of course, it is part of the pageantry. In Turkey it is, admittedly, different. As I outlined in my thesis, the national anthem came to be sung in Turkish stadia as a reaction to the Kurdish crisis in the mid 1990s when violent clashes between the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) and Turkish Army were at their height in the country’s southeast. And now Mr. Cavcav’s call stems from unfortunate developments in the same region of Turkey twenty years later.

His main qualm with the singing of the national anthem is seemingly logical, especially given the Balkan precedent:

“Gazetede okudum: İstiklal Marşımız’a ıslıklar çalınmış. Bu milletin bir evladı olarak, bu millet için çalışan ve uğraşan bir sanayici olarak yarın bir gün bu olayların çoğalması kargaşalara sebebiyet verebilir. Bu nedenle sayın Başbakanımız’ın talimat vererek İstiklal Marşımız’ı lig maçlarında yasaklaması gerekir” diye konuştu.

“I read in the papers that our National Anthem was whistled down. As a son of this nation, as an industrialist working and struggling for this nation one day these events could proliferate and cause major chaos. Therefore our esteemed President should give an order and forbid the National Anthem at [domestic] league matches.”

His fear may be grounded—but running away is never the solution when the consequences are so grave, so obvious. His team Gençlerbirliği were drawn in Group H of the Turkish cup along with Giresunspor, Konyaspor, and—most notably—Cizrespor. Cizrespor is the only team from Turkey’s amateur league to make it to the group stages of the Turkish Cup, but how they got there has been a lesson in the geopolitics of a nation and its football.

 

I visited Cizre back in 2009 during quieter times and I have no doubt that the city I visited then is not the same city today. A city of now almost 100,000 people, it was an important gateway to both Anatolia and Mesopotamia during the Abbasid period of Islamic history, situated on the crossroads of both regions. Today the city is situated where the volatile borders of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet. Cizre has a long and distinguished history, from its foundation by Noah to being the site of Alexander the Great’s crossing of the Tigris in 331 BC. Sadly, now the city is best known for being the site of violent clashes between the PKK and the Sunni Muslim Huda-Par group, related to Turkish Hezbullah, who have been emboldened by the actions of ISIS across the border in Syria’s Kobane. Since Kobane fell under ISIS’ attack in early October Turkey’s Kurds, enraged by Turkey’s ambivalence towards—and reluctance to resist—ISIS, have taken matters into their own hands and are actively fighting the Islamist militants. As a result the area has fallen in to chaos (three people were killed in fresh clashes December 27), a chaos that threatens the integrity of the Turkish state.

So back to the football. Cizrespor started their Turkish cup adventure on a clear late summer day on September 3, 2014 at the Yüksekova Şehir Stadium against Yüksekova Belediyespor in the first qualifying round. As a match between two teams from neighboring southeastern provinces—both without any representatives in the professional leagues—it was bound to be a grudge match, a grind-it-out kind of match. Indeed it was a tough victory for Cizrespor, who took the match 2-1 despite some tension between players during the match. But these two teams were from the same under-developed regions of Turkey, there was no underlying tension stemming from off the field matters. It all went off without a hitch.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://haberciniz.biz/turkiye-kupasi-on-eleme-turu-3143353h.htm

Next up in the first round proper for Cizrespor was a trip to another neighboring province, this time Mardin, for a match against fellow Regional Amateur League side Mardinspor. No one knew what to expect, given that on February 2, 2014 a match between the same two sides (in Cizre) descended into violence following a 1-0 Cizrespor victory; 15 people—including one police officer—were wounded in the fighting that even a police presence of 700 could not prevent. But that match was an amateur match, no one heard too much about the events; such violence—even if not on that scale—happens often in tense amateur league encounters. But nothing untoward happened during their September 10 2014 encounter. After a pre-match meal where officials from both teams met to bury the hatchet and spread a message of peace and togetherness the match went off without any problems, even as Cizrespor humbled their hosts in a 1-4 victory. After the victory fans took to the streets in Cizre in celebration, escorting the team bus to the grounds with chants of “Cizrespor are the Champions!”. After all, the people of the region need all the cause for celebration they can get.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/cizrespor-a-coskulu-karsilama—1938698-skorerhaber/

