Turkey’s Wild Ride at Euro 2016: The Social Fabric of a Country as Viewed Through Football

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The controversies surrounding the Turkish national football team at Euro 2016 have provided an interesting case study of Turkish society from a Sociological perspective. The team—in keeping with its character—left it to late, coming through with their backs against the wall. Just as they did in 2008, during their magical run to the Semi-finals, and in the qualifying round, Turkey defied the odds to be in position to qualify for the second round as one of the four best third-placed teams in the group stage following a spirited 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic (Perhaps their prayers worked, at least for a night). Unfortunately, progress depended on other matches—either Hungary had to defeat Portugal or both Ireland and Sweden had to fail to win against Italy and Belgium, respectively. In the end, Gabor Kiraly and his amazing sweatpants couldn’t keep Ronaldo from salvaging a draw for Portugal, and Italy’s “B team” (which was really a “C Team”, considering the weakness of this year’s squad) allowed the Republic of Ireland a 1-0 victory, edging Turkey out of the cup. It begs the question: Why not take care of your own business, instead of being forced to rely on favorable results from elsewhere?

The Turkish side looked uninspired against a Croatian team (who many have pegged as one of the possible outsiders to challenge for the title) in their first match, going down 1-0 to a brilliant Luka Modric strike. Turkey’s Ozan Tufan was busy fixing his hair when Modric was busy scoring the winning goal (A video can be seen here). In terms of goal differential, however, a one-goal loss was not so bad and Turkish coach Fatih Terim downplayed the “hair incident”. In their second group match, against defending champions Spain, the story was similar. Turkey looked non-existent and, perhaps intimidated more by the Spanish side’s pedigree than their ability, went down 3-0. Given that the Croats were able to defeat Spain in their final group match, it is very possible that Turkey psyched themselves out; after all Spain is a bigger “name” than Croatia and Turkish sides have typically struggled with an inferiority complex when facing football teams with strong backgrounds both at the club and international level. After the Spain match—where Turkish star Arda Turan was whistled down by his own fans—the criticisms of the Turkish football team reached new heights.

The criticism came from all segments of society, and was not just confined to the football pitch. Coach Fatih Terim—nicknamed “the Emperor”—is an admittedly polarizing figure within Turkish society, but his daughter deserved better. The male-dominated nature of Turkish society showed its ugly face when his daughter, fashion writer Buse Terim, was insulted on social media pages; some uncouth individuals wished her unborn child dead. Such shocking insults are unacceptable and show the larger-than-life importance of football to some people. Ms. Terim, for her part, will take legal action against the perpetrators.

To understand why there is so much anger directed at Mr. Terim and his family, it is useful to look at some of the numbers uncovered by Rahmi Turan, taken from a Forbes study. Fatih Terim is one of the highest paid coaches at Euro 2016, earning 3.5 million Euros a year. This is more than Vincente Del Bosque, the coach of defending champions Spain (2.7 million Euros) and Joachim Low, coach of world champions Germany (2.8 million Euros). It is fifteen times more than the wage of Croatia’s coach (250,000 Euros)—the same Croatia that defeated Turkey in game one. What is more concerning—and what goes to show how important football is interpreted to be in Turkish society—is Mr. Terim’s wage as it relates to the normal citizen. Forbes’ study took the average yearly Turkish wage as 18,000 US Dollar; using that figure Fatih Terim’s wage is exactly 2,900 times greater than the average wage in Turkey. No other coach comes close to this. While Mr. Del Bosque and Mr. Low make just 65 and 82 times the average wages, respectively, of their countries, the closest challenger to Mr. Terim is England’s Roy Hodgson. The England manager makes 4.5 million Euros a year, but that corresponds to just 143 times the average wage in England. Although I enjoy Mr. Terim for his unique nature, it is not hard to see why some people are put off by his at times pompous attitude—especially when the team he coaches is not doing well while he counts his money. And it is not just the coach who is being paid astronomical amounts.


