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Football, Politics, and Islam in Turkey: May 2016

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When a country’s president is former footballer, the connection between politics and sport can be more apparent. At the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Congress on 22 May 2016, where new Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim pledged his allegiance to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the festivities took an interesting turn. Spectators at the conference did a tifo consisting of choreographies; images of Mr. Yildirim, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and Mr. Erdogan were raised to the rafters by spectators.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/ak-partililerden-uc-lidere-koreografi-40107385

This show was strangely reminiscent of football supporters’ Tifos. Here is a list of 10 great looking choreographies from around the world and fans of both Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have put on similar shows in Turkish football. The Galatasaray choreography shows the team’s ownership of Istanbul’s geography but showing a lion advancing towards the Bosporus Bridge while Fenerbahce’s combines the team’s badge with Turkish nationalism by using an image of Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The tifo at the AKP conference, by contrast, confirms the old saying about Turkish politics—people support political parties as if supporting a football team.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://spor.milliyet.com.tr/koreografi-tepkisi/spor/spordetay/23.04.2012/1531627/default.htm

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/kadikoyde-muthis-koreografi-40005855

The football analogies, however, do not stop there. President Erdogan, wary of criticism, offered that—perhaps—parliamentary groups should not have observers since in the football world matches can be played without fans if fans misbehave. Therefore, the reasoning stands, if politicians misbehave then they should not be able to observe in parliament. The liberal Cumhuriyet offered a sarcastic second solution: Why not just disband parliament? But President Erdogan has gone to great lengths to prevent criticism from all walks of society. On 20 May 2016 the Turkish parliament voted to lift immunity for MPs, a move targeting MPs from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who are accused of being part of the terrorist PKK) and MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who have had charges of “insulting the President” levied on them. Outside of politics, on 31 May 2016 the 2006 Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac was convicted of insulting President Erdogan through social media postings. In this climate, it isn’t that far fetched that the President would consider treating parliamentary sessions like football matches.

Another important development happened at the Black Sea club Trabzonspor. The team’s new coach Ersun Yanal has decided to ban his players from sporting beards, with a 25,000 Turkish Lira (About 8,000 US Dollars) fine for appearing in a match with a beard. The player most affected by this will be Aykut Demir, who has been known as much for off the field incidents as for his on field play. Mr. Demir, born in Holland, has reflected the changing currents in Turkish society since transferring to Ankara’s Genclerbirligi in 2009. His nickname is “Commando”, stemming from his love of weapons and his strong sense of Turkish national pride according to Hurriyet. While at Genclerbirligi he posed for a photo shoot decked out like Turkish special forces, complete with war paint and a blue beret. These days, however, he has taken to appearing in public dressed in Islamic garb—complete with a beard even a haji would be proud up. With the arrival of Mr. Yanal, however, Mr. Demir’s beard will have to go. That Mr. Demir has taken a more outwardly pious appearance is no surprise given the gradual Islamicization of Turkish society; what is interesting is that Mr. Yanal has moved to distance his players from this kind of appearance. We will keep watching to see if other teams make similar moves in the future, since Genclerbirligi’s chairman Ilhan Cavcav made a similar move two years ago.

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Mr. Yanal Apparently Does Not Fear the Beard. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/trabzonsporlu-aykut-demirden-olay-fotograf-40012107

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

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When an ISIS suicide bomber killed 32 and wounded 104 young men and women in Suruç, Turkey—near the Syrian border—on Monday July, 20 2015 everything changed forever. Some say that it means Turkey has now been sucked into the Syrian violence as a result of the Turkish leadership’s failed policies and thinly veiled support for ISIS in Syria; ten years ago, during the US-led war in Afghanistan, who would have thought that anyone would be able to say that “In many respects, Turkey has provided a safe sanctuary for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra, playing a similar role as Pakistan does in support of providing safe haven for the Taliban in Afghanistan.” But the Independent did, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

One Cumhuriyet columnist, Orhan Bursalı, outlines eight reasons why Turkey could become an ISIS state. Again, who would have thought that anyone could say that because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s pro-Sunni sectarian stance—while occupying the highest political positions in the secular Turkish Republic—that Turkey could possibly go this route? Certainly no one would have thought it possible back in 2012, when US President Barack Obama named Mr. Erdoğan one of his top-five friends among world leaders. But Mr. Obama did, and this miscalculation is as great as Mr. Erdoğan’s in following a sectarian foreign policy, and that is what is alarming, disturbing, and infuriating to me as both an American and as a Turk.

Now the divide-and-rule policies of the AKP’s 13 year one party rule have brought back a similar political divide to what was seen in 1970s Turkey, where fighting between members of right-wing and left-wing groups killed ten people a day for a decade. But 2015 is not 1980. The world has changed. There can be no military coup to stop the bleeding. The conflict is not confined within the context of the Cold War. The battle is no longer between right-wing Turkish nationalists and left-wing Turkish nationalists. It is between normal religious citizens—some who are supporting the Sunni Islamist militants of ISIS—and various left-leaning Turks—urban intellectuals and students—and Kurds, some liberal and some supporting the terrorists of the PKK—looking for a more inclusive democracy and a move away from divisive politics. But as the conflict rages the divisions get blurred. To see just how complicated the delicate situation is I will present the stories of a seven different Turks who were lost in this heinous attack and its aftermath.