 

In the second round of the Turkish Cup the competition goes national and opponents are no longer from the same region. Cizrespor’s opponents in this round on September 24, 2014 would be Aydınspor 1923 from the Aegean province of Aydın some 1500 kilometers away—in Turkey, that distance spans two different worlds. The players of Aydınspor 1923 would soon learn that. Despite having a side valued at more than 4 times that of Cizrespor’s (1,300,000 Euro to 245,000 Euro) Aydınspor 1923 conceded two goals in the first six minutes and went down 3-1 on their visit to Cizre. Anyone looking at the team’s values would raise an eyebrow at the result; after the match a few Aydınspor 1923 players told their tale.

Aydınspor’s thirty two year old journeyman defender Aytek Aşıkoğlu has seen a lot in his time. Born in Istanbul, his career started at neighborhood team Gaziosmanpaşaspor in 2002 before taking him to Adanaspor, Gaziantepspor, Elazığspor, Boluspor, Kayseri Erciyesspor, Çaykur Rizespor, Göztepe (Izmir), and finally Aydınspor 1923. The teams span Turkey’s geography: Istanbul to the Mediterranean, the southeast to the Black Sea, Central Anatolia to the Aegean coast. But I am sure that none of that could have prepared him for what he lived through in Cizre on that September day. His Twitter posts tell a dark story:

“Şükurler olsun TÜRKİYE CUMHURİYETİ VATANDAŞIYIM şükürler olsun ATATÜRK’ÜN EVLADIYIM”

“Thankfully I am a CITIZEN OF THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY thankfully I AM A SON OF ATATÜRK”

“Bir tane Türk bayrağinın olmadığı, bizden başka kimsenin Türkçe konuşmadığı, İstiklal Marşımızı sadece bizim söyledigimiz bir yerde, Türkiye Kupası maçı oynadık. Tehditler içinde sözde stada girerken yediğimiz dayaklar arasında arama yapılmadan içeri alınan 5000 eli taşlı kişilerin içinde bazı arkadaşlarımızın haklı olarak oynamak istemediği, bazılarının ise korkudan elinin ayağının titrediği kupa maçı oynadık”

“In a place where there was not even one Turkish Flag, in a place where no one other than us spoke Turkish, in a place where only we sang our National Anthem, we played a Turkish Cup Match. We entered what was apparently a stadium among threats and beatings. In a place where 5000 people entered without any searches carrying sticks and stones in their hands, and where some of our friends rightfully didn’t want to play—where some where shaking from head to toe with fear—we played a cup match.”

“Kimse kusura bakmasın biz bugün burada kazansaydık maçtan sonra kimse sağ kalmazdi. Tek tesellim tekrardan ailemi görecek olmam”

“No one should think otherwise, if we had won here today no one would have come out OK. My only consolation is that I will see my family again.”

“Bazen nefes aldığına hayatta kaldığına şükredersin. İşte öyle bir gündü.”

“Sometimes in life you are thankful to even take a breath and still be living. This is one of those days”.

 

While his posts may be hyperbolic at times, his teammate Sezer Sezgin confirmed his reports via Twitter both before and after the match:

“Hoşgeldin yaptılar otobüsün camlarını indirdiler”

“They welcomed us by breaking the glass of our bus”

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He went on to tag the Turkish Football Federation in a post to register his complaint with the situation:

“Bugün bizi futbol oynamamız için gönderdiğiniz stattan maçtan önce dayak ve tehdit, maçtan sonra da zırhlı araçlarla canımızı kurtardık”

“Today at the stadium you sent us into to play football there were pre-game beatings and threats, after the match we saved our lives with armored cars.”

