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Academic and Journalistic Integrity Disappear in the Age of One Dimensional Thought

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As both an academic and a writer, I have recently become appalled by the irresponsibility I have seen from both academics and journalists in the main (lame) stream media. Indeed, it seems that integrity in both of these professions has gone out the window, replaced by a desire to shape—and indeed manufacture—one dimensional thought. In this respect, both academics and journalists risk becoming no different from corporate advertisers. Like advertisers, who seek to create an image for consumers through rhetoric, so too do professional academics and journalists seek to create a self-image for the consumers of main (lame) stream media.

On 9 July 2018, CNN ran a piece by the academic Robert M. Sapolsky of Stanford University with the headline “Be alarmed when a leader tries to make you think of humans as vermin”. Mr. Sapolsky took offense to U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment that “Democrats ‘want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13’”, because the word “infest” is generally used in relation to subhuman—and often unwanted—creatures like insects or vermin. In support of his argument, Mr. Sapolsky cites academic research (like this) which claims that

 

social conservatives tend toward lower thresholds for disgust than liberals. They’re more likely to be unsettled by wearing someone else’s (clean) clothes, sitting on a chair still warm from a previous occupant, or thinking of someone spitting into a glass of water and then drinking it; show them a disgusting picture (e.g., a wound teeming with maggots) and their autonomic nervous systems tend to lurch more than a liberal’s would (and as an important control, this lower threshold is not found among economic or geopolitical conservatives).

 

Indeed, this research is similar to earlier academic “findings” which claim that disliking body odor is connected to having “rightwing views”. Now, of course, this is fairly absurd; do we not have a right—as individual humans—to value cleanliness? Perhaps this new interpretation is connected to Sociologist Norbert Elias’ view that as society “civilizes” it begins to take on the qualities of the lower classes since, traditionally, those with less access to adequate housing and bathing facilities are more likely to be “unclean”.

Yet the media skewing of perceptions goes far beyond one academic’s defense of a criminal gang like MS-13. It also involves geopolitics as well. After Mr. Trump said, in response to a journalist’s question regarding the United States’ hypothetical defense of Montenegro under NATO’s Article 5 which sees an attack on one member as an attack on all, that “They’re [Montenegrins] very strong people, they’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and, congratulations, you’re in World War Three,” the BBC was beside itself. The BBC’s Balkan correspondent Guy Delauney went so far as to claim that Mr. Trump depicted the Balkan nation as “a nation of conflict-crazy lunatics”. The logical jump here is staggering: While Mr. Trump is merely pointing out the absurdity of connecting the U.S.—through mutual defense treaties—to small nations in geopolitically contentious areas like the Balkans, since it could increase the risk of potentially dangerous conflicts, nowhere does Mr. Trump claim anything about “conflict crazed lunatics”. Unfortunately, the media—these days—will go to great lengths to shape the perceptions of its readers (many of whom are likely grossly uninformed).

Sadly, social media also engages in the same type of opinion formation. Take, for instance, three maps produced on the social media platform Instagram. The first depicts a comparison of voting results in Turkey with the ethnic map of Turkey, the second compares the populations of vast swathes of middle America to New York’s most populous areas, while the third compares the size of various European nations to the size of Ukraine’s ethnic-Russian minority. The subtext of these maps is extremely dangerous.

 

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The Three Maps in Question. Courtesy of Instagram (Specific Accounts at Top).

 

Essentially, the maps of Turkey send viewers the message that Turkey should be divided along ethnic lines—even though we all know that ethnic demarcations based on demographic surveys do not correspond neatly to reality on the ground. One would think that this lesson would have been learned from the disaster of British boundary drawing in the Middle East following World War One. The map of the United States sends the message that Mr. Trump is somehow an illegitimate president, because rural residents in sparsely populated areas voted so differently than urban residents in densely populated areas. According to this logic, it is unimportant that people in such disparate areas as Maine and Texas should think similarly; it is more important that urban residents of New York City think similarly. The map of Europe sends the message that the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine is a sizable one, implying that—somehow—Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory can be justified. These three maps show the dangers of opinion shaping via social media; it makes the world a more dangerous place.

I will close this short essay with a picture of a Mercedes billboard I saw in Istanbul. It depicts three young people with a Mercedes, along with the caption “Very original. Just like you”. Here, we see a corporate entity—in this case Mercedes—looking to shape the perception of consumers. The message being sent says “if you want to be original, then buy a Mercedes”. Since every human being wants something to set themselves apart in an increasingly homogenized world, the message is clear: If you want to confirm what you already think about yourself, then buy our product. The advertisement plays into the individual’s deepest desires, even though—in reality—conforming to corporate advertising will have the exact opposite effect from the one initially desired by the consumer. Buying a Mercedes will not set you apart in reality, but the emotional affirmation offered by the advertisement is more important. Just like the emotional messages sent by CNN and BBC look to confirm their readers’ own senses of moral superiority and “tolerance” vis-à-vis the masses’ “intolerance”.