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/yazarlar/rahmi-turan/fatih-terimin-maasi-dunyada-dudak-ucuklatti-1282164/

Two Well Paid Men:


Image Courtesy Of: http://is-a-cunt.com/2016/04/roy-hodgson-2/


Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/fotogaleri/39024–fatih-terim-in-halleri/5

Members of the Turkish side were paid a 500,000 Euro bonus just for qualifying for the final tournament, and when all of it was not paid in time some footballers apparently got upset. Turkish Football Federation President Yildirim Demiroren paid the remaining 200,000 Euros owed to the players before the Croatia match so as to placate some members of the team, upsetting many fans. The players—symptomatic of the wider issues within industrial football—see money as more important than national pride, or indeed even than just being a normal footballer doing their job. In fact, just a few other countries gave qualification bonuses. With the situation spiraling out of control coach Fatih Terim met Federation president Demiroren at the latter’s house in Cannes for a summit; the fact that the president of a country’s football association should have a house in Cannes is just a small example of how much money there is floating around Turkish football. As they say in Turkish, “Bal tutan parmağını yalar/One who holds the honey licks their finger”.

The use of football for economic as well as political gains has been going on for years in Turkey and this tournament is no different. Rahmi Turan’s column notes that the Turkish Football Federation invited 900 people to the tournament; by contrast, richer countries such as England and Germany brought far fewer (17 and 44, respectively). The Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on 13 June 2016 that TRT (the main state-owned channel, that has broadcast rights for Euro 2016) brought 93 people to cover the tournament; other countries brought teams of around 30 people. An opposition MP brought the issue up to Parliament, asking why public funds—by way of tax revenue—were being used to send state employees on what amounts to a glorified vacation. Many speculate that the reason so many people have been brought to France by various elements of the Turkish state is that a Euro 2016 excursion is a present offered by the Turkish state to favored individuals. The carrot of attending Euro 2016 may be offered as part of the patron/client relationships that have become commonplace in Turkish political culture.

In this climate—with so much money and influence to be had—it is not surprising that so many people should weigh in to voice their opinion towards Mr. Terim and the national team. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rhetorically asked the public if they were not ashamed of how they insulted star Arda Turan and coach Fatih Terim and his family. Mr. Erdogan added that such rude insults are not befitting of Turkish manners or Turkish culture.

Another one to weigh in was—most surprisingly, perhaps—a Professor of History at Marmara University. While I am not opposed to academics giving their opinion on sporting matters (!), Professor Ahmet Şimşirgil’s comments—which interestingly melded neo-Ottoman Islamic rhetoric with football—came during an unrelated program aired on Turkey’s state owned TRT following Turkey’s loss to Spain. The Professor said that “those who understand history can also understand football. We need to first teach our footballers history. You have to teach them how those (Ottoman-era) wars were won, how they happened; how can a footballer be made from a man who doesn’t know history…”. Professor Şimşirgil referred specifically to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror’s conquest of Istanbul, where “seventy-thousand people knew where they had to be”, a comment on the way Turkey’s players looked lost on the pitch against Spain. Professor Şimşirgil went on to criticize Mr. Terim for the ignorance of his comment that he would “observe the Ramadan fast for his players” during the tournament (another comment that Mr. Terim got flack for from a Muslim scholar/TV Personality). The Professor’s comment sparked a polemic with Mr. Terim that is still ongoing, with Mr. Terim vowing to no longer answer questions posed by TRT and the Professor reminding the Coach that his opinions were not those of TRT; indeed the Professor challenged Mr. Terim to meet him for a discussion on another channel.

With Turkey now eliminated from the tournament, Mr. Terim is sure to have some time on his hands—lets see if he accepts the challenge. Regardless of how the polemic plays out it is clear is that football still holds an important place in Turkish society and politicians know that, given the large amounts of money that are involved, football is not a sector to be ignored.