 

Hatice Ezgi Sadet and Polen Ünlü were 20 year-old girls studying in Istanbul and fellow members of the Sosyalist Gençlik Dernekleri Federasyonu (Federation of Socialist Youth Organizations). The living tell a story of the dead that shows two girls who went everywhere together—whether it was to campaign for the HDP in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district or to attend Beşiktaş matches; friends from the stadium attended the funeral services in Beşiktaş jerseys and scarves. They went together to Suruç in order to help build a children’s park in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, instead of to party on the beaches of the Mediterranean like so many other twenty-something girls in Turkey during the summer. Now they lie buried together in the same grave, inseparable forever.

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

 

Koray Çapoğlu was a thirty-two year old “revolutionary” in the sense that his friends say he always stood up for right in the face of wrong, faithfully attending every protest with the flag of the team he supported, Trabzonspor. The fan group he helped found—Devrimci Trabzonsporlular (Revolutionary Trabzonspor Supporters)—made an announcement following his death noting that though he was bringing toys to Kobane this time, he was in Suruç just as he had been at Gezi, as he had protested the building of a Nuclear Power Plant on the Black Sea coast, as he had remembered the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. These are the same things Beşiktaş’s Carşı group has protested in standing up for right in the face of wrong. Now all that remains are memories of a young man and a photo of his bloodied clenched fist wrapped in the claret and blue of Trabzonspor.

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

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

 

The left-wing mainly Turkish students were killed by a fellow Turk from Adiyaman province who had joined ISIS; Şeyh Aburrahman Alagöz. The twenty-year old suicide bomber was studying mechanical engineering at the university, but he was no normal university student. He was neighbors with fellow Adiyaman resident Orhan Gönder who set off two bombs on June 5 2015 in Diyarbakir at a rally for the leftist and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), killing 4 and injuring 402, despite the fact that police had—suspiciously—released him from their custody a day before the bombing. Alagöz had taken a break from his studies and was running a teahouse in the center of Adiyaman; the front of his Islam tea house was decorated with passages from the Koran and had an ISIS logo inside, and here he provided a place to recruit young Turks to the terrorist group. During the Kobane events the teahouse closed for a few days; locals say the owner and his patrons had gone to fight for ISIS against Kurdish militants. His teahouse was closed down three months after it opened last October but the Koranic passages remain on the storefront, just as those recruited from this terrorist cell remain anonymous and at large. More than 200 young people from Adiyaman province have left their homes to join ISIS.

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

 

But such visions of martyrdom in the name of Islam are not only confined to young males. Seçil T. is a young 18 year-old girl with her life in front of her. On July 8, 2015 she ran away from her home in central Turkey’s Kırşehir province leaving just a note reading “I’m going to Afghanistan of my own accord, I am going to become a Martyr. Don’t worry about me.” She also texted her brother: “I am going to blow myself up and become a martyr. Vallahi victory is Islam’s”. Luckily the Turkish police stepped up their search for this young girl at her family’s behest and she was caught on July 22, 2015 in Hatay Province’s Reyhanlı district on the Syrian Border. But Seçil T.’s story is not unique. Her picture shows her in a headscarf, and some young conservative girls—just like their young male counterparts—have visions of fighting for ISIS in the name of Islam. James Traub, in a book review for the Wall Street Journal, reminds us that “Many of the European “lone wolves” who carry out attacks at home in the name of either ISIS or al Qaeda are . . . bored and alienated young men with giant chips on their shoulders who find in Islam a rationale for their violence.” It is in some ways similar to the young people, male and female, which were willing to risk their lives protesting for liberal democracy in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Young people in the prime years of their lives are lining up to fight for their political ideologies across the political spectrum, a very dangerous development that could be sowing the seeds for a violent civil war in Turkey amidst the global struggle of youth in the face of rising unemployment and frustrations with their governments and lives.

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

 

Some people have noted this sharp rise in violence and can see the writing on the wall. On Wednesday July 22, 2015 two police officers were found dead in their home in Ceylanpınar, killed in their sleep. Terrorists from the Kurdish PKK said the killing was in retaliation for the Suruç bombing because Turkish police officers had been collaborating with ISIS (on July 29, however, the PKK denied responsibility in a strange development). The link between Turkish security forces and ISIS has been posited before, but I personally doubt that these two young men had anything to do with it themselves. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it doesn’t matter, now 25 year old Okan Acar and 24 year old Feyyaz Yumuşak are dead before they could even marry, victims of the failed policies of the country they served.

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

 

This is just a small sample of the steadily increasing violence that threatens Turkey and the region. In the nine days since the Suruç bombing things have gone from bad to worse and 42 people have died—students, soldiers, generals, and police officers:

20 July: Suruç suicide bombing kills 32 dead and wounds 104.

20 July: Specialist Corporal Müsellim Ünal died in a firefight with PKK militants in Adiyaman.

22 July: Police officers Feyyaz Yumuşak and Okan Acar were murdered in their home in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa.

23 July: Sergeant Yalçın Nane was killed by ISIS militants in an attack in Elbeyli, Kilis. Two other soldiers were wounded.

23 July: Police officer Tansu Aydın was killed in Diyarbakir.

25 July: Gendarme Sergeant Major İsmail Yavuz and Gendarme Specialist Sergeant Mehmet Koçak were killed in Diyarbakir.

26 July: Police officer Muhammet Fatih Sivri was killed during unrest in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood.