 

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“Very Original. Just Like You”. Image Courtesy of the Author.
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Why the Blast at Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena May Prove to be A Pivotal Moment For Turkey

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I arrived in Istanbul today for what I thought would be a relaxing vacation with my girlfriend. I jokingly told my friends something could happen, since tragic “events” have a way of ocurring when I leave or arrive in Turkey. Unfortunately tonight, I was proved right. And it pains me that my simple joke was prescient. I don’t write this post from Istanbul just because the attack happened outside of a stadium and that it relates to sport, I write it because it may truly be a pivotal moment in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/10/bomb-outside-istanbul-football-stadium-causes-multiple-casualties

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Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2372661/fifteen-dead-istanbul-football-stadium-bombs/

On the night of 10 December 2016, after Beşiktaş’s Superleague victory over rivals Bursaspor, a vicious attack took place outside of Beşiktaş’s Vodafone arena. At the outset the BBC reported 15 dead and 69 wounded from an attack that consisted of a car bomb and suicide bomber. As of 3:00am CNN Turk (a branch of Turkish State Media), was only reporting 20 wounded and no dead. At 4:27am, the same CNN Turk reported 29 dead and 166 wounded. So…why the silence until after four in the morning, when most (sensible) people are asleep? Why the changing casualty figures, when foreign media was reporting higher numbers? I believe this reluctance to tell the truth stems from the fact that the government knows that they are facing a huge—and possibly pivotal—challenge.

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At 3:29am there was no mention of numbers. Image Courtesy of the Author.

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At 4:27am, when most (sensible) people are asleep, numbers are announced. Image Courtesy of the Author.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement that read: “A terrorist attack has been carried out against our security forces and our citizens. It has been understood that the explosions after the Besiktas-Bursaspor football game aimed to maximise casualties. As a result of these attacks unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded.”

Sadly—like so much in Turkish state media—this statement doesn’t tell the whole truth. The fact that Mr. Erdogan claimed that the attack “aimed to maximise casualties” is, in fact, false, and therein lies the danger. If the perpetrators—whoever they may be—wanted to maximise casualties the attack would have taken place during the game, when the 43,500 capacity stadium was full. The fact that the attack took place two hours after the match and didn’t target civilians, but appeared to target police, shows that there was some sort of twisted restraint in this attack.

Here, it seems that the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says “We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too”. Indeed, if the attack had taken place during the match, it would have been even worse (given that already 29 have been confirmed dead, the statement “even worse” is contextual). And that is the scariest thing about this attack. It is tragic that there were so many casualites in (yet another) senseless act of violence, but it is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey. And if that is indeed the case, we as human beings, need to be aware.

Industrial Football May Have Soured Turkish Fans On the Eve of Eskisehirspor’s Unveiling of New Stadium

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Ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, Turkish media published a story on 28 October 2016 about a man going out of his way to make home feel like “home” for his team. Ali Erginer, a fan of Turkish Second Division side Eskisehirspor, answered a social media call to help prepare his side’s new stadium before opening day on Sunday 30 October. Mr. Erginer said he responded to a call on social media for fans of the team to assist the municipality’s workers, who were understaffed, with preparing the stadium for its first match. Mr. Erginer said that he expected 100-200 people to help with the preparations—or at least 50—but ended up being the only fan to answer the social media call.

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Mr. Erginer Cuts a Lonely Figure. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.mynet.com/futbol/ptt-1-lig/102480-eskisehir-stadi-icin-cagrilara-sadece-o-yanit-verdi.html

In the age of social media—where even a simple cat video can go viral in minutes—it is surprising that only Mr. Erginer should come out to prepare his team’s new stadium; indeed if this were a story about anything else I would have been suspicious as to its veracity. Given the political nature of stadium construction in Turkey, however, I can see why Mr. Erginer might have been the only one willing to volunteer his time. As Christopher Gaffney writes in his eminently readable study of stadia Temples of the Earthbound Gods, “at the local level, stadiums are monuments, places for community interaction, repositories of collective memory, loci of strong identities, sites for ritualized conflict, political battlefields, and nodes in global systems of sport” (Gaffney 2008, 4). Given the importance of the stadium to local community and culture, it is not surprising that a fan would want to help prepare one for its opening; what is surprising, however, is that a single fan should want to help. And this is where we visit another of Gaffney’s observations, that “stadiums are sites and symbols of power, identity, and meaning that allow us to enter and interpret the cultural landscape through a common medium” (Ibid., 24).

Eskisehir’s old stadium, built in 1965, was the Ataturk Stadium named after Turkey’s founding father. The new stadium may not be named after the nation’s founding father, since those in power realize that—in Gaffney’s words—the stadium is “a symbol of power [and] identity”. An opposition MP wanted the new stadium to be called the “Yeni Ataturk Stadyumu” (New Ataturk Stadium) but, as of this weekend, media stories are calling it just the “Yeni Eskisehir Stadyumu” (New Eskisehir Stadium). Regardless of what happens with the name, even by attempting to take the name away—and certainly in taking the stadium away—from the fans a new identity can be fostered for subsequent generations; this does not mean that this new identity will be accepted by all fans, and that fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to show up to prepare the stadium for its grand opening is telling.

