A few weeks ago I wrote about Turkey’s social malaise presenting itself as a clear and present danger on—and off—the pitch. Sadly, on the night Fenerbahce were crowned champions of Turkey, it seems that nothing has changed. The violence remains, the hate remains, the anger remains. This is not healthy for any democracy, whether in Turkey or in the West. One fundamental requirement of democracy is empathy—that, in it of itself, requires respect of any opposing points of view—even if one disagrees. Fenerbahçe’s celebrations—and the responses to it—show that such respect does not yet exist in Turkey.
Thirteen people were arrested after vandalizing an official Galatasaray store on Istanbul’s Baghdad Street (Bağdat Caddesi), the main thoroughfare on the Asian side of Istanbul and the heart of Fenerbahçe territory. Many shirts, jerseys, flags, bags, and other merchandise were found to be damaged after the raids. After the store was damaged a group of 50-60 Galatasaray fans arrrived to—in vigilante fashion—guard the store. After these fans began to throw sound bombs and chant against Fenerbahçe is when riot police stepped in, so as to prevent more widespread violence.
The fact that a store selling the opposition’s gear should be a target of ire is in itself appalling—maybe that’s because I was raised in the capitalist “paradise” of the United States, wearing Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots gear from a young age. Or maybe it is because I know that winning a sporting event does not mean that you should destroy the symbols of your rivals—especially when they are from your own country! The worst part about these events, to me at least, is that the unity between football fans born out of the Gezi protests almost one year ago may have been proved to be short lived. A year ago Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe fans were arm in arm against the kind of repression that truly matters—government repression. Now, these same fans are fighting one another over football.
These events go to show that democracy in Turkey has a long way to go. As a Galatasaray fan I’m personally appalled. If you can’t accept your rivals winning a sports championship, how can you accept your rivals winning an election? It just goes to show that personal support of anything in Turkey—especially a soccer team—does not yet mean the acceptance of those that don’t share your support. And it does not bode well for a cohesive democratic society in the long term.