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The Caption Reads: “Buda cikisimiz mac sonu… Zırhlı aracın icinde … Tek sucumuz futbol oynamak…” (“And this is us leaving after the match…inside an armored car…our only crime was playing football”).

Images Courtesy of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2014/09/24/aydinli-aytekten-tuyler-urperten-itiraflar-388069

 

Aydınspor’s coach Akif Başaran also confirmed the events implying that his team lost on purpose—during a dinner served by the Cizre Chamber of Commerce the night before the match they were told to lose. Meanwhile the team’s vice president Erdal Karakavukoğlu added hyperbolically that, “it would have been impossible for even Real Madrid to win that day in Cizre”. Coach Başaran’s statement is below:

“Futbolcularıma maçı oynamazsak stattan çıkamayacağımızı söyledim. Zorla sahaya çıktılar, 3-1 yenilip canlarını kurtardılar. 42 yıldır futbolun içindeyim, böyle şeyler yaşamadım. Otelden stada eskortsuz ve korumasız olarak gittik. Ortalıkta ne polis, ne asker vardı. İçeri girerken bir futbolcumuzun boğazını sıktılar, bir diğerine tekme attılar. Doğru düzgün ısınmaya bile çıkamadık. Her şey kendiliğinden gelişti. Teknik direktör olarak oyuncuma yenilmesini söylemem mümkün değil. Ancak o anki psikolojisini anlamak lazım. Bu atmosferde hangi takım kazanmak için oynar? Nitekim ilk 7 dakikada 2 gol yedik tansiyon bir anda düştü, herkes rahatladı.”

“I told my players that if we don’t play we won’t be able to get out of the stadium. They went out and played under duress and lost 3-1 to save their lives. I have been in football for 42 years and have never lived through anything like this. We went from the hotel to the stadium with no escorts or protection; there were no police or soldiers anywhere. When we entered they grabbed the throat of one of my players and kicked another. We couldn’t even warm-up properly. Everything happened on by itself. As a coach it is impossible for me to tell my players to lose. But you have to understand the psychology at that moment. What team can play to win in such an atmosphere? Then we conceded two goals in the first seven [sic] minutes and the tension fell suddenly, everyone relaxed.”

On the Cizrespor side club spokesman İdris Bingöl rejected Aytek Aşıkoğlu’s Tweets. He responded to Fanatik.com.tr’s questions by saying:

“Aytek Aşıkoğlu’nun yazdıkları gerçeği yansıtmıyor. Cizre, futbol sevdalısı bir ilçedir. Böyle suçlamaların yapılmasının sebebi Kürt ili olmamız. Cizrespor, halkımızın ve Cizreli iş adamlarının sayesinde ayakta duran bir kulüp. Takımımız, ilçemizdeki gençlerin spor yapmasını teşvik ediyor. Gençlerimizi kahve köşelerinde oturmaktan kurtarıp spora yönlendirmeye çalışıyoruz…Maça çakmak, su şişesi, hatta poşet bile sokulmadı. Eli taşları kişilerin stada alındığı iddiası kesinlikle doğru değil. Kürt ili olduğumuz için böyle şeyler söyleniyor. Takımımızda 2. Lig ve 1. Lig tecrübesi bulunan iyi oyuncularımız var. Bugün de çok iyi oynadık ve kazandık. Sanırım Aydınsporlular amatör bir takıma yenilmeyi kaldıramadığı için böyle sözler sarf etti. Biz her şeye rağmen maçtan sonra Aydınspor’la yemek yedik ve onları öyle yolcu ettik” diye konuştu.

