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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Attempts to Re-Brand Himself as a Nationalist by Renaming Football Stadiums

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Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a savvy political leader to say the least. He is also very intelligent, and his latest move is another attempt to survive amidst the ongoing global turmoil. Mr. Erdogan sees the rising tide of populist nationalism (most prominently exemplified by June 2016’s “Brexit” and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2016) and is looking to exploit it by re-branding himself as a populist nationalist leader. His latest tactic focuses on football stadiums. On 29 May 2017 Mr. Erdogan announced that he was “going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums”, deeming the word “un-Turkish”. According to The Telegraph, Mr. Erdogan asked a rhetorical question: “What does arena mean? We don’t have such a thing in our language,’ Mr Erdogan added, urging people to examine the ‘meaning and interpretation’ of arenas saying the word was ‘neither polite nor elegant’ “.

 

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Ataturk’s Language Reform. Image Courtesy of: http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkey-83th-anniversary-of-turkish-language-reform-to-be-celebrated-14675/

 

Of course, such a move is not new or unprecedented in Turkish history. Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pursued a language revolution which brought the Latin alphabet to Turkey by eliminating the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish; it was one of the cornerstones of Ataturk’s revolution designed to “Westernize” Turkey. More recently, as scholar Banu Eligur points out in her illuminating book on Political Islam in Turkey, the military did the same after the 1980 intervention when “the state-owned television issued a long list of words that were banned from use over the network” (Eligur, 2010: 117). According to the author, “the state was not simply expected to promote a conservative understanding of national culture, but to discourage—or, as one document puts it—to ‘extinguish’ modernist movements in literature and the arts” (Eligur, 2010: 117). This is the same kind of consolidation that Mr. Erdogan is looking to achieve with his attempt to ban the word “arena” from use in Turkish stadiums; it is also an attempt for Mr. Erdogan to equate himself with Ataturk.

 

 

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According to Mr. Erdogan’s Decree, the Names of Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena (Top) and Besiktas’ Vodafone Arena (Bottom) Will Have to Change. Images Courtesy of https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g293974-d2329797-i222044743-Turk_Telekom_Arena-Istanbul.html (Top) and http://www.vodafonearena.com.tr/_assets/images/layout/og-image.jpg (Bottom).

 

It would behoove observers to realize that Mr. Erdogan’s purported goal is a façade. After breaking with Fethullah Gulen—the reclusive Islamic cleric blamed for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt—Erdogan is looking to become more of a nationalist and less of a globalist (as Mr. Gulen is). Mr. Gulen, who is undoubtedly an Islamist, embraces a globalist vision without countries; it is a vision where an Islamic umma (believers) is united as Muslims and not Turks, Egyptians, Iranians, etc. State media in the United States decided to publish a statement by Mr. Gulen (himself a traitor to his country) on 15 May 2017, in which he states his position clearly. He argues that:

 

school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader. [Emphasis added].

 

It is remarkable how closely Mr. Gulen’s emphasis on “pluralistic values” and “critical thinking” resembles the indoctrination strategies of many universities in the United States, where “critical thinking” is a code-word for anything but; in reality it means “think like your professors think”. Mr. Gulen’s decrying of nationalism and the “veneration of the state or any leader” fits in with the same anti-nationalist rhetoric of globalists around the world. That American state media should publish the words of a shady Islamic cleric is, also, sadly not surprising. The Washington Post turned against Mr. Erdogan since his split with Mr. Gulen; after Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards thuggishly attacked anti Erdogan protesters in May of 2017 the newspaper called Mr. Erdogan’s security detail “thugs” and “goons”. That the newspaper is finally outing Mr. Erdogan for his authoritarianism does not absolve them of their guilt for supporting Mr. Erdogan (while he still worked with Mr. Gulen) during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 when Max Fisher cited a poll which said Mr. Erdogan had “high approval ratings” despite the protests. The false nature of the claims—designed to discredit the anti-government protestors—is made clear by the newspaper’s own admission of misrepresenting the facts. A disclaimer in the story reads:

 

Correction: This post originally indicated that the Pew poll had been taken after protests began. In fact, it was taken in March, before protests started. 

 

It seems “fake news”, or at least deliberate misrepresentation of the facts by state media in the U.S., was alive and well long before the Donald Trump era in a bid to prop up Mr. Erdogan. Now, having lost his globalist ally, state media is changing their tune just as Mr. Erdogan is. It is important to realize that Mr. Erdogan is merely adapting to a changing world without truly changing at all.

The fact that Galatasaray was the first team to change the name of their stadium in response to Mr. Erdogan’s comments is not surprising (the team has been close to Mr. Erdogan), but it is indicative of the falseness inherent in Mr. Erdogan’s comments. Sports Illustrated reported that Galatasaray changed their stadium’s name from “Turk Telekom Arena” to “Turk Telekom Stadium”. But…what is a “stadium”? Is “stadium” not a non-Turkish word? Of course it is, and it underlines the ridiculousness of the call to erase “Arena” from Turkish stadiums; it is more ridiculous when one realizes that most of the new stadiums built in Turkey under the AKP regime have been named…arenas. Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-brand himself by separating himself from the era of Gulenist influence but it will not be that easy since Mr. Erdogan is not a nationalist, and has never been one.

As Banu Eligur notes, Mr. Erdogan said in January 1995 that “the 21st century will be an era in which systems that are based on Islam will come to power in the world” (Eligur, 2010: 162). Islamism is, clearly, not compatible with nationalism, itself a secular ideology. Thus, it is unlikely that Mr. Erdogan’s about face is credible. It shouldn’t be surprising, since his own reformist wing within the Turkish Islamist movement founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP); it was a wing that, according to Eligur, “placed a greater value on electoral victory, which required a significant expansion of the party’s constituency base, than on the religious purity of the membership” (Eligur, 2010: 198). In other words, Mr. Erdogan was never really a Islamist (in terms of faithfulness to the religion of Islam), rather he was looking for votes (and by extension) power. Thus his new-found populist nationalism is similarly false.

To understand this, Banu Eligur’s work is again useful. Eligur ends her book by pointing out that

 

Islamism, unlike Turkish nationalism, does not accept the notion of a Turkish identity. Turkish nationalism, as a secular ideology, seeks to protect both the secular and the unitary character of the state. The Islamist movement is likely to have a hard time competing against the very foundations of the secular-democratic Turkish Republic: the Turkish nationalism of Ataturk. However, Islamist entrepreneurs may opt once again, as they have after each threat to the survival of their movement, to reframe their message to the Turkish people so as to neutralize the nationalist challenge and secure the power and appeal of the Islamist movement in Turkey. (Eligur, 2010: 283)

 

This is the essential point that observers of Turkey should keep in mind at this critical juncture in history. Mr. Erdogan’s move regarding stadium naming policy is—to borrow Eligur’s term—a “reframing” of the message. Mr. Erdogan, being the observant leader that he is, senses the rising tide of populist nationalism in the world and is looking to reframe himself in that context. None should be fooled, however, as to Mr. Erdogan’s intentions. He is still a politician who—in the context of extreme capitalism—is looking to keep his hold on power in Turkey using whatever methods necessary. Due to the global context, for the foreseeable future it seems as if Mr. Erdogan will look to exploit Turkish nationalism as a means to keep his hold on power and the Turkish state.

 

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Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg
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A Footballer’s Response to Turkey’s Referendum Shows The Failure of Europe’s “Multiculturalism” in the Context of Extreme Capitalism

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After the Turkish referendum of 16 April 2017, the plaudits came in from some unexpected sources including U.S. President Donald Trump and dual Turkish/French national footballer Mevlut Erdinc (Erding in Europe). What is notable about both responses is that they show the extent to which “democracy” and “freedom” are relative terms; in the modern world they have become mere words far detached from their actual meanings. I will first discuss Mr. Trump’s response before focusing on Mr. Erdinc’s, in order to show how both responses represent the flaws inherent in what we—in the West—have come to believe “democracy” means.

Following the “YES” victory in the Turkish referendum that paves the way for a constitutional change, U.S. President Donald Trump called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the fact that the President is a ceremonial position in Turkish politics, and is technically impartial, was apparently lost on the U.S. leadership). Perhaps recognizing this fact, the U.S. government later backtracked and claimed that the call was not so much congratulatory, rather that it “focused on terrorism”. Regardless of what was discussed, it is likely that the U.S. was truly just “checking in”, so to speak, so as to ensure that Turkey was still on board with Mr. Trump’s war on ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East. While the call may have been a poor decision—and CNN certainly thought it was —Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article makes a useful point:

Erdogan will never do away altogether with democracy: It’s not in his interest. Keeping a semblance of democratic norms can be useful to the ruler; it allows him to refute any charges that he’s a dictator.

