By now many people have already given their opinions on the 15 July failed coup in Turkey. I have waited for some of the coup’s effects on football to become clear before offering my interpretation of what is, undoubtedly, a complex situation. From the looks of it, it seems not unlikely that the United States had a hand in it in some way. If not directly supporting it then, as Professor Dani Rodrik notes, there may at least have been tacit support from U.S. government circles for the exiled cleric Turkey blames for the coup, Fethullah Gulen. Former CIA officer Graham Fuller’s sickeningly ebullient piece in support of Mr. Gulen is a good example of what this tacit support looks like.
It also seems to go deeper: some conservative outlets, citing Wikileaks documents, show the financial links between U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Gulen movement (Hizmet) (Available here and here). According to USA Today, the Turkish government is now hunting down some of these donors but many of the front companies used to supply donations have since closed down. In addition to the 500,000 to 1,000,000 dollars donated to Hillary Clinton, the Gulen movement has also “funded as many as 200 trips to Turkey for members of Congress and staff since 2008” according to a USA Today investigation. U.S. voters, regardless of ideology, should keep Ms. Clinton’s role in this in mind. Any support for military coups in democratic countries is uncalled for and does nothing to save the United States from the cycle of perpetual war it has become embedded in.
The response to the coup by the Turkish government has been heavy handed, prompting many to believe that the actual coup comes now—as the Economist notes “Over 80,000 people have been arrested, sacked or suspended, including soldiers, judges, teachers, policemen, businessmen and even football officials. Nearly 100 journalists have been detained and more than a hundred media outlets shut down…” The real regime change is happening now in daily life as those linked to the coup–along perceived opponents of the state–are being systematically purged. It is a dangerous time and no one knows how it will play out, especially because the “parallel state” that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes Mr. Gulen was behind has been deeply embedded in Turkish politics for some time. Way back in 1996 Mr. Gulen was, quite literally, behind the scenes during Tansu Ciller’s leadership; the first female head of state in Turkey’s history could not escape the presence of political Islam (although she denies any involvement with Mr. Gulen).
Mr. Gulen in the background (grey jacket), along with former President Abdullah Gul (L) and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R), during the opening ceremonies of the Bank Asya Bank in 1996. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/573852/Tansu_Ciller_den_Fethullah_Gulen_aciklamasi.html
Background knowledge of U.S. Cold War geopolitics will, however, also tell you that the presence of political Islam in Turkey is a result of U.S. policies. In order to fight the communist threat, the U.S. encouraged political Islam in many countries; the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan meant U.S. support for the Mujahideen which eventually became the Taliban in an epic case of blowback. In Turkey, following the 1980 (successful) military coup which meant to put an end to street fighting between leftists and rightists, mandatory religion classes were reinstated in Turkish schools. Religion was seen as the perfect tool to fight the perceived threat of Godless communism, but it also meant a rebirth of Islam in the popular conscience. Thus, even if the U.S. wasn’t behind the coup directly, it is still—even in the most optimistic of interpretations—another example of U.S. policies creating blowback.
Since Turkey believes that Europe and the US were behind the coup, their slow response to condemning the violence that left almost three hundred people dead has, understandably, irked many in Turkey. Russia has exploited this rift, with President Vladimir Putin swift to show his support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by meeting him on 9 August. The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is being taken to the football pitch as well, with the Russian and Turkish national teams meeting on August 31 for a friendly match to celebrate the recent thaw in relations. And this is where we can start to look on some of the ways the coup attempt—and its aftermath—has affected the Turkish football world.
All the members of the Turkish Football Federation and affiliated committees resigned on 1 August in the wake of the failed coup, pending security checks. The Federation assured that everything would go on as normal during this time, however. Meanwhile, members of the board of one of Turkey’s biggest team, Fenerbahce, discussed the failed coup claiming that their team has been targeted by the “parallel state” in the form of the match fixing scandal that rocked Turkish football in 2011. Following the comments of retired Senior Rear Admiral Semih Cetin, who claimed on CNN Turk that Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim was the first to stand up to the “parallel state” of Fethullah Gulen, the team even made a t-shirt commemorating Mr. Yildirim’s words of warning “What match fixing? The country is slipping away”.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.yenisafak.com/spor/fenerbahceden-darbe-tisortu-2502578
Football fans in other cities also demonstrated their continued relevance as members of civil society when members of Bursaspor’s popular Teksas group protested the former governor of Bursa Province, Şahabettin Harput, who was arrested for his ties to Mr. Gulen. The Teksas group hold the former governor responsible for cancelling a 2011 match with Besiktas which led to protests and injuries among the Bursaspor fans.
Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/spor/futbol/bursasporlu-taraftarlar-gozaltindaki-eski-vali-harputu-protesto-etti
The slow fallout from the failed coup has also deeply affected one of Turkey’s other big teams, Galatasaray SK, with Mr. Yildirim calling for an investigation into the team’s links with Mr. Gulen. Former Galatasaray players Arif Erdem, Uğur Tütüneker, and İsmail Demiriz—along with former star Hakan Şükür (A former AKP MP)—have all been fingered as members of the “parallel state” and police have orders to arrest all four. The only issue is that three of the four are currently out of the country (I wonder why?). Mr. Şükür currently lives in the United States, while Mr. Erdem left Turkey overland into Greece on 23 July and Mr. Tütüneker left the country on 7 July to return to Switzerland where he was coaching FC Wil until they cancelled his contract following his arrest warrant. Despite being in the U.S., Turkish police detained Mr. Şükür’s father and confiscated his assets because the family was providing financial support to the Gulen movement, while Mr. Erdem took to social media to affirm his support for Mr. Erdogan’s government and denounce the failed coup even though a video has surfaced of him reading a poem written by Mr. Gulen. Despite Mr. Erdem’s denial of involvement, it seems that he won’t be able to escape the truth: Mr. Erdem, along with other members of Galatasaray’s team at the time (Including Mr. Şükür), gave the money they received from the Turkish national team’s third place finish at the 2002 World Cup to Mr. Gulen.
Mr. Erdem States His Innocence. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/arif-erdemden-darbe-girisimi-aciklamasi-40202513?_sgm_source=40202513&_sgm_campaign=scn_a0046116293a0000&_sgm_action=click
But his photograph (Foreground L) with Mr. Gulen (Foreground R) may be worth more than his words. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/arif-erdemden-darbe-girisimi-aciklamasi-40202513?_sgm_source=40202513&_sgm_campaign=scn_a0046116293a0000&_sgm_action=click
Just as Mr. Gulen’s movement has deeply entrenched itself in the political institutions of the state, it has been revealed that his movement has also tried to do the same in the country’s footballing institutions. Many referee’s observers—including the father of Turkey’s most famous referee Cuneyt Cakir—have been revealed as Gulenists. The fact that referees are so deeply involved is a threat to the integrity of the game in Turkey. Former Galatasaray striker Ümit Karan revealed that he retired from football because of pressures from Gulenists within Turkish football. Mr. Karan claims that the movement is extremely strong in the second and third divisions, which are less visible in the media. Players are bought and sold based on their allegiance to Mr. Gulen, and if one is not in the movement then playing time is hard to come by. As Mr. Karan says, it got to the point where players wouldn’t pass one another the ball due to political allegiances; not only in clubs but on the national team as well.
Umit Karan reveals the underworld of Turkish Football at a rally for democracy. Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2016/08/16/umit-karan-feto-futbolculari-kadro-disi-birakiyordu-515384/
Mr. Karan’s claims seem to be supported by a Sabah story regarding Mr. Gulen’s football team. In 1996 the cleric took control of a second division team from one of Istanbul’s poshest districts, Nişantaşıspor. A black and white photograph from the era shows the players facing Mecca during the pregame ceremony. Apparently, the team’s officials fixed matches and had plans to buy star players (such as the aforementioned Mr. Şükür). Of course, when the Gulenists left the team, it lost all backing and quickly fell from the second division; it is now an afterthought mired in the amateur leagues of Istanbul.
The headline, following a 5-1 loss, reads “Cleric Fethullah’s Team Suffers Blow Out”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/spor/futbol/2016/08/10/iste-fetonun-futbol-projesi
Despite the complicated and still fluid situation in Turkey—and Turkish football—following the putsch attempt, it is not all doom and gloom. One of the most interesting developments in recent years was the 11 August decision to lift the ban on away fans for this season’s derbys. Since 2011 away fans have been banned from attending volatile matches, which has taken away from the fan atmosphere that make derbys such fun occasions in other countries. The head of Turkey’s Football Club Association Göksel Gümüşdağ announced that “In order to have the unity and brotherhood that has grown since 15 July be reflected in stadiums we have decided to lift the ban on away fans”. Who knows what the effects of this will be, given that a violent brawl broke out among fellow Antalyaspor fans during 26 August’s Antalyaspor-Alanyaspor match, but it is certainly refreshing that some move has been made to bring the passion of football fans back into the stadium. Lets just hope that fans can act in a mature manner and not turn the derby days into the bloodbaths that we have seen in the past.
The fallout from the 15 July 2016 coup attempt has revealed a lot about the intimate connection between politics and football in Turkey, one that has been ongoing for many years. Mr. Gulen’s brand of Islam has infiltrated Turkish politics—perhaps with the aid of the United States—for many years before now. It is slowly being revealed that Mr. Gulen’s movement has tried—for years—to also infiltrate all realms of Turkish society. Sports is just one of those realms, and I hope that this post has been able to shed some light into these intrigues. I am sure that in the coming weeks there will be more revelations that will be worth keeping an eye out for.