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As the Geopolitical Rivalry Between Turkey and Greece Reveals Itself in Football (again), How Does It Reflect Current Views Towards Nationalism and the Nation?

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After Osmanlispor’s European season came crashing to an end following a 0-3 loss at home to Greece’s Olympiakos, the story of the match has slowly revealed itself to be more than just football itself: It is a story that involves an age old geopolitical rivalry that is being re-interpreted in the context of a world-system that is in flux. Globalism or localism? Is the response to globalism chauvinist nationalism that pits countries against one another in a zero-sum game, or is it a more civilized form of nationalism that views countries as equal actors on a world stage? While this struggle has played out most prominently in Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union during “Brexit” and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, it is a struggle that is far from over. Interestingly, the struggle even played itself out in a relatively insignificant Europa League tie between Turkish side Osmanlispor and Greek side Olympiakos FC.

Scholars of history will be familiar with the Greco-Turkish rivalry, a contentious relationship rooted in geopolitics since the time of the Ottoman Empire. Given the history, any matchup in European football between Greek and Turkish sides is bound to be a contentious affair. This year’s match was no exception since Osmanlispor itself is a team that represents the neo-Ottoman identity that the current Turkish government is building itself around.

“Osmanli” is Turkish for Ottoman; Osmanlispor FK can be loosely translated as “Ottomansport Football Club”. The team was originally Ankara Buyuksehir Belediyespor, the team of the Ankara municipality, and run by controversial Ankara Mayor Ibrahim Melih Gokcek before being re-named to “Osmanlispor”. While the history is complicated, the team is, clearly, the team of the government. Their “Ottoman” name is not just a coincidence; it is meant to re-enforce the neo-Ottoman visions of the ruling government in the field of sports. The team’s main fan group Akincilar even have a Twitter handle that is written in Arabic characters while the picture they Tweeted ahead of the Olympiakos match features players charging out of a sepia-toned mist; it is an image evocative of historic art depicting the Ottoman cavalry charging into battle.

 

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The picture Osmanlispor’s Fan Group Tweeted Ahead of the Olympiakos Match Features Players Charging Out of a Sepia-Toned Mist. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

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The Image Tweeted By Osmanlispor’s Fans Is Thematically Similar to Artwork Depicting the Ottoman Cavalry (Sepahis) Charging into Battle Out of a Cloud Of Dust. Image Courtesy Of: https://postimg.cc/image/5pa34tsij/

 

This kind of neo-Ottomanism is loosely connected to increasing religiosity and Turkish nationalism as well. Ahmet Gokcek’s (the son of Ibrahim Melih Gokcek) tweets show this synthesis well. Using football as a base, he sends messages that combine notions of Turkish nationalism with Islamic rhetoric. The first Tweet came after the first leg draw with Olympiakos—“Elhamdulillah” means “Praise be to Allah” in Arabic. His other Tweets, centered around the matches of Turkish teams in European competition, combine similar religious messages with images of the Turkish flag and the badges of Turkish football clubs: One says “May the Lord not embarrass our teams in Europe”, with Mr. Gokcek’s signature beneath the words. The team’s coach, Mustafa Resit Akcay, himself said (before the second leg) that “we [Osmanlispor] will feel pressure because of our name and because of representing our country”. Here we clearly see a connection between the nation and the Ottoman past.

 

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Ahmet Gokcek Thanks Allah For Osmanlispor’s Draw. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/OSMANLISPOR_FK

 

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Ahmet Gokcek’s Tweets Show the Relationship Between Turkish Nationalism, Islamism, Neo-Ottomanism, and Football. The First Carries an Image of the Turkish Flag Resembling a Blood Stain (Connecting the Ideas of War and Nationalism); The Latter Tweet Carries the Caption “Our Prayers Are With You…” While the Quote in the Image Reads “May the Lord Not Embarrass Our Teams in Europe” in the Context of the Turkish Star and Crescent. Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ahmetgokcek?lang=en.

 

Perhaps the most interesting pre-game Tweet came before the first leg when Istanbul Basaksehirspor (another team essentially created by the ruling AKP government) wished Osmanlispor luck by saying “Good luck on your trip to Byzantine”. Clearly Basaksehirspor’s Tweeters are not very familiar with history since “Byzantium” was the Byzantine Empire’s name for…Istanbul, and the Byzantine Empire encompassed both Anatolia and Piraeus (where Olympiakos is from). In short, the Tweet can be seen as framing the match in terms of a historical rivalry between the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires that has carried over to the modern nation-states of Turkey and Greece.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/ibfk2014?lang=en

 

After Olympiakos’ victory some segments of the Turkish press were upset at an Olympiakos tweet which returned the favor. Olympiakos Tweeted—in English and Greek—a message that reads “A triumph for all Greeks! Greece who knows how to win!”. The image accompanying the tweet consists of Olympiakos’ badge and the Greek flag; it is a fusion of football and Greek nationalism—perhaps a deliberate fusion in direct response to Basaksehirspor’s Tweets (and Ahmet Gokcek’s Osmanlispor Tweets) which fuse Turkish nationalism and neo-Ottomanism.

