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Football Emerges as a Key Battlefield in Turkey’s Culture Wars Ahead of April’s Referendum: The Role of Football in Shaping Public Opinion

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As the culture wars heat up in Turkey ahead of April’s referendum in which Turkey will vote on a switch to a Presidential system which would give current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (and his Justice and Development (AKP) Party) unprecedented power, the campaign has gotten odder and odder. Mr. Erdogan, in pushing for a “Yes” vote, has brought the campaign into a Kafkaesque (or Orwellian, depending on your literary sympathies) realm. The President has taken to attacking all enemies—real or imagined—in his attempt to play on “collective narcissim”, a concept I will return to later. This process has created more than a few absurdities (imagining enemies is, after all, not the easiest of endeavors), and it is not surprising that football has shown itself to be a key battlefield in which this process has unfolded.

The BBC reported on 24 February  2017 that Turkey was saying “No” to saying “No”. Mark Lowen’s piece shows how “The demonisation of the word “no” is reaching new, seemingly absurd levels”. While Erdogan’s government claims that “No” voters are “terrorists” siding with the coup plotters of 15 July 2016, their tactics for encouraging that line of thinking are getting odd. Lowen notes that “Anti-smoking leaflets prepared by the Ministry of Health were suddenly withdrawn because they contained the word “hayir” – “no” – in red capital letters. A government MP said “they could be misunderstood” and that even an Oscar nominated film—entitled “No”—was taken off the air by Digiturk, Turkey’s main cable provider that was recently bought by Qataris friendly to Mr. Erdogan. Lowen even notes how a common Islamic greeting has been attacked:

 

A common expression typically used by conservatives is “hayirli cuma”, wishing a blessed Friday. But as “hayir” also means no, some are now preferring “cuma mubarek”, an alternative blessing (with the same meaning).

 

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Tweets Showing the Change in Langue Being Used. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39064657

 

Examples like this reformulation of an Islamic greeting—to meet political ends—show that Mr. Erdogan is not truly the champion of Islam that he claims to be, but this is should not come to a surprise to anyone. His use of Islam as a political tool was uncovered most recently by German weekly Der Spiegal, which claims that the Turkish state is using Imams in German mosques to spy on Germany’s Turkish community; Germany’s largest Muslim organization (the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs—DITIB) has become “an extended arm of the Turkish president, Erdogan” according to  Islam expert Susanne Schröter, working towards its ultimate goal: “to divide the Turkish community abroad between friends and foes of the regime”. This crude exploitation of religion shows how cynical and false the Turkish President’s religiosity is.

But Mr. Erdogan has often looked to portray himself as many other things he is not, including a man of the people and a staunch Turkish nationalist. One would be hard pressed to see Mr. Erdogan as a “man of the people” after watching a BBC interview with one of his main allies in the construction sector, Ali Agaoglu, who makes shocking comments by referring to women as “his property”, and boasting about kicking people out of their homes. It is the kind of interview that makes one cringe, a celebration of the uncouth nouveau-riche class that has been nurtured in Turkey, through corruption, during the AKP’s rule. In addition to not being a true champion of Islam or a man of the people, Mr. Erdogan is—as I will show below—also not a true nationalist; rather he is more of an opportunist who follows the political winds to further his own (and sometimes his allies’) economic and political gain(s).

Mr. Erdogan’s brand of faux-nationalism has been on full display during the referendum campaign.  He decided to suspend diplomatic ties with the Netherlands after the Dutch (not completely unjustifiably) took issue with Turkish campaigning among the immigrant Turkish community for a “Yes” vote. Erdogan further played the nationalist card when he said, on 23 March 2017, that “Turkey would review EU ties after the referendum”, and his insults to German Chancellor Angela Merkel have ruffled a few feathers in Germany even among the Turkish community. Apart from the fact that such actions show Mr. Erdogan’s belief that he will win, it is more important that such bellicose statements towards the EU play on a sense of nationalism that is destructive to Turkey. Any true Turkish nationalist—who has the best interests of their country in mind—would not be in the business of fomenting crises with Europe. Of course, any true nationalist also would not have gotten involved in the Syrian quagmire either; such events—where Mr. Erdogan acts with only his own—and not his country’s—best interests in mind only serve to prove his false nationalism.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this fake nationalism came on 24 March 2017 when an AKP banner reportedly appeared in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, a mainly Kurdish city, with the words “Every Yes [vote] is a Fatiha [Prayer] for Sheikh Said And His Friends”. For those who are unfamiliar with Turkish history, the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925 was (in the words of Wikipedia) a “Kurdish rebellion aimed at reviving the Islamic caliphate”. It was, essentially, a rebellion against the formation of modern Turkey. By invoking Sheikh Said, Mr. Erdogan is both becoming an “ethnic entrepreneur” (by appealing to Kurdish sympathies in a crude—and reckless—manner) and risking the further fragmentation of his country. Clearly, these are not the actions of a true nationalist who loves his country, rather these actions represent the risky—yet at the same time, seemingly contradictory and calculated—actions of a man who is looking to cement his power at all costs. A recent Foreign Policy piece by Elliot Ackerman details how, in the run-up to the November 2015 snap elections, “Erdogan argued to the electorate that the stability provided by a strong AKP majority was the safest course for Turkey. He chose not to emphasize that his own policies had largely created this instability.” The same process is unfolding again—Erdogan is fomenting crises abroad (while crudely playing to Kurdish sentiment after re-igniting a war with them so as to profit politically) to give the impression that only he can provide stability. But in order to make the case for stability there must first be instability, which Erdogan has created with his own hands. Given the absurdity of the situation it is no wonder that football has not been immune.

 

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The Banner In Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/706071/Seyh_Sait_ile__Evet__isteyen_AKP_ye_Burhan_Kuzu_nun_tweetini_hatirlattilar.html

 

On 24 March 2017 one of Turkey’s biggest sports dailies, Fotomac, distributed a 16-page flyer in support of a “Yes” vote in the April Referendum. That the flyer from the Turkish Foundation for Youth (in which Mr. Erdogan’s son Bilal holds a prominent position, no less) was distributed is not surprising; the paper is owned by the ATV-Sabah group, a pro-government media conglomerate that publishes the Daily Sabah—one of the state’s main propaganda arms aimed at English speakers (Just one example of their propaganda appears here (https://www.dailysabah.com/elections/2017/03/28/germany-bans-yes-rallies-but-continues-propaganda-for-no-at-full-speed ).

 

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The Flyer Distributed By One Of Turkey’s Most Popular Sports Dailies. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/706056/Yandas_spor_gazetesi__evet__eki_dagitiyor.html

 

Meanwhile a three-year referee from Sinop Province was relieved of his duties by the Turkish Football Federation for a posting on social media which supported a “No” vote. As the BBC also noted, saying “No” in the workplace is dangerous—Television newscaster Irfan Degirmenci from Kanal D was similarly relieved of his duties for saying “No” on social media while pointing out “those from pro-government channels are free to say ‘yes’ – and if I had tweeted that, I would be offered new positions with better money. But when I say that the constitutional change would create a one-man rule in Turkey, I’m fired’”. The referee, Ilker Sahin, pointed out a similar double standard when he said:

 

Yıldırım Demirören’in Türkiye Futbol Fedarasyonu Başkanı olarak kamuya açık bir şekilde “evet” açıklaması yapması suç değilken benim bireysel sosyal hesaplarımdan yaptığım açıklamalar mı yoksa “hayır” demem mi siyasi propaganda olarak karşıma çıktı. Eğer “evet” deseydim belki de ödüllendirilecektim. Ben fikirlerimin sonuna kadar arkasındayım hayır, hayır,hayır!

 Yildirim Demiroren, as President of the Turkish Football Federation, can say “yes” in a public forum [but] my comments on my individual social [media] accounts or the fact that I said “no” come back to me as political propaganda. Had I said “yes” maybe I would have been rewarded. I stand by my thoughts until the end; no, no, no!

 

The absurdity pointed out by Mr. Degirmenci and Mr. Sahin is part of the Orwellian nature of the situation surrounding the referendum, and Mr. Demiroren’s comments certainly deserve some discussion within this context.