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Even if the fans have a grievance with the renaming of the stadium, they—as true fans who have an attachment to the stadium if only because of its role as “repository of collective memory”—should be expected to support the new stadium, right? Perhaps—but that would depend in part, of course, on the motives of the capitalist entrepreneur(s) at the helm who pushed for the construction of the new stadium itself. Indeed after the last match was played in the old stadium fans got together and a banner was put up in the (empty) stadium reading “Separation Shouldn’t Be Like This”.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eskisehirspor-yarim-asirlik-evine-galibiyetle-veda-8864924-haberi/

The team’s (old) stadium has been closed for the first four weeks of the season following events that took place on the final day of last season, when Eskisehir fans burned down part of the Ataturk Stadium. For a few stories on this one can visit Sports Illustrated‘s  heavily biased piece that cites—of all things—Russia Today. The media in the United States only saw the fan violence on a surface level, a visceral paroxysm of rage because the team had been relegated. Knowing the passions in Turkish football, I have no doubt that emotions played a part in the inferno. But I think there were deeper concerns that the likes of Sports Illustrated could never hope to understand.

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The Final Match Attended by Fans at the Old Eskisehir Ataturk Stadium. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.rt.com/sport/343071-turkey-football-stadium-fire/

It is also possible that the fans were angry that their home was being taken from them, and that pushed them to violence. Judging by the fact that Mr. Erginer was the only one to answer the social media call suggests that some fans are not happy with the erasure of the past resulting from the construction of a new stadium. Industrial football—like the capitalism that finances it—has a way of erasing (and even re-writing) history to suit current needs. The closure of the Eskisehir Ataturk stadium—and its replacement with a modern, state-of-the-art facility—is just the latest chapter in a trend that is unfolding throughout Turkish (and indeed world) football.

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The New Digs. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/10/28/eskisehirspor-bandirmaspor-maci-ankara-da-oynanacak-1259526

Author’s Note: The opening of the stadium was ultimately delayed, with this weekend’s match taking place in Ankara’s Osmanli Stadium.

What’s Happening in Turkey?

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The Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe derby, postponed from 20 March 2016 amid security concerns following deadly blasts in Istanbul, was rescheduled for 13 April, 2016 on 28 March, 2016. As a football fan, I hope they get a chance to play it. Amidst an interesting string of events in the past few days, however, it seems the future of Turkey is more unclear than it has been since, arguably, the 12 September 1980 military coup. In order to better understand the procession of events I present a timeline below in the fashion of “connect-the-dots”:

  • The first domino to fall, if you will, was Reza Zarrab—an Iranian-Turkish businessman arrested on 19 March, 2016 in Miami, Florida of all places. Mr. Zarrab was implicated in the December 2013 corruption scandal that hit Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP); he has also now been indicted by the United States for much more: “For Zarrab and his two alleged accomplices, the charges carry maximum sentences of five years in prison term for defrauding the United States, 20 years for violating the International Emergency Powers Act — which regulated the sanctions against Iran — 30 years for bank fraud and 20 years for money laundering. The district attorney is also calling for all of Zarrab’s assets to be confiscated.” Given that Mr. Zarrab had been cleared of wrongdoing in Turkey and released following the corruption scandal means his recent visit to—and arrest in—the United States may well be more than meets the eye. As Al-Monitor states: “Many believe that Zarrab had to have known he would be arrested the minute he landed in the United States, and that he wouldn’t have made the trip without a deal worked out in advance. His potential disclosures to the US federal prosecutor will surely implicate Turkish officials and, as such, may well be an instrument of pressure on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
  • Indeed as if answering Al-Monitor, just days later on 24 March, 2016, Newsweek published an interesting opinion piece posing the simple question “Will there be a coup against Erdoğan in Turkey?”. While the question posed is simple, the implications are more complex. That Michael Rubin—a member of a Washington D.C. think tank—should voice such a rhetorical question itself begs another question: Is such a rumor floating around Washington and, if so, where did it come from? Such rumors do not just materialize out of thin air and this too could be construed as an instrument of pressure on President Erdoğan…
  • On 28 March, 2016, there was another flurry of events concerning the United States and Turkey. A meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was reportedly concerning “Peace talks in Cyprus”. A seemingly downbeat quote from Mr. Cavuşoğlu sums it up—in fact, the sarcasm is all but bleeding off the page: “’We have also some good news from the eastern part of the Mediterranean, I mean Cyprus’ Cavuşoğlu said ahead of their [His and Mr. Kerry’s] meeting.” On the same day—in an interesting “coincidence”—the Turkish military announced that they would soon be receiving six CH-47F (Chinook) helicopters from the United States. With “peace” on the horizons, one would be forgiven for asking why the military build-up? And why on earth are the headlines about Cyprus when—it seems—both Turkey and the United States have more pressing concerns when it comes to Middle Eastern Geopolitics…
  • Just one day later on 29 March 2016, after talk of “good news in the eastern Mediterranean”, the United States took the unprecedented step of forcibly evacuating all families of defense personnel and diplomats out of Turkey. The evacuations included not just parts of southeast Turkey near the Syrian border but western cities such as Izmir and Muğla as well. The move seems to be setting the table for something…
  • On 30 March 2016 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived to a cool reception in Washington D.C, and even some U.S. news media openly criticized the Turkish leader. Bloomberg View asked “how the U.S. got Turkey’s dictator so wrong” in reference to U.S. President Obama’s 2013 comment that Mr. Erdoğan was one of his closest friends. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal noted that Turkish journalists were on trial for allegedly undermining the state as Mr. Erdoğan visited the United States. As someone who watched CNN’s live coverage of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and heard CNN call the protesters “anti-American” I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry at one of my countries’ complete and utter failure to understand the other. But the ability of any S. media outlet to utter the word “dictator” is an interesting turn.
  • On the same day, the head of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee said that “a ‘covert counterterrorism operation’ is underway to halt an extremist plot in Turkey”; Michael McCaul’s warning is cited as the rationale behind evacuating military and diplomatic families but—at least to me—it doesn’t hold up. In fact, the United States also decided to issue a travel warning for Turkey as well, putting it in the same league of dangerous destinations as the tourist hot spots of Iran, Algeria, and Yemen. Indeed Conde Nast traveller picked it up immediately, something that will undoubtedly hit Turkey’s tourist industry hard.

