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Football Meets Politics Head on as Sports Figures Weigh iN On Turkey’s Future

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Turkish Football Fans Have Again Gotten Involved In Politics Ahead Of The Referendum. The Caption In this File Photo Is Relevant And Reads “We Will Not Give In To Industrial and Political Power: WE WILL NOT BE SILENT FANS; Long Live The Brotherhood Of Colors”. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/fenerbahce-taraftarindan-galatasaray-taraftarina-cagri-hayir-diyoruz-var-misiniz-183452

 

There can be no denying that football is a major part of culture around the world. It plays a role in local culture (from the local non league side) as well as global culture (FC Barcelona’s badge is likely one of the most recognizable symbols in the world). Events in the past few days have shown how deeply engrained the sport is in Turkish culture, as celebrities from the sporting world gave their opinion on Turkey’s future.

After the Turkish Parliament approved a controversial presidential system on 21 January 2017, with a vote of 339 in favor out of 550 (330 was the threshold), the issue will go to a public vote in a referendum some time in late March or early April of 2017. A switch to a presidential system would be an unquestionably a bad decision for Turkey, since, as Reuters notes, “The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power”. I could not agree more; a presidential system without checks and balances would spell ruin for a country that has already been ravaged by an odd form of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it isn’t very surprising since the globalist world—based on a strict adherence to neoliberal policies—inadvertently fosters totalitarianism.

In One Dimensional Man philosopher Herbert Marcuse points out that “contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian” (Marcuse, 1964: 3). For him, in this kind of society, the “supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society” (Marcuse, 1964: 23). In short, modern capitalist society promises more and more improvement, more and more growth and (subsequently) more riches, stupefying people into following the flow of society without questioning its direction. That is the situation in modern day Turkey. It is undeniable that the country experienced a strong period of growth under the AKP between 2002-2011, when

the Turkish economy grew by an average rate of 7.5 percent annually. Lower inflation and interest rates led to a major increase in domestic consumption. And the Turkish economy began to attract unprecedented foreign direct investment, thanks to a disciplined privatization program. The average per capita income rose from $2,800 U.S. in 2001 to around $10,000 U.S. in 2011, exceeding annual income in some of the new EU members.

(Taspinar, 2012)

Unfortunately, this unprecedented growth has not come without a price. It has resulted in large scale divisions between secular and religious, Kurdish and Turkish, urban and rural; competing identities have increasingly come into conflict. The AKP’s poor judgement in foreign policy—like supporting the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—have also opened the country up to attacks from ISIS/ISIL/DAESH on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. And now the people—blinded by their greed for more and inability to see past it, as Marcuse notes—are willing to throw their future away by getting behind a man like Mr. Erdogan who has continually ignored his country in order to profit from involvement in the neoliberal global economy.

With support for a “YES” vote in the referendum believed to be at around 32%, it seems that Mr. Erdogan has realized that an appeal to celebrities from the sports world might help boost his numbers. On 24 January 2017 famous sports commentator (and former Fenerbahce star) Ridvan Dilmen posted a video on his social media page with a call to the fellow sports superstar Arda Turan of FC Barcelona:

“Our nation, our country is going through a very difficult period. It is literally a war of independence. We want a strong Turkey. I say YES, I am also in for a strong Turkey. Arda, are you in?”

“Vatanımız, ülkemiz çok zorlu bir süreçten geçiyor. Adeta bir İstiklal Savaşı. Güçlü bir Türkiye istiyoruz. Güçlü bir Türkiye için evet ben de varım. Arda sen de var mısın?”

 Soon Mr. Dilmen’s call went viral as other celebrities—including former Galatasaray Striker Burak Yilmaz—voiced their support for a “YES” vote and the presidential system. This campaigning is not surprising, given that Mr. Dilmen has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Turkish Football Federation and has publically voiced his support for Mr. Erdogan as well. For Mr. Dilmen it is a good choice; by making his politics clear he can assure his own safety in a climate where at least 2,000 footballers are being investigated for their involvement with the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused of being behind the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. But for his nation, it is a very bad choice. Of course he has just been blinded by his greed, a byproduct of the extreme capitalism that has engulfed Turkey in the last fifteen years.