On 20 March 2017 Turkey’s Kulupleri Birligi (Union of Clubs) held their second football summit in Istanbul. As commentator Bilgin Gokberk notes, it was less football and more a rally for a “Yes” vote funded by Qatari money. At the summit President Erdogan himself presented his view of the relationship between football and politics:

 

Siyasetin temelde futbol ile birçok ortak yönü olduğuna inanıyorum. Spor gibi siyasetin de özü rekabettir, yarıştır. Bu yarışın ilk aşaması sandıktan galip çıkmak için ikinci aşaması da sorumluluk üstlendikten sonra millete hizmet götürmek içindir. Tıpkı futbol gibi siyaset de takım oyunudur. Yani sağlam bir kadro gerektirir. Plansızca oynayan, taktiği ve stratejisi olmayan bir takımın kupayı kaldırma ihtimali nasıl yoksa milletine söyleyecek sözü olmayan siyasetçilerin, siyasi partilerin de başarı şansı yoktur.

Primarily, I believe that politics has many similarities with football. Like sport, the essence of politics is a competition, a race. The first stage of this race to win at the ballot box, the second stage of this race is to provide services to the people after assuming responsibility [of ruling]. Just like football politics is a team sport. You need a strong roster. Just like a team that has no game plan, no tactics, and no strategy cannot lift the cup, politicians and political parties who have nothing to say to the people have no chance for success.

 

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Turkey’s Power Struggle Plays Itself Out in Football Ahead of the Referendum. Mr. Erdogan (C) pictured with Mr. Demiroren (R) at the summit. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/futbolda-dev-zirve-halic-te—2416871-skorerhaber/

 

Mr. Erdogan’s comparisons here are pretty spot on. But as he continues in his speech the tone gets more defiant and autocratic; it begins to sound less like a sports event and more like a political rally:

 

Milletten korkan, gençlerden çekinen bir anlayışla Türkiye’nin geleceği inşa edilebilir mi? Aslında bunların siyasette jübile zamanı çoktan gelmiş ama hala direniyorlar. Onun için de çıktıkları tüm maçlarda yeniliyorlar. Daha önce 7 defa yenilmişlerdi. İnşallah 16 Nisan’da 8. defa yenilecekler. İnşallah bu defa mesajı alırlar.

Can we build Turkey’s future with an approach that is afraid of the people and holds back from the youth? Really, the came long ago for these people [likely referring to his opponents] to retire but they are still resisting. This is why they lose every match they play. They have lost 7 times before. İnşallah [God-Willing] on 16 April they will lose for an 8th time. İnşallah [God-Willing] they will get the message this time.

 

As if the passage above was not political enough, the aforementioned federation President Yildirm Demiroren was extremely outspoken in his views:

İnsanların aileleriyle geldiği bir tribün ortamı yaratacağız.  Sadece 1. sıradaki takımın değil, son sıradaki takımın da tribünlerinin dolduğu bir ortam hedefliyoruz. En büyük şansımız sizin gibi futbolu seven bir Cumhurbaşkanımızın olması. Sayın Cumhurbaşkanım, gücümüzü sizden ve devletten alarak 2024 Avrupa Futbol Şampiyonası’na aday olduk. Yeni Türkiye, bu şampiyonayı saygınlığıyla organizasyonu alacak güçtedir. Bu federasyonumuzun olduğu kadar, devletimizin, ekonomimizin gücüyle geldiğimiz noktadır. Bundan sonra da böyle devam edecek. Biz artık UEFA seçimlerinde söz sahibi ülke haline geldik. Bizim önerdiğimiz kişi UEFA Başkanı oldu. Nisan ayı seçimlerinde bir Türk arkadaşımız yönetim kuruluna seçilecek. Sizin dünyadaki gücünüzle bizim de gücümüz artıyor. Bir Türk olarak bundan gurur duyuyorum. Daha güçlü bir Türkiye için ‘evet’ diyen bir 17 Nisan sabahında uyanmak dileğiyle hepinizi selamlıyorum.

We will make a stadium atmosphere where people come with their families. We are aiming for an atmosphere were not only the first place team fills their stadium, but also the last place team. Our biggest opportunity is that we have a football-loving President like yourself. Honorable President, by getting our strength from you and the state we became a candidate to host the 2024 European Championship [EURO 2024 Football Championship]. The new Turkey has the strength to get this respected event. This is not only the point that our federation [FA] has reached, but also the point that our state and economy has reached. From now on it will continue like this. We have now become a country that has a say in UEFA elections. The person we recommended became the President of UEFA. As your strength in the world increases, so too does our strength. As a Turk I am proud of this. I greet you all with the wish of waking up on 17 April to a morning that has said “Yes” to a stronger Turkey.

 

Needless to say, Mr. Demiroren was not censored for these highly politicized comments; quite the contrary he was likely lauded. Needless to say Turkey’s chances—as they stand currently—to host EURO 2024 are slim; a “Yes” vote would likely erase the slim chance that currently exists. Still, it is clear that people are ready to believe anything. And one reason for that is that the people also love football.

On the night of 23-24 March 2017, it was reported that the sign of the Denizli Ataturk Stadium was removed ahead of a rally by Mr. Erdogan to promote the “Yes” cause. Ostensibly it was to allow Mr. Erdogan’s bus to enter the stadium, but social media users—who were the first to point out the removal of the signage—protested the removal, viewing it as a sign to erase any vestige of the founder of secular Turkey.

 

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The Sign Was Loaded Onto a Truck (Top) and Removed (Bottom) In The Middle Of The Night. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/denizlideki-erdogan-hazirligi-tartisma-yaratti?page=1

 

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The Morning After. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogana-hazirlik-icin-denizli-ataturk-stadi-tabelasi-sokuldu-3-1752971/

 

In a (small) victory for people power—or perhaps it was a tacit recognition by Mr. Erdogan that his men had gone too far—the sign was restored to its proper place the next morning. Clearly, Mr. Erdogan has recognized the power of football in his country, and as recently as 28 March 2017, President Erdogan was spotted in Samsun Province rocking the chic scarf of the local football club, Samsunspor.

 

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A Nod To The Local Team Works Wonders In The Field Of Turkish Politics. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ensonhaber.com/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-samsunda-2017-03-28.html

 

Meanwhile there was turmoil in the ranks of Galatasaray, one of Turkey’s major clubs, as the club voted on expelling members who are linked to Fethullah Gulen, the reclusive cleric who is blamed for masterminding the failed military coup of 15 July 2016. On 25 March 2017 it was announced that club members voted against expelling two former stars—embattled former AKP MP Hakan Sukur and Arif Erdem, who both led the team to a UEFA Cup Championship in 2000—in a vote. Mr. Sukur thanked the club for not expelling him while commentators slammed the club’s decision, arguing that Mr. Sukur did not recognize his fault in following Mr. Gulen’s destabilizing agenda. Galatasaray’s decision to stand up to the political pressure to expel their former stars on the grounds that they are football players, and not political figures, was not taken lightly. Minister of Sport Akif Cagatay Kilic criticized the team, saying “traitors to our country and our state have no business in our established sports clubs. The board’s voting is inexplicable to the families of our martyrs and veterans”.

 

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Mr. Sukur (Left) and Mr. Erdem (Right) in Better Days. Note The Media’s Choice To Show Them In Pink Jerseys. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Just one day later, on 26 March 2017, the team caved by expelling the former stars on the basis of their having not paid dues for the past six years. In response, Mr. Sukur posted a message on social media, signing off as “A citizen who loves their country and Galatasaray”. Likely, Mr. Sukur aligned himself to a shadowy organization without knowing its true motives and he—like so many in Turkey currently—has been gone from football hero to collateral damage. For Mr. Erdogan the non-payment of dues excuse was not enough; he criticized the team for not explicitly linking the players’ dismissal to their involvement with the exiled cleric and we—as football observers—may see some retribution from the government in the future that could affect the Galatasaray football club.

 

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Mr. Sukur Claims Nationalism Despite Having Joined The Shadowy Movement of Cleric Fethullah Gulen. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/toplum/hakan-sukur-ve-arif-erdem-ihrac-edildi-190487

 

Such is the current state of affairs in Turkey: football has been politicized to a point where, arguably, the political headlines regarding the sport are more visible than the purely sporting ones. It is, again, characteristic of a political climate so absurd that politicians from opposite sides of the divide—the Islamist-oriented AKP and secular CHP —have been recorded making the symbol of the ultra-nationalist third party MHP in public! I believe that these kinds of absurdities are symptomatic of deep divides not only between—but also within—political parties. To understand what these divides might mean—and how football is used as a tool to influence public opinion—it is useful to refer to some recent poll results regarding the upcoming referendum.

