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Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Beylerbeyi–November 9 2014

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The space between the Bosphorus Bridge and Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium may be the only large green area left in Istanbul. I honestly do not think that it is an exaggeration as I take the narrow dilapidated staircase that leads from the highway down into the forest. The cracked concrete steps and leafy trees remind me of an Eastern European park and I feel free, released from Istanbul’s chaos. At the bottom of the staircase I’m greeted by a vacant lot with a run down gecekondu—shanty—and a restaurant parking lot full of Mercedes Benzes. The extremes of Istanbul’s inequality are everywhere.

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The walls are scrawled with Üsküdarspor graffiti and I follow the winding road, keeping the stadium in view to my left. Outside the stadium gates a few Anadolu Üsküdarspor fans are milling around, identifiable only by their green and white scarves. The cops on duty tell me that although Anadolu Üsküdarspor have been designated as the home team the situation is complicated, and I would be better off as a neutral supporter in the Beylerbeyi section. It is definitely complicated; it is, after all, a derby between two teams from two neighboring neighborhoods of the city that share the same stadium. But this is not the San Siro/Giuseppe Meazza for AC Milan-Inter Milan in the Serie A, this is the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil for Üsküdar Anadoluspor-Beylerbeyispor in the TFF 3rd Division. I head over to the Beylerbeyi entrance to find their fans hanging out in front of a kebab restaurant in green and red shirts and buy a ten Lira ticket.

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A wall opposite me says “Wake Up Muslims!! Wallahi Wake Up”. Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s oldest and most pious neighborhoods, like Eyüp on the European side (which also lies outside the old city walls). For the population of 500,000 there are 180 mosques, and walking around one can feel the differences between Üsküdar and the European district of Beşiktaş that lies just across the Bosphorus. Unfortunately, Üsküdar was also a victim of the Istanbul riots of September 1955 and many Greek homes and businesses in the neighborhood were vandalized by looters. Much of the Greek presence can be traced back to the 7th century BC, when ancient Greek colonists settled in the area, then called Chrysopolis. But that is far away today—now it is a bustling Muslim neighborhood, the Green of the team’s jerseys serving as an interesting coincidence.

Üsküdar Anadoluspor was founded in 1908 by lawyer and journalist Burhan Felek (who helped Yusuf Ziya Öniş in founding the precursor to the Turkish Football Federation) and achieved some success as runners up in the Istanbul Football League in 1915 and 1917. But the story gets more complicated with this team, one of the first three clubs to be founded after the big three of Beşiktaş (1903), Galatasaray (1905), and Fenerbahçe (1907). Some of the founders left for Kadiköy and founded Fenerbahçe, others stayed in Üsküdar. After the 1980 military coup many of Üsküdar Anadoluspor’s grounds were confiscated by the junta and the few cups the team had won were stolen by looters—one of the few pieces of memorabilia left is this license from the club’s founding years:

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.zaman.com.tr/cumaertesi_istanbulun-100-yillik-uc-buyuk-takimi-daha-var_774666.html

 

Author’s Note: This is where it gets weird—feel free to skip this paragraph and move on to the next if you’re not so into football:

After a confusing situation involving the formation—and name change—of a subsequent team, the team carrying the original name of Üsküdar Anadoluspor became Selimiyespor, now in the amateur leagues. The current Anadolu Üsküdarspor is what was once Üsküdar Öz Sahrayı Cedidspor, which changed its name to Anadolu Üsküdarspor in order to stay in the second division (If they kept the name of the original team they would have had to start from the third division) after Üsküdar Anadoluspor was relegated to the amateur leagues. If you are still with me the end result is that the current Anadolu Üsküdar team is not the same team that was founded in 1908. Thank you to Süleyman Bitmez and altligler.blogspot for this information, the two team’s almost identical badges are below:

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Images Courtesy Of: http://altligler.blogspot.com.tr/2012/07/anadolu-uskudar-mi-uskudar-anadolu-mu.html

The history of the team on the other side of the “derby”, Beylerbeyispor, is equally intriguing in a political sense. The team, like Anadolu Üsküdar (or Üsküdar Anadolu) is also one of Turkey’s oldest, formed in 1911. Unlike their counterparts from Üsküdar, however, Beylerbeyispor did not have much success in their early years (the club has never featured in Turkey’s top flight)—instead, their notoriety has come in the last decade. The team served as Galatasaray SK’s feeder team from 2003 to 2009 in order to give playing time to up-and-coming young players, similar to the minor league system in America’s Major League Baseball. I even have a Beylerbeyispor shirt from those years that has the same brand, sponsor, and even design (Adidas quartered pattern) as Galatasaray’s shirts from the period, the only difference is the color scheme.