Ok…so what does it all mean? To be honest, when dealing with a country as complex as Turkey—that is situated in a region as complicated as the Middle East—and has such a convoluted relationship with its main ally the United States, nothing is easy to interpret or predict. Despite this, observers of the region should have reason to feel uneasy. The fact that a Washington-based pundit should even breathe the word “coup” in relation to Turkey is thought provoking. The fact that major U.S. media outlets should describe the Turkish leader Mr. Erdoğan—previously a darling of the Obama administration—as a “dictator” is startling. The fact that the U.S. should forcibly evacuate military and diplomatic families from Western Turkey a day after the Turkish military announces the imminent receipt of new military hardware and a day before the Turkish leader arrives in Washington is telling. It seems that something is in the air.

Those who care about Turkey and the United States should keep an eye on developments; given a global security situation where Pentagon-funded militias are fighting CIA-funded militias just across the Turkish border in Syria, the fortunes of both countries are, undeniably, intertwined. Only stability in Turkey can stem the rising tide of violence that threatens to engulf a region stretching from the Tigris to the Seine.

 

ENOUGH! A Discussion of the Bombing of Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi

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I hope that 19 March, 2016 goes down as the day Turkey says “enough”. As if it wasn’t clear enough already, enough is enough. When the street you have walked down for days (and nights) on end is targeted by a suicide bomber, it is time to say “enough”. When the central street of the city many of your friends live in is strewn with human body parts it is time to say “enough”. In a country where the central areas of the two biggest cities have been turned into bloodbaths three times in the last month despite heavy police presences, it is time to say “enough”. When representatives of that country’s government still spew hatred—ignoring the loss of innocent lives—it is time to say “enough”. When foreigners are deciding to leave that country out of fear for their lives it is time to say “enough”. When the government of that country tries to cynically sell its own dark plans for the future as a human-rights success it is time to say “enough”. When more and more rhetoric begins to appear comparing the state of affairs in reference to failed states like “Yugoslavia”, it is time to say “enough”. Unfortunately, my faith that people will be able to say “enough” is wavering more and more. With each passing day, with each unjustified arrest of journalists and academics, with each exploding bomb and rifle shot, with each drop of spilled innocent blood, I can’t help but feel my hopes and dreams slipping away as well…

On the morning of 19 March, 2016 a suicide bomber targeted Istanbul’s main shopping district, Beyoğlu’s Istiklal Caddesi, killing five and injuring thirty-nine.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3500017/Two-dead-seven-wounded-suicide-bomber-targets-tourist-shopping-area-Istanbul.html

This comes just five days after a car bombing killed thirty-seven and injured 125 in the Turkish capital of Ankara. That the tactics of Baghdad and Kabul have come to the very streets I have spent so much time on is upsetting, frustrating, and worrisome. To watch as a country slips through our hands like grains of sand on a beach is…unspeakably upsetting. And frustrating. And worrisome. In the wake of the Ankara bombings Turkish commentator Mehveş Evin said “I see where this is going, I’m scared, and I’m refusing to take sides”. She says “this is not going in the direction of 1990s Turkey, this is going in the direction of 1990s Yugoslavia”. Therefore, for her, it is wrong to take sides since that will only divide the country further—she cries for those killed in Ankara just as she cries for those killed in Turkey’s Kurdish cities which have recently suffered the full wrath of the Turkish Armed Forces.