“What Aytek Aşıkoğlu wrote doesn’t reflect reality. Cizre is a district that loves football. The reason such allegations are being made is that we are a Kurdish province. Cizrespor exists because of the support of its people and Cizre’s businessmen. Our team encourages the youth in our district to play sports. We are trying to save our youth from sitting in coffee houses by directing them to sports instead…No lighters, water bottles, or even plastic bags where allowed into the stadium. The claim that people with stones in their hands were allowed into the stadium is certainly untrue. Things like this are being said because we are a Kurdish province. We have good players with first and second division experience on our team, and today we played very well and won. I think that Aydınspor[‘s players] are saying these types of things because they can’t accept having lost to an amateur team. Despite everything we ate a meal with Aydınspor after the match and sent them off.”

While I would like to believe Mr. Bingöl the photos tweeted by Aydınspor’s players tell a different story. While I would like to fault Aydınspor’s coach for bringing the game into disrepute—and implying that his side lost on purpose—I can’t imagine being a footballer playing in such an atmosphere either. But all of this took place in the second round of the Turkish cup, between an amateur side from southeast Turkey and a relatively unsupported second division team from Aegean Turkey. Again, not too many people—aside from football maniacs like me—heard of the events and life went on.

 

The next month, on October 28, 2014, Cizrespor hosted Göztepe (Izmir), one of Turkey’s most famous clubs and one with an international fan base. When the draw was made I was in London with my friend, himself a Göztepe fan from childhood, and told me with a straight face that “there is no way we will win in Cizre”. Well if he knew it, then why did the Turkish football federation not move the match to another city? It’s a good question—the kind that makes one ask “Do they want trouble?” We will never know that much, but after Göztepe’s 2-0 loss only 57 words were used in the match summary by Fanatik.com.tr—with no mention of the extracurricular events that took place…just the fact that fans were sitting on the stadium’s roof.

But it could never be covered up. As one of Turkey’s oldest—and biggest—clubs, any match involving Göztepe would become national news. And it did. Even CNN Turk—themselves famous for showing a penguin documentary during the Gezi protests—picked up the story. Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe got a police escort from the airport to the stadium. But the three armored busses and five armored cars couldn’t prevent the team bus from being stoned en route.

 

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.goztepeliler.com/haber-2326-Dun-Cizrede-Kaybedilmek-Uzere-Olan-Bir-Vatan-Oldugunu-Gordum.html#

 

Unlike Aydınspor 1923, Göztepe was able to come out for warm-ups…under a rain of foreign objects hurled from the stands. It took Cizrespor president Salih Sefinç to calm the irate fans down himself. After the events during and after the Aydınspor 1923 match Cizrespor arranged for 1000 scarves with “Cizrespor-Göztepe” written on them to be put on the seats of the stadium in a bid to create a friendship between the clubs…the majority of these scarves were thrown onto the pitch. No one wanted them. And just like during the Aydınspor 1923 match, the Turkish National Anthem was whistled down:

In the 63rd minute Göztepe tried to take a corner kick and a tear gas bomb was thrown onto the pitch along with fireworks. The referee had to take the teams to the center of the field while the police tried to calm the situation down—how much they succeeded is questionable; the governors of Şırnak Province and Cizre District left early due to security concerns. After the final whistle hundreds of Cizrespor supporters staged a pitch invasion while their players helped their Göztepe counterparts to the locker rooms.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.radikal.com.tr/spor/cizrespor_goztepe_macinda_yuzlerce_taraftar_sahaya_girdi-1221882

 

After the match an anonymous Göztepe player wrote his version of the events on one of Göztepe’s fan sites Goztepeliler.com, which was subsequently picked up by Turkish Eurosport. The title he chose, “Yesterday I saw that what was lost in Cizre was a country [more than a match]”, spoke volumes and became truly national news. I have attempted to translate some excerpts below:

 

“Dün oynadığımız Cizrespor – Göztepe Maçında, bir Maç’dan ziyade kaybedilenlerin çok daha fazla olduğunu gördük.. 