 Unfortunately for Ben-Ghiat, whose point here is well taken and one I will expand on further, she (like so much of State media in the United States) loses credibility by following up with this statement:

Trump’s public support for Erdogan is a serious thing: It’s another nail in the coffin of America’s prestige in the world as a beacon (no matter if flawed) of freedom. Trump’s seeking out the favor of Erdogan, like his shameless courting of Putin, should startle Republicans out of their favorite recurring fantasy: that Trump will go “mainstream” and support democratic norms in America and elsewhere.

She—like many in U.S. mainstream media—misses the point that “democracy”, whether espoused by the U.S. or Europe, is on the ropes (please see the BBC for a detailed explanation of Democracy’s recent failures). Indeed, State media’s Washington Post similarly embarrassed themselves with this line in Daniel W. Drezner’s column:

If it were president Hillary Clinton or president Barack Obama at this moment in time, they probably would have publicly voiced qualms about the referendum while still maintaining a prickly partnership with Ankara.

 Mr. Drezner attempts to qualify his position with this statement:

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

What Mr. Drezner essentially advocates is lying to the American people: in his mind Mr. Obama (or Ms. Clinton) would have publically squawked while privately continuing their work with Turkey. How this is preferable to a leader actually coming out and openly showing (through rhetoric) the problems with America’s pursuit of “democracy” is beyond me; I might not agree with Mr. Trump’s decision to “congratulate” Mr. Erdogan (if that is even what he actually did) but I still prefer it to the fakery that Mr. Drezner seemingly prefers. In order to understand just how deeply the failures of democracy run, however, we need to move beyond Mr. Trump and the United States. After all, the United States does not seem to be as bad as Europe when it comes to contradicting democracy.

Another public figure who praised Mr. Erdogan in the wake of the referendum is Turkish national team footballer Mevlut Erdinc, himself a dual Turkish and French national. In a Tweet Mr. Erdinc says “Before being a footballer I am a normal person; I have a position I have thoughts I am free”. Beside this caption Mr. Erdinc posted a picture of Mr. Erdogan, seated, with the word “Baskan” (Turkish for “President”) written in the font the Godfather movies made famous. That this picture essentially equates the Turkish leader (himself known for corruption) with a mafia leader is a fascinating topic on its own, yet it also goes much deeper—into the issues of mainstream European politics.

 

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A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/04/17/referandum-sonrasinda-mevlut-erdincten-erdogan-icin-baskan-paylasimi-614120/

 

That a sports figure would openly express support for Mr. Erdogan’s government—despite the government’s failure in the field of sport (which has seen a rise in doping related penalties and a 70 percent decrease in attendance for football matches in the top two tiers since the beginning of the Passolig system) —is notable in and of itself. Yet this support is understandable when we recognize that Mr. Erdinc is a “European” Turk, by virtue of his French citizenship.

“European” is in quotation marks because Europe has, in recent years, strayed from what it was known for: free thought and democratic values. The Gatestone Institute wrote a recent piece entitled “Europe: Making itself into the new Afghanistan?”, which underlines the odd way that catering to the sentiments of the Muslim minority actually makes Europe less democratic in the long run; artists self-censor their art while museum directors cancel exhibitions for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. Algerian writer Kamel Daoud puts it well:

Those (migrants) who come to seek freedom in France must participate in freedom. Migrants did not come to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia, but in Germany. Why? For security, freedom and prosperity. So they must not come to create a new Afghanistan.

This comment—which I am sure is controversial to some—underlines the limits of cultural pluralism in Europe (something Stephen Steinberg has noted has limits in the United States, much to the consternation of Sociologists who are threatened by the notion that celebrating difference can be problematic and undemocratic). Unfortunately, sometimes the focus on diversity means that the perceived “difference” of others becomes concretized; the social construction becomes real because society over-emphasizes it. Nowhere is this more evident than modern Europe, as results from the Turkish referendum show.

According to NTV, it was European Turks who all but turned the tide in the referendum. While the general result was a win for “YES” by 51.4% to 48.6%, the result among international voters was 59.5% to 40.6% in favor of “YES”. Among these “YES” votes, the highest percentages came from Western European countries: Germany (63% “YES”); Austria (73% “YES”); Belgium (75% “YES”); Denmark (61% “YES”); France (65% “YES”); Holland (71% “YES”); Norway (57% “YES”). Clearly, international votes were crucial in the referendum, and unstamped votes were counted even in the international voting.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#yurt-disi

 

It should be worrying to Europeans that Turks living within the perceived “liberal” climate of Europe chose to vote “YES”, since it shows the distinct failure of Europe’s “liberal” policies. Clearly, the Turks living in the context of Europe’s cultural pluralism did not internalize the “values” of Europe—freedom of expression and freedom of speech (the same values that are under attack in art galleries and museums which silence artists for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities)—rather they voted to increase the power of a president who aims to curtail freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Turkey. In effect these “European” Turks—like Mevlut Erdinc—became more, and not less, conservative despite living in Europe. They effectively doubled down on their ethnic identity—itself tied to Islam—in the wake of European othering under the guise of cultural pluralism.

This is just one example of how “democracy”, as it is known it in the West, can be subverted. As Burak Bekdil of the Gatestone Institute points out, “Turks Vote[d] To Give Away Their Democracy”. Mr. Bekdil points out that the voters chose to support a party that has purged thousands: 

According to Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu:

  • 47,155 people have been jailed since the coup attempt on July 15;
  • 113,260 people have also been detained;
  • 41,499 people have been released with condition of judicial control and 23,861 people have been released without any condition; 863 other suspects remain at large;
  • 10,732 of those who have been arrested are police officers, while 168 military generals and 7,463 military officers have been jailed as of April 2, 2017;
  • 2,575 judges and prosecutors

 

The fact that “democracy” has supported such undemocratic policies may be astounding, yet it shouldn’t be. Mr. Erdogan, in his bid to ingratiate himself to the “West” in order to continue the inflow of capital in the context of neoliberalism, has celebrated his response to the 15 July 2016 Coup attempt as being in the name of “Democracy”. This obsession with the word—and not the practice—of democracy has manifested itself in many ways: A new “Martyrs and Democracy” museum is opening in Ankara to remember victims of the failed coup of 15 July 2016. and the island of Yassidada—where former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hung, among other political figures—has also become “Democracy and Freedom Island”. The AKP even moved to authorize construction on the island (and increased the amount of construction allowed after the referendum), turning the former prison island into a tourist resort, since it is one of the few unspoiled spots of land available for development. These are just small examples of how the ideas of Western liberalism are being used to support decidedly illiberal policies; it is a failure of “the West” to separate “neoliberalism” from “liberalism”.

 

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The “Original” Yassiada. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/infamous-istanbul-island-home-to-menderes-trial-renamed-democracy-and-freedom-island.aspx?pageID=238&nID=57571&NewsCatID=341

 

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Yassiada Now. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/ekonomi/yassiada-daha-da-beton-olacak-1803736/

 

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The Name Change Is Complete on Google Maps. Image Courtesy of Google Maps.

 

Unfortunately, this trend—of putting capital before community—looks set to continue. The European Union has looked to “reset ties with Turkey”, in the eyes of The Wall Street Journal, perhaps seeking a return to the status quo ante. Regardless of what happens, it is clear that the European brand of liberal pluralism has failed. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess, but it would behoove all of us to realize that “democracy” has become just a word, used in certain contexts in order to receive certain returns in political and material terms. In effect, the concept of “democracy” itself has become commodified; it has become something to be bought and sold in intellectual and political circles, like so much else in the age of extreme capitalism.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/illustration/turkey-flag-map-with-business-man-shouting-royalty-free-illustration/585516128

 

A Marginal Sociologist’s View on the Turkish Referendum and What the Future May Hold: The Fault lines Revealed Say Something About the World, Not Just Turkey

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Despite my earlier predictions, Turkish voters chose “YES” for a new constitution in the referendum of Sunday 16 April 2017 by a narrow 51.3%-48.7% margin. In my defense, the vote was marred by irregularities including ballot stuffing and a controversial decision to allow unstamped ballots to count. According to CNN’s piece, monitors

 

described a litany of shortcomings.

  • The state of emergency imposed after a failed coup last July had a profound effect on the political process. “Fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed,” the monitors’ report said. “The dismissal or detention of thousands of citizens negatively affected the political environment.”
  • State media was biased in favor of Erdogan and did not adequately cover opposition. “The legal framework for the referendum neither sufficiently provides for impartial coverage nor guarantees eligible political parties equal access to public media,” she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said.
  • Monitors saw “no” supporters subjected to police intervention at events and senior officials in the “yes” camp equated them with terrorists.
  • The involvement of Erdogan and other national and local public figures in the “yes” campaign led to a “restrictive” and “imbalanced” campaign framework, she [monitor Tana de Zulueta] said. The decision on the day of the vote to allow unstamped ballots “significantly changed the ballot validity criteria, undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”

 

In typical fashion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the monitors’ report, telling international observers to “know their place”. Given that Turkey’s three largest cities—Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir—all said no, it is very likely that voting irregularities did indeed turn the tide for the “YES” side. Indeed, it was noted that many polling places in southeast Turkey recorded clean sweeps (as in 97 for “YES” to 0 for “NO” in one case where all vote counters were relatives), the kind of questionable results that are common in authoritarian regimes. In fact the results were much closer in many Istanbul districts than would have been expected, as a look at Istanbul’s district by district results show. In conservative Eyup “NO” won out 51.54% to 48.46% while in conservative Fatih “YES” won with a similarly narrow 51.38%-48.62% result. With results this close—in even notoriously conservative districts—in an election where the majority of big cities went against the AKP for the first time since the party came to power, it is unrealistic to think that the “YES” win was truly “free and fair”.

