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Football Brings Greeks (As Well as Turks) Together in the Wake of Devastating Fires

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Many journalistic and academic works about football tend to focus on the negative aspects of football fandom, particularly harping on rare instances of hooliganism or “xenophobia” in order further a narrative designed to transform football fans from emotional “supporters” into docile “consumers”. In so doing, however, these writers often (perhaps purposefully) choose to ignore the positive aspects of sport which can actually bring people together in traumatic times of grief and sorrow. The footballing world’s response to the tragic wildfires which recently engulfed the environs of Athens, claiming over 80 lives, are an example of this function of sport.

 

The famous Greek side Olympiakos announced that they will be donating 1 million Euros to victims of the fires, while also setting up bank accounts at three Greek banks to accept donations. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s new signing Sokratis Papastathopoulos announced that he would be donating the weekly profits from his own business to the victims. This kind of solidarity is especially important when one considers the fact that arson may have played a part, a possibility which Greek leaders are looking into given the speed with which the wildfires spread. This national tragedy, as the Pappas Post notes, prompted Thessaloniki based club PAOK Thessaloniki to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from their recent UEFA Champions League tie with Swiss side FC Basel.

 

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“As a first aid action, PAOK FC will grant all the proceeds of today’s match to repair damage and alleviate families affected by the tragedy of Attica. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and in ways of further assistance”. Translation and Image Courtesy of: http://www.pappaspost.com/solidarity-reigns-among-greeks-after-tragic-fires-in-attica/

 

It is important to note that support for the victims within the football world has also come from outside of Greece. Recently, Turkish side Galatasaray SK donated almost 1.5 million U.S. Dollars—the proceeds from their friendly with AEK Athens—to the victims. Before the match, the Galatasaray players took the field with t-shirts wishing their neighbors well. Similarly, Izmir side Goztepe took the field for a match with Olympiakos on 26 July 2018 with a “Pray for Athens” banner. Unfortunately, however, these important developments in Greek/Turkish relations have been widely ignored in the global English language press. This is not surprising, as the media’s narrative prefers to see sport as an avenue to further divisions in society (as can be seen from the bizarre kneeling fiasco in the United States’ National Football League (NFL)). So long as the globalist media prefers to drive wedges between communities in favor of their narrative, and continue to provide a one dimensional image of football fans, we as readers will receive a distorted view of the world.

 

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Greek and Turkish Solidarity on the Football Field. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/galatasaray-dan-atina-da-anlamli-ti-galatasaray-2716533-skorerhaber/

 

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Image Courtesy of: https://www.haberturk.com/goztepe-den-yunanistan-a-destek-geldi-2076832-spor

 

For an interesting academic take on the press reporting of football matches between Greek and Turkish sides, please see here: http://users.auth.gr/npanagiotou/articles/Emre-Nikos-EMU2007Paper.pdf

As someone who knows that Turkish and Greek cultures have many more similarities than they have differences, my thoughts go out out to all of those who have been affected by this tragedy in Greece.

 

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An Image that Scares the Globalists. Image Courtesy Of: https://turkiye.net/yazarlar/bugra-bakan/turkiye-ve-yunanistanin-karsilastirmali-ekonomik-durumu/

 

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Culture Is Real, so Stand Up For It Regardless of Your Nationality. Image Courtesy Of: https://komsudaneoluyor.net/prowthiste-ypiresies-proionta-se-tourkous-touristes/

 

 

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Invented Traditions as We Near the Political Denouement of the 2017-2018 Football Season in Turkey: What of Basaksehirspor? What of Osmanlispor?

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With the 2017-2018 Turkish football season winding down, there are a few political stories which could develop in the coming weeks. By virtue of a hard-fought victory over Alanyaspor, Galatasaray returned to the top one point clear of Istanbul Basaksehirspor. Below the leaders shit traditional powerhouses Besiktas (third place) and Fenerbahce (fourth place). In terms of upcoming fixtures, next weekend proves to be the most exciting. While leaders Galatasaray will face off against fellow title challengers Besiktas (who will be either second, third, or fourth, depending on their result against Yeni Malatyaspor on Sunday 22 April), Istanbul Basaksehirspor will be facing strugglers Osmanlispor (who are currently 15th in the table).

 

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The Turkish Super League Table Going Into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy of Mackolik.com

 

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Upcoming Fixtures For Galatasaray (Top) and Istanbul Basaksehirspor (Bottom). On Paper, Istanbul Basaksehirspor Have the Advantage. Image Courtesy of Google Search.