TFF’nin Ziraat TÜRKİYE Kupası adı verilen oragnizasyonda, kendi vatan ve topraklarımızda, zırhlı araçlar ve Toma’lar eşliğinde stada güclükle gelebiliyoruz.. Yol boyunca Takımımızı taşıyan Polis Araçlarına taşlar ve patlayıcı maddeler atılıyor.

Isınmak için sahaya çıkarken üzerimize atılan yabancı maddeler (Taş, Kremit, ses bombaları, havai fişekler) ve sahada kim oldukları belli olmayan onlarca insan, gerek ısınırken gerekse maç boyu sürekli tehditler savuran ama hiçbir şekilde sahaya girme izni olmayan sözde görevliler..

Armasından Türk Bayrağını çıkarmış olan Cizrespor Maçı öncesi atılan Terör örgütü sloganları ve hem Stad çalışanları hemde ordaki Cizreliler tarafından sabote edilen (okunmayan) Istiklal Marşımız..

Bütün bu olanları bilen gören ve protokolden sessizce izleyen, herşey cok normalmış gibi davranan, sözde devletimizin bir Valisi..

Maç boyunca tribünlerden ve tribünlerin çatısından sahaya atılan taşların ve yabancı maddelerin, Maç oynanırken sürekli sahaya giren görevliler tarafından toplanmaya çalışılması ve hakeminde buna sessiz kalması. Maçı uzatmaya taşımamak için verilen bir Penaltı ve hakeme ”neden Penaltı verdin” diye sorulduğunda, bende bilmiyorum diye alınan cevap.

Maç’dan önce ve Maç boyunca atılan tezahüratlarda bölücük ve terör örgütü propagandası olmasına rağmen hiçbir şekilde müdahale edilmemesi ”burası Kürdistan burdan cıkış yok” sesleri ve bunlar görülmesin, duyulmasın, bilinmesin diye Maçın Canlı yayınlanmak istenmemesi ve Canlı yayınlanmasına engel olunması..

Türkiye Futbol Federasyonu bunların hesabını kime ve nasıl verecek?

Dün Cizrede kaybedilen sadece bir Maç değildi.

Dün Cizrede kaybedilmek üzere olan bir vatan olduğunu gördüm, devletin hiçbir şekilde etkisi olmadığı bir bölgede vatanını korumak isteyen koca yürekli Polis ve Askerlerin olduğunu gördüm, o şartlarda Terör yuvası dönmüş mahallelerde kalbinde Türk Bayrağı taşıyan ve nöbet tutan Adam gibi Adamlar gördüm..

”Siz bizi düşünmeyin, sadece bu Maç’ı bizim için kazanın” diyen o Polislerimiz, hakkınızı helal edin..

 

“Yesterday’s Cizrespor-Göztepe match showed us that what was lost was much more than a match.

In an event the Turkish Football Federation calls the Ziraat TURKISH Cup we were barely able to make it to the stadium escorted by armored cars and riot control vehicles, in our own country and our own lands. All the way to the stadium the Police vehicles carrying our team were met with rocks and explosive materials.

We saw foreign objects (rocks, bricks, sound bombs, fireworks) thrown at us when we came out for warm ups and the unidentified tens of people on the field, those threatening us before and during the match, but who had no right to enter the field and were supposedly working [for the team]…

We saw a Cizrespor who took the Turkish Flag off of their jersey [NOTE: this is true, I have a Cizrespor jersey from my visit which has the Turkish Flag on it, the team’s current shirts do not have it] and the terrorist slogans being yelled, we saw our National Anthem sabotaged by the Cizre fans and stadium workers…. 

We saw a supposed governor from our country who also saw and knew all of these things but who chose to watch in silence and act as if everything was normal.