The relationship between the two clubs was cut in 2009 after Galatasaray reportedly took issue with the way Beylerbeyispor was being run; during the six year relationship not a single player of significance rose from Beylerbeyispor to feature for Galatasaray and the adventure ended up costing the latter 6.5 million dollars. More recently other reports have come up concerning the team, including this one from an admittedly biased leftist news portal.

The news story in question was published immediately following the Gezi Park protests in June of 2013. While the content of the article may be debatable, the picture certainly is not: a large banner reading “Adam Gibi Adam” (A Man’s Man), featuring now president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s portrait, had been hung from the top of the Beylerbeyi 75. Yil Stadium’s main stand in true cult of personality fashion.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/pankartin-ardindan-tff-hesaplari-mi-cikiyor-haberi-76463

According to the story the president of Beylerbeyispor, Mustafa Yazici (himself from the same town as Mr. Erdoğan and a former Turkish Football Federation executive) admitted to hanging the portrait while the stadium manager claimed that it was fans who hung it. Regardless of the conflicting reports, what is clear is that the stadium became something of a political advertisement, no doubt due to its prominent location. (The stadium is clearly visible on the left to eastbound traffic exiting the Bosphorus Bridge).

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These, however, are mere details. What matters is that it is a balmy November day in Istanbul, one where I can sit in shirt-sleeves on the terraces basking in the sun with a beautiful view of green trees, the Bosphorus bridge, and football. It is almost San Francisco in the spring. Beylerbeyi even hit a free kick a quarter of an hour in, the keeper punching it into the roof of the net and making it 0-1 to the “visitors”. The fans are happy for a few moments…until the inevitable tensions come to the fore. Both teams are battling for promotion to the Turkish Second Division, with Beylerbeyi one point behind their rivals and one point out of the final playoff spot. The fans know this, and take offense at a hard foul by an Üsküdar player who, judging by the reactions, used to play for Beylerbeyi. No one likes Benedict Arnolds, especially not in football, and the fans rocking the fences below me show it. A lone plastic seat flies onto the pitch before the police push the fans back into their seats.

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I decide to keep watching from a safe distance, high in the stands, trying to focus on the sun that has cleared the clouds away instead of on the fans yelling obscenities at their counterparts across the protocol stands that serve as a buffer. I try to block it all out and just focus on the beautiful day. But it isn’t easy. At the half hour mark the fans inside the stadium start chanting together with fans outside the stadium standing on a hilltop overlooking the goal in front of me.

Beleştepe canlandı! Seksenlerin stadyum kültürüne geri döndük! (Freeloader hill has come alive! We’ve returned to the stadium culture of the eighties!),” quips one of the older men in front of me. It is humorous, I can’t lie.

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The halftime show is what really makes the stadium come alive however. The PA system chooses to play an odd Turkish rap song similar to this one—the lyrics “Yeşil-Beyaz Şampiyon Üsküdarspor (Green and White, Champions Üsküdarspor)” are what stick out to me…and to the other fans. Soon a crowd of men attempt to climb the fence separating the press box from the stands. As the crush ensues the police have to resort to their billy-clubs to keep the blood thirty group away. The PA announcer tries to explain that he was paid to play the song but—probably due to a request from the cops—he relents and decides on a more innocuous tune: Faydee—Can’t Let Go.

I decide to change my seat for a third time, the further you are from the crowds the less likely it is that you’ll get caught up in the nonsense, after all.

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The second half starts with a rowdier Beylerbeyi crowd. They’ve been worked into a frenzy and, with not much happening on the pitch, have focused their energy on the opposing fans. It is clear that the tensions will rise like the colors rising into the clear day from the fan’s smoke bombs. Why they chose turquoise and purple—when the team’s colors are red and green—is beyond me. I figure its all they could get their hands on and just laugh, moving for a fourth time so as to not suffocate from the chemicals.