 

In effect, this means that the weekend will be defined by the results of the Istanbul derby on the one hand, and the derby between invented teams on the other. Indeed, considering the final four matches of the season, Basaksehirspor have an undoubted advantage on paper. The ultimate answer, however, might have as much to do with on the pitch results as it will to do with off the pitch politics. While the two established Istanbul powers face off in the Istanbul derby, Basaksehirspor will be facing fellow invented team Osmanlispor. While Osmanli won their latest match against fellow strugglers Genclerbirligi Sk, it will be interesting to see what the powers at be in Turkish football make with next weekend’s match. A win for Istanbul Basaksehirspor might well mean a shot at the championship; a loss for Osmanlispor might mean relegation for the neo-Ottoman sports club.

Essentially, the question can be rephrased: Will Osmanlispor be sacrificed for Istanbul Basaksehirspor to have a shot at the championship? My hunch is that they will be; Istanbul Basaksehirspor have come to close to their first championship to be abandoned now and—given that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is such a big fan—the team have friends in high places. The team on the other side of this affair, Osmanlispor, are in the opposite situation. While they were founded in order to project a neo-Ottoman image on the football pitch, their main supporter—former Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek (whose son is chairman of the team)—had a falling out with President Erdogan and, as such, the team may not have the backing it needs to survive another year in Turkey’s top flight; indeed I foresaw Osmanlispor’s struggles back in October of 2017.

Another reason that Osmanlispor might be sacrificed is that there is a contingent of new “project” teams in the TFF First League (the second tier of Turkish football) vying for promotion to the Turkish Super League. Among them are Umraniyespor, who currently sit in second place, and Ankaragucu, who currently sit in fourth place. Umraniyespor, from a conservative suburb of Istanbul’s Asian side, were just a decade ago an obscure team floundering in the amateur leagues; they now have modeled themselves as “the Basaksehirspor of Istanbul’s Asian side”.

 

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The Table in the TFF First Division (Turkey’s Second Tier) Going into 22 April 2018. Image Courtesy Of Mackolik.com

 

Ankaragucu, one of Turkish football’s oldest teams, had been ignored for much of the AKP years while teams like Hacettepe SK and Osmanlispor’s previous incarnation Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor flew the flag of the Turkish capital in the Turkish top flight. However, since former Mayor Melih Gokcek began supporting the team again in late 2017 (please see here and here, the team has risen back to prominence (this, of course, despite Mr. Gokcek’s 2011 Tweet calling for Ankaragucu to “disappear”; perhaps this was why his attempt to take over the team was rejected by Ankaragucu president Mehmet Yiginer).

It has not, however, stopped Mr. Gokcek from supporting the team unofficially. Indeed, Osmanlispor and Ankaragucu have a unique relationship: On 7 September 2017 Mr. Gokcek was overjoyed announcing Ankaragucu’s acquisition of four Osmanlispor players—valued at over 10 million Turkish Liras—free of charge! Mr. Gokcek’s Tweet claimed that Osmanlispor gave the players free so that “Ankaragucu could be champions”. Perhaps Mr. Gokcek, recognizing that Osmanlispor’s days were numbered at the outset of the 2017-2018 season—began to throw his support behind Ankaragucu whole-sale.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/sporarena/osmanlispor-4-futbolcusunu-ucretsiz-verdi-melih-gokcek-40571855

 

Given the situation, it will be interesting to see what happens between Istanbul Basaksehirspor and Osmanlispor next weekend; even if the latter lose to Basaksehirspor it is likely that the powers that be in Turkish football would rather see Genclerbirligi—a team founded in the same year of the Turkish Republic and with a strong republican and left-leaning fan-base—relegated than Osmanlispor. Given that both teams are essentially fighting for survival against one another, Osmanlispor might have some help on the other end of the table. At that point, what will matter is if Osmanlispor is seen as a good investment by those with influence off the pitch. After all, the team have few fans and—if they are not successful—that money could likely be used to support Ankaragucu instead, especially if they are able to get themselves promoted. Regardless of the motives of individual actors in this scenario, it is clear that the final weeks of the Turkish football season will see some real political wrangling both on and off the field. It will be an interesting final few weeks for observers to keep an eye on.

From Tweets to Teetering on the Brink in Turkey

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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.

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