27 July: Major Arslan Kulaksız was killed in Malazgirt, Mus. His wife was wounded in the attack.

28 July: Sergeant Ziya Sarpkaya was killed while talking to his father in civilian clothes in Semdinli, Hakkari.

 

The situation is confusing with everyone putting forth different opinions, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. The government seems to want chaos so as to prove that only it can provide security both domestically and regionally; a Cumhuriyet story showed how, over the last fifteen years, as violence increased so too did support for the AKP. By now bombing PKK positions in Syria and restarting the Kurdish-Turkish war of the 1980s and 1990s the AKP is trying to project an image of Kurds as terrorists so as to win back the votes they lost to the Kurdish HDP in the June elections. And, unfortunately, this means the United States may have miscalculated as well.

But what isn’t confusing, what is very clear, is that this needs to stop. The divisive policies of bringing back the left-right fighting of the 1970s, of fomenting Turkish-Kurdish mistrust and bringing back the war of the 1990s, of supporting ISIS on the battlefield as a bulwark against Kurdish gains on the ballot, will not get Turkey anywhere. It only means that more young people will die just so that the AKP can stay in power of a slowly disintegrating nation. It is reassuring that some people can see the dangerous path Turkey is heading down: On July 28, 2015 the fan groups of Turkey’s three biggest football teams came together again, as they did during the Gezi protests. Beşiktaş’s Carşı, Fenerbahçe’s Genç Fenerliler, and Galtasaray’s UltrAslan published a joint declaration on their websites, I have translated it to the best of my abilities and have presented it below in its entirety.

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KAMUOYUNA

Barışın, kardeşliğin, sevginin ve saygının gönüllere hitab eden, birleştirici diline olan inancımız vesilesi ile derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize sonuna kadar inanıyoruz. Beraber ektiğimiz toprağı, beraber içtiğimiz suyu, beraber soluduğumuz havayı bizden sonra gelecek olanlara kirletmeden teslim etmek insanlık borcumuzdur. Bunu başaramadık belki, bari birbirimizi sevelim ve saygı duyalım.

Formalarımızın arkasında hepimizin gizli adı “BARIŞ” yazsın. Hepimizin sponsoru hayat olsun.       

Dünyayı devredeceğimiz çocukların renklerini, seslerini birbirinden ayırmadan o çocukların gözlerine utanmadan bakmak istiyorsak insanlığımızı yeniden hatırlamamız gerekiyor. Medeniyetlere beşiklik yapmış bu toprakların hamurunda şiddet ve ona karşı gelecek kardeşlik ve merhamet duygusunun bu günde var olduğunu biliyoruz. Bize benzemeyenlere ve hayatlarına insan oldukları için saygı duymak zorundayız. Bu aynı zamanda kendimize saygının da bir gereğidir. Dilin bir anlamı da gönüldür. Kalpten kalbe yolun olduğuna inanıyoruz. Dilden ve insandan umudu kesmediğimiz için derdimizi sözcüklerle anlatabileceğimize bu günden yürekten inanıyoruz.

Bu geçici dünyaya insani güzel huylar eşliğinde kırıp dökmeden, kesip biçmeden insana yaraşır, onurlu izler bırakmak istiyoruz.

Taraf olduğumuz yarışmalara, müsabakalara, maçlara olimpiyatlara evet, yenmeye yenilmeye, beraberliğe evet. Ama öldürmeye ve bir insan eliyle ölmeye, “ŞİDDETE” HAYIR.

Bu yüzden çeşitli sebeplerle sürekli olarak haksız ve acımasızca şiddet ve ayrışmaya örnek gösterilen tribüncüler olarak biz söz konusu vatanımızın milletimizin birlik beraberliği, huzur ve güveni olduğu zaman gerisi “TEFERRUAT”tır!

 

TO THE PUBLIC

Due to our belief in unifying language appealing to hearts with peace, brotherhood, love, and respect we believe without question that we can make ourselves understood with words. It is our human responsibility to surrender the soil we have plowed together, the water we have drank together, and the air we have breathed together to those that come after us without polluting it. Maybe we didn’t succeed in this, at least let us love and respect one another.

Our secret name, “PEACE”, should be written on the back of our jerseys. Our sponsor should be life.

If we want to look without shame into the eyes of the children we will hand the world over to, without separating their colors and voices from one another, we need to once again remember our humanity. We know that these days violence and, on the other hand, feelings of brotherhood and compassion exist in the essence of this land that formed the cradle of civilization. We have to respect those who are unlike us, and their lives, because they are people. At the same time this is also a requirement for respecting ourselves. One meaning of language is also heart. We believe there is a road from one heart to another. From this day on we believe from our hearts that we can make ourselves understood with words because we haven’t lost hope in language and people.

We want to leave honorable traces worthy of humanity on this ephemeral world in a kind and humane way, without destroying or killing.

Yes to the competitions we are part of.

Yes to the games we are a part of.

Yes to the matches we are a part of.

Yes to the Olympics we are a part of.

Yes to winning. Yes to losing. Yes to tying.

But NO to “VIOLENCE”, no to killing and dying at the hands of human beings.

Because it is us as football supporters who have constantly—for various reasons—been unfairly and mercilessly depicted as examples of violence and division, we say that when our country is secure, peaceful, and united the rest is just “DETAILS”!


Even a casual fan of Turkish and European football knows the deep divisions between the fans of Istanbul’s fierce rivals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t come together when something bigger than football is at stake. All football fans are not violent thugs intent on destroying everything in sight just like not all Muslim Turks are ISIS sympathizers and not all Kurds are PKK sympathizers and not all Ataturkists are anti-religion. Such blanket labels on groups of people only serves to further divide them into rival camps making cooperation impossible; one Turkish political commentator put it well when he described the one division that does exist–are you, as a person, one for peace or one for fighting? Answering that question will go a long way toward uniting people and saving human lives, preserving the future of a country, and determining the future of a region.