The complicated part is that there are so many sides fighting this battle. Kurdish militants, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility for the Ankara bombings, while so far no group has come forward regarding today’s Istanbul bombings. Many of the victims in Istanbul were foreign—Israelis, Irish, German, and Iranian— and TAK have threatened to target tourists, but that does not mean this was a TAK bombing. It could also be ISIS/ISIL given the tactics used and place targeted. A bombing of a transportation hub in the capital targets the state, a bombing in the main tourist hub—the equivalent of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus for instance—targets individuals and seems to be something more in line with international terrorism, such as ISIS/ISIL’s strike in Paris. One representative of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had no sympathy for the international victims; Irem Aktaş, the President of the Publicity and Media Unit of the AKP’s Women’s branch in Istanbul’s Eyüp district, Tweeted in response to a Haberturk story on the Israeli nationals wounded in the bombing: “May it be worse for Israeli citizens, If only they hadn’t been wounded but had all died”. One would think that a person working for the publicity and media branch of anything would have more tact! But no, Ms. Irem Aktaş did not. And she is representative of the kind of cold, calculated, classless, cruel, and brutally insensitive people that are dragging an entire country down a dark path. The fact that she has since been removed from the party cannot erase her rude insult not just to Israelis, but to humanity itself.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/israilliler-icin-keske-hepsi-olseydi-diyen-akpli-partiden-ihrac-ediliyor/

The context of the Istanbul bombing is important to keep in mind as well: This bombing comes on the eve of Turkey’s equivalent of the Super Bowl—the Fenerbahçe Galatasaray football derby in Istanbul—and comes a day after Turkey reached an agreement with the EU on Syrian migrants. No event happens in a vacuum and this one is no different. Hans Eskilsson, a former Swedish international footballer, witnessed the bombing when he was on Istiklal Caddesi on the way to buy tickets to the derby ). Like myself, Eskilsson travels the world attending derbys and there is no telling how many other foreigners are in the city for the same purpose. Safety concerns are another element to keep in mind ahead of tomorrow’s derby; Salah Abdeslam, who was caught on Friday in connection to the Paris attacks in November 2015, admitted that he had planned to detonate himself at the Stade de France. Stadiums, it seems, are becoming a new target of violence across the Middle East and Europe just as soccer fans have been targeted in Africa in the past.

This has affected Turkish football as well. After the Ankara bombings, where Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut’s father lost his life, Galatasaray’s star German striker Lukas Podolski has stated that he wants to leave the Turkish side at the end of his contract due to the violence and it will be important to keep an eye on how other foreign footballers react; the teams themselves have been quick to condemn the violence. Podolski’s country is similarly worried about the deteriorating security situation as the German Embassy in Ankara, Consulate in Istanbul, and schools were closed Friday due to threats; Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir said “Yesterday [Thursday, 16 March] evening, some very concrete indications – to be taken very seriously – reached our security services, saying that terror attacks against German institutions within Turkey were being prepared”. Since the perpetrator of the Istanbul bombing was allegedly heading towards a different target when the device was detonated it is possible that the intended target was, indeed, a German interest; this leads me to believe that ISIS/ISIL had a hand in the bombing given that they killed 12 German tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square on 12 January, 2016. This, of course, also begs the question: If the Germans knew, then why didn’t the Turks know? How could a bomber infiltrate an area so full of police as the heart of Istanbul has been since the Gezi Protests of 2013?

For an answer to why Germany (and Turkey) are being targeted it is worth looking at the second event that contextualizes the Istanbul bombings: The deal concerning Syrian migrants that Turkey made with the European Union on Friday, 18 March. Since Germany has been one of the main migrant destinations—as well as one of the leaders of the European union—they may have become an additional target for ISIS/ISIL.

The BBC lists the key points of the agreement below (Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35840272):

  • Returns: All “irregular migrants” crossing from Turkey into Greece from 20 March will be sent back. Each arrival will be individually assessed by the Greek authorities.
  • One-for-one: For each migrant returned to Turkey, a Syrian migrant will be resettled in the EU. Priority will be given to those who have not tried to illegally enter the EU and the number is capped at 72,000.
  • Visa restrictions: Turkish nationals should have access to the Schengen passport-free zone by June. This will not apply to non-Schengen countries like Britain.
  • Financial aid: The EU is to speed up the allocation of €3 bn ($3.3 bn; £2.3 bn) in aid to Turkey to help migrants.
  • Turkey EU membership: Both sides agreed to “re-energise” Turkey’s bid to join the European bloc, with talks due by July.

Of these “key points” there are two that are worth looking at in depth: the fact that “irregular migrants” will be returned to Turkey and that Turkish nationals will have visa-free access to the Schengen zone by June 2016. These two parts of the agreement criticized by many and brokered by the AKP government will allow for the AKP to do their own demographic re-arrangement of the Turkish polity.