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When extra riot control police are called in with ten minutes to go I see the writing on the wall and decide to head out with five minutes to go since neither team has shown the potential to change the score.

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I head down to the Bosphorus, a cobble-stoned waterfront promenade lined with Beylerbeyi’s famous fish restaurants, and grab a lunch of stuffed peppers and eggplant moussakka. The excitement and tension of the match day is all gone now, and it feels like another planet. Tourists visitng the Ottoman summer residence—Beylerbeyi Palace—are everywhere, ready to get on their boat for the next stop in a Bosphorus tour. Out on the water front it is calm as the sunset hour nears, young couples take selfies galore and I know that I should get going.

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As I near the main street I hear a familiar din, the sound of young voices singing in unison backed by drums. Indeed, Beylerbeyispor held on for the win. It is gridlock as the fans have blocked traffic to celebrate their derby victory. The tourists look on, mouths agape at the spectacle.

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I leave them to witness the odd scene and flag down a passing dolmus. Fifteen minutes to Üsküdar via minibus, and fifteen more to Beşiktaş via boat, just trying to outrun the setting sun for a little while longer.

Istanbul Excursions: A Visit to Eyüp–October 12 2014

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An eerie calm has descended over the stadium mid way through the first half, a calm unlike any I have experienced in a stadium before. The hardcore supporters in the stand to my left have, incredibly, silenced themselves. I can almost make out the voices of the players as they shout instructions to one another, the dull thud of the ball hitting a foot sounds louder than ever. That is, during the few moments that the Muezzin’s voice falls silent in between pauses for breath. The call to prayer emanating from the minaret facing the stadium dominates the proceedings as Eyüpspor face Halide Edip Adivar SK in a Turkish Third Division match at the Eyüp Stadium.

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Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised—Eyüp is one of Istanbul’s most conservative districts, and the fans have silenced themselves in deference to the afternoon prayer. The centrally located Eyüp Sultan Camii (Eyüp Sultan Mosque)—the first major mosque built in Istanbul after the Turkish conquest and constructed by the Sultan Mehmed II in 1458 in honor of the companion of the Prophet Mohammed, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari— dominates the center of the district and many facets of life here. Football is not exception.

But Turkey can still surprise in a contradictory way—it never fails to. Despite the pious nature of Eyüpspor’s supporters they don’t hesitate to break into song at halftime when, despite the 0-0 halftime score, they boisterously sing along to Hakan Peker’s Atesini Yolla as it plays on the PA system. The fact that the song was made famous by Beşiktaş’ Çarşı group (themselves from the opposite end of the political spectrum then most of Eyüp’s residents) seems to have not affected Eyüpspor’s faithful. I don’t blame them—it’s a catchy song after all (Hakan Peker’s original and Carsi’s versions are below).

Original:

Çarşı:

The irony of the chants coming from Eyüpspor’s stands doesn’t end there, however. They hold the tune of “Eyüp’e, rahat yok, Halide Edipe koymadan… (No rest for Eyüp until putting it to Halide Edip)” as the second half starts. While this may seem innocuous to the laymen, the fact that Halide Edip was one of Turkey’s foremost feminist writers—and supporters of Ataturk’s revolution in Turkey—the obvious sexual connotations of the chant make me laugh (and cringe) simultaneously. It doesn’t matter to me that Halide Edip Adivar’s name now graces a sports club, since I would like to think that the Eyüpspor fans would have shown a little more class. No such luck here though.

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Luckily for this article, my mind is taken off of the subject when Eyüpspor pick up their game in the last twenty minutes. It takes an injury to Tuncy Öndel—who has to be carted off to the hospital after a hit to the head—for Eyüpspor to score on a beautifully taken free kick in the 70th minute by Gencay Ertan. 1-0 to the home team and all the animosity following the foul is forgotten (the Eyüpspor faithful made it clear through their chants that a Katliam—carnage—would ensue if they were “messed” with”).