Remember the words of ISIS’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi when proclaiming the caliphate, “RUSH, O Muslims, to your state. Yes, it is your state. Rush, because Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis.” ISIS’ Caliphate “constitutes an exercise in nation-building and a viable alternative to the apostate regimes otherwise covering the face of the earth,” according to James Traub in the Wall Street Journal. Clearly ISIS has an ability to appeal to frustrated Sunni Muslims across the Middle East and beyond, uniting them across the imagined boundaries of the imagined states created in the aftermath of the colonial regimes. By using Sunni Islam as the unifying identity they are able to recruit a vast number of members from many different national backgrounds.

If this global culture war is not to become a violent regional war—or worse—then those of us on the side of democracy, peace, and justice—both political and economic—must unite as well. Whether American or Turkish or Kurdish or any other nationality or religion or ethnicity it is important to remember—like the football fans did—one thing: United we stand, divided we fall.

Turkish Football Federation Elections: Gaziantepspor Vote to Re-Elect Yildirim Demiroren But Might Lose Their Youth Team Facilities To The Government

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On June 25, 2015 Yıldırım Demirören was re-elected as president of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) with 214 of 219 votes; 5 votes were invalid. Mr. Demirören’s tenure started in 2013 in the wake of the match-fixing scandal that Turkish football has yet to recover from and he was able to stave off the challenge of former TFF president Haluk Ulusoy who, in announcing his candidacy, criticized the federation for the controversial Passolig system. Mr. Demirören himself is a controversial figure and his time as Beşiktaş president was marked by extravagant spending—in his eight years at Beşiktaş 84 players and 8 managers were signed—that left the team swimming in debt; as an example Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque’s tenure at Beşiktaş lasted just 233 days but he and his assistants left with a severance package worth 7,961,767 Euros after interest. Still, despite his perceived shortcomings and known rapport with President Erdoğan, Mr. Demirören was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

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Mr. Erdogan (L) and Mr. Demiroren (R). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/306765/TFF_Baskanligi_secimlerine_Erdogan_damga_vurdu.html

Some commentators, including the daily Cumhuriyet, noted that President Erdoğan’s influence on the federation showed through. To be honest most of the article is pure speculation, such as the point about current Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman who—despite protesting Mr. Demirören earlier in the season due to the financial mess he left Beşiktaş in—gave his support to the current TFF president anyway during the elections. One of the few concrete points made is that former Ankaragücü president Ahmet Gökçek (who compounded the club’s debts from 15 million Turkish Liras to 95 million Turkish Liras), son of Ankara’s outspoken AKP mayor Melih Gökçek, will appear in Mr. Demirören’s administration.

 

What is interesting about this election, however, is the division between football clubs and—seemingly—the inability of the clubs to stand up to either the Football Federation or the government (if it is indeed influencing the federation). On June 10, 2015 the Külüpler Birliği (“Union of Clubs”)—a foundation consisting of all the teams in the Turkish Super League—met and 14 of the 18 top flight teams voiced their support for Mr. Demirören; 4 clubs including Trabzonspor, Gençlerbirliği, Kasimpaşaspor, and Osmanlispor abstained. Gençlerbirliği have always preferred to be independent, with their chairman Ilhan Cavcav having formed the foundation, and with a mainly leftist fan group (Sol Cephe) their abstention wasn’t surprising. On the other hand Kasimpaşaspor and Osmanlispor are teams known to be close to the ruling party (one is from the president’s neighborhood and plays in a stadium named after Mr. Erdoğan, the other was formed out of a team run by the Ankara municipality, Ankara Büyükşehir Belediyespor), so their abstentions were surprising. Trabzonspor’s abstention was also a surprise since their president, Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, is very close to the ruling AKP. Indeed, after it became clear that Mr. Hacıosmanoğlu ended up supporting Mr. Demirören, local media in Trabzon was up in arms calling it “shameful”. 5 members of the Trabzonspor board resigned in the wake of the elections, and former club vice president Sebahattin Çakıroğlu took to Twitter to say “If I don’t spit in your face Haciosmanoğlu I have no honor”. These are harsh words in Turkey, and the division created by the election within Trabzonspor is indeed shocking.

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Choice Words For Mr. Haciosmanoglu From Mr. Cakiroglu. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/306765/TFF_Baskanligi_secimlerine_Erdogan_damga_vurdu.html

But what about the teams that supported Mr. Demirören? Despite the ongoing enmity between the government and Beşiktaş’s Carşı fan group Beşiktaş stood behind the current TFF president. Gaziantepspor, from the southeast, are another team that supported Mr. Demirören despite recent developments that warrant a mention. TÜRGEV, Türkiye Gençlik ve Eğitime Hizmet Vakfı or Turkish Youth and Educational Service Foundation, are a foundation known for its closeness to President Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, who is one of the foundation’s directors. In the wake of the December 17 corruption scandal it became clear that many officials in TÜRGEV, including the president’s own son, were involved in a scheme to buy government land for low prices. The government describes the foundation as a charity.