It is clear that the pre-match and post-match Tweets from both sides reflect forms of chauvinistic nationalism. Yet, the Greek press (according to Turkish media) actually praised the Osmanlispor fans for a banner during  the match which read—in Greek, Turkish, and English—“Dear Neighbor Friendship Will Win” [Author’s Note: The Turkish, “Dostluk Kazansin Komsu” translates more accurately as “Dear Neighbor May Friendship Win”. For it to be “Friendship Will Win” it would have to have been phrased as “Dostluk Kazanir”].

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.milliyet.com.tr/komsu-bu-pankarti-begendi-osmanlispor-2402475-skorerhaber/

 

The banner itself reflects the disconnect between traditional nationalist representations of the nation and the present pressure for “globalism” in the face of globalization. While Osmanlispor’s fans tried to put out a public message of “fair play”, the team’s fans—after Olympiakos’ first goal—ended up throwing objects onto the field (a fact only reported in a few media outlets, such as this play-by-play account of the match).

 

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Please See Minute 54. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.karar.com/spor-haberleri/canli-anlatim-osmanlispor-olympiakos-kac-kac-baskentte-kritik-uefa-mucadelesi-anlik-anlatim-397490#

 

The message on the banner was just words; not only was it poorly translated but it was—given the fans’ later actions—also not heartfelt. On the other side, while the Greek press may have praised Osmanlispor’s message of friendship, ahead of the match they were busy claiming that the grass in Osmanlispor’s stadium was painted green to cover up the fact that it was dead. Again, the spirit of “fair play” is only alive in the discourse surrounding the banner in the stadium; everywhere else the discussion (from both sides) is quite antagonistic.

This tension between what nationalism should be—and how it should be expressed—in the current international climate is a fascinating one. Personally, I do not believe that the divide need be one between chauvinistic nationalism driven by the perceived superiority of one nation over others on the one hand and over-hyped messages of (often faked) “friendship” and “tolerance” on the other. Rather, it should be an acceptance that countries—like football teams—all exist in one inter-connected environment. This does not mean that one country (or football team) is intrinsically better than another (this is the kind of sentiment that encourages violent forms of nationalism and fandom—in some cases hooliganism) but it does recognize that each country has a right to put itself first. The answer to what nationalism “should” be in the context of a rapidly changing international environment is still open to debate, and it will be interesting to see how this process is reflected in the football world going forward.

Football Meets Politics Head on as Sports Figures Weigh iN On Turkey’s Future

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Turkish Football Fans Have Again Gotten Involved In Politics Ahead Of The Referendum. The Caption In this File Photo Is Relevant And Reads “We Will Not Give In To Industrial and Political Power: WE WILL NOT BE SILENT FANS; Long Live The Brotherhood Of Colors”. Image Courtesy Of: http://haber.sol.org.tr/spor/fenerbahce-taraftarindan-galatasaray-taraftarina-cagri-hayir-diyoruz-var-misiniz-183452

 

There can be no denying that football is a major part of culture around the world. It plays a role in local culture (from the local non league side) as well as global culture (FC Barcelona’s badge is likely one of the most recognizable symbols in the world). Events in the past few days have shown how deeply engrained the sport is in Turkish culture, as celebrities from the sporting world gave their opinion on Turkey’s future.

After the Turkish Parliament approved a controversial presidential system on 21 January 2017, with a vote of 339 in favor out of 550 (330 was the threshold), the issue will go to a public vote in a referendum some time in late March or early April of 2017. A switch to a presidential system would be an unquestionably a bad decision for Turkey, since, as Reuters notes, “The reform would enable the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament – powers that the two main opposition parties say strip away balances to Erdogan’s power”. I could not agree more; a presidential system without checks and balances would spell ruin for a country that has already been ravaged by an odd form of totalitarianism. Unfortunately, it isn’t very surprising since the globalist world—based on a strict adherence to neoliberal policies—inadvertently fosters totalitarianism.

