The day after a violent attack outside of Besiktas’s Vodafone Arena left more than forty dead and dozens injured, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility. As I wrote earlier, the attack can be seen as a threat from Kurdish separatists who have been emboldened by the deepening crisis in Syria. In such a divisive environment, with emotions running high and hope running low, it was refreshing to see that sports could—even in a country where it more often divides than unites—bring people together.
Cumhuriyet newspaper wrote a moving piece entitled “The Line Between Life and Death Outside the Stadium”, remembering the victims of the attack, including the stadium’s head of security Vefa Karakurdu and stadium store employee Tunc Uncu—a young man who paid the ultimate price for doing his job: selling football shirts. The Besiktas club chose to cancel the season tickets for their cup match on Wednesday, announcing that all proceeds would go to the victim’s families, while club president Fikret Orman reminded everyone that “No one has the strength to divide this country”.
On Monday night, 12 December 2016, Besiktas’s main fan group Carsi will begin a march to the stadium at 19:03 (7:03pm) with the slogan “[This] neighborhood is ours, [this] country is ours, [this] love is ours”. Here, the football fans are using their role as an important actor in Turkish civil society, doing what the current government has failed to do—unite people regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity, behind a common national cause. In a country where democratic institutions have been constantly weakened, organic social movements like these are essential. As their post reads, they aim to do it “without separating anyone” and “without saying young or old, male or female, me or you”. They have invited all fan groups to join them, shoulder to shoulder, and I hope for a massive turnout. In this case, sport has the potential to unite people behind the common cause of the country—not the arbitrary divisions of ethnic background that drove the TAK to carry out such a disgusting attack.
Carsi Do Their Civic Duty. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/spor/643766/cArsi__Besiktas_ta_patlamanin_oldugu_yere_yuruyecek__Semt_bizim__ask_bizim.html
The fact that this attack has even brought fans from bitter rivals Bursaspor and Besiktas together shows that, even in the darkest of times, there can be something positive. If it wasn’t the case life wouldn’t be worth living; another example of how football is our live in microcosm. Bursaspor fan Çağıl Alperen Çörten told his friend’s story on social media: Mr. Çörten’s friend had tucked his Green and White Bursaspor scarf into his jacket on the way to his sister’s house, when the bomb went off. As he took shelter in the chaos, he hadn’t realized that his scarf had been revealed. It didn’t matter; Besiktas fans took the Bursaspor fan to safety, fed him, and got him to his sister’s safely. One Bursaspor fan group Tweeted that “Bursa is ours, Besiktas is ours. The country is above all else. We thank Besiktas fans for their thoughts, terror has no color”. This latter point is important; the “color” can be interpreted both in football terms but also in ethnic terms.
Bitter Rivals Re-Unite In The Face Of a Graver Danger. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643770/Sosyal_medyanin_konustugu_paylasim___BJK_dusmaligi_benim_icin_bitmistir_.html
Another important development is that the police—criticized for their heavy-handed tactics during Gezi—have been embraced by the people once more. The young officers who died are just human beings like the rest of us, tools in a bureaucratic system that they likely cannot fathom. As in the United States, it is important to understand that law enforcement does not always mean to repress, and that all police are not the same. There are good and bad officers of the law, just as there are good and bad people. Galatasaray’s Twitter page reminded us that we need to stand together; recognizing that the good people in life must stick together is the first step in actually standing together.
Galatasaray Send a Good Message: https://twitter.com/Galatasaray/status/807983178677948416/photo/1
When Galatasaray footballer Selcuk Inan was called to the stands by fans, he made the unprecedented move of bringing a police officer with him.
Selcuk Inan’s Unprecedented Move. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643816/Selcuk_inan__Elim_ayagim_bosaldi_.html
Selcuk Inan Is Not Alone During His Long Walk. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/galatasarayli-taraftarlardan-polislere-moral-destegi-1266770
In football culture, the police are often seen as the enemy; any football fan can tell you that ACAB means “All Cops Are Bastards”. In this case the fans didn’t agree, chanting for the police, and Mr. Inan ended up calling his trip to the stands “the longest distance of my life”.
Galatasaray Fans Voice Their Support For Police Officers Outside The Turk Telekom Arena. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/galatasarayli-taraftarlardan-polislere-moral-destegi-1266770
Moved by Mr. Inan’s long walk, Yasin Oztekin took another unprecedented step—he celebrated his goal with…police officers, while footballers did the same in an amateur match elsewhere in Turkey (http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643694/Golu_atti…_Polislere_kostu_.html . This display of unity was moving, and shows that the only division that matters—at least to me—is the one between good and bad people, kind and cruel people.
A Moving Moment. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/11/yasin-oztekin-az-kalsin-aglayacaktim-1266774
The tale of two football coach’s response to this tragedy is telling in this respect. In the wake of the attack Romanian coach Marius Şumudica, who had recently agreed to coach Turkish side Gaziantepspor, backed out. Following the attack Mr. Şumudica re-signed with his team in Romania just hours after bidding his players farewell, saying “I wouldn’t go to Turkey [even] if I got one million Euros a month”. While Mr. Şumudica cannot be faulted for fearing for his life, it wasn’t the most professional of responses. Contrast this with former Besiktas coach Slaven Bilic’s response. Now at West Ham United, Slaven Bilic is one of my favorite figures in the sports world. After his team’s draw with Liverpool, Mr. Bilic had this to say:
“I would like to dedicate these points to people in Turkey because we were there for two years, me and my staff, and they are following us big time. I feel for them, my prayers are for them, it’s unbelievable what happened there. I was all around the world, working or on holiday, and they are maybe the best people I ever met. So it’s very sad what’s happening in one of the best cities and one of the best countries…not because of the nature of the country but because of the people. They are so friendly, so good, so warm and everything, that it’s basically tearing me apart what’s happening there. Big condolences for the families of the victims.”
Slaven Bilic, One Of My Favorite Figures In World Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/slaven-bilic-dedicates-west-ham-9439540
I could not have said it better myself. The Turkish people are certainly some of the warmest and kindest people that I have ever met, and I know for a fact that the way they treat foreign guests is amazing. I know it from the way my American father fell in love with the country, I know it from my own experiences. This is why we must—as humans—separate the governments from the people. I might not agree with what the Turkish government does, but I know that the people are not the government.
This is why the divisions in the United States are to troubling—one might not think the same way as someone else politically but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t like them as a person. On the flight from Miami to Istanbul a few days ago I spoke with a former U.S. Marine of Palestinian descent who told me “I am Palestinian, like you are Turkish. I feel Palestinian, like you feel Turkish. But I am also an American just like you are an American. I don’t believe in attacking foreign countries, but if America comes under attack at home I will defend my country”. This is the kind of sentiment that I agree with, and that is why I find the situation in both Turkey and the United States so troubling. The divisions perpetuated by governments—whether between ethnic Kurds and ethnic Turks or African-Americans and White Americans, the GLBT community and the straight community or males and females—do not help anyone. The globalizing world has tried to deepen these divisions, weakening the nation state in an attempt to reduce humanity to one history-less mass; one whose only values lie in consumption. The nation-state does not have to be a force of fascist notions of superiority, it can also be one that unites people of all backgrounds under common human values. Unfortunately, it is when we blindly allow governments and politics to dictate our values, without questioning anything, that we face a grave danger.