Now TÜRGEV has set its eyes on land belonging to the Gaziantepspor football club. A 90 thousand square meter plot of land that was rented to the Gaziantepspor football club for 49 years in the late 1990s by the Gaziantep Municipality as grounds for the club’s youth team system is being claimed by TÜRGEV. According to reports a smaller plot of land will be given to the club in return, but even that land is not slated to be for the team’s private use. Apparently the land was promised to TÜRGEV by Fatma Şahin, the only female member of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s cabinet from 2011-2013 and AKP mayor of Gaziantep since the 2014 local elections.

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Gaziantepspor’s Youth Team Facilities. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.zaman.com.tr/spor_gaziantepspor-tesisleri-turgeve-mi-verilecek_2300695.html

Of course Gaziantepspor have yet to say anything in order to not ruffle the feathers of the AKP, so perhaps their silence also explains why they pledged their support to Mr. Demirören in the TFF elections. Celal Doğan, Gaziantepspor’s president from 1993-2006 and Gaziantep mayor from 1989-2003, was a member of the CHP for ten years before being elected as an MP from the leftist Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2015, spoke out about the attempted land seizure:

“Gaziantepspor’un elinden alınmak istenen bu tesis için Antepliler neden ses çıkarmıyor, anlamak mümkün değil? Burası Bilal Erdoğan’a çok mu lazım? Altyapıda yetişecek çocuklar için bu tesis daha önemli değil mi? TÜRGEV’in milyar doları var, bu yere ne ihtiyacı var? Bu kadar hırs niye? Sanırım seçimden önce verilmiş. Trene bakar gibi bakıyoruz. Verenler utansın”

“It isn’t possible to understand why people from [Gazi]Antep are staying quiet regarding this facility that is wanted to be taken from Gaziantepspor. Is this space so necessary for Bilal Erdoğan? Isn’t this facility more important for the kids who will grow up in [Gaziantepspor’s] youth system? TURGEV has millions of dollars, why do they need this space? Why is there this aggressive desire? I think it was given before the elections. We’re watching this as if watching a train. Those that gave [the facility away] should be ashamed.” 

Indeed Mr. Doğan can only watch the proceedings as if watching a train (wreck), and the analogy is fitting. Under the AKP the Turkish government has followed an aggressive policy of securing valuable land in and around city centers and sell it for a profit to various developers. This is the same trend that sparked the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and forced Beşiktaş to re-build their stadium at their own expense (land in central Istanbul is, for obvious reasons, very valuable). This is also the same trend that has sparked various urban renewal projects throughout Turkey, gentrifying neighborhoods and pushing less affluent citizens into mass government built housing outside the cities. With the precedent clear it is unlikely that Gaziantepspor will be able to keep this land since, under the current system, the government has been very successful in getting the land it wants regardless of opposition.

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

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

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.

E-Ticketing Scheme Hits Roadblock in Turkey: What It Means For Turkey and Football

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On May 8th a court in Turkey decided to halt the new “Passolig” system “to avoid consumers being treated unjustly” according to a report in the Hurriyet Daily News. The new system had come into effect almost a month ago on April 15 and heralded an end to traditional paper tickets sold at ticket offices. Anyone who wanted to attend a match in either of Turkey’s top two divisions—the Spor Toto Super Lig and PTT First Division—had to get a card. At the time I was aghast. Having gone to many matches internationally I immediately thought of those like me—how would any foreign football fans get tickets?

The courts should be commended for making a decision that promotes both the health of Turkish civil society and Turkish democracy, not to mention Turkish football as a whole! After implementation the system led to drastically reduced attendances for Spor Toto Super Lig games. In fact, just one (1!) fan of Eskisehirspor acquired one of the new cards. Even when some clubs lowered ticket prices to just 1 Turkish Lira (0.47 USD, 0.35 EUR, 0.27 GBP) it failed to spark interest in the cards. This is mainly because in order to obtain the Passolig card it means providing a picture and personal information—which is written on the back. The card is basically a combination of an ID card and bank card (issued by MasterCard). The rather optimistic reasoning behind the need for personal information can be read as a poor attempt to justify the most blatant of moves to full-on Industrial Football:

 

PASSOLİG Card not only allows fans to safely enter stadiums without waiting in queues, but it also provides clubs a chance to know more about their fans and create new sources of income. Moreover, this card presents its users a wide range of shopping options with its widespread contracted merchants. Its personalized campaigns will both enrich and facilitate user’s lives.

PASSOLİG Credit Card, along with PASSOLİG Debit Card and PASSOLİG Cüzdan Pre-paid Card, are designed to meet all your needs.

 From: http://www.passolig.com.tr/sikca-sorulan-sorular

 

Of course, the football fans saw through this. The desire for personal information is not to create better understanding of consumers and their desires, it is more to curtail the actions of fans that the government sees as a subversive element. Over forty supporter groups signed a declaration saying “The e-ticket system does not only demote the concept of supporters to a customer, but it also files all our private data. The system aims to prevent supporters from organizing and is designed to demolish stadium culture and supporter identity.” One look at all the promotions available to Passolig card holders would support the idea that supporters are being relegated to the role of consumer and consumer alone. For now, the court’s decision is a small victory over the pervasive forces of Industrial Football. But that is not the only victory.

The simple fact that an NGO—the Supporters Rights Solidarity Center (Taraf-Der)—successfully applied to the consumers’ court is in itself a victory for Turkish civil society. Of course, when the first hearing of the case is heard September 25 we will see just how far-reaching this victory is. But it does ensure that the new season will start without the Passolig cards, and therefore certainly represents a victory.