Opponents of the AKP tend to be secular, generally come from the wealthier upper and middle classes, or are Kurdish; indeed according to Turkey’s 2013 ranking of provinces by socio-economic development no province won by the opposing CHP in the November 2015 elections was ranked lower than 30 out of the 81 provinces (3) Izmir; 7) Muğla; 15) Tekirdağ; 26) Edirne; 30) Kirklareli; Provinces with traditionally high CHP support–some that the party won in the June 2015 elections–also rank highly such as 4) Antalya, 9) Adana, and 21) Manisa). While the government may use military force to silence their Kurdish opponents in the east, a similar tactic is not viable in the urban areas of the west. The solution here, it seems, is to secure the visa-free travel agreement—which will mainly benefit wealthy, liberal, “Western” Turks—and simply get them out of the country. Perhaps the AKP believe that their opponents will take the opportunity to either migrate or just forget about the issues in their own country with the distraction of newfound freedom of movement.

The second component of this new policy—the return to Turkey of some migrants—is even more troubling. Where will Turkey settle all of these Syrian refugees? We have already seen a trend of Turkish men taking on Syrian wives—sometimes as their second and third wives—in the east of the country, which has had a devastating effect on marital and familial stability. Constanze Letsch noted in 2014 that:

Resentment is growing. Women in border towns and cities accuse Syrian women of luring away their husbands, saying their spouses routinely threaten them with taking a Syrian wife.

At the hairdressers in Reyhanli [a town on the Syrian/Turkish border], several local women express their anger. ‘Syrian women have broken up many families here,’ says Kadriye, 36, who owns a bridal wear business nearby. ‘Our husbands have become real beasts since the Syrians came. The men now make all kinds of excuses to bring in a second wife. They threaten us because of the smallest things: the food, the housekeeping, anything. Some take wives the age of their daughters.’

Along with this effect on Turkish families, however, there could be another—much darker—motive that will have a bigger effect on Turkish politics. An Istanbul MP from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Erdoğan Toprak, noted in a report that 500,000 Syrians who entered the country in 2011 will, now after five years of living in Turkey, become eligible for Turkish citizenship. By 2019, Toprak’s report argues there will be around three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Toprak sees these newly minted citizens as an army of AKP votes since, after all, it was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who so enthusiastically fought for the downfall of the Assad regime in Syria and opened his borders to migrants. Toprak further seizes on Erdoüan’s comment “Bir yılda güneydoğuyu yeniden inşa edeceğiz”—“We will re-build the southeast [of Turkey] in one year”. Toprak interprets this “re-building” as a demographic re-arrangement:

AKP hükümeti, mülteci yerleşim planıyla mültecileri bölge illerine dağıtarak, Kürt nüfusun yoğun olduğu yerlerde, demografik değişime gitmeyi düşünüyor olabilir ki bunun ipuçlarını da görmek mümkün.

The AKP government, by spreading refugees throughout provinces in the area through the refugee re-location plan, is thinking of moving towards a demographic change in places with high Kurdish populations. This is a possibility, and it is also possible to see hints of this.

If this is indeed the plan it is certainly a scary thought. By spreading Syrians with a right to vote in Kurdish areas it will 1) make the Kurds an even smaller minority and 2) drown out their voice at the ballot box. As we saw in the November 2015 elections the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was able to sweep Kurdish provinces and get into parliament; by manufacturing more AKP votes in the region through resettlement—gerrymandering through demographics—the Kurdish effect at the ballot will be tempered.

It is too early to tell what the government’s motive is regarding the refugee agreement; it may also be another show of force, one of those things Mr. Erdoğan has come to enjoy often to the detriment of his country. As Abukar Arman reminds us:

The situation in Turkey, Middle East and many other parts of the world beg for transformational leaders with vision, wisdom, and right temperament. It takes more than winning elections to cultivate harmonious society, optimally functioning state, and a nation that puts its national interests above personal, party, or movement. A divided nation is a weak nation, and leadership by wrath is a suicidal option.

In other words, in order to save Turkey, President Erdogan might have to clean up the political derbies and extend an olive branch to oppositions. Otherwise, ‘Lord, have mercy on Turkey’.

I am losing hope in President Erdoğan ever being able to extend such an “olive branch”, just as I am losing hope in people’s ability to finally say “enough”. And one comic that has been floating around Facebook sums up some of the pessimism. The female says “This time a bomb exploded in Taksim… [Referring to the main square of Istanbul, at the top of Istiklal Caddesi]. The male replies “But they made roads. What more do you want?”, referring to one of the AKP’s selling points, one which their supporters always bring up: that they improved Turkey’s highways. Perhaps they did make roads—in this case, its looking like a highway to hell.

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Courtesy: Facebook

Still, giving up hope is not an option in this case. In his ironic stab at the AKP government—who told people to “not worry about rumors” after the German government revealed the possibility of threats two days before the “rumors” were confirmed—Turkish columnist Yilmaz Özdil sends a good message: “Don’t believe the Rumors, Don’t Be Afraid be Brave!” He is mocking the government’s message but at the same time (in my most humble of opinions), he is sending the public a message: Don’t believe the rumors that the country is disintegrating, that it is on a downfall, that it is doomed—be brave and stand up for it. It’s a message I can live with despite the despair expressed by, for instance, novelist Elif Şafak. Perhaps Turkish literature is the place to turn to at this difficult time, when Istiklal Caddesi has been turned into an empty space compared to the bustling energetic hub it usually is.