 

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Three Largest Cities Say No. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39622335

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97 “YES” to 0 “NO” in Southeast Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province. Note the vote counters’ last names—they’re the same! Image Courtesy Of: http://ilerihaber.org/icerik/aile-boyu-saibe-urfada-dokzan-yedi-evet-0-hayir-cikan-oylari-sayanlarin-hepsi-akraba-70744.html

 

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Results Were Closer Than Expected In Some Conservative Districts of Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/istanbul-2017-referandum-sonuclari-evet-ve-hayir-oy-oranlari-1784854/

 

 

Despite the controversy, the “YES” side won. As President Erdogan said—using a football analogy, no less—“I come from a football background. It doesn’t matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game.” Given that the “game” was won—albeit with an offside goal (!) perhaps—we now need to analyze what it means. I believe that the fault lines that the referendum revealed in Turkish society mirror the fault lines we see in the world today, but it is not all doom and gloom for Turkey since the future could be brighter than many “experts” seem to believe.

Many political pundits seemed despondent in the wake of the results, with The Guardian’s Yavuz Baydar saying “Erdogan’s referendum victory spells the end of Turkey as we know it” and Foreign Policy penning a piece titled “RIP Turkey”. At first glance, the pessimism seems warranted; the kind of polarization seen in the election map—where, in this case, the tourist and industrial centers on the coasts and Kurdish areas in the southeast voted “NO” and the long-neglected peripheral provinces of central Anatolia voted “YES”—is reminiscent of the societal polarization seen in the wake of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States.

 

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Turkey’s Results. Blue is “NO”, Red is “YES”. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

While I have seen many observers describe this phenomenon as one pitting the “educated” and “cosmopolitan” urban areas against the “ignorant” and “backward” rural areas, I believe there is another answer; it an answer that does not try to degrade one group in the face of another, rather it is an answer that tries to get to the root of what might be called a budding global crisis. Rather than an “urban/rural” divide, I think we are seeing a divide between “capital-rich regions” and “capital-poor regions”. This is to say that regions rich in capital—due to foreign investment or development—are typically urban while regions rich in capital—devoid of foreign investment or development—are typically rural. Of course the ethnic aspect of the Kurdish areas (themselves also capital-poor) adds another dynamic to the Turkish case, but—generally speaking—ethnically Turkish “capital-poor” regions voted along the same lines for “YES”. It is also important to note that the terms “capital rich” and “capital poor” do not refer to individuals living in those areas, rather it refers to general regional attributes (like the number of foreign companies present, etc.).

This situation affects traditional voting patterns. In the past people voted on what they thought was best for their country; while there may have been different parties with different goals, they tended to be different visions for the same end goal: the betterment of the country as a whole. In the current situation, with politicians more and more beholden to corporate interests and capital and less to their countries, there is little middle ground to be had for voters. For many politicians and wealthy donors the end goal is not the betterment of the country, rather it is the betterment of personal bank accounts. Thus the stark divide as politicians look to win votes (to better their own economic situations) by polarizing the electorate: it is a classic situation of divide and conquer in the context of a zero sum game.

An example of how this manifests itself is the case of Izmir businessman Selim Yasar, a member of the board of Yasar Holding, which owns the foodstuffs brand Pinar, the sponsor of the Pinar Karsiyaka basketball team (the Yasar family has also been involved with the Karsiyaka football team). After posting a Tweet reading “YES thank you to the Turkish public that made the right choice!”, fans of the Karsiyaka team slammed Mr. Yasar on Twitter to the point that the Tweet was deleted. This is not surprising, since Karsiyaka’s fan group Carsi has ran foul of the government before for sending political messages (much like the other Carsi group, fans of Istanbul team Besiktas). When fans confronted Mr. Yasar on social media, reminding him that his district (of Karsiyaka) voted overwhelmingly against the referendum (83.2% “NO”, one of the highest rates in the country), Mr. Yasar responded with a threat that the team’s sponsorship deal would need to be “reconsidered” so as not to fall afoul of Ankara [the government] following such a high percentage of “NO” votes in the district. In the authoritarian climate fostered by the referendum results, of course, such bold threats are not surprising.

Here we clearly see that the businessman is putting his own interests first, likely knowing that cultivating good relations with the government will mean more business deals and increased profits; for Mr. Yasar is voting along the lines of what will bring more money in. Mr. Yasar is a good example of how, under extreme capitalism, politics can get polarized (and, at times, ugly). Indeed the local—and even the team—is of no concern to Mr. Yasar. In order to cultivate support from the government, Mr. Yasar is willing to end his relationship to the sports team (or at least publically threaten to do so in the name of appeasing the state).

 

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Mr. Yasar Vs. The Fans. Images Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/evet-kutlamasi-yapan-yasar-holding-karsiyakali-taraftarla-karsi-karsiya-geldi-193445 (TOP) and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/karsiyaka-taraftarina-tezahurat-sorusturmasi-40074959 (Bottom).

 

This brings me to why it may not be all doom and gloom for Turkey. First of all, there is a disconnect between what the state wants (the “YES” camp) and what the capital rich regions want (they mainly voted “NO”). This kind of divide will likely not be sustainable, especially given that the AKP has built itself on a foundation of economic “stability” and “development” (processes that affect capital rich regions). Mr. Erdogan has upped his populist rhetoric to speak to the capital poor regions of ethnically Turkish Central Anatolia, but that betrays his neoliberal leanings. His recent attempt to bridge these contradictory positions shows how untenable the situation is. At a ceremony marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammed on 22 April 2017, Mr. Erdogan said:

How can one who does not listen to the voices of millions of Muslim children who have been killed in Syria regard himself a follower of the Prophet? You must have seen the father who was holding his deceased twins after the chemical attack [in Syria]. How long will those villains continue their cruelties without paying the price? What are we called just because we speak against them? They call us dictator. Let them say that. We will continue to raise our voices against them. Because our Prophet preaches ‘consent to cruelty is cruelty.

While his pursuit of justice in the Muslim world is underlined here, it also conspicuously ignores the role that Turkey played in undermining Syrian stability by turning a blind eye to militants streaming into Syria from Turkey; this type of hypocritical position is not sustainable in the long term. Neither is the fact that, following the coup of 15 July 2016, much of Turkey’s civil society (including government officials, diplomats, and judges) has been purged for relationships with reclusive cleric Fetullah Gulen. The AKP was built on the foundations of a relationship with Mr. Gulen and his followers; without that deep-seated support—which penetrated all levels of the Turkish state—it is unlikely that the AKP can retain its institutional cohesion.

Perhaps most heartening, however, is the fact that—for arguably the first time in Turkish history—we truly see the liberal communities of coastal Turkey taking the same side as the Kurdish communities of eastern Anatolia. One look at the voting map shows this convergence based on shared interests. When one takes into account the close vote in conservative districts—and the fact that the biggest cities all voted “NO”—we can infer that many conservative Turks were also against the constitutional change. In this atmosphere, we see a rare opportunity for Turks of all stripes—conservative and liberal, Muslim and secular, ethnically Turkish and ethnically Kurdish—to come together.

 

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Most Big cities, Excepting Bursa, Voted “NO”. Among the Top 10 “YES” Voting Provinces (In the Red Column), Most Were From Central Anatolia. The Top 10 “NO” Voting Provinces (In the Blue Column) Were a Mix of Kurdish Provinces (5) and Liberal Coastal Provinces on the Aegean and Thracian Coasts (5). Note also that “NO” percentages in Turkey’s most Liberal City (Izmir) and Turkey’s Main Kurdish City (Diyarbakir) Were Virtually Identical: 68.80% to 67.59%. Image Courtesy Of: http://referandum.ntv.com.tr/#turkiye

 

Likely, it will necessitate the rise of a new political party or at least a new charismatic political leader to bring these disparate groups together. Such a party would probably have to be socially conservative (but not Islamist), much in the way America’s Republican party is conservative and not specifically religious, and it would have to be nationalist (civically, and not ethnically, so as to include Turkey’s Kurdish citizens) to have success. If such a movement mobilizes, it is likely that it will also benefit from fractures that have emerged within the AKP following the split with the Gulenists, and could mount a challenge to Mr. Erdogan in the 2019 Presidential election (which this referendum ensures). This means that a new opposition party could emerge to exploit the close nature of the referendum; if well-organized enough it would be able to challenge Mr. Erdogan, who could then actually lose the election in 2019 (and with it the power) he hoped to gain through the referendum in the first place! Hopes for a truly inclusive Turkey may actually be more alive after the referendum than they were before the referendum, and that is another perspective from which the referendum results can be viewed.