One of the basic facets of a representative democracy (like Turkey) is respect for NGOs that represent the people—one need only look at the victories of the NAACP in the United States to understand this. This is the reason that this court decision should be heralded, especially if it leads to substantial changes in the Passolig card system next fall. While it is extremely difficult to predict how things will play out in the ever changing and extremely complicated halls of the Turkish justice system, I feel that the ultimate outcome of this case will provide a bellwether for the state of—and health of—Turkey’s democracy going forward. As Turkish football is an extremely profitable sector in the Turkish economy I hope that the judges treat this case with the importance it deserves.

 

Note: The statistics posted below are from Sendika.org, a socialist website that—in their own words—aims to “say hello to the proletariat and row against the neo-liberal tide”. With the disclaimer about the website’s politics out of the way, please see how the Passolig card system effected attendances for a few matches in its first weekend, the 30th week of the Turkish Spor Toto Superleague season. Personally I take these numbers with grain of salt, but they still give a good idea of the situation:

Kayseri Erciyesspor-Trabzonspor

Attendance: 11,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Elazigspor: 23.550

Akhisar Belediyespor-Kayserispor

Attendance: 1,100

Attendance for the previous home match against Eskisehirspor: 2,500

Gaziantepspor-Genclerbirligi

Attendance: 4,200

Attendance for the previous home match against Kasimpasaspor: 8,000

Bursaspor-Elazigspor

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Galatasaray: 23,500

Besiktas-Fenerbahce

Attendance: 20,000

Attendance for the previous home derby against Galatasaray: 77,512

 

The stands at the Istanbul Ataturk Stadium were left empty during Besiktas’ match with city rivals Kasimpasaspor:

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/court-halts-controversial-football-e-ticketing-plan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66193&NewsCatID=362

 

Just 285 Passolig owners made the trip to watch Kayseri Erciyesspor face Trabzonspor at the Kadir Has Stadium in Kayseri. Along with 2000 season ticket holders (exempt from the Passolig Card system), it meant just 2,285 fans were in attendance.

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Image Courtesy of: http://www.posta.com.tr/spor/HaberDetay/-Passolig–basladi-tribunler-bos-kaldi-.htm?ArticleID=224823

Turkey’s March 30, 2014 Municipal Elections Complete After Turkish Politicians Donned Team Colors on the Campaign Trail

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The Turkish municipal elections have come and gone, and finally all votes have been counted. Many out there are writing on the relevance —and irrelevance—of the outcome. As some may know, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 45.43% of the vote nationally with 20,560,513 votes compared to 27.77% (12,567,556 votes) for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 15.27% (6,910,256 votes) for the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)—(For complete results please see CNN Turk’s election homepage, from which I have taken all statistics mentioned in this post unless otherwise noted: http://www.cnnturk.com/secim2014/).

Personally I am not surprised that the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party won the most municipalities in this election—after all, most districts in Turkey are rural and therefore are part and parcel of the AKP’s main constituency. What is important, however, is how close the vote was in two of the three largest municipalities in the country, Istanbul and Ankara (The third largest city, Izmir, has been a traditional secularist stronghold and this did not change as the CHP won 49.66% of the vote in the province). In Istanbul the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won 4,096,221 (47.92%) of the vote as opposed to 3,426,602 (40.08%) for the CHP challenger Mustafa Sarigul, and an even closer vote in Ankara (the results of which are currently being contested) resulted in 1.415.973 votes (46.33%) for the AKP incumbent Ibrahim Melih Gokcek and 1,383,786 votes (43.78%) for the CHP challenger Mansur Yavas. Interestingly candidates from the ultra-nationalist third party in this election, the MHP, won just 339,346 (3.97%) in Istanbul and 245,624 (7.77%) in Ankara. Both numbers are far below the 15.27% they garnered nationally.

At this point it helps to look at the results of the last municipal elections in Turkey back in 2009 (Again all statistics are courtesy of CNN Turk: http://secim2009.cnnturk.com). Then too the AKP won, this time 40.04 percent of the vote with 19,073,953 votes while the CHP garnered 28.16% with 13,413,030 votes and the MHP followed with 14.70% with 7,002,686 votes. Interestingly—despite the corruption scandals and ongoing street protests stemming from both domestic and international polices—the AKP gained more than five percent of the vote in 2014’s municipal elections (with just 1.5 million more votes, strangely enough) while the CHP lost just under a percentage point (with a loss of under a million voters) and the MHP gained under a percentage point (with almost the same number of voters). In the big cities is where we see a rather large discrepancy in the 2014 results, however. In the 2009 elections the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won Istanbul with 44.20% (3,080,593 votes) over the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu who garnered 36.96% (2,578,623 votes). In the same year Ankara was won by AKP stalwart Ibrahim Melih Gokcek with 38.47% (939,465 votes) over CHP candidate Murat Karayalcin who got 31.50% (769.299 votes). As a note, this years CHP candidate Mansur Yavas ran for the MHP in 2009 and got 656,895 votes, and 26.90% percent of the total vote. This number is much higher than the MHP’s figure this year, which stands at 245,624 votes and 7.77%. What is clear is that despite the results in the rural provinces—which are the AKP’s breadbasket, so to speak—do not reflect on results in the urban metropolises, which have gone against the ruling party.

But what will this mean for Turkey’s future? Unfortunately, I have to say that it does not look good. Such a divided polity—especially in the cities—does not bode well for stability in any democracy. It bodes even less well in a country like Turkey, where the leader’s democratic ambitions have been questioned, and where widespread claims of voting irregularities (In Turkish and English) were answered in the most comical of terms. When questioned as to why electricity was lost on election night in several districts—home to mainly CHP support—in major cities and hindering the vote count, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz blamed the failures on a cat (in English and Turkish). The fact that this was not an April Fool’s joke is certainly cause for concern.