The results from the Avrasya Kamuoyu Araştırmaları Merkezi (Eurasia Public Research Center), taken from a poll conducted between 18 and 22 March, 2017, allow us to make an educated guess towards what the divides within political parties will mean come voting day. We can clearly see that the “No” position, in red, is ahead among respondents belonging to all but the AKP. We can also see that the majority of people (86 percent) have already made the decision of how to vote more than three months ago.

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The Top Figure Shows Voting Intentions In the Upcoming Referendum Divided By Party. The Bottom Image Shows How Long Ago Respondents Made Up Their Minds. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

We can also see that, in the June 7 2015 election, just 32.3 percent of respondents voted for the ruling AKP. In the snap elections called for 1 November 2015, the amount of respondents who voted for the AKP increased to 41 percent. As I discussed earlier, this increase can be attributed to the nationalist fervor in the wake of the resumption of hostilities between the state and the Kurdish PKK. Yet, when people were asked which party they would vote for in a general election now, just 30.2 percent said the AKP. So what makes for this discrepancy? Do they have around 30 percent of the vote, or 40 percent of the vote? The answer can be found in two categories: the “Kararsizim” (“undecided”) category of 19.2 percent and “Oy Kullanmam” (I won’t vote) category of 16.2 percent. These two categories represent more than a third of the electorate when looking at party choice.

 

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How Respondents Voted In the 7 June 2015 General Election: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Voted In The 1 November 2015 General Elections. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

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How Respondents Would Vote Today If There Was a General Election. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is important to note that the percent of respondents voting for the opposition CHP is at 20.3 percent, close to the way respondents voted in the two previous general elections (20.8 percent on June 7 and 21.1 percent on November 1); it is clear that the CHP voters are consistent. Respondents saying they would vote for the Kurdish HDP total 7 percent, which is around the number of respondents who said they voted for them in the June 7 election (10,8 percent) and November 1 election (8.8 percent); the HDP voters are also fairly consistent. The one discrepancy even close to the AKP numbers comes from the 5.7 percent of respondents that say they would vote for the nationalist MHP, since on June 7 13.4 percent reported voting for the MHP and 10.9 percent reported voting for the MHP on November 1. Given that CHP and HDP voting is fairly consistent, yet AKP and MHP voting is not, it is reasonable to conclude that much of the undecided and “I won’t vote” crowd come from either the AKP or the MHP.

This is important because, when asked specifically about how they would vote in the referendum, 40.63 percent said “No” and 32.54 percent said “Yes” leaving 12.07 percent undecided and 14.76 percent saying they wouldn’t vote. Without these two groups, and only counting decided voters, the “No” vote leads the “Yes” vote 55.53 percent to 44.47 percent. This means that 26.83 percent of people, or more than a quarter of voters, still have not made a decision in terms of the referendum specifically.

 

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How Will You Vote In The 16 April Referendum? “No” Votes are in red, “Yes” Votes Are In Light Green, Undecided Votes Are In Yellow, Those Who Say They Will Not Be Voting Are In Green. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

 

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The Same Table With Only The Answers Of Decided Voters Taken Into Account. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

When broken down by party, we see that 71.1 percent of AKP respondents say “Yes” while just 1.1 percent of CHP respondents, 33.2 percent of MHP respondents, and 3.1 percent of HDP respondents say “Yes”. On the other side side 84.5 percent of CHP respondents, 51.1 percent of MHP respondents, and 72.1 percent of HDP respondents say “No” while just 11.1 percent of AKP respondents say “No”. This shows not only how set the CHP and HDP voters are for the “No” vote, but also the split within the ranks of the AKP and MHP; more than half of MHP respondents say they will vote “No” while one in ten AKP respondents say they will vote “No”. Additionally, those who say they will not vote are highest among AKP (11 percent) and HDP (12.5 percent) respondents. Clearly, the battle is for these undecided voters. But how will they vote?

 

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Respondent’s Reports Of How They Will Vote In the 16 April 2017 Referendum Broken Down By Party. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It is likely that many of the AKP voters and HDP voters who say they are undecided or that they will not vote are hiding “No” votes. The results of one of the questions asked by one question in the survey show why this might be the case. When respondents were asked if the diplomatic crisis between the Netherlands and Turkey was fomented to increase a “Yes” vote, the majority of respondents agreed regardless of their reported voting preference (53.3 percent of those who said they would be voting “Yes”, 97 percent of those who said they would be voting “No”, 79.8 percent of the “undecideds”, and 87 percent of those who said they would not vote). The fact that the percentage of “undecideds” and those who said they wouldn’t vote is so high—nearing the level observed among confirmed “No” voters—shows that most people are aware of the absurdity that is going on around them. They might be aware that many of the crises they witness are being created to push people towards a certain voting position.

 

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Do You Think the Crisis [With] Holland Was Created To Increase “Yes” Votes? Those Who Agree are on the Left, Those Who Disagree Are On The Right. From Top To Bottom: Yes Voters, No Voters, Undecided Voters, and Those Who Say They Will Not Vote. http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/foto/foto_galeri/705998/2/Avrasya_Kamuoyu_Arastirmalari_Merkezi_referandum_anketini_acikladi.html

 

It also means that those who claim to be undecided or who say that they won’t vote may really be hiding their true opinions due to what survey researchers call “social desirability bias”. This bias refers to the tendency of survey respondents to answer in ways that they deem to be socially desirable. What is socially desirable, of course, is context dependent. In the Brexit referendum this past summer, the “Remain” vote was socially desirable since “LEAVE” voters were characterized as xenophobic. Yet “Leave” won. In the 2016 presidential election in the United States, a “Clinton” vote was socially desirable since “Trump” supporters were characterized as racist, sexist, bigoted, and just about everything else. Yet Donald Trump won. In this case, the “Yes” vote is the socially desirable one since the AKP has been slowly solidifying its hegemony over the Turkish political and cultural scene, as evidenced by the politicization of Turkish soccer. The fact that Abdullah Gul, President Erdogan’s ally and one of the AKP’s founders, decided not to attend a pro “Yes” rally in his home city of Kayseri shows that there are rifts within the party. It also means that there might be some AKP voters who are thinking of voting “No” but are afraid to say it so as to not be outed; they may be hiding their true positions by saying they are “undecided”.

 

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Some Distance May Have Opened Up Between Mr. Gul (Foreground) and Mr. Erdogan (Background) In Recent Years. Does It Portend Instability within the AKP Going Forward? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/erdogan-kayseriyi-gelmedi-ama-meydan-afisleriyle-donatildi-1770419/

 

Of course, this analysis has many caveats. First, it is based on the assumption that the Eurasia Public Research Center has conducted their survey responsibly and taken the appropriate measures to ensure a valid probability sample representative of larger Turkish society. Second, it is based on the assumption that voters will not be swayed by changes in the security situation (the fact that a bomb was exploded targeting policemen on the morning of 3 April in the southern city of Mersin makes me wary). Third, it is based on the assumption that the voting will be conducted—and the results tabulated—in a transparent manner. Fourth, it is based on the assumption that the electorate will come out and vote.

As journalist Can Dundar notes, the voters can still turn the tide. At this point, it is up to the voters to turn the tide of the “collective narcissim” that has been sweeping the world, characterized by a situation in which

 

any politician who ferments in their followers a grandiose belief in the in-group, combined with encouraging them to believe the in-group is being insulted or slighted by others, is arguably fostering collective narcissism and sowing the seeds for future conflict and hostility. One positive way to intervene might be to see if collective narcissists can be encouraged to channel their envy and sensitivity toward constructively helping their in-group rather than harming out-groups.

Mr. Erdogan’s decision to brand “No” voters as terrorists is an extreme version of this in-group/out-group divide. Yet the chance to “constructively help the in group” remains for all who believe in the in-group as one characterized by a democratic Turkey defined by civic—and not ethnic—nationalism. As Mr. Dundar notes,

 

Erdoğan has entered the campaign trail supported by the bureaucracy, media, academia, the military and the police. Anyone campaigning for no faces dismissal from their jobs and arrest. A thick cloud of fear has descended over the silent land. Yet the polls forecast an even split. The result will be determined by the 20% who are undecided at present […] They may be intimidated, they may be quiet, but those people who stood against Erdoğan are still there, and we need to give them our support.