 

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

 

Football Emerges as a Key Battlefield in Turkey’s Culture Wars Ahead of April’s Referendum: The Role of Football in Shaping Public Opinion

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As the culture wars heat up in Turkey ahead of April’s referendum in which Turkey will vote on a switch to a Presidential system which would give current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (and his Justice and Development (AKP) Party) unprecedented power, the campaign has gotten odder and odder. Mr. Erdogan, in pushing for a “Yes” vote, has brought the campaign into a Kafkaesque (or Orwellian, depending on your literary sympathies) realm. The President has taken to attacking all enemies—real or imagined—in his attempt to play on “collective narcissim”, a concept I will return to later. This process has created more than a few absurdities (imagining enemies is, after all, not the easiest of endeavors), and it is not surprising that football has shown itself to be a key battlefield in which this process has unfolded.

The BBC reported on 24 February  2017 that Turkey was saying “No” to saying “No”. Mark Lowen’s piece shows how “The demonisation of the word “no” is reaching new, seemingly absurd levels”. While Erdogan’s government claims that “No” voters are “terrorists” siding with the coup plotters of 15 July 2016, their tactics for encouraging that line of thinking are getting odd. Lowen notes that “Anti-smoking leaflets prepared by the Ministry of Health were suddenly withdrawn because they contained the word “hayir” – “no” – in red capital letters. A government MP said “they could be misunderstood” and that even an Oscar nominated film—entitled “No”—was taken off the air by Digiturk, Turkey’s main cable provider that was recently bought by Qataris friendly to Mr. Erdogan. Lowen even notes how a common Islamic greeting has been attacked:

 

A common expression typically used by conservatives is “hayirli cuma”, wishing a blessed Friday. But as “hayir” also means no, some are now preferring “cuma mubarek”, an alternative blessing (with the same meaning).

 

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Tweets Showing the Change in Langue Being Used. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39064657

 

Examples like this reformulation of an Islamic greeting—to meet political ends—show that Mr. Erdogan is not truly the champion of Islam that he claims to be, but this is should not come to a surprise to anyone. His use of Islam as a political tool was uncovered most recently by German weekly Der Spiegal, which claims that the Turkish state is using Imams in German mosques to spy on Germany’s Turkish community; Germany’s largest Muslim organization (the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs—DITIB) has become “an extended arm of the Turkish president, Erdogan” according to  Islam expert Susanne Schröter, working towards its ultimate goal: “to divide the Turkish community abroad between friends and foes of the regime”. This crude exploitation of religion shows how cynical and false the Turkish President’s religiosity is.

But Mr. Erdogan has often looked to portray himself as many other things he is not, including a man of the people and a staunch Turkish nationalist. One would be hard pressed to see Mr. Erdogan as a “man of the people” after watching a BBC interview with one of his main allies in the construction sector, Ali Agaoglu, who makes shocking comments by referring to women as “his property”, and boasting about kicking people out of their homes. It is the kind of interview that makes one cringe, a celebration of the uncouth nouveau-riche class that has been nurtured in Turkey, through corruption, during the AKP’s rule. In addition to not being a true champion of Islam or a man of the people, Mr. Erdogan is—as I will show below—also not a true nationalist; rather he is more of an opportunist who follows the political winds to further his own (and sometimes his allies’) economic and political gain(s).

Mr. Erdogan’s brand of faux-nationalism has been on full display during the referendum campaign.  He decided to suspend diplomatic ties with the Netherlands after the Dutch (not completely unjustifiably) took issue with Turkish campaigning among the immigrant Turkish community for a “Yes” vote. Erdogan further played the nationalist card when he said, on 23 March 2017, that “Turkey would review EU ties after the referendum”, and his insults to German Chancellor Angela Merkel have ruffled a few feathers in Germany even among the Turkish community. Apart from the fact that such actions show Mr. Erdogan’s belief that he will win, it is more important that such bellicose statements towards the EU play on a sense of nationalism that is destructive to Turkey. Any true Turkish nationalist—who has the best interests of their country in mind—would not be in the business of fomenting crises with Europe. Of course, any true nationalist also would not have gotten involved in the Syrian quagmire either; such events—where Mr. Erdogan acts with only his own—and not his country’s—best interests in mind only serve to prove his false nationalism.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this fake nationalism came on 24 March 2017 when an AKP banner reportedly appeared in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, a mainly Kurdish city, with the words “Every Yes [vote] is a Fatiha [Prayer] for Sheikh Said And His Friends”. For those who are unfamiliar with Turkish history, the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925 was (in the words of Wikipedia) a “Kurdish rebellion aimed at reviving the Islamic caliphate”. It was, essentially, a rebellion against the formation of modern Turkey. By invoking Sheikh Said, Mr. Erdogan is both becoming an “ethnic entrepreneur” (by appealing to Kurdish sympathies in a crude—and reckless—manner) and risking the further fragmentation of his country. Clearly, these are not the actions of a true nationalist who loves his country, rather these actions represent the risky—yet at the same time, seemingly contradictory and calculated—actions of a man who is looking to cement his power at all costs. A recent Foreign Policy piece by Elliot Ackerman details how, in the run-up to the November 2015 snap elections, “Erdogan argued to the electorate that the stability provided by a strong AKP majority was the safest course for Turkey. He chose not to emphasize that his own policies had largely created this instability.” The same process is unfolding again—Erdogan is fomenting crises abroad (while crudely playing to Kurdish sentiment after re-igniting a war with them so as to profit politically) to give the impression that only he can provide stability. But in order to make the case for stability there must first be instability, which Erdogan has created with his own hands. Given the absurdity of the situation it is no wonder that football has not been immune.

 

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The Banner In Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/706071/Seyh_Sait_ile__Evet__isteyen_AKP_ye_Burhan_Kuzu_nun_tweetini_hatirlattilar.html

 

On 24 March 2017 one of Turkey’s biggest sports dailies, Fotomac, distributed a 16-page flyer in support of a “Yes” vote in the April Referendum. That the flyer from the Turkish Foundation for Youth (in which Mr. Erdogan’s son Bilal holds a prominent position, no less) was distributed is not surprising; the paper is owned by the ATV-Sabah group, a pro-government media conglomerate that publishes the Daily Sabah—one of the state’s main propaganda arms aimed at English speakers (Just one example of their propaganda appears here (https://www.dailysabah.com/elections/2017/03/28/germany-bans-yes-rallies-but-continues-propaganda-for-no-at-full-speed ).

 

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The Flyer Distributed By One Of Turkey’s Most Popular Sports Dailies. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/706056/Yandas_spor_gazetesi__evet__eki_dagitiyor.html

 

Meanwhile a three-year referee from Sinop Province was relieved of his duties by the Turkish Football Federation for a posting on social media which supported a “No” vote. As the BBC also noted, saying “No” in the workplace is dangerous—Television newscaster Irfan Degirmenci from Kanal D was similarly relieved of his duties for saying “No” on social media while pointing out “those from pro-government channels are free to say ‘yes’ – and if I had tweeted that, I would be offered new positions with better money. But when I say that the constitutional change would create a one-man rule in Turkey, I’m fired’”. The referee, Ilker Sahin, pointed out a similar double standard when he said:

 

Yıldırım Demirören’in Türkiye Futbol Fedarasyonu Başkanı olarak kamuya açık bir şekilde “evet” açıklaması yapması suç değilken benim bireysel sosyal hesaplarımdan yaptığım açıklamalar mı yoksa “hayır” demem mi siyasi propaganda olarak karşıma çıktı. Eğer “evet” deseydim belki de ödüllendirilecektim. Ben fikirlerimin sonuna kadar arkasındayım hayır, hayır,hayır!

 Yildirim Demiroren, as President of the Turkish Football Federation, can say “yes” in a public forum [but] my comments on my individual social [media] accounts or the fact that I said “no” come back to me as political propaganda. Had I said “yes” maybe I would have been rewarded. I stand by my thoughts until the end; no, no, no!

 

The absurdity pointed out by Mr. Degirmenci and Mr. Sahin is part of the Orwellian nature of the situation surrounding the referendum, and Mr. Demiroren’s comments certainly deserve some discussion within this context.

On 20 March 2017 Turkey’s Kulupleri Birligi (Union of Clubs) held their second football summit in Istanbul. As commentator Bilgin Gokberk notes, it was less football and more a rally for a “Yes” vote funded by Qatari money. At the summit President Erdogan himself presented his view of the relationship between football and politics:

 

Siyasetin temelde futbol ile birçok ortak yönü olduğuna inanıyorum. Spor gibi siyasetin de özü rekabettir, yarıştır. Bu yarışın ilk aşaması sandıktan galip çıkmak için ikinci aşaması da sorumluluk üstlendikten sonra millete hizmet götürmek içindir. Tıpkı futbol gibi siyaset de takım oyunudur. Yani sağlam bir kadro gerektirir. Plansızca oynayan, taktiği ve stratejisi olmayan bir takımın kupayı kaldırma ihtimali nasıl yoksa milletine söyleyecek sözü olmayan siyasetçilerin, siyasi partilerin de başarı şansı yoktur.

Primarily, I believe that politics has many similarities with football. Like sport, the essence of politics is a competition, a race. The first stage of this race to win at the ballot box, the second stage of this race is to provide services to the people after assuming responsibility [of ruling]. Just like football politics is a team sport. You need a strong roster. Just like a team that has no game plan, no tactics, and no strategy cannot lift the cup, politicians and political parties who have nothing to say to the people have no chance for success.

 

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Turkey’s Power Struggle Plays Itself Out in Football Ahead of the Referendum. Mr. Erdogan (C) pictured with Mr. Demiroren (R) at the summit. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/futbolda-dev-zirve-halic-te—2416871-skorerhaber/

 

Mr. Erdogan’s comparisons here are pretty spot on. But as he continues in his speech the tone gets more defiant and autocratic; it begins to sound less like a sports event and more like a political rally:

 

Milletten korkan, gençlerden çekinen bir anlayışla Türkiye’nin geleceği inşa edilebilir mi? Aslında bunların siyasette jübile zamanı çoktan gelmiş ama hala direniyorlar. Onun için de çıktıkları tüm maçlarda yeniliyorlar. Daha önce 7 defa yenilmişlerdi. İnşallah 16 Nisan’da 8. defa yenilecekler. İnşallah bu defa mesajı alırlar.

Can we build Turkey’s future with an approach that is afraid of the people and holds back from the youth? Really, the came long ago for these people [likely referring to his opponents] to retire but they are still resisting. This is why they lose every match they play. They have lost 7 times before. İnşallah [God-Willing] on 16 April they will lose for an 8th time. İnşallah [God-Willing] they will get the message this time.

 

As if the passage above was not political enough, the aforementioned federation President Yildirm Demiroren was extremely outspoken in his views:

İnsanların aileleriyle geldiği bir tribün ortamı yaratacağız.  Sadece 1. sıradaki takımın değil, son sıradaki takımın da tribünlerinin dolduğu bir ortam hedefliyoruz. En büyük şansımız sizin gibi futbolu seven bir Cumhurbaşkanımızın olması. Sayın Cumhurbaşkanım, gücümüzü sizden ve devletten alarak 2024 Avrupa Futbol Şampiyonası’na aday olduk. Yeni Türkiye, bu şampiyonayı saygınlığıyla organizasyonu alacak güçtedir. Bu federasyonumuzun olduğu kadar, devletimizin, ekonomimizin gücüyle geldiğimiz noktadır. Bundan sonra da böyle devam edecek. Biz artık UEFA seçimlerinde söz sahibi ülke haline geldik. Bizim önerdiğimiz kişi UEFA Başkanı oldu. Nisan ayı seçimlerinde bir Türk arkadaşımız yönetim kuruluna seçilecek. Sizin dünyadaki gücünüzle bizim de gücümüz artıyor. Bir Türk olarak bundan gurur duyuyorum. Daha güçlü bir Türkiye için ‘evet’ diyen bir 17 Nisan sabahında uyanmak dileğiyle hepinizi selamlıyorum.

We will make a stadium atmosphere where people come with their families. We are aiming for an atmosphere were not only the first place team fills their stadium, but also the last place team. Our biggest opportunity is that we have a football-loving President like yourself. Honorable President, by getting our strength from you and the state we became a candidate to host the 2024 European Championship [EURO 2024 Football Championship]. The new Turkey has the strength to get this respected event. This is not only the point that our federation [FA] has reached, but also the point that our state and economy has reached. From now on it will continue like this. We have now become a country that has a say in UEFA elections. The person we recommended became the President of UEFA. As your strength in the world increases, so too does our strength. As a Turk I am proud of this. I greet you all with the wish of waking up on 17 April to a morning that has said “Yes” to a stronger Turkey.

 

Needless to say, Mr. Demiroren was not censored for these highly politicized comments; quite the contrary he was likely lauded. Needless to say Turkey’s chances—as they stand currently—to host EURO 2024 are slim; a “Yes” vote would likely erase the slim chance that currently exists. Still, it is clear that people are ready to believe anything. And one reason for that is that the people also love football.

On the night of 23-24 March 2017, it was reported that the sign of the Denizli Ataturk Stadium was removed ahead of a rally by Mr. Erdogan to promote the “Yes” cause. Ostensibly it was to allow Mr. Erdogan’s bus to enter the stadium, but social media users—who were the first to point out the removal of the signage—protested the removal, viewing it as a sign to erase any vestige of the founder of secular Turkey.

 

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The Sign Was Loaded Onto a Truck (Top) and Removed (Bottom) In The Middle Of The Night. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/denizlideki-erdogan-hazirligi-tartisma-yaratti?page=1

 

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The Morning After. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogana-hazirlik-icin-denizli-ataturk-stadi-tabelasi-sokuldu-3-1752971/

 

In a (small) victory for people power—or perhaps it was a tacit recognition by Mr. Erdogan that his men had gone too far—the sign was restored to its proper place the next morning. Clearly, Mr. Erdogan has recognized the power of football in his country, and as recently as 28 March 2017, President Erdogan was spotted in Samsun Province rocking the chic scarf of the local football club, Samsunspor.

 

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A Nod To The Local Team Works Wonders In The Field Of Turkish Politics. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ensonhaber.com/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-samsunda-2017-03-28.html

 

Meanwhile there was turmoil in the ranks of Galatasaray, one of Turkey’s major clubs, as the club voted on expelling members who are linked to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive cleric who is blamed for masterminding the failed military coup of 15 July 2016. On 25 March 2017 it was announced that club members voted against expelling two former stars—embattled former AKP MP Hakan Sukur and Arif Erdem, who both led the team to a UEFA Cup Championship in 2000—in a vote. Mr. Sukur thanked the club for not expelling him while commentators slammed the club’s decision, arguing that Mr. Sukur did not recognize his fault in following Mr. Gulen’s destabilizing agenda. Galatasaray’s decision to stand up to the political pressure to expel their former stars on the grounds that they are football players, and not political figures, was not taken lightly. Minister of Sport Akif Cagatay Kilic criticized the team, saying “traitors to our country and our state have no business in our established sports clubs. The board’s voting is inexplicable to the families of our martyrs and veterans”.

 

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Mr. Sukur (Left) and Mr. Erdem (Right) in Better Days. Note The Media’s Choice To Show Them In Pink Jerseys. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Just one day later, on 26 March 2017, the team caved by expelling the former stars on the basis of their having not paid dues for the past six years. In response, Mr. Sukur posted a message on social media, signing off as “A citizen who loves their country and Galatasaray”. Likely, Mr. Sukur aligned himself to a shadowy organization without knowing its true motives and he—like so many in Turkey currently—has been gone from football hero to collateral damage. For Mr. Erdogan the non-payment of dues excuse was not enough; he criticized the team for not explicitly linking the players’ dismissal to their involvement with the exiled cleric and we—as football observers—may see some retribution from the government in the future that could affect the Galatasaray football club.

 

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Mr. Sukur Claims Nationalism Despite Having Joined The Shadowy Movement of Cleric Fethullah Gulen. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Such is the current state of affairs in Turkey: football has been politicized to a point where, arguably, the political headlines regarding the sport are more visible than the purely sporting ones. It is, again, characteristic of a political climate so absurd that politicians from opposite sides of the divide—the Islamist-oriented AKP and secular CHP —have been recorded making the symbol of the ultra-nationalist third party MHP in public! I believe that these kinds of absurdities are symptomatic of deep divides not only between—but also within—political parties. To understand what these divides might mean—and how football is used as a tool to influence public opinion—it is useful to refer to some recent poll results regarding the upcoming referendum.

The results from the Avrasya Kamuoyu Araştırmaları Merkezi (Eurasia Public Research Center), taken from a poll conducted between 18 and 22 March, 2017, allow us to make an educated guess towards what the divides within political parties will mean come voting day. We can clearly see that the “No” position, in red, is ahead among respondents belonging to all but the AKP. We can also see that the majority of people (86 percent) have already made the decision of how to vote more than three months ago.

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The Top Figure Shows Voting Intentions In the Upcoming Referendum Divided By Party. The Bottom Image Shows How Long Ago Respondents Made Up Their Minds. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

We can also see that, in the June 7 2015 election, just 32.3 percent of respondents voted for the ruling AKP. In the snap elections called for 1 November 2015, the amount of respondents who voted for the AKP increased to 41 percent. As I discussed earlier, this increase can be attributed to the nationalist fervor in the wake of the resumption of hostilities between the state and the Kurdish PKK. Yet, when people were asked which party they would vote for in a general election now, just 30.2 percent said the AKP. So what makes for this discrepancy? Do they have around 30 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote? The answer can be found in two categories: the “Kararsizim” (“undecided”) category of 19.2 percent and “Oy Kullanmam” (I won’t vote) category of 16.2 percent. These two categories represent more than a third of the electorate when looking at party choice.