The ruling AKP government will certainly have to answer some questions in the coming days, but their hypocrisy recently makes me doubt that any concrete answers will come. Back in the summer I wrote a post about how politics were to be outlawed in the soccer stadium (also please see: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-322363-turkish-govt-seeks-to-curb-political-chants-in-stadiums.html). Yet, interestingly enough (and in a cynically hypocritical move), Prime Minister Erdogan did not shy away from donning the “home team’s” scarves when on the campaign trail in various cities—the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu, not to be outdone, did the same; pictures are below. So much for politics and sport being separate in Turkey.

And finally, on a lighter note, this is how some Trabzonspor supporters chose to vote. On Twitter—the same social media site that was banned in Turkey (a ban that President Abdullah Gul himself circumvented, in keeping with his occasional opposition of Prime Minister Erdogan), Trabzonspor fans gave their apathetic opinion on the elections. On their ballots they wrote “2010-2011 Champion Trabzonspor” in reference to the season they finished second to Fenerbahce, who were later indicted in a match fixing scandle, “My Party is Trabzonspor”, “labor’s fight against money” and “our vote won’t count but our conscious will rest’’. It is a strange—and strangely fitting—way to end this particular discussion on Turkish politics.

 

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Trabzonspor Voters Make Their Voice (But Not Vote) Heard (Courtesy: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26116581.asp)

 

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The Culprit Has Been Found–A Cat! (You entered the [electric] Transformer?)

 

Football as the Opiate of the Masses? Turkey’s Politicians Don Team Colors on the Campaign Trail:

23607571 Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Sanliurfa province March 11 with a Sanliurfaspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25981102.asp). Erdogan and the AKP won Sanlifurfa province with 126,637 votes, an overwhelming 60.76% of the province’s vote.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Batman province with a Batman Petrolspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011564.asp). Erdogan and the AKP came in second in Batman province with 50,243 votes, 30.78% of the total. The Kurdish BDP won the province with 91,962 votes, 53.83% of the total.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Adana province March 16 while carrying the duel threat of BOTH an Adanaspor scarf (orange) and Adana Demirspor scarf (light blue) (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26013823.asp). This is ironic on a couple levels. First of all, the two teams are–as can be imagined–bitter rivals. Ideologically, however, the irony should not be lost on anyone. Adana Demirspor are one of the most staunchly socialist teams in Turkey–the team was founded by the railway workers of Turkish State Railways (TCDD). They are, undoubtebly, the workers’ team. In fact, a few years ago the team faced “communist” Italian side Livorno in a well-publicized friendly–unprecedented, since at the time Livorno were in the first division and Adana Demirspor were mired in the third division. Please see this write-up on another blog about the match (http://fireandflames.blogsport.de/2009/09/13/socialism-a-la-turca-or-adana-demirspor-livorno/), and note the communist flags in the stands. Then think for the moment of the absurdity of a conservative Islamist-leaning Prime Minister campaigning with that team’s scarf around his neck. Oh, and by the way–the AKP finished second in Adana province with 63,594 votes and 32.38% of the total. The winners? None other than the (sometimes) fascist sympathizing MHP (whose supporters fought pitched battles with leftists on the streets of Turkey in the 1970s) who garnered 66,800 votes and 34.01% of the total.

AK Parti Zonguldak Mitingi

Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Zonguldak province March 26 with a Zonguldakspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/basbakan-erdogan-millet-pensilvanyaya-osmanli-tokadi-atacaktir-14004.html). Due to the large amount of mining in the region Zonguldakspor are also a worker’s team, supporting the miners. The CHP secured a narrow victory in Zonguldak province with 22,375 votes, 38.80% of the total while the AKP garnered 21,805 votes, 37.81% of the total (Results from Radikal Newspapers website (CNNturk.com still shows the AKP as the victor): http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=67&bs=1).

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Ordu province March 25 with an Orduspor Scarf (Courtesy of:  http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26073880.asp). The AKP won in Ordu Province with a majority of 95,244 votes, 52.02% of the total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Kocaeli province March 15 with a Kocaelispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011498.asp). The CHP could only get 34,787 votes in the province–24.02% of the total–compared to the victorious AKP, which won 71,334 votes and 49.25% of the total.

 

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Denizli province March 25 sporting a Denizlispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.haberler.com/chp-lideri-kilicdaroglu-denizli-de-5828037-haberi/). Again, the CHP finished second in the province with 237,144 votes, 38.76% of the total as compared to the AKP’s 276,927, which was good for 45.26% of the province’s total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Karabuk province March 12 sporting a Kardemir-Celik Karabukspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25993636.asp). The CHP managed a paltry 1,738 votes in the province, good for just 2.61% of the total. The MHP took the province with 34,463 votes and 51.81% of the total (Courtesy of: http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=78&bs=1). I’m not sure whether or not the MHP candidate Rafet Vergili campaigned in the Karabukspor colors.

Turkey’s Social Malaise Comes Out On The Pitch In Trabzon

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Sports are often presented as a figurative “war in peacetime”. Sometimes, however, sports can also become a staging ground for wider social malaise—and create war zones itself. That was the case this weekend, as the Trabzonspor-Fenerbahçe derby at the Hüseyin Avni Aker Stadium in Trabzon had to be abandoned at halftime due to crowd violence. It is the second derby to be abandoned in Turkey this year (I attended the first).