Minutes later, just as the ambulance is about to pull out of the stadium, a corner kick creates a goal mouth scramble and Eyüpspor make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute with Güray Kula poking it in. The supporters make it clear that they are confident as they start to hold their tune—Ya seve seve, ya sike sike, Eyüpspor Ikinci Lige (Either by loving or by fucking, Eyüpspor to the second division). The fans want a third goal and, with the visitors in disarray, it even seems likely. The fans take a break from their profanity laced chants in the 78th minute as the call of “Eyy ALLAH! Eyy ALLAH! Rises from the stands, the fans prostrating themselves en masse. I can honestly say its one of the strangest scenes I’ve witnessed in a stadium but, then again, I don’t come to Eyüp regularly.

Two minutes later they resort to more traditional chants:

Beraber Yürüdük bu Yollardan

Beraber Islandik Yağan Yağmurlarda

Şimdi Sıra Geldi Sampiyonluğa

Haydi Bastır Şanlı Eyüp Sultan

 

We walked these roads all together,

The rains that rained soaked us all together,

Now its time for the championship

Push on blessed Eyüp Sultan

Indeed the excitement of the fans continues to excite the players, as Eser Şen hits Eyüpspor’s third goal, and their second from a free kick, this time taken from just outside the box. It is 3-0 and the stadium is in raptures. Even I am taking pleasure in the goal show on display. And just when I think its over the home team does it again—A curved shot from the corner of the penalty area by Alperen Doğan meets its mark and, in the 89th minute, it is 4-0. The fans celebrate with a chant that is in vogue recently—Şehitler Ölmez Vatan Bölünmez (The Martyrs Will Never Die, The Nation Will Never be Divided)—I suppose the large Turkish flag in the stands has something to do with it but they are understandably enthused. 4 Eylül Beyeldiyespor have managed only a draw and Eyüpspor is now in sole position of first place in the Turkish Third Division Group 2.

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I figure that a suitable celebration will be wandering Eyüp’s back streets, but only after acquiring one of the team’s purple and yellow scarves. Scarf in hand (I chose not to wear it) I followed the crowds into Eyüp’s central square, dominated by the Mosque and courtyard. It was crowded with families out for Sunday strolls—most mothers wore clothing more befitting of Arabia while the fathers wore hard expressions as they tried to keep an eye on their children. The ones that weren’t running circles around the adults were busy munching on sesame seed-encrusted simit rings, the same size as their faces. Yes, this could indeed be Turkey’s future.

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But for now, I prefer to look into the past. Down a small side street to the left of the mosque is a narrow pathway that slants up hill through the cemetery. One of Istanbul’s oldest, it is a relic from a time that Eyüp was considered a suburb and provided a quiet resting place for the departed—now Eyüp is a part of the city and its urban sprawl.

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Still, the cemetery is as beautiful as it was on my first visit, a similar grey fall day eight years ago. Refreshingly, in a city where so much changes, here things seem to have stayed the same. I guess when a faith is involved the forces of change are slowed. Here the cats still weave their way between the gravestones and pine trees, hoping for a few scraps from the living. I don’t have anything for them and ignore the “meeeeows”, looking out at what has changed. Across the Golden Horn the fresh skyscrapers of “new Istanbul” are visible, in stark contrast to the gravestones marking the final resting places of those who lived—and died—in a very different Istanbul.

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I head higher and higher through the cemetery, up to the Pierre Loti café, named after the famous (Orientalist) French writer—it is said that he wrote his masterpiece Aziyade here among these same trees, looking out at the waters of the Golden Horn. Despite being off the tourist trail Pierre Loti is one of Istanbul’s must see sights, a world away from European Pera or the modern tourist center that Sultanahmet has become. This is old Stamboul, where the truths of Istanbul—and Turkish society at large—are on display for those intrepid enough to make the trip up the Golden Horn.

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Turkey is certainly a Muslim country. You see it in the souvenir stands selling the typical goods—tesbih, Muslim prayer beads, to those selling the absurd—bumper stickers that read “Damn Israel”.

Yes, if you spend enough time in Eyüp you will see one of Turkey’s best Third Division sides in action. More importantly, you will also get a good lesson in some of modern Turkey’s paradoxical realties—the plaques on the cemetery walls are just a small example.

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While the messages are sound they make me think of current events, when some ostensibly pious Turkish Muslims are supporting ISIS  by vandalizing the homes of Kurds—giving their faith a bad name in the process.