 

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How Respondents Voted In the 7 June 2015 General Election: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Voted In The 1 November 2015 General Elections. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Would Vote Today If There Was a General Election. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is important to note that the percent of respondents voting for the opposition CHP is at 20.3 percent, close to the way respondents voted in the two previous general elections (20.8 percent on June 7 and 21.1 percent on November 1); it is clear that the CHP voters are consistent. Respondents saying they would vote for the Kurdish HDP total 7 percent, which is around the number of respondents who said they voted for them in the June 7 election (10,8 percent) and November 1 election (8.8 percent); the HDP voters are also fairly consistent. The one discrepancy even close to the AKP numbers comes from the 5.7 percent of respondents that say they would vote for the nationalist MHP, since on June 7 13.4 percent reported voting for the MHP and 10.9 percent reported voting for the MHP on November 1. Given that CHP and HDP voting is fairly consistent, yet AKP and MHP voting is not, it is reasonable to conclude that much of the undecided and “I won’t vote” crowd come from either the AKP or the MHP.

This is important because, when asked specifically about how they would vote in the referendum, 40.63 percent said “No” and 32.54 percent said “Yes” leaving 12.07 percent undecided and 14.76 percent saying they wouldn’t vote. Without these two groups, and only counting decided voters, the “No” vote leads the “Yes” vote 55.53 percent to 44.47 percent. This means that 26.83 percent of people, or more than a quarter of voters, still have not made a decision in terms of the referendum specifically.

 

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How Will You Vote In The 16 April Referendum? “No” Votes are in red, “Yes” Votes Are In Light Green, Undecided Votes Are In Yellow, Those Who Say They Will Not Be Voting Are In Green. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

 

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The Same Table With Only The Answers Of Decided Voters Taken Into Account. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

When broken down by party, we see that 71.1 percent of AKP respondents say “Yes” while just 1.1 percent of CHP respondents, 33.2 percent of MHP respondents, and 3.1 percent of HDP respondents say “Yes”. On the other side side 84.5 percent of CHP respondents, 51.1 percent of MHP respondents, and 72.1 percent of HDP respondents say “No” while just 11.1 percent of AKP respondents say “No”. This shows not only how set the CHP and HDP voters are for the “No” vote, but also the split within the ranks of the AKP and MHP; more than half of MHP respondents say they will vote “No” while one in ten AKP respondents say they will vote “No”. Additionally, those who say they will not vote are highest among AKP (11 percent) and HDP (12.5 percent) respondents. Clearly, the battle is for these undecided voters. But how will they vote?

 

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Respondent’s Reports Of How They Will Vote In the 16 April 2017 Referendum Broken Down By Party. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is likely that many of the AKP voters and HDP voters who say they are undecided or that they will not vote are hiding “No” votes. The results of one of the questions asked by one question in the survey show why this might be the case. When respondents were asked if the diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Turkey was fomented to increase a “Yes” vote, the majority of respondents agreed regardless of their reported voting preference (53.3 percent of those who said they would be voting “Yes”, 97 percent of those who said they would be voting “No”, 79.8 percent of the “undecideds”, and 87 percent of those who said they would not vote). The fact that the percentage of “undecideds” and those who said they wouldn’t vote is so high—nearing the level observed among confirmed “No” voters—shows that most people are aware of the absurdity that is going on around them. They might be aware that many of the crises they witness are being created to push people towards a certain voting position.

 

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Do You Think the Crisis [With] Holland Was Created To Increase “Yes” Votes? Those Who Agree are on the Left, Those Who Disagree Are On The Right. From Top To Bottom: Yes Voters, No Voters, Undecided Voters, and Those Who Say They Will Not Vote. http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It also means that those who claim to be undecided or who say that they won’t vote may really be hiding their true opinions due to what survey researchers call “social desirability bias”. This bias refers to the tendency of survey respondents to answer in ways that they deem to be socially desirable. What is socially desirable, of course, is context dependent. In the Brexit referendum this past summer, the “Remain” vote was socially desirable since “LEAVE” voters were characterized as xenophobic. Yet “Leave” won. In the 2016 presidential election in the United States, a “Clinton” vote was socially desirable since “Trump” supporters were characterized as racist, sexist, bigoted, and just about everything else. Yet Donald Trump won. In this case, the “Yes” vote is the socially desirable one since the AKP has been slowly solidifying its hegemony over the Turkish political and cultural scene, as evidenced by the politicization of Turkish soccer. The fact that Abdullah Gul, President Erdogan’s ally and one of the AKP’s founders, decided not to attend a pro “Yes” rally in his home city of Kayseri shows that there are rifts within the party. It also means that there might be some AKP voters who are thinking of voting “No” but are afraid to say it so as to not be outed; they may be hiding their true positions by saying they are “undecided”.

 

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Some Distance May Have Opened Up Between Mr. Gul (Foreground) and Mr. Erdogan (Background) In Recent Years. Does It Portend Instability within the AKP Going Forward? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogan-kayseriyi-gelmedi-ama-meydan-afisleriyle-donatildi-1770419/

 

Of course, this analysis has many caveats. First, it is based on the assumption that the Eurasia Public Research Center has conducted their survey responsibly and taken the appropriate measures to ensure a valid probability sample representative of larger Turkish society. Second, it is based on the assumption that voters will not be swayed by changes in the security situation (the fact that a bomb was exploded targeting policemen on the morning of 3 April in the southern city of Mersin makes me wary). Third, it is based on the assumption that the voting will be conducted—and the results tabulated—in a transparent manner. Fourth, it is based on the assumption that the electorate will come out and vote.

As journalist Can Dundar notes, the voters can still turn the tide. At this point, it is up to the voters to turn the tide of the “collective narcissim” that has been sweeping the world, characterized by a situation in which

 

any politician who ferments in their followers a grandiose belief in the in-group, combined with encouraging them to believe the in-group is being insulted or slighted by others, is arguably fostering collective narcissism and sowing the seeds for future conflict and hostility. One positive way to intervene might be to see if collective narcissists can be encouraged to channel their envy and sensitivity toward constructively helping their in-group rather than harming out-groups.

Mr. Erdogan’s decision to brand “No” voters as terrorists is an extreme version of this in-group/out-group divide. Yet the chance to “constructively help the in group” remains for all who believe in the in-group as one characterized by a democratic Turkey defined by civic—and not ethnic—nationalism. As Mr. Dundar notes,

 

Erdoğan has entered the campaign trail supported by the bureaucracy, media, academia, the military and the police. Anyone campaigning for no faces dismissal from their jobs and arrest. A thick cloud of fear has descended over the silent land. Yet the polls forecast an even split. The result will be determined by the 20% who are undecided at present […] They may be intimidated, they may be quiet, but those people who stood against Erdoğan are still there, and we need to give them our support.

 

There is no doubt that the undecided will define the election. As my analysis of the polls cited above shows, it is very possible that there is a social desirability bias among respondents that is obscuring the truth. After all, it is difficult to hold an independent position when so much of society—including, as I have shown, the football world—is playing a role in shaping public opinion. But that also means that people may be reluctant to reveal their true opinions, and that means that there is reason to believe that a “NO” vote is very possible in Turkey’s upcoming referendum.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mytripolog.com/2011/07/largest-most-detailed-map-and-flag-of-turkey/

Sports Stars and Extreme Capitalism from Necati Ateş to Stephan Curry: The Continued Atomization of Extreme Capitalist Society

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Necati Ateş in Action For Galatasaray. Image Courtesy Of: https://alchetron.com/Necati-Ates-145199-W

 

The other day a friend sent me a picture of himself with Turkish football star Necati Ateş. In and of itself, this small “event” is not very significant; a friend had a random interaction with a famous footballer in a restaurant—itself a democratic space since everyone has to eat. Yet, for me, it was indicative of the fact that extremely wealthy celebrities, like footballers, do not have to be distant from the very people that support them: the average fan. I was moved especially by Mr. Ateş’s smile; he seemed genuinely happy to be in a photo with my friends. For me a simple picture—while maybe not telling one thousand words—did show that 1) celebrities can be accessible and 2) that celebrities can also be normal people. That this kind of interaction took place in Turkey is not insignificant.

 

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Some Beautiful People in a Beautiful Picture. Mr. Ateş is Pictured Third From the Left (In the Middle, So To Speak). Image Courtesy of E.C.