 

There is no doubt that the undecided will define the election. As my analysis of the polls cited above shows, it is very possible that there is a social desirability bias among respondents that is obscuring the truth. After all, it is difficult to hold an independent position when so much of society—including, as I have shown, the football world—is playing a role in shaping public opinion. But that also means that people may be reluctant to reveal their true opinions, and that means that there is reason to believe that a “NO” vote is very possible in Turkey’s upcoming referendum.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.mytripolog.com/2011/07/largest-most-detailed-map-and-flag-of-turkey/

All Eyes Are on the Turkish Football Federation For Possible Insight into Turkey’s Kurdish Policy

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Batman Petrolspor, a third division football team from Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, have been referred to the Turkish Football Federation’s (TFF) Disciplinary committee for…releasing white doves into the air before their season opening match. The gesture was meant as a way to symbolize peace in the wake of increasing violence all over Turkey, but the TFF was unimpressed; the team faces a fine because they had not gotten permission beforehand. Professor James Dorsey recognizes that this may amount to implicit support by the TFF for Turkey’s re-started war on Kurds—designed to appeal to hard-core nationalists—in the run up to the snap parliamentary elections scheduled for November 1.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/29908613.asp

 

It is important to note that, in the past, the TFF has been known to pick and choose which political gestures in football it disciplines. They backed down in the past in the face of public reaction; one can only hope that they will do the same in this case. Back in December of 2013 two political “statements” from the football field were set to receive punishment from the TFF before it backed down. In the first instance Fethiyespor, a football club from a district of Turkey’s Muğla province on the Aegean coast (itself a stronghold of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) that has voted overwhelmingly against the ruling AKP in all four of the last elections), lined up before a Turkish Cup match against Fenerbahçe with t-shirts that spelled out “Yüce Atatürk”—“Glorious or Honorable Atatürk”. Initially the TFF singled Fethiyespor out for disciplinary action on the grounds of “using national symbols as a means to create an argument. Six days later cooler heads prevailed and Fethiyespor escaped without a penalty; perhaps the words of Sports Minister Suat Kılıç held some sway in the decision: “I can say clearly: Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the founder of the Turkish Republic, a huge and common value for the Turkish society. His name cannot be described as a political message or something that can alienate people of each other”. It should be noted that the team repeated the action on 29 October 2014—the Turkish national holiday Republic Day, commemorating the founding of the Turkish Republic—in a Turkish Cup match against Keçiörengücü when they lined up with t-shirts bearing Atatürk’s picture; there was no disciplinary action threatened or taken.

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2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/25325999.asp

 

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One Year Later. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/135495/Gelenek_suruyor…_Fethiyespor_yine_Ataturk_tisortuyle_cikti.html

 

In the other instance on December 6, 2013, two of Galatasaray’s international stars Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboue wore shirts honoring Nelson Mandela under their jerseys following the club’s first match after the influential South African leader’s death. Both players were set to be disciplined by the TFF for “bringing politics into football”. Again Sports Minister Suat Kılıç warned against “divisive decisions” and the disciplinary actions were dropped on 17 December 2013.

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Drogba (Above) and Eboue (Below). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2520210/Galatasaray-stars-Didier-Drogba-Emmanuel-Eboue-facing-fines-Turkish-FA-displaying-Nelson-Mandela-tributes-vests.html

 

Both of these actions reminded many Turkish football commentators of the TFF’s flippant manner when it comes to taking disciplinary action. In August of 2013 the “Rabia sign”, popularized by the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Military coup against Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, were made by Turkish footballers Emre Belözoğlu—himself known for his religiosity—and Sercan Kaya after scoring goals in the Turkish Premier League. Turkey’s then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the same sign at a speech in Bursa the day after Mr. Belozoglu made it on the pitch while playing for Fenerbahçe when he compared Turkey to Egypt: “The games being played today in Egypt will be played tomorrow in another Islamic country…maybe they will agitate another country, may they will want to agitate Turkey because they don’t want a strong Turkey in the region”. Neither of these players had any disciplinary action taken against them for making what many view as an overtly political sign on the football field, perhaps that is because it was the “right” kind of political sign.

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Emre Belozoglu (Left). Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2520210/Galatasaray-stars-Didier-Drogba-Emmanuel-Eboue-facing-fines-Turkish-FA-displaying-Nelson-Mandela-tributes-vests.html

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Right). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/24538663.asp

 

Returning to the case of Batman Petrolspor we can hope that the TFF follows the precedents set in the cases of Fethiyespor, Didier Drogba, and Emmanuel Eboue. But don’t be surprised if the disciplinary actions are upheld by the TFF since—in this context, at least—the desire for peace may well be the “wrong” kind of political gesture at this juncture in Turkey, and the powers at be may not see it as innocuous as the cases of December 2013 were deemed to be. The TFF’s decision in the coming days will speak volumes about which path Turkey is headed on regarding the Kurdish issue.

Turkish Football Federation Elections: Gaziantepspor Vote to Re-Elect Yildirim Demiroren But Might Lose Their Youth Team Facilities To The Government

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On June 25, 2015 Yıldırım Demirören was re-elected as president of the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) with 214 of 219 votes; 5 votes were invalid. Mr. Demirören’s tenure started in 2013 in the wake of the match-fixing scandal that Turkish football has yet to recover from and he was able to stave off the challenge of former TFF president Haluk Ulusoy who, in announcing his candidacy, criticized the federation for the controversial Passolig system. Mr. Demirören himself is a controversial figure and his time as Beşiktaş president was marked by extravagant spending—in his eight years at Beşiktaş 84 players and 8 managers were signed—that left the team swimming in debt; as an example Spanish coach Vincente Del Bosque’s tenure at Beşiktaş lasted just 233 days but he and his assistants left with a severance package worth 7,961,767 Euros after interest. Still, despite his perceived shortcomings and known rapport with President Erdoğan, Mr. Demirören was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

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Mr. Erdogan (L) and Mr. Demiroren (R). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/306765/TFF_Baskanligi_secimlerine_Erdogan_damga_vurdu.html

Some commentators, including the daily Cumhuriyet, noted that President Erdoğan’s influence on the federation showed through. To be honest most of the article is pure speculation, such as the point about current Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman who—despite protesting Mr. Demirören earlier in the season due to the financial mess he left Beşiktaş in—gave his support to the current TFF president anyway during the elections. One of the few concrete points made is that former Ankaragücü president Ahmet Gökçek (who compounded the club’s debts from 15 million Turkish Liras to 95 million Turkish Liras), son of Ankara’s outspoken AKP mayor Melih Gökçek, will appear in Mr. Demirören’s administration.

 

What is interesting about this election, however, is the division between football clubs and—seemingly—the inability of the clubs to stand up to either the Football Federation or the government (if it is indeed influencing the federation). On June 10, 2015 the Külüpler Birliği (“Union of Clubs”)—a foundation consisting of all the teams in the Turkish Super League—met and 14 of the 18 top flight teams voiced their support for Mr. Demirören; 4 clubs including Trabzonspor, Gençlerbirliği, Kasimpaşaspor, and Osmanlispor abstained. Gençlerbirliği have always preferred to be independent, with their chairman Ilhan Cavcav having formed the foundation, and with a mainly leftist fan group (Sol Cephe) their abstention wasn’t surprising. On the other hand Kasimpaşaspor and Osmanlispor are teams known to be close to the ruling party (one is from the president’s neighborhood and plays in a stadium named after Mr. Erdoğan, the other was formed out of a team run by the Ankara municipality, Ankara Büyükşehir Belediyespor), so their abstentions were surprising. Trabzonspor’s abstention was also a surprise since their president, Ibrahim Hacıosmanoğlu, is very close to the ruling AKP. Indeed, after it became clear that Mr. Hacıosmanoğlu ended up supporting Mr. Demirören, local media in Trabzon was up in arms calling it “shameful”. 5 members of the Trabzonspor board resigned in the wake of the elections, and former club vice president Sebahattin Çakıroğlu took to Twitter to say “If I don’t spit in your face Haciosmanoğlu I have no honor”. These are harsh words in Turkey, and the division created by the election within Trabzonspor is indeed shocking.

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Choice Words For Mr. Haciosmanoglu From Mr. Cakiroglu. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/306765/TFF_Baskanligi_secimlerine_Erdogan_damga_vurdu.html

But what about the teams that supported Mr. Demirören? Despite the ongoing enmity between the government and Beşiktaş’s Carşı fan group Beşiktaş stood behind the current TFF president. Gaziantepspor, from the southeast, are another team that supported Mr. Demirören despite recent developments that warrant a mention. TÜRGEV, Türkiye Gençlik ve Eğitime Hizmet Vakfı or Turkish Youth and Educational Service Foundation, are a foundation known for its closeness to President Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan, who is one of the foundation’s directors. In the wake of the December 17 corruption scandal it became clear that many officials in TÜRGEV, including the president’s own son, were involved in a scheme to buy government land for low prices. The government describes the foundation as a charity.

Now TÜRGEV has set its eyes on land belonging to the Gaziantepspor football club. A 90 thousand square meter plot of land that was rented to the Gaziantepspor football club for 49 years in the late 1990s by the Gaziantep Municipality as grounds for the club’s youth team system is being claimed by TÜRGEV. According to reports a smaller plot of land will be given to the club in return, but even that land is not slated to be for the team’s private use. Apparently the land was promised to TÜRGEV by Fatma Şahin, the only female member of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s cabinet from 2011-2013 and AKP mayor of Gaziantep since the 2014 local elections.

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Gaziantepspor’s Youth Team Facilities. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.zaman.com.tr/spor_gaziantepspor-tesisleri-turgeve-mi-verilecek_2300695.html

Of course Gaziantepspor have yet to say anything in order to not ruffle the feathers of the AKP, so perhaps their silence also explains why they pledged their support to Mr. Demirören in the TFF elections. Celal Doğan, Gaziantepspor’s president from 1993-2006 and Gaziantep mayor from 1989-2003, was a member of the CHP for ten years before being elected as an MP from the leftist Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2015, spoke out about the attempted land seizure:

“Gaziantepspor’un elinden alınmak istenen bu tesis için Antepliler neden ses çıkarmıyor, anlamak mümkün değil? Burası Bilal Erdoğan’a çok mu lazım? Altyapıda yetişecek çocuklar için bu tesis daha önemli değil mi? TÜRGEV’in milyar doları var, bu yere ne ihtiyacı var? Bu kadar hırs niye? Sanırım seçimden önce verilmiş. Trene bakar gibi bakıyoruz. Verenler utansın”

“It isn’t possible to understand why people from [Gazi]Antep are staying quiet regarding this facility that is wanted to be taken from Gaziantepspor. Is this space so necessary for Bilal Erdoğan? Isn’t this facility more important for the kids who will grow up in [Gaziantepspor’s] youth system? TURGEV has millions of dollars, why do they need this space? Why is there this aggressive desire? I think it was given before the elections. We’re watching this as if watching a train. Those that gave [the facility away] should be ashamed.” 

Indeed Mr. Doğan can only watch the proceedings as if watching a train (wreck), and the analogy is fitting. Under the AKP the Turkish government has followed an aggressive policy of securing valuable land in and around city centers and sell it for a profit to various developers. This is the same trend that sparked the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and forced Beşiktaş to re-build their stadium at their own expense (land in central Istanbul is, for obvious reasons, very valuable). This is also the same trend that has sparked various urban renewal projects throughout Turkey, gentrifying neighborhoods and pushing less affluent citizens into mass government built housing outside the cities. With the precedent clear it is unlikely that Gaziantepspor will be able to keep this land since, under the current system, the government has been very successful in getting the land it wants regardless of opposition.

Bandirmaspor: One Small Football Team Does Its Best to Bridge Turkey’s Political Divide

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Bandirmaspor are a little known Turkish side languishing in the Spor Toto Second Division, the third tier of Turkish football. The club hails from a small district of 143,000 in the north-western province of Balikesir. Most people know the town for its seaport, a hub for travellers taking ferries across the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul. In sporting terms the club haven’t seen much success, having never appeared in the top tier of the country’s football structure. Their biggest claim to fame is that in the 1965-1966 season the team became the first “district” team—one not hailing from a provincial center—to play in Turkey’s professional football league. Today, they may have achieved another first: Bringing together members of Turkey’s three largest political parties.

The club has debts of 5,200,000 Turkish Liras (about 1,902,000 USD) and was on the brink of going into receivership before the club voted in a new board made up of an unlikely coalition. The leaders of the district organizations of Turkey’s three major political parties—the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and Nationalist Action Party (MHP)—put forth the names of politicians and businessmen in the district in order to find a new board of directors. The club’s honorary President Dursun Mirza, the district’s Mayor from the CHP who won 45.8% of the vote in 2014, explained:

“Yeni yönetim listesinde siyasetçi var ama siyaset olmayacak. Dayanışmayı kurduk, güzel bir yönetim oluştu. Belediye olarak, devamlı bu takımın arkasında olacağız. Hepimiz Bandırma partisi için bir araya geldik. Tüm partilerin ilçe başkanlarına, olumlu yaklaşımlarından dolayı teşekkür ederim.”

“There are politicians in the new administration but there won’t be any politics. We established solidarity and a good administration has been formed. As a municipality we will continually be behind this team. We all came together for the Bandirma party. I thank the leadership of all the district’s [political] party’s for their positive approach.”

In the board of directors of the Bandirmaspor football team we have a microcosm of the Turkish political scene as it stands in June of 2015. With the aforementioned three parties at loggerheads over forming a coalition government following the elections, their representatives have been able to come together in one small district to run the local football team. Running a country is obviously more difficult than running a football team, but such small attempts at mutual understanding during such divisive times are worth celebrating all the same.

Below I have compiled a list of the new board of directors at Bandirmaspor. After each name is their political affiliation as I could best ascertain from various news sources. Some are businessmen and therefore do not have any published political affiliations as far as I could find. This list is by no means one hundred percent correct; it is just my attempt to make things as clear as possible with a little bit of research. I apologize in advance to my readers and to the individuals listed below for any errors.

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Bandirmaspor. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/29320289.asp

Honorary President: Dursun Mirza (CHP): Municipal Mayor

President: Erhan Elmastaş (CHP): Accountant and Municipal Council Member

Board:

Former President: Mehmet Kılkışlı (AKP): Head of Bandirma Chamber of Commerce and Former AKP Municipal Council Candidate 

Ozan Onur (CHP): Municipal Council Member

Murat Ercili: Businessman

Yakup Ataş (AKP): Municipal Council Member  

Adnan Tuksal (MHP)

Ahmet Edin (AKP)

Bahadır Çolak: Businessman

Tolga Tosun (CHP): Municipal Council Member

Hüseyin Baş: Businessman

Göksel Karlahan (AKP): Municipal Council Member.

Ozan Tüm (CHP): Municipal Council Member 

Mülkü İnci (MHP) 

Gökhan Yankol (CHP): Municipal Council Member

Mehmet Özbek (MHP)

Orhan Demir: Unfortunately I could find no information on this individual.

A New Turkey? Turkish Elections 2015

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On June 8 2015 Turkey woke up to a new Turkey, but not the “New Turkey” that AKP leader and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been promoting over the course of his party’s uncontested 13 years of leadership. Instead, as many Turkish pundits have noted, it is a return to the old fragmented political landscape that dominated the country in the 1990s that paved the way for the AKP’s rise to power in 2002. There are some bright spots of hope peaking through the clouds but it remains unclear if Turkey’s politicians have the wherewithal—or desire—to clear away the clouds of uncertainty.

The Situation

The ruling AKP was looking to get 66 percent of 550 parliamentary seats that would have allowed them to get the 367 seats necessary to hold a constitutional referendum and change to a presidential system, allowing President Erdogan to raise the role of president from the largely ceremonial position it is now to an executive position. Instead, the AKP couldn’t even get the 276 seats necessary to rule on their own as the majority party; their share fell from the 49 percent they had in 2011 to 41 percent, giving them 258 seats as opposed to the 327 seats they now control.

This leaves three options. The AKP could seek to rule as a minority and go to new elections within 45 days if no government can be formed, as has been reported on the front pages of pro-government newspapers, but it is unclear as of now how the AKP can regain the votes they have lost to various opposition parties due to Mr. Erdogan’s polarizing rhetoric during the campaign and polarizing actions during his rule. In fact, this is the first time in the history of the AKP that they came away from an election having lost votes in all 81 of the country’s provinces. Therefore the AKP could continue to rule as a minority government past the initial 45 days with the other parties in question pledging their support but not looking for any ministries; still many pundits have said this scenario could lead to early elections in six to seven months.

The second option is forming a coalition government with one of the opposition parties, but that option seems unlikely given the sharp divide between all four parties. The main opposition, the secular and leftist Republican People’s Party (CHP), managed 25% of the vote and 132 seats but they stated before elections that they would not want to work with the AKP. As Ataturk’s party, this isn’t shocking. The election’s surprise package, the leftist and Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) that garnered 13% and 80 seats would be another option but their leader Selahattin Demirtas reiterated that they would not work with the AKP either, preferring to be a “strong opposition”. That leaves the right wing nationalist party—the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)—seemingly looking like the most likely partner for the AKP since they tend to get their support from Turkey’s conservative Anatolian heartland and many pundits think it was AKP voters moving to the MHP that allowed them to increase their representation to 16% and 80 seats from the 13% and 53 seats they won in 2011. Reality, however, is different and the leader of the MHP, Devlet Bahceli, is a veteran of Turkish politics and knows that to work with the AKP would mean effectively losing the 31 seats his party was able to gain. Unwilling to betray his voters, he said that his party was willing to be a main opposition and that “A snap election will happen whenever it will happen.” There is still, of course, room for maneuvering in the next 45 days and the MHP could be convinced to not give up a chance to be part of the country’s ruling coalition.

The third option would be a coalition without the AKP between the CHP, MHP, and HDP but that is even more unlikely. The HDP was able to gain votes from outside the Kurdish Southeast through traditionally CHP voters, shown by the fact that the CHP maintained a stable number of votes from 2011. CHP strongholds like Izmir Province (10.5%), Aydin Province(9.1%), Istanbul’s Besiktas district (13.2%), and Istanbul’s Kadikoy district (10.2 %) saw uncharacteristically large amounts of HDP votes and a drop in CHP votes from 2011. This is likely due to the HDP’s platform of appealing not only to Kurds but to other ethnic minorities, LGBT groups, and progressive liberals in urban areas. A voter in Istanbul’s traditionally CHP district of Sariyer said “In this election a lot of Turks abandoned their ideological preferences and voted strategically to derail Erdogan’s one-man rule.” But even if the CHP would consider working with the fellow leftist HDP (who, by the way, said they would support the CHP and MHP if they chose to work together) despite fears of Kurdish separatism, the ultra-nationalist MHP has implied that it would never agree to working with a Kurdish party. With the parties so divided it is worth looking at the few bright spots that are emerging as the dust settles.

 

The Bright Spots of Hope

The most obvious success of this election is the end of Mr. Erdogan’s megalomaniacal designs on controlling the Turkish political system. As many pundits have observed, this is essentially the end of any dreams of a presidential system. The AKP simply cannot count on the kind of support it saw in 2007 and 2011, and some have said that this represents the start of a downward trend for the AKP.

The AKP’s Neo-Ottoman designs have also been dealt a blow. Even if Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called to his supporters in the Balkans, Central Asia, and North Africa in his post election speech the AKP did not gather majorities from Turks living in many of these counties. In the Balkans Albania voted for the MHP, Macedonia voted for the HDP, and Bulgaria voted for the CHP. In Eurasia Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan voted for the CHP, while in the Middle East Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar all voted for the CHP as well. As an American I will also note that the AKP only managed 16.41 percent in the United States—the CHP got 44.32 percent and the HDP 24.05 percent.

The rhetoric of the HDP has also been refreshing and it looks as if they are trying to distance themselves from the violence of the past that took the lives of over 20,000 people in conflicts between the Kurdish separatists of the PKK and the Turkish military. As I hoped in the wake of the Gezi protests of June 2013 it seems that some of the CHP are beginning to empathize with the oppression minorities have faced under previous Kemalist governments after facing the same kind of oppression under the AKP. With the HDP’s rise to parliament there is hope that Turkish politics can move away from the zero-sum game that it has been and become more inclusive. The fact that HDP officials have recognized that they “will not betray their borrowed votes” is a good step, since the HDP took votes not only from a few CHP supporters but also a large number of AKP supporters, especially in the southeast, as shown in the graphic below.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/secim_2015/294442/HDP_oylari_bakin_nereden_geldi__AKP_secmenini_sasirtacak_harita.html

 

The onus will be on them to match their words with concrete actions and put the days of violence in the past. Mr. Demirtas—unfortunately dubbed the “Kurdish Obama”—will certainly have a lot of work to do in order to clear up the image of Kurds as terrorists, with his brother currently living in northern Iraq as a PKK member.

The presence of a few minorities in parliament is also a step in the right direction and represents a step away from the push for Sunni Islam that the AKP has supported in recent years. 4 Christians—one from the AKP, one from the CHP, and two from the HDP—were voted into Parliament, along with two representatives of Turkey’s Yezidi community as well. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the CHP, had said in April that “We do not want division in this society. We want to grow and develop together,” when introducing the CHP’s Armenian candidate Selina Dogan. It is worth noting that his words mirror the rhetoric that has come from the HDP. Despite these glimmers of hope, however, there still remains much more to be done.

 

The Clouds of Uncertainty

The most obvious sign of uncertainty following the elections came from the economy, and pundits have begun focusing on the possibility of economic instability in Turkey. The Lira weakened 5 percent against the Dollar on Monday morning, exposing long-standing vulnerability in the economy, but there is still some optimism that the central bank could regain independence.

Economic instability is to be expected after any election in a divided polity, so it does not come as a surprise. The more vexing uncertainties that have been uncovered by this election are political. If the AKP is unable to form a coalition government they could play up the instability caused by the election results and campaign for a return to single party rule if early elections are called for. Burhan Kuzu, the AKP deputy and head of the parliamentary constitution commission, stated his opinion in no uncertain terms: “The parliamentary system is a curse for the whole world. In Turkey only majority governments ever worked, coalitions always destroyed it.” He then said that the only solution would be an executive presidency, and if AKP supporters are conned by this type of rhetoric it could lead to more instability—after all, election results showed that 60 percent of voters effectively rejected Erdogan’s push for an executive presidency.

Unfortunately, the three opposition parties may not be able to come together soon enough to forestall such a plan. The MHP does not want to deal with the Kurdish HDP and, sadly, neither do the hardliners of the CHP. Social media has been ablaze with articles like this one labeling the Kurds as, variously, “terrorists” and “murderers”, among other things. Mr. Erdogan himself called them “Atheists” and “traitors” during the election campaign in order to appeal to his conservative support base. Even if many liberals see the HDP’s rise as healthy for Turkish democracy it is still worrying that the one thing that the CHP and AKP hardliners—as divided as they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum—can agree on is a hatred for the Kurds. But what can be done? They were told to join in politics instead of taking up arms, and now they are being rejected from politics as soon as they have been able to get involved. It is also true that the violence inflicted on the Turkish state by Kurdish terrorists in the PKK during the 1990s is unforgiveable and left its mark on the Turkish people; understandably such memories die hard. Indeed the zero-sum nature of Turkish politics is solidifying and with this kind of mentality no one—except Mr. Erdogan, perhaps—will win.

We can only hope that cooler, rational, heads prevail and that true inclusive democracy can rise out of this difficult situation. The only road to a healthy—and strong—Turkish society rises in putting the hatreds of the past in the past, in order to heal the rifts created by the 13 year AKP policy of divide and rule. But the political situation is clear. There is no consensus but there are four main camps: The conservative Islamists, the Turkish nationalists, the Turkish liberal nationalists, and the Kurdish liberal nationalists. In fact, when you combine the two leftist parties (ignoring for a moment the ethnic divide) their 40% matches the amount of votes won by the conservatives of the AKP. In order to bridge the gap ethnic and religious identities must be respected but not underlined. Easier said than done.

 

NOTE:

Football also played its part in this election. Hakan Sukur, the former AKP deputy who resigned from the party and ran as an independent failed to enter parliament this election. Another footballer—and former strike partner with Hakan Sukur at Galatasaray (They were called the “twin towers” in the 1990s)—Saffet Sancakli was elected as an MHP representative from Kocaeli province. As the party’s fortunes go, so too do the footballers. With the Gulenists and AKP on a downward trend their representative from the footballing community bows out while the MHP, on an upward trend, provides another politician from a footballing background with a shot at a career in politics.

Turkish Football Fans Accused of Attempting to Bring Down the Government

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Yesterday the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office for terrorism and organized crime investigations announced the results of a year long investigation of the Beşiktaş Ultra group Çarşı for their role in last summer’s Gezi Park protests. Previously, I had written extensively about the Çarşı group following the events one year ago during the Galatasaray-Beşiktaş derby. The results of the investigation would be humorous if they were not all too real. After all The Onion didn’t announce it, CNN Turk did. The thirty eight-page indictment calls for life sentences for thirty five members of the Çarşı group, including one of the founders, “Sari” Cem Yakışkan and “Deve” Erol Özdil, who makes the groups famous banners. The charge? Attempt to bring down the Government.

The indictment says that “at first the Gezi Park protests started in a democratic fashion before the motives of the protests changed when ‘marginal’ groups joined. These marginal groups then encouraged the protestors in Taksim against the government, aiming to bring it down through non-democratic means.” It continues, saying that Çarşı brought foreign press officers to the protests “in order to show the world media scenes that would create an image similar to that of the ‘Arab Spring’, calling for leadership change and bringing down the Turkish Republic’s legally founded government by illegal means”.

Apparently proof of this attempt to bring down the government comes from telephone conversations and Tweets. Allegedly, some such telephone conversations contained statements such as “I don’t care about the park”, “We will bring down this government” and “This could turn into a civil war,” among other things. To me, such words seem to hardly be the makings of a plan to bring down the Turkish Republic but apparently the prosecutor’s office sees things differently.

 

Today an MP from the opposition CHP, Umut Oran (himself an ex-footballer, according to the story) brought the issue before the Turkish Parliament in order to get a response from the new Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Mr. Oran asked many questions that I myself would like to hear the answers to:

–“If Çarşı encouraged a coup during the Gezi events, then why did you [your party, the AKP] allow Çarşı signs to be opened at the [pro-government] rallies in Kazlıçeşme at that time? Are there no AKP members within the ‘pro-coup’ Çarşı Group, and will anything be done to them if there are found to be any?”

–“Does the Istanbul Police department not have pictures and audio of the Çarşı group when they yelled ‘Çarşı Darbeye Karşı’ (Carsi against coups) and carried signs to the same effect?”

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(Image courtesy of: http://www.sonkulis.com/gundem/carsi-bildiri-yayinladi-carsi-12-eylule-karsi-h2992.html. Author’s Note: Indeed, the proof Mr. Oran asked for does exist–this refers to Carsi’s stance against the military coup of September 12, 1980).

–Is it not our [the Turkish] government that does not designate ISIS as a terrorist group, the same group that the United Nations and the United States have designated as a terrorist group for their savage actions? Is it not contradictory that our government, that calls ISIS ‘Angry Youths’, should take such a harsh stance when it comes to the Çarşı Group?”

–Members of the AKP cabinet of ministers and party leaders said the Gezi events were ‘just the work of a few ‘çapulcus’ (looters) and that it is nothing to be blown out of proportion’. Then how is it possible that today it has come to the point of ‘attempted coup?’

–“When Mr. Davutoğlu was Minister of Foreign affairs he stated to foreign leaders that ‘we are proud that these protests in Turkey are taking place in a similar fashion to those in Europe’. How is it then possible to indict these protests as an attempted coup?’

 

Later Çarşı’s lawyer, Mehmet Derviş Yıldız, made a press announcement in the middle of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district:

“We have always existed in the name of this country’s conscience. We were created in 1982 in the period following the [1980] military coup amidst martial law, and continued in periods of coalition governments and with our conscience stood in society alongside everyone who saw no preferential treatment from any group. There were times that we donated our blood to blood drives, there were times that we gave the clothes off our backs to those living in tents amidst the rubble of their destroyed homes. In the Gezi protests—that our whole society reacted to with a mix of sadness and surprise—we drew attention to the disproportional use of force and uncontrollable violence being used. We called for this violence not to escalate. And in return for this, immediately after the first arrests, some people—with hate and jealousy—had the face to label us as mercenary protestors. And now we see this label on the pages of the investigation.” He went on to explain that it was Civil servants who first called on Çarşı to de-escalate the tension, to use their influence on the neighborhood as football fans—in a way, a civil society group—in order to stop people from entering Taksim Square during the protests. But, in the end, they are the ones who are blamed in a blatant attempt to further make every segment of Turkish society political.

But such attempts to make everything political can also have the side effect of waking people up, and banding them together. This became evident when fans of Besiktas’s rivals—Fenerbahce—also voiced their support. Sol Acik wrote:

 “Faşizme karşı kardeşimsin çArşı”

“You’re my brother against fascism çArşı”

 

Sadly, these events have not seen much coverage in English language press but they are a very real sign of regression in the Turkish justice system. That life sentences should be sought for a group of football fans is, quite truly, unbelievable. As one of those named in the indictment, founding member of Çarşı Cem Yakışkan said today:

 “Dünyada herhalde bir ilktir. Darbe ile suçlanan taraftar grubu. Gülelim mi, ağlayalım mı bilmiyorum.”

“This is probably a first in the entire world. A fan group charged with a coup attempt. I don’t know if we should laugh or cry”.

Indeed, it probably is a first. That it comes in a country that knows all too well about coups—three to be exact—only makes it more shocking.

 

To pull this topic out of football, I will close with a some words that come from a few members of Çarşı who sat down with journalist Erk Acarer for the Turkish paper Cumhuriyet since they are worth hearing. For me, they truly show the gravity of the situation:

“Türkiye isyan etti ihale bize kaldı. Bu kitlesel bir hareketti. çArşı vicdan sahibi bir gruptur. Biz büyük iş yapmadık aslında. Toplum ‘mute’ tuşunda olduğu zamanlarda da biz ‘titreşimdeydik’. Üşüyen çocuklara atkı gönderdiğimiz, haksıza karşı haklının yanında olduğumuz ağaçlara dokunma dediğimiz için zaten yıllarca çıban başı olarak görüldük. Söylemlerimiz sistemi rahatsız etti. Hiçbir demokratik ülkede protestocular darbe girişimiye yargılanmazlar. Kasti yapıyorlar. Esma’ya ağlayıp Berkin’e ağlamayanlardan değiliz. Çifte standarta karşıyız.”

“Turkey protested and we got stuck with the bill. This was a mass action. Çarşı is a group with a conscious. Really, we didn’t do much. When society was on “mute” we were on “vibrate”. Because we sent scarves to freezing children, because we were on the side of right in the face of wrong, because we said don’t touch the trees we have for years been seen as a delicate problem. What we said made the system uncomfortable. In no democratic country can protesters be tried for attempting a coup. They’re doing it on purpose. We are not among those who cried for Esma and not for Berkin. We’re against double standards.”

The gravity of the situation lies in a strange confluence of football fans, morality, and a very delicate time in world politics. These football fans—Ultras—are talking about standing up for the righteous, the voiceless, the oppressed, in the face of persecution and oppression. Think of anyone you’d like. Martin Luther King comes to my mind due to recent events in the United States but that is a topic for a different time.

Here the name “Esma” is invoked. It is the Turkish name for Asmaa el Beltagi, who became a symbol of the Egyptian revolution when she was shot and killed in Rabia Square by snipers. Out of her death the “Rabia” symbol was born, one that Turkey’s newly-elected president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (and more than a few footballers) has not shied away from flashing. The other name, “Berkin”, refers to Berkin Elvan, a fifteen year old boy shot by police in Istanbul while on his way to buy bread who I wrote about previously.

In this globalized world protests are occurring in more and more spots all over the world, tying us all together—wherever we live—in a web characterized by a battle between right and wrong, the oppressed against the oppressors, the strong against the weak. Yet depending on one’s politics—as Çarşı’s members imply in the above quote—some people choose who to cry for.

We can only hope that cooler heads prevail and that these life sentences are not upheld, since life in prison—not to mention death—as a result of one’s beliefs is truly a sad fate. Football fan or not that is something I hope we can all sympathize with, whether we are Turkish, Egyptian, American or anything else.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: All translations are my own. Some of the lengthier ones have been paraphrased, while others are more literal. I apologize in advance for any issues in comprehension arising from my translations, and I have attached links to the original Turkish news stories in all cases. Thank you for your understanding.

Turkey’s March 30, 2014 Municipal Elections Complete After Turkish Politicians Donned Team Colors on the Campaign Trail

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The Turkish municipal elections have come and gone, and finally all votes have been counted. Many out there are writing on the relevance —and irrelevance—of the outcome. As some may know, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 45.43% of the vote nationally with 20,560,513 votes compared to 27.77% (12,567,556 votes) for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and 15.27% (6,910,256 votes) for the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)—(For complete results please see CNN Turk’s election homepage, from which I have taken all statistics mentioned in this post unless otherwise noted: http://www.cnnturk.com/secim2014/).

Personally I am not surprised that the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party won the most municipalities in this election—after all, most districts in Turkey are rural and therefore are part and parcel of the AKP’s main constituency. What is important, however, is how close the vote was in two of the three largest municipalities in the country, Istanbul and Ankara (The third largest city, Izmir, has been a traditional secularist stronghold and this did not change as the CHP won 49.66% of the vote in the province). In Istanbul the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won 4,096,221 (47.92%) of the vote as opposed to 3,426,602 (40.08%) for the CHP challenger Mustafa Sarigul, and an even closer vote in Ankara (the results of which are currently being contested) resulted in 1.415.973 votes (46.33%) for the AKP incumbent Ibrahim Melih Gokcek and 1,383,786 votes (43.78%) for the CHP challenger Mansur Yavas. Interestingly candidates from the ultra-nationalist third party in this election, the MHP, won just 339,346 (3.97%) in Istanbul and 245,624 (7.77%) in Ankara. Both numbers are far below the 15.27% they garnered nationally.

At this point it helps to look at the results of the last municipal elections in Turkey back in 2009 (Again all statistics are courtesy of CNN Turk: http://secim2009.cnnturk.com). Then too the AKP won, this time 40.04 percent of the vote with 19,073,953 votes while the CHP garnered 28.16% with 13,413,030 votes and the MHP followed with 14.70% with 7,002,686 votes. Interestingly—despite the corruption scandals and ongoing street protests stemming from both domestic and international polices—the AKP gained more than five percent of the vote in 2014’s municipal elections (with just 1.5 million more votes, strangely enough) while the CHP lost just under a percentage point (with a loss of under a million voters) and the MHP gained under a percentage point (with almost the same number of voters). In the big cities is where we see a rather large discrepancy in the 2014 results, however. In the 2009 elections the AKP candidate Kadir Topbas won Istanbul with 44.20% (3,080,593 votes) over the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu who garnered 36.96% (2,578,623 votes). In the same year Ankara was won by AKP stalwart Ibrahim Melih Gokcek with 38.47% (939,465 votes) over CHP candidate Murat Karayalcin who got 31.50% (769.299 votes). As a note, this years CHP candidate Mansur Yavas ran for the MHP in 2009 and got 656,895 votes, and 26.90% percent of the total vote. This number is much higher than the MHP’s figure this year, which stands at 245,624 votes and 7.77%. What is clear is that despite the results in the rural provinces—which are the AKP’s breadbasket, so to speak—do not reflect on results in the urban metropolises, which have gone against the ruling party.

But what will this mean for Turkey’s future? Unfortunately, I have to say that it does not look good. Such a divided polity—especially in the cities—does not bode well for stability in any democracy. It bodes even less well in a country like Turkey, where the leader’s democratic ambitions have been questioned, and where widespread claims of voting irregularities (In Turkish and English) were answered in the most comical of terms. When questioned as to why electricity was lost on election night in several districts—home to mainly CHP support—in major cities and hindering the vote count, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz blamed the failures on a cat (in English and Turkish). The fact that this was not an April Fool’s joke is certainly cause for concern.

The ruling AKP government will certainly have to answer some questions in the coming days, but their hypocrisy recently makes me doubt that any concrete answers will come. Back in the summer I wrote a post about how politics were to be outlawed in the soccer stadium (also please see: http://www.todayszaman.com/news-322363-turkish-govt-seeks-to-curb-political-chants-in-stadiums.html). Yet, interestingly enough (and in a cynically hypocritical move), Prime Minister Erdogan did not shy away from donning the “home team’s” scarves when on the campaign trail in various cities—the CHP’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu, not to be outdone, did the same; pictures are below. So much for politics and sport being separate in Turkey.

And finally, on a lighter note, this is how some Trabzonspor supporters chose to vote. On Twitter—the same social media site that was banned in Turkey (a ban that President Abdullah Gul himself circumvented, in keeping with his occasional opposition of Prime Minister Erdogan), Trabzonspor fans gave their apathetic opinion on the elections. On their ballots they wrote “2010-2011 Champion Trabzonspor” in reference to the season they finished second to Fenerbahce, who were later indicted in a match fixing scandle, “My Party is Trabzonspor”, “labor’s fight against money” and “our vote won’t count but our conscious will rest’’. It is a strange—and strangely fitting—way to end this particular discussion on Turkish politics.

 

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Trabzonspor Voters Make Their Voice (But Not Vote) Heard (Courtesy: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26116581.asp)

 

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The Culprit Has Been Found–A Cat! (You entered the [electric] Transformer?)

 

Football as the Opiate of the Masses? Turkey’s Politicians Don Team Colors on the Campaign Trail:

23607571 Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Sanliurfa province March 11 with a Sanliurfaspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25981102.asp). Erdogan and the AKP won Sanlifurfa province with 126,637 votes, an overwhelming 60.76% of the province’s vote.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Batman province with a Batman Petrolspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011564.asp). Erdogan and the AKP came in second in Batman province with 50,243 votes, 30.78% of the total. The Kurdish BDP won the province with 91,962 votes, 53.83% of the total.

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Adana province March 16 while carrying the duel threat of BOTH an Adanaspor scarf (orange) and Adana Demirspor scarf (light blue) (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26013823.asp). This is ironic on a couple levels. First of all, the two teams are–as can be imagined–bitter rivals. Ideologically, however, the irony should not be lost on anyone. Adana Demirspor are one of the most staunchly socialist teams in Turkey–the team was founded by the railway workers of Turkish State Railways (TCDD). They are, undoubtebly, the workers’ team. In fact, a few years ago the team faced “communist” Italian side Livorno in a well-publicized friendly–unprecedented, since at the time Livorno were in the first division and Adana Demirspor were mired in the third division. Please see this write-up on another blog about the match (http://fireandflames.blogsport.de/2009/09/13/socialism-a-la-turca-or-adana-demirspor-livorno/), and note the communist flags in the stands. Then think for the moment of the absurdity of a conservative Islamist-leaning Prime Minister campaigning with that team’s scarf around his neck. Oh, and by the way–the AKP finished second in Adana province with 63,594 votes and 32.38% of the total. The winners? None other than the (sometimes) fascist sympathizing MHP (whose supporters fought pitched battles with leftists on the streets of Turkey in the 1970s) who garnered 66,800 votes and 34.01% of the total.

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Zonguldak province March 26 with a Zonguldakspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/basbakan-erdogan-millet-pensilvanyaya-osmanli-tokadi-atacaktir-14004.html). Due to the large amount of mining in the region Zonguldakspor are also a worker’s team, supporting the miners. The CHP secured a narrow victory in Zonguldak province with 22,375 votes, 38.80% of the total while the AKP garnered 21,805 votes, 37.81% of the total (Results from Radikal Newspapers website (CNNturk.com still shows the AKP as the victor): http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=67&bs=1).

 

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Prime Minister Erdogan campaigning in Ordu province March 25 with an Orduspor Scarf (Courtesy of:  http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26073880.asp). The AKP won in Ordu Province with a majority of 95,244 votes, 52.02% of the total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Kocaeli province March 15 with a Kocaelispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/26011498.asp). The CHP could only get 34,787 votes in the province–24.02% of the total–compared to the victorious AKP, which won 71,334 votes and 49.25% of the total.

 

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Denizli province March 25 sporting a Denizlispor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.haberler.com/chp-lideri-kilicdaroglu-denizli-de-5828037-haberi/). Again, the CHP finished second in the province with 237,144 votes, 38.76% of the total as compared to the AKP’s 276,927, which was good for 45.26% of the province’s total.

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Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the CHP campaigning in Karabuk province March 12 sporting a Kardemir-Celik Karabukspor scarf (Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/25993636.asp). The CHP managed a paltry 1,738 votes in the province, good for just 2.61% of the total. The MHP took the province with 34,463 votes and 51.81% of the total (Courtesy of: http://secim2014.radikal.com.tr/ildetay.aspx?cid=78&bs=1). I’m not sure whether or not the MHP candidate Rafet Vergili campaigned in the Karabukspor colors.