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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/

 

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Turkey, the United States, and the World at the Beginning of 2017 As Seen Through a Short Tour of Istanbul: Is this the end of the Post-Cold War World System, Where Money Became the Only Guiding Principle?

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After the violent episodes that have taken place in Istanbul, Berlin, Ankara, Izmir, and Fort Lauderdale in the last month I am left thinking that in a world where money is the only principle guiding human action stability will be a hard thing to find. When human values are reduced to a search for money (and, by extension, power) such fundamental human values such as compassion, empathy, and love are thrown out the window. The story of how this happened is intimately tied to the globalizing processes that have defined the post Cold War world, and my time spent in Istanbul during the last three weeks made me think about how the insatiable desire for money (and power) has caused the world to slowly unravel before my eyes, possibly portending the end of the post-cold war world system.

Driving through Istanbul on the way to the Atatürk airport on a winter day as grey as carbon has a way of making a person think. One thinks mainly about change: the changes that the city has gone through over the years and the changes that the country—and, of course, the world—have undergone during the same period. Along the main highway areas that used to be green oases, a welcome respite from the urban sprawl, are now populated by gaudy apartment buildings. The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition. These are a product of the neoliberalism that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has so enthusiastically accepted (at the behest of the United States first under President George W. Bush and, later more emphatically, under President Barack Obama). New apartments like these have sprung up around the city in recent years; a capitalist version of Krushchyovka. With the dollar climbing due to recent instability, however, these looming concrete giants portend a looming housing crisis if people cannot pay back the credit with which they bought on. These new apartments make the city—which had been known for its history—look more like Las Vegas or Dubai: a faux reality propped up by fake money, based on credit. As we drive my mind drifts off, thinking about the street scenes I have witnessed over the past few weeks.

 

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“The ugliness of some of the structures is striking, and it makes one wonder how some people were given architecture degrees in the first place. Yet they were, and the structures they have produced now dominate the skyline, looming grey giants meeting the grey skies in a seemingly seamless transition”. Images Property of the Author.

 

On a bitterly cold morning I am in the suburb of Kartal on Istanbul’s Asian side outside of (ironically in a country where justice can be hard to find) the world’s biggest courthouse. I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was. A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years. In the name of ambitious urban renewal projects the AKP has demolished older buildings in order to build new ones so as to line their pockets through the cash made off construction deals; the recent stadium boom is an example of this process in another context. Even Kartal, far as it is from Istanbul’s ever-expanding center, is not immune from the extreme capitalism that has begun to define the country.

 

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“I decide to hit the streets, passing a ghostly football pitch which—if not for the early morning light reflecting off fresh snow—would have been more depressing than it was”. Image Property of the Author.

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“A block away an old woman walks beneath a crumbling apartment block. It looks like Aleppo and I shiver at the thought of what the future might hold but, in reality, the crumbling apartment is just a representation of Turkey’s last fifteen years”. Image Property of the Author.

 

On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway. Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds. The thought of children barely old enough to read being indoctrinated into an Islamic education is—to me at least—much more chilling than the idea of Donald Trump’s conflict of interest just one block away. But these kinds of public displays of religiosity are necessary in a country that has tried, over the last fifteen years, to re-educate its citizenry in order to manufacture a new society and ultimately a “new Turkey”; “Yeni Türkiye”. Sociologically speaking, it is as fascinating as it is disturbing.

 

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“On another day I find myself in the shadows of Trump Towers. The American President-elect’s alleged conflict of interest in Turkey looms over a neglected Soviet-style playground on the side of a busy highway”. Image Property of the Author.

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“Just one block away is what looks like a grim kindergarten, iron bars block the exit and only a half-hearted cartoon mural defines it as a place for children. I suppose it is fitting; just as there is a fine line between cop and criminal there is an equally fine line between pre-school and prison. The only thing is…this is neither; it is a Koran course for 4-6 year olds”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Standing on an overpass outside the Çağlayan courthouse—like Kartal’s courthouse, it is another of the AKP’s major infrastructure projects—I can see firsthand the attempts to manufacture a new society. As Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger note, traditions are invented. In the same way, nations—like Benedict Anderson argues—can be thought of as “imagined communities”. The current AKP government does not agree with Atatürk’s conception of the Turkish nation and has therefore engaged in an aggressive re-interpretation (or re-imagination) of Turkish society. Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge. When it was completed in 1973 it was the longest suspension bridge outside of the United States and represented a major engineering feat for Turkey. During the AKP years—motivated by a fascistic desire to develop more and more major construction projects (like the aforementioned courthouses)—the bridge had to be reclaimed. The renaming of the bridge, therefore, is an important part of manufacturing a new society. Like the renaming of stadiums—and the erasure of the names of important historic figures like Atatürk and Ismet Inönü from them—the renaming of the bridge ensures that subsequent generations will be less likely to remember the years before AKP rule.