 

The extreme capitalism of the United States is based upon a belief in the supremacy of the individual; in advanced industrial capitalist societies the individual is effectively subordinate to the system. As an American-born kid growing up in Turkey I was often asked if I saw famous people on a daily basis. Of course I didn’t, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island (a beautiful city yet hardly a destination for A-List celebrities). And even if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles, celebrities—in the United States—often frequent such exclusive places that a normal, middle class citizen would be unlikely to even interact with such people. The country is simply too big (and too stratified) to be conducive to such interactions. But in Turkey it is different—the country is smaller, and people are—generally—more ready to interact with their community than people in the United States. And that is one reason that Turkey is such a warm and inviting country.

Mr. Ateş seems to show, in this small interaction, that there can be a place for humanist interaction in societies that are negotiating the relationship between capitalism and “extreme” capitalism. In the United States, it is difficult to get the autograph—let alone a picture—of a star athlete. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that often-times athletes (and celebrities) come to believe (due to encouragement from the culture industry) that they are somehow “above” normal society—Beyonce’s self-beatification during the Grammys is a good example of this process.

 

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The Beatification of Beyonce; Celebrities as Above the People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beyonce-grammy-goddess_us_58a203d0e4b0ab2d2b17d4ce

 

Similarly, some athletes completely disregard the people that support them. NBA star Steph Curry’s comments regarding Donald Trump are an example of this process. After the CEO of the sportswear company Under Armour called President Donald Trump “An Asset to this country [the USA]”, Steph Curry (who is himself sponsored by Under Armour), said “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’”. While I would not go so far as conservative commentators who called for Under Armour to “rip up” their agreement with Mr. Curry, I would say that Mr. Curry’s comments are ill-informed; he evidently did not realize that many normal people—including parts of the middle classes in the United States—indeed voted for Mr. Trump precisely because they felt forgotten by mainstream America’s celebrity culture. It is a process that has characterized the neo-liberal era in the United States; even in 2000 a University of Wisconsin sociologist noted how ignoring middle-America was problematic. Evidently, no one listened.

 

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Steph Curry In Action for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Image Courtesy Of: http://clutchpoints.com/steph-curry-deflects-question-about-kevin-durants-comments-about-his-defense/

 

A society divided between rich and poor cannot sustain itself and, sadly, celebrities are perpetuating this divide in the United States currently. While I agree that sports stars should speak their mind (since they are a large part of the public sphere), they should do so in an informed way. By succumbing to blind ideology, they send the wrong message to their fans. Mr. Curry would have been better off taking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s path, who attempted to bridge the gap in American society rather than widen it further. In so doing, Mr. Johnson showed that he is more in tune with his society than Mr. Curry and—coming from a celebrity—this is something to be commended. Money, and the search for it, need not distance us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, extreme capitalism in the United States tends to glorify the celebrity. I appreciate Mr. Ateş’s actions for showing a side of Turkey that current news stories tend to miss: it is a beautiful country with extremely kind people, struggling to stand up to the ravaging forces of extreme neoliberal capitalism. If only more American celebrities could recognize the dangers of their own disconnectedness from wider society.

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/

 

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Turkey, the United States, and the World at the Beginning of 2017 As Seen Through a Short Tour of Istanbul: Is this the end of the Post-Cold War World System, Where Money Became the Only Guiding Principle?

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After the violent episodes that have taken place in Istanbul, Berlin, Ankara, Izmir, and Fort Lauderdale in the last month I am left thinking that in a world where money is the only principle guiding human action stability will be a hard thing to find. When human values are reduced to a search for money (and, by extension, power) such fundamental human values such as compassion, empathy, and love are thrown out the window. The story of how this happened is intimately tied to the globalizing processes that have defined the post Cold War world, and my time spent in Istanbul during the last three weeks made me think about how the insatiable desire for money (and power) has caused the world to slowly unravel before my eyes, possibly portending the end of the post-cold war world system.

Driving through Istanbul on the way to the Atatürk airport on a winter day as grey as carbon has a way of making a person think. One thinks mainly about change: the changes that the city has gone through over the years and the changes that the country—and, of course, the world—have undergone during the same period. Along the main highway areas that used to be green oases, a welcome respite from the urban sprawl, are now populated by gaudy apartment buildings. The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition. These are a product of the neoliberalism that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has so enthusiastically accepted (at the behest of the United States first under President George W. Bush and, later more emphatically, under President Barack Obama). New apartments like these have sprung up around the city in recent years; a capitalist version of Krushchyovka. With the dollar climbing due to recent instability, however, these looming concrete giants portend a looming housing crisis if people cannot pay back the credit with which they bought on. These new apartments make the city—which had been known for its history—look more like Las Vegas or Dubai: a faux reality propped up by fake money, based on credit. As we drive my mind drifts off, thinking about the street scenes I have witnessed over the past few weeks.

 

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“The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition”. Images Property of the Author.

 

On a bitterly cold morning I am in the suburb of Kartal on Istanbul’s Asian side outside of (ironically in a country where justice can be hard to find) the world’s biggest courthouse. I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was. A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years. In the name of ambitious urban renewal projects the AKP has demolished older buildings in order to build new ones so as to line their pockets through the cash made off construction deals; the recent stadium boom is an example of this process in another context. Even Kartal, far as it is from Istanbul’s ever-expanding center, is not immune from the extreme capitalism that has begun to define the country.

 

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“I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was”. Image Property of the Author.

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“A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years”. Image Property of the Author.

 

On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway. Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds. The thought of children barely old enough to read being indoctrinated into an Islamic education is—to me at least—much more chilling than the idea of Donald Trump’s conflict of interest just one block away. But these kinds of public displays of religiosity are necessary in a country that has tried, over the last fifteen years, to re-educate its citizenry in order to manufacture a new society and ultimately a “new Turkey”; “Yeni Türkiye”. Sociologically speaking, it is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

 

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“On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway”. Image Property of the Author.

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“Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Standing on an overpass outside the Çağlayan courthouse—like Kartal’s courthouse, it is another of the AKP’s major infrastructure projects—I can see firsthand the attempts to manufacture a new society. As Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger note, traditions are invented. In the same way, nations—like Benedict Anderson argues—can be thought of as “imagined communities”. The current AKP government does not agree with Atatürk’s conception of the Turkish nation and has therefore engaged in an aggressive re-interpretation (or re-imagination) of Turkish society. Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge. When it was completed in 1973 it was the longest suspension bridge outside of the United States and represented a major engineering feat for Turkey. During the AKP years—motivated by a fascistic desire to develop more and more major construction projects (like the aforementioned courthouses)—the bridge had to be reclaimed. The renaming of the bridge, therefore, is an important part of manufacturing a new society. Like the renaming of stadiums—and the erasure of the names of important historic figures like Atatürk and Ismet Inönü from them—the renaming of the bridge ensures that subsequent generations will be less likely to remember the years before AKP rule.

 

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“Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge”. Image Property of the Author.

 

This kind of societal engineering has been slowly creeping into all walks of Turkish life. The hill above Beşiktaş’s stadium, formerly known as “Beleştepe” (Freeloader’s Hill) for the fans who would gather on the sidewalk to watch games at the old Inönü Stadium without paying admission, has been re-named “Şehitler Tepesi” (Martyr’s Hill) in remembrance of those who perished during the 10 December 2016 bombings in the area. Beyond Istanbul, a regional MP from Muğla province proposed that the district of Marmaris—where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was staying as last summer’s attempted coup unfolded—be renamed “Gazimarmaris” or “Kahramanmarmaris” (Veteran Marmaris or Hero Marmaris). Any one with a rudimentary knowledge of Turkish history will know that the prefixes of “Gazi” and “Kahraman” were given to the cities of Antep (now Gaziantep) and Maraş (now Kahramanmaraş) due to the heroic acts of their citizens during the Turkish war of independence. Again, like the renaming of the stadiums and the bridge, the call to rename the district of Marmaris represents an attempt to erase—or at least overwrite—the history of the modern Turkish Republic. Like the rising tide of violence in Turkey, this kind of renaming will soon become a “new normal” as people get used to the changes; the “invented traditions” will become “real traditions”.

Later in the day I marvel at the subway cars in the Istanbul Metro. When I first lived in Istanbul, a few of the metro cars were decorated with advertisements for various Western brands—again, a sign of Turkey’s creeping ardent support for global capitalism—yet most were advertisement free. Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads “We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism”.

 

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“Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads ‘We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism'”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Even the money is not immune from this kind of subliminal messaging; a one Lira coin is given to me as change that—surprisingly—does not carry the image of the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Instead, the “heads” side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup. This “Democracy Lira”, as I call it, is yet another new development and another move to, subliminally and slowly, push the memory of Atatürk onto the backburner.

 

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“Instead, the ‘heads’ side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup”. Image Property of the Author.

 

But they claim it is for a good cause, because a military coup is anti-democratic, right? Of course any military coup is bad…but the response to this violent attack on democracy in this case is also a cynical attempt to use “Western” ideas to further a fascistic engineering of society. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu’s essay about civil society in Turkey (from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World) outlines how this process took place in the context of the headscarf debate in Turkey during the 1990s:

although the Sunni conservative women’s organisations seem to espouse human rights and democracy in their propaganda, they do not generally espouse values like gender equality or respect for a majoritarian form of democratic rule. They instead seem eager to change society to what they regard as a conservative-religious community, while holding an authoritarian image of the state (Kalaycıoğlu in Sajoo, 2002: 266).