Now (on the left); Previously (on the right). Images Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3500017/Two-dead-seven-wounded-suicide-bomber-targets-tourist-shopping-area-Istanbul.html

The poet Nazım Hikmet could not have said it better writing more than half a century ago:

24 Eylul 1945

En güzel deniz :

henüz gidilmemiş olanıdır…

En güzel çocuk :

henüz büyümedi.

En güzel günlerimiz :

henüz yaşamadıklarımız.

Ve sana söylemek istediğim en güzel söz :

henüz söylememiş olduğum sözdür…

——————————————–

The most beautiful sea:

hasn’t been crossed yet.

The most beautiful child:

hasn’t grown up yet.

Our most beautiful days:

we haven’t seen yet.

And the most beautiful words I wanted to tell you

I haven’t said yet…

-Nazim Hikmet

 

As the Beşiktaş fans (and perhaps the other fans of Istanbul United as well) themselves will tell you—again borrowing from Nazım Hikmet—“We will see good days my children, we will see sunny days….”

Güzel günler göreceğiz çocuklar, 


güneşli günler 
               

           göre- 
                     

                       -ceğiz…

istanbul-united-.jpg

Turkey Wins…and Loses at the Same Time

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

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

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

1 Day Before Match

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

Saygi Durusu

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

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

Pre Match (Below):

 

Pre Match Nalcacilar

Post Match (Below):

Post Match Nalcacilar

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

 

 

Attack on Fenerbahçe’s Team Bus Raises Many Questions: What is Happening in Turkey?

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On the night of Saturday April 4, 2015, the bus carrying Turkey’s Fenerbahçe football team fell under attack on the way back from a convincing 5-1 victory over Rizespor. Subsequent reports said that the attack involved stones and—interestingly—two shots from a hunting rifle, according to Abdulcelil Öz, the governor of Trabzon. This attack, which occurred on the Sürmene-Araklı highway between Rize and Trabzon, is unprecedented in Turkish football history. The side window of the bus was shattered while the front window was damaged in five spots. The driver, Ufuk Kıran, was seriously injured by a gunshot wound to the face and is currently in stable condition. Now, the obvious question is why did such an attack happen? In Turkey it is relatively common for team busses to be attacked with stones by rival supporters, but such a confirmed and violent armed attack has—to my recollection—never happened. To dig deeper into this tragic event it is worth looking into the past week in Turkey that has been uncharacteristically violent.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/32187388

 

On Tuesday the week started with a massive blackout that plunged most of the country into darkness. Officially, the blame was put on two plants in Izmir and Adana that severed Turkey’s connection with the European power grid. The same day, prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz who was investigating police in connection to the death of 15 year-old Berkin Elvan last March was taken hostage in an Istanbul court and shot by members of The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). Police also killed the hostage takers belonging to the Marxist organization when they stormed the office. The next day, April 1 2015, police shot a woman carrying guns and hand grenades when she tried to attack Istanbul’s police headquarters in the Istanbul district of Aksaray. On the same day an armed man was detained by police after breaking in to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) office building on Istanbul’s Asian side in the Kartal district and hanging a Turkish flag with a sword on it from the window.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/armed-man-detained-after-breaking-into-akp-building-in-istanbul.aspx?PageID=238&NID=80440&NewsCatID=341

 

Interestingly, before the woman’s attack in Aksaray, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned of the risk of “provocations” saying “We are aware that we face an axis of evil and there is an attempt to instigate an atmosphere of chaos ahead of the election.” While the rhetoric of an “Axis of Evil” is similar to that of former U.S. President George Bush, Mr. Davutoğlu was not so kind as to enlighten us as to who (or what) exactly this “axis” consists of. In the void, many Turks on social media chose to make their own interpretations. An entry on popular online forum Ekşi Sözlük—the Sour Times—had this to say on the DHKP-C:

yılda bir iki defa adlarını duyarsınız. iktidarın en sıkıştığı dönem ortaya çıkarlar ve ortaya çıktıklarında sebep oldukları tek şey chp ve solcu partileri halkın gözünde sıfırlayıp iktidarı halkın gözünde yükseltmek.

You’ll hear their name once or twice a year. They’ll appear at a time that the administration [ruling party, read: AKP] are most in trouble and the only reason they’ve appeared is to discredit the CHP [Main opposition party] and other leftist parties in the eyes of the public and raise the stature of the administration [ruling party] in the eyes of the public.

 

While I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories this interpretation doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me—especially in light of current events. Why would this leftist group take hostage a prosecutor investigating the role of police in Berkin Elvan’s death? To me, this simply does not make sense—and it wouldn’t, at least in the immediate term—seem to serve the DHKP-C’s interests either. So are they just a government scapegoat, involved in false-flag operations in order to provide an excuse for further government crackdowns?

On Monday, April 6 2015 we may have come closer to an answer. Social media sites in Turkey—including Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook—were blocked. Even search engine Google was part of the ban according to Al-Jazeera. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin gave the reason for the ban in comments cited by Reuters, saying that “some media organisations had acted ‘as if they were spreading terrorist propaganda’ in sharing the images of the hostage-taking.” This is, of course, not the first time social media has been banned in Turkey. It happened last March in the run up to local elections. This time a similar ban was necessitated not by elections but because of last week’s events. But even this may not be unrelated to elections.