In One Dimensional Man philosopher Herbert Marcuse points out that “contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian” (Marcuse, 1964: 3). For him, in this kind of society, the “supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society” (Marcuse, 1964: 23). In short, modern capitalist society promises more and more improvement, more and more growth and (subsequently) more riches, stupefying people into following the flow of society without questioning its direction. That is the situation in modern day Turkey. It is undeniable that the country experienced a strong period of growth under the AKP between 2002-2011, when

the Turkish economy grew by an average rate of 7.5 percent annually. Lower inflation and interest rates led to a major increase in domestic consumption. And the Turkish economy began to attract unprecedented foreign direct investment, thanks to a disciplined privatization program. The average per capita income rose from $2,800 U.S. in 2001 to around $10,000 U.S. in 2011, exceeding annual income in some of the new EU members.

(Taspinar, 2012)

Unfortunately, this unprecedented growth has not come without a price. It has resulted in large scale divisions between secular and religious, Kurdish and Turkish, urban and rural; competing identities have increasingly come into conflict. The AKP’s poor judgement in foreign policy—like supporting the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—have also opened the country up to attacks from ISIS/ISIL/DAESH on the one hand and the Kurdish PKK on the other. And now the people—blinded by their greed for more and inability to see past it, as Marcuse notes—are willing to throw their future away by getting behind a man like Mr. Erdogan who has continually ignored his country in order to profit from involvement in the neoliberal global economy.

With support for a “YES” vote in the referendum believed to be at around 32%, it seems that Mr. Erdogan has realized that an appeal to celebrities from the sports world might help boost his numbers. On 24 January 2017 famous sports commentator (and former Fenerbahce star) Ridvan Dilmen posted a video on his social media page with a call to the fellow sports superstar Arda Turan of FC Barcelona:

“Our nation, our country is going through a very difficult period. It is literally a war of independence. We want a strong Turkey. I say YES, I am also in for a strong Turkey. Arda, are you in?”

“Vatanımız, ülkemiz çok zorlu bir süreçten geçiyor. Adeta bir İstiklal Savaşı. Güçlü bir Türkiye istiyoruz. Güçlü bir Türkiye için evet ben de varım. Arda sen de var mısın?”

 Soon Mr. Dilmen’s call went viral as other celebrities—including former Galatasaray Striker Burak Yilmaz—voiced their support for a “YES” vote and the presidential system. This campaigning is not surprising, given that Mr. Dilmen has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the Turkish Football Federation and has publically voiced his support for Mr. Erdogan as well. For Mr. Dilmen it is a good choice; by making his politics clear he can assure his own safety in a climate where at least 2,000 footballers are being investigated for their involvement with the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen who is accused of being behind the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. But for his nation, it is a very bad choice. Of course he has just been blinded by his greed, a byproduct of the extreme capitalism that has engulfed Turkey in the last fifteen years.

 

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Do Mr. Dilmen (L) and Mr. Kocaman (R) Have Different Views Regarding Their Country’s Future? Image Courtesy Of: http://amkspor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/01/25/aykut-kocamandan-evet-kampanyasi-icin-farkli-aciklama-582090/

 

Fortunately other celebrities have hit back at their greedy colleagues, emphatically calling for a “NO” vote. Konyaspor’s head coach Aykut Kocaman also offered a voice of reason amid the maelstrom, saying “The players, including myself, should not be involved in politics. Because everyone makes up the group that supports us. We belong to no man, we are only the men of our profession and Konyaspor, and the players should be the same way” Mr. Kocaman even took a veiled shot at the establishment when he said “we are not people who live in glass houses, we are people who are in society (Biz öyle sırça köşklerde yaşayan insanlar değiliz, toplumun içinde yer alan insanlarız)”. The football fans have gotten involved as well, with Fenerbahce’s leftist “Sol Acik” group asking Galatasaray’s leftist “Tekyumruk” group “We also say NO for a free, equal, and secular country, @tekrumruk are you in?” on Twitter. Tekyumurk’s response created a similarly viral tweet as they reached out to Besiktas’s Belestepe group with the same tweet. Belestepe’s response was “No, one thousand times NO”.

 

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The Tweet Exchange Between Football Fan Groups. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