 

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Do Mr. Dilmen (L) and Mr. Kocaman (R) Have Different Views Regarding Their Country’s Future? Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/01/25/aykut-kocamandan-evet-kampanyasi-icin-farkli-aciklama-582090/

 

Fortunately other celebrities have hit back at their greedy colleagues, emphatically calling for a “NO” vote. Konyaspor’s head coach Aykut Kocaman also offered a voice of reason amid the maelstrom, saying “The players, including myself, should not be involved in politics. Because everyone makes up the group that supports us. We belong to no man, we are only the men of our profession and Konyaspor, and the players should be the same way” Mr. Kocaman even took a veiled shot at the establishment when he said “we are not people who live in glass houses, we are people who are in society (Biz öyle sırça köşklerde yaşayan insanlar değiliz, toplumun içinde yer alan insanlarız)”. The football fans have gotten involved as well, with Fenerbahce’s leftist “Sol Acik” group asking Galatasaray’s leftist “Tekyumruk” group “We also say NO for a free, equal, and secular country, @tekrumruk are you in?” on Twitter. Tekyumurk’s response created a similarly viral tweet as they reached out to Besiktas’s Belestepe group with the same tweet. Belestepe’s response was “No, one thousand times NO”.

 

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The Tweet Exchange Between Football Fan Groups. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

There is no doubt that Turkey is going through a tough time and that society has become fragmented beyond belief. The hurt caused by this fragmentation is expressed well by a user of the internet community eksisozluk which shows the sociological and psychological damage that the behavior of Mr. Dilmen and other celebrities has caused. The user şükela wrote a heartfelt piece outlining his disappointment at Mr. Dilmen’s decision. In the piece the user notes how, as a free floating hopeless 17 year-old adrift in the world of industrial society while working with his uncle, his only love—his only hope—was his football team, Fenerbahce. He recalls listening to a match on the radio and crying when he heard that his hero, Mr Dilmen, had been injured: “I remember sitting and silently crying as I hopelessly tried to cling to life at only seventeen because Ridvan [Dilmen] was the defining symbol of the only branch I clung to, Fenerbahce (olduğum yerde sessizce ağladığımı hatırlıyorum, daha on yedi yaşında umutsuz bir şekilde hayatta kalmaya çalışırken, tutunduğum tek dal olan fenerbahçe’nin biricik sembolüydü çünkü rıdvan)”. The user goes on to say “it is now clear that you have long ago forgotten the country that made you you, and this community [of Fenerbahce]. Good luck, but as someone from Kadikoy [the neighborhood Fenerbahce is in] I’d like to remind you that the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Fenerbahce will endure and last forever [but] you destroyed your chance to be an honorable soldier for both of these republics tonight with your own hands (ama anlaşılan o ki; sen çoktan seni sen yapan bu ülkeden, bu camiadan vazgeçmişsin, yolun açık olsun, ama bir kadıköy’lü olarak hatırlatmak isterim ki; türkiye cumhuriyeti de fenerbahçe cumhuriyeti de ilelebet payidar kalacaktır, sen bu iki cumhuriyetin de bir neferi, şerefli bir askeri olma şansını bu akşam kendi ellerinde yok ettin). ”

 

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 Graffito Tweeted By Fenerbahce Fan Group Sol Acik Reads “In Izmir We Say Sunflower Seeds are Cigdem [A Local Word Referring To Sunflower Seeds In The Aegean City Of Izmir] And Say No To A Presidential System” [Author’s Note: This Is A Very Difficult Passage To Translate On Short Notice Since It Is Very Culturally Specific So The English Is Much Longer Than The Turkish, I Apologize To The Readers]. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

The words of this anonymous individual show how shocking it can be when your childhood hero turns his back on not just his football team, but also his country. Consumed by the desire for money Mr. Dilmen—as well as Arda Turan and Burak Yilmaz—have decided to abandon their personal morals and values as well as their country; they have become “one-dimensional men”. It is disappointing to see but we must remember that it is symptomatic of a modern industrial society consumed by extreme capitalism. I say NO to industrial football, NO to extreme capitalism, and NO to globalization. I am sure you can infer my position on Mr. Erdogan’s presidential system as well…!

 

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A Touch Of Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

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.

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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.