 

Ex Fenerbahçe star and popular Turkish football pundit Rıdvan Dilmen made comments on his program “Yüzde Yüz Futbol” (One Hundred Percent Football) on NTV Sports that resonated throughout Turkey:

. . . Bu ciddi bir problem. Son 7 günü bir düşünelim neler olduğunu; çok uzağa gitmeyelim. Elektrik kesintisi, Emniyet Müdürlüğü’ne saldırı, rahmetli olan savcının durumu, dünkü olay… Sonra yargılamalarda mesela; Çarşı Grubu’nun yargılanması var…

Bu bir sportif olay değil, bunun kupayla bilmem neyle de ilgisi yok. Bu 3 Temmuz sürecinden önce de Fenerbahçe-Trabzon maçları gergin geçerdi. Benim dönemimde de gergin geçerdi.

Ben açıkçası bu yaza kadar, seçime kadar böyle şeylerin olabileceğini düşünüyorum. Çünkü yaşananlar bunu gösteriyor…

…This is a serious problem. Let’s think in the last seven days what all has happened; let’s not go too far back. The blackout, the attack on Police headquarters, the deceased prosecutor, yesterday’s events [the attack on Fenerbahçe’s bus]…Then the trials for instance, there is the trial of the Çarşı Group…

 This is not a sporting incident, this has nothing to do with the cup or I don’t know what else. Before the events of 3 July [The matchfixing scandal that targeted Fenerbahçe in 2011 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Turkish_sports_corruption_scandal)] Fenerbahçe -Trabzon matches were tense. They were tense in my time [as a player] too. Honestly I think that until this summer, until the election, things like this might happen. Because what has happened shows this…

 

It is important to note that Mr. Dilmen is right. Matches between Fenerbahçe -Trabzonspor have always been tense, and fans of Trabzonspor were known in the 1990s to fire guns into the air in celebration. A Turkish language football blog, Dobrayorum, put together a small history of violent episodes during and following Fenerbahçe Trabzonspor matches. There are examples from the 1974-75 season, 1978-79 season, and even a similar bus attack (one player claimed a gun was used then as well) from the 1984-85 season. But those events were all, seemingly, standard football hooliganism; they all happened after Fenerbahçe either won (1974-75) or tied with a late goal (1978-79 and 1984-85) at Trabzonspor’s famously intimidating stadium. The events of Saturday night did not happen after a hotly contested Fenerbahçe-Trabzonspor derby (Look to 2010 for an example), instead they happened after a comfortable Fenerbahçe victory against Trabzonspor’s local rivals Rizespor. It doesn’t add up.

ScreenHunter_29 May. 11 22.49 14_Nisan_1985_Trabzonspor_Fenerbah_e_ma_ 17_Eyl_l_1978_Trabzonspor_Fenerbah_e_ma_

The first two images are from 4 April 1985 (Suspiciously coincidentally, exactly 30 years to the date of Saturday night’s attack), the second image is from 17 September 1978. Images Courtesy Of: http://dobrayorum.blogspot.com/2012/05/biraz-geciklemli-de-olsa-bu-satrlarn.html

 

Is the government looking to create an atmosphere of chaos ahead of the June elections, in a bid to show that only a continuation of the ruling AKP party can provide security and stability in the country? In some people’s minds, this is exactly what is happening. Keep in mind the newly passed security laws in Turkey (for a detailed outline of the new internal security package please see Al-Monitor) that have been widely criticized as draconian and anti-European. It is clear that the government is prepared to go to any length to prevent a repeat of the June 2013 Gezi protests.

 

Meanwhile, there will be no football this week in Turkey. Following the attack Fenerbahçe called for the league to be suspended but initially Interior Minister Sebahattin Öztürk told reporters that there was no need to stop football in the country. On Monday, April 6 2015, the Turkish Football Federation announced a one-week suspension of all league and cup matches in Turkey.

Something is amiss in Turkey and it seems even sport is not immune from it. I hope that someone finds an answer to the problem before it is too late. The country has become polarized to an alarming degree, and this sickening attack is no exception. Following the Gezi protests football fans were united, it even sparked a documentary. Now, some fans of Fenerbahçe’s rivals have distastefully taken to social media to voice their support of the attack by noting all the past violent incidents involving Fenerbahçe and their fans. Perhaps the government was alarmed at the brewing solidarity among football fans in support of Beşiktaş’s Çarşı group, and the bond the Ultras made with their society, and wanted to end the nascent unity. Or maybe it was provincial football fans committing an (albeit advanced) act of hooliganism. Or maybe it is just a couple deranged maniacs who decided to organize this despicable attack on their own. In my mind—and, it seems, also in the mind of Mr. Dilmen—the facts just don’t add up in support of the latter two possibilities and produce a clear picture of what happened yet.

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