There is no doubt that Turkey is going through a tough time and that society has become fragmented beyond belief. The hurt caused by this fragmentation is expressed well by a user of the internet community eksisozluk which shows the sociological and psychological damage that the behavior of Mr. Dilmen and other celebrities has caused. The user şükela wrote a heartfelt piece outlining his disappointment at Mr. Dilmen’s decision. In the piece the user notes how, as a free floating hopeless 17 year-old adrift in the world of industrial society while working with his uncle, his only love—his only hope—was his football team, Fenerbahce. He recalls listening to a match on the radio and crying when he heard that his hero, Mr Dilmen, had been injured: “I remember sitting and silently crying as I hopelessly tried to cling to life at only seventeen because Ridvan [Dilmen] was the defining symbol of the only branch I clung to, Fenerbahce (olduğum yerde sessizce ağladığımı hatırlıyorum, daha on yedi yaşında umutsuz bir şekilde hayatta kalmaya çalışırken, tutunduğum tek dal olan fenerbahçe’nin biricik sembolüydü çünkü rıdvan)”. The user goes on to say “it is now clear that you have long ago forgotten the country that made you you, and this community [of Fenerbahce]. Good luck, but as someone from Kadikoy [the neighborhood Fenerbahce is in] I’d like to remind you that the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Fenerbahce will endure and last forever [but] you destroyed your chance to be an honorable soldier for both of these republics tonight with your own hands (ama anlaşılan o ki; sen çoktan seni sen yapan bu ülkeden, bu camiadan vazgeçmişsin, yolun açık olsun, ama bir kadıköy’lü olarak hatırlatmak isterim ki; türkiye cumhuriyeti de fenerbahçe cumhuriyeti de ilelebet payidar kalacaktır, sen bu iki cumhuriyetin de bir neferi, şerefli bir askeri olma şansını bu akşam kendi ellerinde yok ettin). ”

 

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 Graffito Tweeted By Fenerbahce Fan Group Sol Acik Reads “In Izmir We Say Sunflower Seeds are Cigdem [A Local Word Referring To Sunflower Seeds In The Aegean City Of Izmir] And Say No To A Presidential System” [Author’s Note: This Is A Very Difficult Passage To Translate On Short Notice Since It Is Very Culturally Specific So The English Is Much Longer Than The Turkish, I Apologize To The Readers]. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

The words of this anonymous individual show how shocking it can be when your childhood hero turns his back on not just his football team, but also his country. Consumed by the desire for money Mr. Dilmen—as well as Arda Turan and Burak Yilmaz—have decided to abandon their personal morals and values as well as their country; they have become “one-dimensional men”. It is disappointing to see but we must remember that it is symptomatic of a modern industrial society consumed by extreme capitalism. I say NO to industrial football, NO to extreme capitalism, and NO to globalization. I am sure you can infer my position on Mr. Erdogan’s presidential system as well…!

 

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A Touch Of Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.diken.com.tr/o-ses-baskanlik-uclusune-twitterdan-spora-siyaset-bulastirmanin-en-guzel-ornekleri/

 

Lig TV is Gone as Qatar Enters Turkish Football Market

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The Iconic Lig TV  brand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/657907/Lig_TV_nin_adi_degisiyor.html

 

Thursday 13 January 2017 will be the last day that Turkish football will be played on Lig TV as the channel’s name is being changed to beIN Sports. As someone who has fond memories of watching matches on Lig TV, I admit that I have a nostalgic love for the channel’s name. Interestingly, for a lesson in how the media can spin things, neither the above mentioned piece in the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, nor pro-government Sabah and CNN Turk, add the detail that the leftist Sol gives: That the name change is due to the fact that Turkey’s main pay TV service, Digiturk, was bought by Qatar!

Of course, the price of the sale was never released to the public, but the name change is a blatant attempt for the Qatari company close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), beIN Media, to stamp their ownership on Turkish football. It is also a product of Qatar’s quest for soft power in the region that has been characterized by large investments in football-related fields (the World Cup anyone?); for more on this please see the interesting articles on James Dorsey’s blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

It is part of a wide ranging number of Qatari investments in Turkey, likely necessitated by the the rising instability that has scared Western money away from Turkey. Interestingly, as the Cumhuriyet daily notes, many Turkish companies such as the Doğuş Group, the Ciner Group, and Türk Telekom (owned 55% by Saudi Arabia’s Oger Telekom but 45% by the government and public) wanted to buy Digiturk yet were not allowed to. Why? Is it because, as Cumhuriyet implies, the Qatari Emir visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the day before the sale was announced? If this is the case, then (as the paper argues) why not announce the sale price? It is just another example of the extreme neoliberal policies of the AKP, who sell to the highest bidder and line their pockets in the process (after all, by not announcing the sale price it allows a chance to skim more off the top). The Financial Times estimates the deal to have been between $1bn-$1.5bn.

Now, Nasser Al-Khelaifi (also the chairman of Paris Saint Germain football club) is the owner of Turkey’s main sports broadcaster, representing Qatar’s financial goals. As the Financial Times explains:

 

Rejecting global criticism of its hosting of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Qatar is pushing ahead with investments abroad. Less susceptible than its regional peers to the slump in oil prices, the country has been using its formidable financial firepower to snap up assets from corporate blue-chips to sporting franchises.

