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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.