We saw the stones and objects being thrown from the stands before and during the match, we saw the fans continuously attempting to enter the field and the referee remaining silent. In order to not take the match to extra time a penalty was given and when the referee was asked ‘Why did you give that penalty?’ his answer was I don’t know either… 

We saw the separatist and terrorist propaganda that was being yelled from the stands before and during the match that was not stopped at all; so that the sounds of “This is Kurdistan there is no way out” could not be heard, could not be seen, could not be known, the match was not recorded live…

How will the Turkish Football Federation answer this? 

What was lost yesterday in Cizre was not just a match. 

I saw that what was lost yesterday was a country. I saw an area where the state has no power whatsoever and where brave Police and Soldiers want to protect the state. I saw real men who carry the Turkish Flag in their hearts standing watch in neighborhoods that have become havens of terror.

Bless those Police who said “Don’t worry about us, just win this match for us”.

 

 

 

For anyone who has love for a country this is indeed a grizzly account of stadium terror in its worst form. Yet no one knows, as the player said the game was not televised live (when many such matches are). And as he also said, the match was not stopped despite the materials raining onto the field. In any other context, in any other place, the match most likely would have been abandoned. But it wasn’t.

 

Cizrespor’s officials responded to these allegations as well. President Salih Sefinç’s statement is below:

 

“28 Ekim 2014 tarihinde Türkiye’nin köklü kulüplerinden bir tanesi olan Göztepe ile Cizre’de bu güzel coğrafyada, güzel bir futbol müsabakası yaptık. Bana göre fair-play içerisinde geçen, karşı takımın yöneticileri ve futbolcuları ile Cizresporlu futbolcular ve yöneticileri açısından kardeşçe geçen bir müsabaka olmuştur. Derbi maçlarında çıkan olayların yüzde beşi kadar olayların yaşanmamasına rağmen bazı medya kuruluşu ve gazetelere bakıldığında kendilerine yakışmayan ve Cizre’yi hedef alan üsluplarla haber yazıldığı görülmüştür. Biz bu yazılanları gerçekten tasvip etmiyoruz. Cizrespor Yönetim Kurulu olarak spor anlamında doğudan batıya uzanan bir köprü olmak istiyoruz. İstanbul’daki bir takımımız Cizre’ye ya da Bursa’ya gidip güzel güzel futbolunu oynayacak. Bursa da gelip burada oynayacak. Bunun güzelliğini ancak bu şekilde yaşayabileceğiz. Batıdaki Türk kardeşlerimiz ile Doğuda yaşayan Kürt kardeşlerimiz arasında provokatörlük yapan ya da güzel olmayan, kendi üsluplarına yakışmayan şekilde yazı yazmak bence basın yayın kurallarına aykırı olan şeylerdir. Biz bunları tasvip etmiyor ve buna karşı olduğumuzu belirtmek istiyoruz”

“In Cizre on October 28, 2014 we played a beautiful football match in this beautiful geography with one of Turkish football’s most storied clubs, Göztepe. For me this match was played with Fair-Play and brotherhood between the Cizrespor players and officials and our opponent’s players and officials. Despite the fact that less than five percent of the things that happen in derby matches happened here some media outlets and papers wrote stories unbecoming of them and that target Cizre. We really don’t approve of these lies. As the Cizrespor Board of Directors we want to be a sporting bridge stretching from the east to the west. One of our teams from Istanbul can come to Cizre or Bursa and play football comfortably. Bursa will come and play here too. We can only realize this beautiful [thing] this way. I think that writing provocative things about our Turkish brothers in the west and our Kurdish brothers in the east, and writing unbecoming stories, is a violation of press and media rules. We do not approve of these things and want to make it clear that we are against them.”

 

Some of Mr. Sefinç’s comments are spot on. Sports should serve as a bridge between east and west, between Kurds and Turks, between under-developed and developed parts of nations. But not everyone thinks this way. Mr. Sefinç himself had to calm down his rowdy fans, so perhaps he would be better served to work on his own fans and community instead of targeting news outlets in a manner that only serves to fan the flames of mutual accusations.

