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.
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.
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.
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.