In the era of globalization, where “Western” values like democracy and neo-liberalism have become part of the dominant ideology, those who might not accept such values have realized the value of using them to further their own goals. It is not surprising to see why this has been such a successful tactic, since it keeps the investment—and money—flowing.

Mohammed Arkoun links this process—in the context of the Islamic world—to the end of the cold war:

If the end of the cold war opened a horizon of fleeting hopes of a shared and controlled emancipation of all societies, then the 1990 Gulf War and its aftermath inaugurated the vision captured in the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. The deep, unspoken reasons for these post-colonial and post-cold war situations have yet to be adequately analysed—and indeed are too often veiled by social and political scientists whose task should be to unveil the persistent will to power, economic war, and the geopolitical strategies that underlie the tensions between the dominant ‘West’ and ‘the Rest’ (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 36).

In order to become accepted as a part of “the West” it is necessary to speak the language of human rights and democracy. Doing so means that even if a country such as Turkey may not be accepted as part of “the West” in cultural terms, they will be accepted in economic and political terms. In a world where money is the bottom line this game works and that is why—particularly during the years of President Obama’s rule in the US—the AKP has flourished despite its less-than-democratic record.

But this does not mean that there have not been pockets of resistance to the hegemony of the AKP and neoliberalism. Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: “Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel” (Until victory always! Adios Fidel). The shout out to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are small-scale rejections of the ongoing commodification of Turkish society, one that has made Turkish society into a caricature of what it has been: Honest, Proud, and Respectful.

 

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“Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: ‘Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel’ (Until victory always! Adios Fidel)”. Image Property of the Author.

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Che Guevara’s Version of the Message. Image Courtesy Of: http://projectguerrilla.tumblr.com/post/37400443674/until-victory-forever#.WHVTRrGZPRi

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Cuban Newspapers Send Mr. Castro Off With the Same Message. Image Courtesy Of: https://correspondent.afp.com/death-legend

 

I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: “Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports”. I cringed at the audacity, the sheer classlessness, of such a claim. It smacked of the kind of nouveau riche sentiment that comes from someone who—upon striking it rich by ill-gotten means—suddenly moves into a McMansion and ditches the Toyota for a Mercedes overnight.

 

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“I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: ‘Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports’. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the pride of Turkey be thrown out the window when I roamed the Grand Bazaar in search of presents for friends back in the US. Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers. Indeed, in the shop I stopped at, all three employees—including the owner—told me of their plans to move to the United States in order to work with a friend who owns a Turkish restaurant. With tourists scared away due to the violence, these once proud shopkeepers are left contemplating a different future.

 

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“Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers”. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the honesty of Turkey thrown out the window in the Akmerkez mall—Turkey’s first, before one was built in every spot imaginable—where a Carhartt sweater was selling for almost 150 USD. The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear. As Arjun Appadurai notes in Modernity at Large, referencing Norbert Elias, “consumption has become the civilizing work of postindustrial society” (Appadurai 1996: 81). If, in the neo-liberal era of globalization, being “civilized” means gouging consumers for a sweater then honesty can be easily ignored.

 

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“The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear”. Image Property of the Author.

 

It is important to note, however, that these processes did not happen in a vacuum. Turkey did not magically adopt the values of neo-liberal economics and globalization by itself. While hesitating to give credence to the conspiracy theories that the United States is to be blamed for all ills (it isn’t), it is undeniable that President Barack Obama’s record in the region—and track record with Turkey—has been less than stellar. I started to think about it when I took a short trip to Istanbul’s “Little Syria”(in Fatih district)—for an admittedly positive perspective, please see Vice News’ rosy portrayal. In short, the place is depressing. The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets. While Vice might want to underline how culturally “enriching” the Syrian presence is, the truth comes out that the vast majority of Syrians do not want to live in Turkey. Understandably, they want to live in their own country. That is the paradox of globalization and globalism; immigrants are to be accepted yet immigrants do not want to be immigrants in the first place. They would—as we all would—prefer to live in a place where their language is spoken and where they are not treated as second class citizens.

 

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“The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets”. Images Property of the Author.

 

While wandering the back streets and contemplating what different notions of “home” might be for different people, I couldn’t help but begin to wonder why these Syrians were in Istanbul in the first place. The Obama administration in the U.S.—in a move that must go down in history as one of the most ill-conceived—pushed for President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster. But for what reason? I personally can see no geopolitical benefit (from the U.S. perspective) coming from a destabilized Syria, and the meddling in a sovereign state’s foreign policy strikes me—as an American—to be fundamentally against the purported values of the United States of America. Uprooting millions of people from their homes could never have had a positive result, and sadly Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went along with Mr. Obama by aligning against Mr. Assad. Again, the motive was—most likely—economic from the Turkish perspective.

But when the allegiance to money becomes stronger than the allegiance to your country—your constituency—problems emerge. In Turkey these problems have manifested themselves in the form of ethno-nationalist Kurdish terrorism, and on 5 January 2017 a courthouse in Izmir was attacked in the latest heinous act of violence to hit Turkey. Unfortunately, one cause of this violence is the willingness of the Obama administration has to arm the Kurds in order to use them as a bulwark (re: pawn) in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. (For a comical video of US politicians trying to claim that they are not arming terrorists in Turkey, please see Breitbart’s story.Turkey has been stuck between a rock and a hard place as a result of Mr. Obama’s policies, and Mr. Erdogan has bet on the wrong horse. And for Mr. Obama, too, it seems that the lure of money—by way of the military industrial complex, which benefits from arming both Kurds as well as NATO allies (in response to a perceived Russian threat)—has trumped (pardon the pun) his own identity as an American since he seems to truly be “going out in a blaze of self-interest”, particularly judging by his response to claims of Russian hacking during the election. Mr. Obama’s narcissistic obsession with his own legacy has made him neglect the best interests of his country, a situation that is deeply disturbing to someone like myself who cares about the well-being of the United States.

This is not to say that Turkey’s precarious security situation is to be blamed solely on the United States; on the contrary Mr. Erdogan has made some very poor decisions motivated, no doubt, by money. But this also means that the crisis in Turkey is not wholly self-inflicted. Violence is not confined to Turkey, it can unfortunately find a person anywhere in the world. Just days after returning to my home in Florida an attack took place where five innocent people were killed by a gunman at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. This latest mass shooting will no doubt be used for gun control advocates in the USA, even though the shooter himself apparently “heard voices” and “allegedly told authorities at the time that an intelligence agency was telling him to watch ISIS videos, according to law enforcement officials”. His family members assert that he had been different since returning from serving in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011 and that he didn’t get the help he needed. Far from being a case for the gun control advocates, it seems that this tragic event was the result of blowback from imperialism and reflective of America’s failure to properly take care of the veterans who make huge sacrifices for their country—these men and women deserve much better treatment.

 

Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from. But this is just one of many parallels between the United States and Turkey in the 21st century. The latest parallel was revealed on 9 January 2017 in the form of Turkey’s debate over a new constitution as Mr. Erdogan looks to change the country’s political system to a presidential one (like the United States), allowing him the chance to stay in power until 2029 (he has already ruled the country as Prime Minister from 2003-2014). Of course—in his defense—Mr. Erdoğan “and the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government”. This argument is no different than the argument quoted above regarding the headscarf; it is a use of “Western” and “democratic” values to further authoritarian policies.

 

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“Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from”. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/gundem/suriye-adina-mi-sehit-olmalilar-1310098/

 

In light of the recent developments I cannot help but feel like the post-cold war era of neoliberalism may be coming to an end. When a country like Turkey can make such a mockery of democracy—and when even the American President Barack Obama mocks his own democracy by implicitly calling for a third term, saying “I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it” one must realize that that is how an Al-Jazeera writer can call the United States a despotic “stan”. It has become abundantly clear that democracy is becoming a shameful façade, used by any and all to get their way. I am hopeful that the world can learn from the dangers of succumbing to the influence of—and desire for—money (and power). This is why I hope people in Turkey do not give up on their country. In recent years many friends of mine have expressed a desire to emigrate abroad just like the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar mentioned above. The problem is, the obsession with money is everywhere and emigration does not help. As Mohammed Arkoun explains in his essay Locating Civil Society in Muslim Contexts from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World, “emigration to foreign countries or to enclaves inside oppressive regimes […] delays the emergence of a civil society in more and more disabling societies, and it enhances the construction for the future of pluralist spaces for a wider citizenship in advanced, democratic regimes” (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 38). Given that the “pluralist spaces” are rapidly collapsing in “advanced democratic regimes” due to processes like the refugee crisis, it seems—to me at least—prudent for us all to not give up on our countries just yet and develop strong civil societies. I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet.

 

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“I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet”. Image Courtesy Of: http://turkicamerican.org/networking-for-success/

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