This latest blow from industrial football stings because it means that another Turkish business has been sold off only to line the pockets of corrupt politicians. It also may be a sign of the Turkish economy’s increasing fragility; as the West is scared off by increasing political instability the country seems to be turning East for investment. Unfortunately, history has shown that relying on Petrodollars is not the soundest of strategies.

 

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Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the New Owner of Digiturk. Also Chairman of France’s Paris Saint Germain Football Club. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/afp/2016/08/qatar-turkey-television-bein-digiturk.html (Top) and https://t24.com.tr/haber/akpye-yakin-katarli-sirketin-aldigi-digiturkun-satis-fiyati-neden-aciklanmiyor,302953 (Bottom)

Turkish Football Is a Major Money-Maker for Pro-Government News Outlets At The Expense of Player Safety

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The Ziraat Turkish Cup is Turkey’s second-biggest football competition, providing a space for lesser-known clubs to shine. While not quite the FA Cup, the Ziraat Turkish Cup does provide smaller clubs with useful income: Entering the group stages nets clubs 50,000 USD, with an extra 40,000 USD for each win and 20,000 USD for each draw; qualifying for the last 16 by finishing in the top two provides another 100,000 USD. But the Ziraat Turkish Cup is not only a money maker for football clubs—it is also a money maker for the pro-government ATV Television channel, which holds the rights for broadcasting cup matches (a typical match day program can be seen here).

The owner of ATV (and its sister channels ASpor and A2, the latter which was created in 2016 seemingly exclusively in order to broadcast cup matches) is the Turkuvaz Media Group, which also owns major newspapers like Sabah, Takvim, and sports daily Fotomac. The CEO of Turkuvaz is Serhat Albayrak, the brother of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak. TV revenues are ever-increasing in the age of industrial football, and the case of ATV and the Ziraat Turkish Cup represent an interesting example of how industrial football can be used by the government. The Turkish cup used to be a standard knock out competition until 2012-2013, when the group stages were devised. Clubs qualifying for the group stages play home and away series with each team in the four-team groups, Champions League-style. Unlike the Champions League, however, these games take place between the end of November and the middle of January during the league season. This means that in some weeks teams play three games—during the coldest time of the year in Turkey. I emphasize this last point because it means that players are exposed to a greater risk of injury due to a combination of fatigue, cold temperatures, and dangerous playing conditions.

As a football fan, it is worrisome to see this type of greed which seek to increase profits with seemingly no concern for the well-being of players. The fact that this revenue is designed to bolster a pro-government media group is even more worrisome. In the end it means that fans are left to watch matches that are less football and more ice hockey. The match program for the Cup’s third match day on 28-29 December 2016 reported that six of the eleven matches were to be played in snowstorms. Four matches were even slated to take place in below-freezing temperatures, with the low for the Atiker Konyaspor-Gumushanespor match predicted to be -6 degrees Celsius! While sports fans in the United States are used to unnecessary games being played for the sake of making money (why does the NBA play an astounding 82-game regular season, for instance?), in Turkey criticism has come mainly as a result of Turkuvaz Media Group’s involvement. Below are some of the more ridiculous images from this season’s Ziraat Turkish Cup so far.

 

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On 20 December 2016 Besiktas’s Match With Boluspor was Stopped Multiple Times Due to Blizzard Conditions. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ajansbesiktas.com/yogun-kar-yagisi-maci-duraklatti-2929h.htm

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Besiktas Eventually Muddled to a 1-1 Draw With Boluspor, While Boluspor’s Coach Said “It would be Wrong to Expect Anything Resembling Football In These Conditions”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/27/ziraat-turkiye-kupasi-nda-kar-tehlikesi-1269188
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On 21 December 2016 Gaziantepspor Hosted Kirklarelispor in a Match Where the Lines Were Barely Visible and Referee Murat Ozcan’s Hair Actually Froze. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/spor/futbol/zorla-mac-oynattilar-hakemin-saclari-dondu?page=1
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On 15 December 2016 Gumushanespor and Kizilcabolukspor Played on What Was Basically a Sheet of Ice While the Referee Struggled To Keep His Footing. Images Courtesy Of: http://spor.internethaber.com/buz-ustunde-oynanan-macta-kayan-kayana-1739134h.htm

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On 14 December 2016 Turkish Giants Galatasaray Faced 24 Erzincanspor in Sub-Zero Temperatures on a Pitch Unfit for Football. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/spor/futbol/2016/12/14/galatasaray-24-erzincanspor-maci-oncesi-zemin-korkuttu
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On 20 December 2016 Atiker Konyaspor and Gumushanespor played out a 1-1 Draw on Another Frozen Tundra. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanatik.com.tr/2016/12/21/gumushanespor-atiker-konyaspor-mac-sonucu-1-1-1268240