Turkey Wins…and Loses at the Same Time



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

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

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

1 Day Before Match

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

Saygi Durusu

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

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

Pre Match (Below):


Pre Match Nalcacilar

Post Match (Below):

Post Match Nalcacilar

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



The Turkish National Football Team Visits Soma on 19 Mayis, the Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports Holiday

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On May 19, the Turkish Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth, and Sports holiday (which remembers Ataturk’s landing at Samsun and start of the Turkish war of independence), members of Turkey’s national football team visited Soma to pay respects to the miners that lost their lives in Turkey’s worst industrial accident. In Soma the players and coaches visited the graves of the miners, solemnly laying flowers down, before taking part in afternoon prayers. Although Turkey’s team won’t be appearing in the World Cup, this appearance was just as—if not more—important for a football-crazed nation.

Many footballers spoke, including Galatasaray forward Burak Yilmaz who made clear that the visit “is not just for show, we are here because we truly felt this pain also.” Then came a grave speech (taken from both Sporx.com’s piece and from Milliyet.com’s piece. Interestingly, Hurriyet.com’s piece had no mention of the comments below:

Bu sefer ateş düştüğü yeri değil düşmediği yeri de yaktı. Herkes yandı. İnsan hayatına biraz daha fazla önem vermemiz gerektiği aşikar. Böyle günlerde değil, bu ülke her zaman bir ve birlik olmaya alışkın bir ülkedir. Bu refleksimizi kazanmak zorundayız. Böyle acılar vesile olmadan da birarada olmalıyız. Acılarımızı biraz olsun dindirebilirmiyiz diye geldik. Ama tüm heyet de acılı olarak dönüyoruz. Ateş düştüğü yeri değil düşmediği yeri de yaktı.

“This time the fire didn’t just burn where it fell, it burned where it didn’t fall as well. Everyone burned. After coming here we can feel that. That we need to give more importance to human life is clear as day. This country is used to being together, and not only on days like this one. We need to achieve this reflex. We need to be together without [needing] tragic events like this one to spark it. We came to see if our pain could be abated, as little as it might be. But the whole group is returning in pain. The fire didn’t just burn where it fell, it burned where it didn’t fall as well.

These were not the words of a politician. They certainly weren’t the words of the Prime Minister, which came a few days ago. These were the words of Turkey’s national football coach, a career football man who smoothly transformed from player to coach. These are the words of Fatih Terim. While I—like many Galatasaray fans—have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Terim (he can in many instances be too crude), here—in this instance—I have to commend him for a job well done. If there is to be anything taken away from the Soma tragedy it is that, in Turkey, more importance must be given to human life everyday. That is what will truly help Turkey move forward in the world, both politically and culturally.

The job of recognizing and stating that fact, however, should not have to fall on football coach. It should come from the country’s leader instead. Abdullah Gul, the president, has been very sympathetic to families of the victims. But the leader—and his aides, for that matter—have not had the same response. A well-publicized photo of Prime Minister Erdogan’s aide Yusuf Yerkel (a former PHD student, no less) kicking a protester who is pinned down by soldiers has already made its rounds.

Also, a recent video of Prime Minister Erdogan calling a protestor “Israil dölü”—literally, “Israeli Semen”—is beyond explanation. Video of the disgusting incident can be seen here, courtesy of an opposition newspaper’s website. Subsequently, the Turkish foreign ministry has categorically denied that such things were said and so far only a few Jewish specific news outlets have reported this event in English. I should hope that the denial is truthful—videos and their audio can be doctored, and we should never immediately believe that everything we see is real in the digital age. But, for me, the real issue is that a democratically elected Prime Minister should be as level-headed and calm as possible under pressure—it would do a lot to prevent such negative publicity, regardless of veracity. And it would also help if the Prime Minister of a modern democratic country could say half the things said by the football coach of a modern democratic country.

19 Mayısınızı Gönülden Kutluyorum.


Members of Turkey’s National Football Team Pay Their Respects. Mr. Terim is in the Foreground, in a Blue Blazer:


Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26445283.asp%20


You Are Supposed to Kick the Ball, Not a Defenseless Human Being Mr. Yerkel!

Yusuf Yerkel