 

 

So now we come to December 9, 2014 when Ilhan Cavcav’s Gençlerbirliği visited Cizre for their Turkish Cup group stage match. The team was again taken by armored car to the stadium. In an ironic coincidence, these were the same armored busses that took the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to Kobane in their fight against ISIS. This is, after all, a team from the Turkish top flight—their safety must be ensured!

 

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27738366.asp#

 

The stadium was empty due to a stadium closure stemming from the events outlined above but…it didn’t change much. The Cizrespor fans watched from a concrete apartment block towering over the small stadium, yelling slogans for Kobane and even flying the flag of Kurdish Northern Iraq. And throughout the match firecrackers and fireworks were thrown onto the pitch.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27740633.asp# And http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27738366.asp#

 

The aftermath of Gençlerbirliği’s victory was predictable: pitched battles between Cizrespor’s citizens (I don’t know how many are “fans”) and the police. The Gençlerbirliği team were stranded in the stadium for almost an hour, while nearby schools had to be evacuated when children were affected by the tear gas drowning the streets.

 

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Images Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/27740633.asp#

 

 

The story of five matches in four months truly tells the story of a Turkey threatened to be ripped apart by the chaos engulfing its neighbors. It was enough for columnist Zafer Büyükavcı of the sports daily Fanatik to write a warning concerning these events: “Gentlemen are you aware: The country is slipping through our fingers.” Unfortunately his warning fell on deaf ears.

 

 

On December 24, 2014, Turkish giants Galatasaray visited the heart of Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, Diyarbakır, to face Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor in their Turkish Cup match-up. It shouldn’t have been an issue—Galatasaray voluntarily played the 2000 Turkish Cup Final in Diyarbakır and in my thesis I mentioned that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan asked for a TV set in his prison cell to watch the 2000 UEFA Cup Final between Galatasaray and Arsenal since he is a Galatasaray fan. Galatasaray even chose to go to the hotel without an escort—Vice President Abdürrahim Albayrak said “The people’s team will go to the hotel among the people.”

 

Nothing happened around the hotel, until match day when a group of 10-15 people stoned the Galatasaray bus. Still, it wasn’t enough to ruin the friendly atmosphere. According to the Cumhuriyet article the differences couldn’t overcome a mutual distaste for industrial football, and signs were written in both languages:

 

“Kürdistan’da spor yarış değil kardeşliktir, Futbol sahada güzel borsada değil. TOKİ sizin stat bizim.”

 “In Kurdistan sports aren’t a race they’re brotherhood. Football is good on the field not on the stock market. TOKI [NOTE: Turkey’s state run housing administration which builds most stadiums—see the construction and corruption scandals] your stadium is ours.”

 

But still the Turkish-Kurdish problem proved inescapable and the bad apples were out there at the match. Most fans were yelling for “Diyarbakırspor”—but the from the younger fans came “Amedspor” (the Kurdish and Syriac name of the city). In the 88th minute the match was stopped when a stone was thrown at one of the linesmen. And the fans still whistled down the national anthem. And the fans still yelled support for Kobane. And the Diyarbakır Büyüksehir Belediyespor President Ihsan Avcı—despite his expressing regret at the stonings–still said the team came out to not be “Diyarbakır’s” team but “Kurdistan’s” team: The people’s team.

 

The situation is fluid. But it is also dangerous, and that must be kept in mind. Torku Konyaspor, ahead of their upcoming match in Cizre, asked for it to be moved in the wake of the recent violence in Cizre (both related to sports and unrelated to sports). According to the Turkish Football Federation’s website there has been no change, the match will take place at 11:30am local time at the Cizre stadium. Regardless of what happens in relation to football I hope that the government realizes that what is happening in southeast Turkey today is very dangerous for Turkey’s future going into the New Year. They need only look west to the Balkans for an example of what could happen.

 

A few pictures of the dusty Cizre Sehir Stadium taken during my visit in May 2009:

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