 

While everyone has focused on the poor playing conditions on the field, there have been other developments off the field.  On 18 December 2016 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the new Akyazi Sports Complex—and Black Sea club Trabzonspor’s new stadium—alongside the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Tani. Mr. Erdogan used the event to inaugurate other state-led development projects in the Black Sea region, including 423 housing units, a dental health hospital, seven schools, 3 university dormitories, a stray animal shelter, and two Koran course buildings among other things. While these latter construction projects have nothing at all to do with football, they represent part of what stadium building means for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP): A modernization project fueled by construction and designed to bolster a faltering economy. The result of such projects is likely to be similar to the restructuring of the Ziraat Turkish Cup. Construction provides short-term economic gains that are not sustainable in the long term, just like increasing the number of cup matches may provide short-term income boosts for pro-government entities but the diminishing quality of the football overall will only serve to lower interest in the Turkish Cup in the long run.

Sports Figures Support Turkey’s War on Foreign Currency

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Since the Gezi protests of May 2013 the Turkish economy has become more and more vulnerable; the failed coup of 15 July 2016 and several violent incidents—perpetrated by both ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and Kurdish separatists—have only precipitated a decline that was a long-time coming. Mustafa Sonmez’s column at Al-Monitor gives a useful outline of how the situation got so dire. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) built their reputation on a strong economy and received an average inflow of 38 Billion USD over the past fourteen years, but most of this money was spent domestically—especially in large scale construction projects and consumer loans (after all, people need money to afford the luxury high-rises that have popped up around Istanbul in the last decade). This means that there were no foreign exchange gains; Turkey still does not export anything (even footballers) to a significant degree. The end result of this? As Mr. Sonmez notes “The dollar’s appreciation against the lira since 2013 will be 60% by the end of 2016 if its rise this year is contained at the current 12%.”

 

The Sharp Downfall Of the Turkish Lira (All Figures Courtesy Of : http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=TRY&to=USD&view=12h)
1 Year:

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Clearly, this is bad news for the Turkish economy and those in the country who earn their money in honest ways. In a bid to combat the Lira’s downward spiral, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the country on 5 December 2016 “those who keep foreign currency under their mattress should come and turn them into liras or gold”. Subsequently, Turkey’s main stock exchange Borsa Istanbul, changed all their assets into dollars while Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman said on 8 December 2016 that the President had changed all his foreign currency into Liras. As is to be expected, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was left wondering whether the shoeboxes of foreign bills belonging to Mr. Erdogan’s associates that were uncovered during a corruption inquiry in 2013 were exchanged as well.

This “war on the Dollar” has also taken some interesting turns. Hurriyet Daily News reports that some restaurants would give free food and drink to those who converted Dollars or Euro into Liras, while one bus company offered free bus tickets and even one marble cutter offered free tombstones to those who show proof of converting 2,000 Dollars. It is ironic that tombstones should be offered, since the decision to convert foreign currency to Liras—in this climate—could be construed by some as economic suicide for low-income individuals and families.

Interestingly, many famous people have also joined this crusade, including footballer Aydin Yilmaz. Former Sivasspor footballer Jacques Faty is seen in a picture proving that he converted foreign currency into Liras , although the fact that he now plays in Australia may mean that his contribution to the “crusade” is questionable. On 8 December, Galatasaray captain Selcuk Inan announced that he would accept a new contract in Turkish Liras and we will wait and see how many other footballers choose to follow suit, since—in the globalized world—football is intimately tied to the global economy.

 

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Celebrities Follow Their Leader. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/magazin/2016/12/09/vatansever-unlu-isimler-dolar-bozdurmaya-kostu

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eski-sivassporlu-jacques-faty-dolarlarini-9038038-haberi/

 

The most high profile participant in this frenzy is former Turkish great (and AKP Deputy) Tanju Colak who took an astounding 80,000 USD to an Istanbul change office, saying “we came here to make fun of the Dollar, to burn the Dollar”. Indeed, some of those waiting to exchange their money were allegedly seen burning one Dollar notes (clearly, none were bold enough to burn one hundred dollar bills!).

 

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Mr. Colak (L) Trades In His Greenbacks While The Change Office Employee Looks On With Joy (R). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.yenisafak.com/spor/selcuk-inan-tl-teklifini-kabul-etti-2577034

 

As if the spectacle of a former professional footballer burning money was not ridiculous enough, the coach of Osmanlispor (a team close to Ankara’s AKP mayor Melih Gokcek) Mustafa Resit Akcay asked the state to come and take 20,000 USD from him. Normally, citizens are reluctant to allow the government to take money from them; I am reminded of a graffito I once saw that asks “why do we need police to protect us from thieves when the government already steals from us?” In Turkey—as is so often the case—the logic is turned upside down. Mr. Akcay said (author’s translation):

 

Siyasetçilerimizden, bütün siyasetçilerden, devleti yönetenlerden, müsteşarlardan hepsinden özür dileyerek, haddimi aşmadan bu ülkenin bu ekonomik savaşında devletim gelip benden 20 bin dolar alsın. Ve bu aldığı parayı bana 10 sene sonra mı öder, 20 sene sonra çocuklarıma mı öder, nereye öderse ödesin. Vergi dairesinden bir tane adamı yollasın bana, ben de ödeyeyim, paramı vereyim, helali hoş olsun. Ama bunu yaparken devletime bir nezaketsizlik yapmak istemiyorum. Özür diliyorum eğer bir nezaketsizlik varsa.

 With all due apologies to our politicians, all politicians, those who run the state, and the councilors, I ask—without overstepping my bounds—for the state to come and take twenty-thousand dollars from me in the midst of this country’s economic fight.  Maybe they we will pay this money back to me in 10 years, or back to my children in 20 years; however they pay it they can. They should send one person from the tax collector’s office, let me pay, let me give my money, it’s all ok. But as I do this I don’t want to be rude to my state. I apologize if I have been ungracious.   

It is an interesting stance to take, and I cannot fault Mr. Akcay for his nationalism, but it is also an example of the troubling results of globalization and global financial interdependence. The same push back that brought the UK Brexit and the US Donald Trump is now leading to economic nationalism in Turkey.

With currency experts calling this a “currency crisis”, CNBC reported that many American companies are facing trouble in Turkey. With the country downgraded to below investment grade—the latest bombing on 10 December confirming fears—foreign capital has been given another reason to avoid Turkey. As of now, some companies—like GE and Pepsi—are increasing their presence in Turkey. But how long will this last?

The Voice of America expressed fears that this economic nationalism could go to dangerous levels. Atilla Yesilada, a consultant at Global Source Partners, said:

 

While the patriotic Turks may heed him and will probably exchange their currency holdings, you got to remember that 48 percent of these people don’t vote for him, and they are scared, and many of whom may choose to take their money abroad. Assuming only 10 percent of domestic savers choose to send their money abroad, that would be $9 billion and that would be huge […] That’s where danger lies; action brings reaction. If the government in consultation with banks and the central bank,[sic] realizes those skeptical of the government are taking their money outside the country on a large scale, then you will have capital controls, like [C]hina. You will have limits on what money you can take out and that will really scare foreign institutional investors, who have 80 billion dollars invested in Turkish financial markets, so you might see a chain reaction of them scrambling for the door.

 

Indeed, capital controls would be disastrous for the Turkish economy, and could even affect the football world. Turkish teams are already suffering on the international stage, if their purchasing power is curtailed it could get even worse. Given that international capital has not pulled out completely, the situation is still fluid and I myself have heard rumors of smaller companies that have decided to pull out of Turkey. In the travel sector, for instance, the Los Angeles Times reported that Albania—the same Albania that used to be off-limits to foreigners during the Cold War under the Enver Hoxha regime—has now replaced Turkey on the cruise circuit.

While I believe that the trend towards reversing some of globalization’s more devastating side effects will continue throughout the world in the post-Brexit and post-Trump world, it will be important to watch for the results of this type of economic nationalism. These are worrying times, perhaps not for the ruling elite (and famous celebrities like footballers) who likely have stockpiles of cash and are using this as a cheap publicity stunt, but certainly for the normal citizen who struggles to make ends meet as it is. Encouraging the everyday person to trade in their foreign currency for one that has lost 11 percent of its value in the last month alone will not help, rather it will exacerbate their difficulties.

 

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Gold Values Have Plummeted Over The Last Month. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bigpara.com/altin/cumhuriyet-altini-fiyati/1ay

 

By encouraging people to buy gold, for instance, the value of government issued coins has actually gone down; on 1 December 2016 the value was 887.90 Turkish Liras but following Mr. Erdogan’s announcement on 5 December 2016 the value has fallen to 855.29 on 15 December 2016. For a working class Turk in a country with a 1,300 Lira minimum wage, that loss of over thirty Liras in fourteen days means a lot. This is why it is unfortunate that footballers—extremely wealthy celebrities that are looked up to by people from all walks of society—should be following the government in encouraging those with much less wealth to do things that may not be in their immediate best interests, economically at least.

Turkish Football Unites a Country in the Face of Terrorism

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Selcuk Inan’s Unprecedented Move. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/643816/Selcuk_inan__Elim_ayagim_bosaldi_.html

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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”.

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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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.