On Saturday night—the night before the derby—I had planned to write a post for this blog on an unfortunate event that occurred at an amputee league match. Yes, you read that right. Not only do amputees have a soccer league in Turkey, but they also have incidents at the matches. On March 9th Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor faced off against Istanbul Özürlülerspor at the Inönü University’s synthetic grass field in Malatya in the Turkish Amputee Football Super League.

According to the news report the guests from Istanbul went up 1-0 in the 12th minute, before Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor got an equalizer in the 36th minute and then a go-ahead goal in the 40th minute. Three minutes later Gazi Öztop of Malatya Bedensel Engellilerspor was sent off for a second yellow—at that point his team-mate, Mustafa Çolak, was sent off as well for dissent. That is when everything fell apart. Çolak was apparently seen to hit the referee, Sadık Kayhan, with one of his crutches before a pitch-invading fan attacked Mr. Kayhan, followed by the rest of Malatya’s team. Kayhan had to escape to the locker room and called the game off while riot police entered the field with tear gas in a bid to restore order.

For me, this was reminiscent of a similarly disgusting event at a Turkish Wheelchair Basketball Super League match between Beşiktaş and Galatasaray on 10 December 2012. Indeed the headlines on Sporx.com were the same for both events—“Sözün Bittiği Yerdeyiz” (We Are At The Point That Words End). In that incident the match had to be abandoned in the second quarter with Galatasaray up by 5 as debris rained onto the court while Beşiktaş and Galatasaray fans clashed; videos of players crawling from damaged wheelchairs were gut-wrenching. In the aftermath, grainy pictures—taken through clouds of tear gas—showed a basketball court strewn with destroyed wheelchairs in an unthinkable embarrassment for two of Turkey’s biggest sporting clubs.

A friend of mine in Istanbul—a life long Galatasaray fan and season ticket holder for the football matches—was so angry that he was brought to tears by the incident—to think that his fans could do such a thing. Indeed, it was unthinkable. It is unthinkable. Yet, Sunday happened in Malatya. And Monday happened in Trabzon. The signs of social malaise, creeping through all levels of Turkish sport, are undeniable.

Before Monday’s match there were fears of major clashes because of the bad blood between the two teams. Fenerbahçe beat Trabzonspor to the Turkish title on the final day of the 2010-11 season, a championship that led to chairman Aziz Yıldırım landing in jail over a match fixing scandal. Snipers were placed on roof-tops surrounding the stadium, a move by Turkish security forces that—according to one news report—angered fans before the match even started.

In the match, Fenerbahçe’s Emmanuel Emenike put Fenerbahçe up 1-0 in the 23rd minute—seven minutes later rocks rained down on the pitch from Trabzonspor’s fans and the referee had to stop the match for ten minutes. When the unruly displays started again in the last minutes of the first half the referees went to the locker room. The match would not continue.

Trabzonspor fan favorite and Turkish national team star, goalkeeper Onur Kıvrak, went outside the stadium with security escorts to urge the fans to leave. His words, however, may have egged them on even more:

We are the followers of this virtuous jersey. But these [events] don’t befit our virtuous fans. We will fight until the death but now is not the time. Now leave in a way befitting of Trabzonspor. Later, we will fight until death.”

I hesitate to brand Kıvrak as a rabble-rouser—he was bold enough to attempt to do something amid the chaos, and that should be applauded. However, one cannot predict the fans’ reactions to his words—perhaps they could have been chosen more wisely. Indeed, Trabzonspor board members were allegedly furious at Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, himself a controversial figure in Turkish football, about Kıvrak’s move while taking a shot at their own fans (!):

President, who sent Onur amongst the fans? There are [alcohol] drinkers and [marijuana] smokers among them. What if someone had stabbed him?

Hacıosmanoğlu just chose to ask the question back: “Who sent Onur?” I’m not so sure anyone sent him, my personal opinion is that he—a representative of the Turkish national team himself—just felt a personal duty to go where no one dared go and confront the social malaise head on.

Unfortunately, he had no calming effect as police wounded in the riots had to be carried into the stadium to be treated by Fenerbahçe’s team doctors (the team was stranded inside the stadium as chaos ensued outside). In the end an armored vehicle had to be brought in to carry the Fenerbahçe team to the airport—at 12:45 am. This was more than four hours after kick off, and more than three hours after the referee called the match off.

In the fall I attended an amateur league match at Çeşmespor’s stadium, in my hometown. There I had written about the tensions simmering below the surface in Turkish society that, unfortunately, tend to come out at sporting events. Hopefully Turkey’s social malaise—that manifests itself most often in the football stadium—will be dealt with. But the weekend ended with improbable violence at an obscure amputee match in central Anatolia before this week started with more probable—and still unacceptable—crowd violence on the Black Sea coast. It is something to be wary of as local elections in the wake of last June’s protests take place later in March. My friend, the life-long Galatasaray fan, told me “The people of this country are full of hate for each other.” As a Turk I certainly hope the politicians take note in this election season. Otherwise, it will certainly be a rocky road ahead—on and off the field.

 

NOTE: All translations are my own.

 

Thanks to Ultras Tifo (http://www.ultras-tifo.net/news/2323-riots-trabzonspor-fenerbahce-10032014.html) for the pictures below, please check the link for more photos from the match.

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The violence was real on the pitch:

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And off the pitch: