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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Kayseri Erciyesspor-Trabzonspor

Attendance: 11,000

Attendance for the previous home match against Elazigspor: 23.550

Akhisar Belediyespor-Kayserispor

Attendance: 1,100

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

Gaziantepspor-Genclerbirligi

Attendance: 4,200

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

Bursaspor-Elazigspor

Attendance: 20,000

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

Besiktas-Fenerbahce

Attendance: 20,000

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Galatasaray 2012-13 Away Shirt

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I’ve decided to put up pictures of other shirts as I get them, even if they don’t involve some sort of adventure. This is Galatasaray’s away shirt from last season. I had gotten the yellow and red one last year, and when I found this one deeply discounted I decided to add it to the collection as well. I think it is a nice design, even if I am sure that the first time I wear it I will get it dirty–I like to stay away from white shirts, since I wear them. Another reason I got this shirt is that I couldn’t get the Shakhtar shirt with a similar design while in Ukraine, so Its a sort of compensation I suppose.

 

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Galatasaray 1996-97 Home Shirt L/S, Match Worn

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He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

            ‘They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

                                                                          -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

 

In front of the TV in a crowded hookah café watching Galatasaray face Bursaspor in the second round of the Turkish Super League season, I’m sweating in the late August night. It’s not the stress of the match making me sweat—I know there are still 32 matches to go in the long marathon that is a European football season—rather, it is the long sleeved jersey I am wearing that makes me sweat. Yet, it is totally worth it. It is a beautiful example of a shirt, from an era that quality won over quantity; from the 1996-1997 season to be exact.

It is an Adidas shirt, in the classic red and yellow quartered pattern that Galatasaray still wear today, even if the yellow became orange somewhere down the line. Around 2005, perhaps. The sponsor—Vakıf Bank—is sewn onto the front, the back has the official player’s sized number 11 (belonging, then, to Swiss striker Adrian Knup—now it is Didier Drogba’s) in felt. I feel the line where the red meets yellow. It is two pieces of thick fabric sewn together, a fabric not meant to cope with summer heat. My fingers can feel the special nature of the shirt, a far cry from the mass produced Nike line Galatasaray are wearing on the television, with sleek dri-fit fabric designed to keep the players cool. It isn’t to say, of course, that the new jerseys are bad. They are just, different. From different eras, before and after Industrial football came to Turkey, and with it multi-million dollar sponsorship deals. In the face of modern jerseys, this one is comical. It is an extra large and definitely match worn—but back then the players were smaller, and the sizing reflects that. It would now be sized a large.

As my fingers feel the fabric on my back my thoughts move from the game to Gatsby, and Daisy’s reaction to his shirt collection. I can feel a bond with Gatsby, one that goes beyond the pages and the years, but down to the human nature of collecting memories. Every football season, every goal, every foul, every shirt is a memory in and of itself. I was ten years old when this shirt was worn by Adrian Knup. Who would have known then that Galatasaray would go onto become UEFA cup champions, and one of the best sides in Europe for a spell. And now, that shirt is on my back, almost two decades later.

I get back to the match. Galatasaray are up 1-0 thanks to a goal by striker Burak Yılmaz, the man who has taken the nickname “Kral”, or “King”, from Hakan Şükür, the striker that starred for Galatasaray and Turkey in the late 1990s. He later became the Turkish Super League’s leading goal scorer, now he is an MP for the AKP—a move that has lost him more than a few casual fans. For me, he will always be the football star of my youth, even if I might not agree with him politically. After the “king’s” goal the tempo slows and mid-way through the second half Drogba is taken off, a questionable move to all of us watching. Indeed, the loss of a pressing forward up front allows Bursaspor to mount their attacks from the back, wave on wave crashing into the Galatasaray defense—a levy waiting to be breached.

The expected goal comes in the 74th minute, Bursaspor equalizing through substitute Enes. Two minutes after coming on, at sixteen he became the youngest goal scorer in Turkish Super League history. The happiness on his face was unmistakable; he was still a child, his jersey number 97 represented his birth year. Even though Galatasaray lost a victory on the night, I felt happy for the young man who had scored his first career goal; a young man who had not even been born when Adrian Knup wore the number 11 shirt on my back. But such is football as it mirrors life—the saying in Turkish, from a Turkish film about football, is “Futbol acayip şekilde hayata benzer”—“Football is strangely similar to life”.

I felt like someone driving down the highway, hearing their favorite rock and roll band on the classic rock station for the first time. It might not have made me feel old, necessarily, but it gave that unmistakable sense of time passing. Small moments like this—of realizing the passage of time—are what growing up truly is. It is coming to terms with life, and with it the knowledge that nothing is eternal. The “king” will not always be Hakan Şükür, the youngest goal-scorer in history will not always be Enes. As we know well, this too shall pass.

 

My unending thanks to Taylan Meşin for the Galatasaray shirt mentioned here, pictures are below.

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Istanbul Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey: Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor-Galatasaray SK (2-0) Matchday

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The enormous Istanbul Ataturk Olympic Stadium (Capacity 76,092), home to Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor, during a match with giants Galatasaray in 2011. This stadium is perhaps best remembered for hosting the UEFA Champions League Final in 2005, which saw Liverpool come back from a 3-0 halftime deficit to defeat AC Milan on penalties. It is still remembered as one of the best nights of European football in history. Aside from that match, however, the atmosphere is rarely special at Turkey’s biggest stadium and getting there is more than a little stressful. For the 2013-14 season Besiktas will be playing some of their home games here, and their fans have been able to give it a better atmosphere so far. Lets hope it continues.

 

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