Live by the Sword, Die By the Sword: Globalization, Sports, and Media in Turkey

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Given the recent geopolitical events in Turkey and the wider Middle East, it is no wonder that Turkey is swiftly being seen as a “dangerous” destination. After the United States ordered the families of Consulate staff to leave Istanbul, UEFA made a statement to reassure Manchester United fans ahead of the team’s visit to Istanbul. The Express reported that UEFA told Sky Sports: “Whilst there is no information that the threat to US citizens in Turkey also extends to UK citizens, UEFA has today sought the necessary security guarantees from the Turkish Football Federation and the local public authorities regarding the visit of Manchester United and their supporters to Istanbul.” The Manchester Evening News also reported that United fans visiting Istanbul for the match would be given an armed police escort to and from the stadium. The letter sent to fans read “Manchester United advise all fans to remain in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul ahead of kick-off, where a security bus service available to catch outside the Dolmabahce Mosque will run to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium. The hour-long journey will be under armed police guard”. Never mind that Taksim square would be the last place I would want to be in Istanbul in terms of safety, but then again I’m not sure that Manchester United’s staff has any real knowledge of Istanbul—other than, of course, that it is “dangerous”. After all, another UK sports figure, golfer Rory Mcllroy, pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open golf tournament on 31 October 2016 citing security figures. Once again, I am not sure that Mr. Mcllroy has a deep knowledge of Turkey—or really any other place, for that matter—either; he also pulled out of the Olympics due to fear over the Zika virus.

I do not, of course, blame either the Manchester United club or Mr. Mcllroy for their fears. The fact that Turkey has become so unstable in recent years is directly tied to globalization; the conflict in Syria has spread across the Middle East, fomented by backers in Russia, Europe, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf. While Turkish society (and by extension, sports) embrace globalization for its economic benefits, the country itself—in the context of geopolitical reality—falls victim to the globalization of conflict. The state can live by the sword of globalization but must also be prepared to die by the sword of globalization.

The third axis of this kind of globalization—that one that exacerbates the fear portion—is, of course, the media. The stories written tend to increase, rather than decrease, misconceptions about the country and disseminate them to the global media. For starters, none of the three British papers cited even know what the capital of Turkey is:

30 October 2016-Manchester Evening News: “Istanbul has a history of football violence. The capital was recently the centre of an attempted military coup in Turkey.”

31 October 2016-The Express: “But UEFA are concerned that recent terrorist attacks in the Turkish capital and a failed military coup could affect safety of travelling fans.”

1 November 2016-The Mirror: “English football has a troubled relationship with the Turkish capital – two Leeds fans were stabbed to death before the Uefa Cup semi-final in 2000.”

The capital, of course, is Ankara, so to expect neutral or objective reporting from outlets with such amateurish editing standards may be asking too much. And that is without even getting into the content. The Manchester Daily news, in back to back sentences, links “football violence” to an attempted military coup. This, of course, is misleading to the reader. (Never mind, also, that they believe a city can be the “centre” of an attempted military coup; a city could be the “focus” of an attempted military coup, but probably not a “centre” of one). The Mirror, taking a different approach, links Istanbul to hooligan violence in 2000 with no context at all. The Express provided the content that is nearest to anything remotely objective.

As a humorous anecdote, The Mirror added a story about Manchester United’s 1993 visit to Istanbul for their tie with Fenerbahce’s arch-rivals, Galatasaray. United famously crashed out after the tie, but it remains in football-fan folklore as the “Midnight Express” of football. Thankfully, the Mirror added Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor to their piece, writing “Even hardman boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested ‘the police were even more frightening than the fans’, though he did add he’d seen worse at a Glasgow wedding”. Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor aside, the point here is twofold. The first point is that Turkey’s rise (driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), has been characterized by an unquestioning desire to support and join the global capitalist system and neo-liberal economics. The country lived by the sword when foreign capital came streaming in, they began dying by the sword when the Syrian civil war (which the government, along with a number of other external actors, exacerbated) began to spill over the border. The second point is that global media is rarely neutral; the supposedly benevolent journalist is rarely interested in telling the full truth. Rather, they tell the “truth” that pays the bills—and that money tends to come from those who (again) benefit from the global capitalist system.

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Cantona Escorted Off the Pitch (Top); United Are Welcomed To “Hell” at the Old Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993 (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-bryan-robson-istanbul-9173277

 

Author’s Note: As I publish this, Turkey is experiencing the latest repercussions of the globalization of conflict I mentioned above. A blast has hit police headquarters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, after 11 pro-Kurdish MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained. At the time of writing internet services–which represent the globalized world–such as WhatsApp Messenger and Twitter have been shut down in Turkey.

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