 

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“Opposite the overpass I stand on, the highway signs give a left exit for the 15 July Martyr’s Bridge; before last summer’s attempted coup it had been known as the Bosphorus Bridge”. Image Property of the Author.

 

This kind of societal engineering has been slowly creeping into all walks of Turkish life. The hill above Beşiktaş’s stadium, formerly known as “Beleştepe” (Freeloader’s Hill) for the fans who would gather on the sidewalk to watch games at the old Inönü Stadium without paying admission, has been re-named “Şehitler Tepesi” (Martyr’s Hill) in remembrance of those who perished during the 10 December 2016 bombings in the area. Beyond Istanbul, a regional MP from Muğla province proposed that the district of Marmaris—where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was staying as last summer’s attempted coup unfolded—be renamed “Gazimarmaris” or “Kahramanmarmaris” (Veteran Marmaris or Hero Marmaris). Any one with a rudimentary knowledge of Turkish history will know that the prefixes of “Gazi” and “Kahraman” were given to the cities of Antep (now Gaziantep) and Maraş (now Kahramanmaraş) due to the heroic acts of their citizens during the Turkish war of independence. Again, like the renaming of the stadiums and the bridge, the call to rename the district of Marmaris represents an attempt to erase—or at least overwrite—the history of the modern Turkish Republic. Like the rising tide of violence in Turkey, this kind of renaming will soon become a “new normal” as people get used to the changes; the “invented traditions” will become “real traditions”.

Later in the day I marvel at the subway cars in the Istanbul Metro. When I first lived in Istanbul, a few of the metro cars were decorated with advertisements for various Western brands—again, a sign of Turkey’s creeping ardent support for global capitalism—yet most were advertisement free. Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads “We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism”.

 

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“Now, they are wrapped in a red and white nationalist message that reads ‘We are a country; we will not let Turkey succumb to coups or terrorism'”. Image Property of the Author.

 

Even the money is not immune from this kind of subliminal messaging; a one Lira coin is given to me as change that—surprisingly—does not carry the image of the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Instead, the “heads” side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup. This “Democracy Lira”, as I call it, is yet another new development and another move to, subliminally and slowly, push the memory of Atatürk onto the backburner.

 

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“Instead, the ‘heads’ side has an image of a Turkish flag being raised with a message remembering the martyrs of 15 July’s attempted coup”. Image Property of the Author.

 

But they claim it is for a good cause, because a military coup is anti-democratic, right? Of course any military coup is bad…but the response to this violent attack on democracy in this case is also a cynical attempt to use “Western” ideas to further a fascistic engineering of society. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu’s essay about civil society in Turkey (from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World) outlines how this process took place in the context of the headscarf debate in Turkey during the 1990s:

although the Sunni conservative women’s organisations seem to espouse human rights and democracy in their propaganda, they do not generally espouse values like gender equality or respect for a majoritarian form of democratic rule. They instead seem eager to change society to what they regard as a conservative-religious community, while holding an authoritarian image of the state (Kalaycıoğlu in Sajoo, 2002: 266).

In the era of globalization, where “Western” values like democracy and neo-liberalism have become part of the dominant ideology, those who might not accept such values have realized the value of using them to further their own goals. It is not surprising to see why this has been such a successful tactic, since it keeps the investment—and money—flowing.

Mohammed Arkoun links this process—in the context of the Islamic world—to the end of the cold war:

If the end of the cold war opened a horizon of fleeting hopes of a shared and controlled emancipation of all societies, then the 1990 Gulf War and its aftermath inaugurated the vision captured in the ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis. The deep, unspoken reasons for these post-colonial and post-cold war situations have yet to be adequately analysed—and indeed are too often veiled by social and political scientists whose task should be to unveil the persistent will to power, economic war, and the geopolitical strategies that underlie the tensions between the dominant ‘West’ and ‘the Rest’ (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 36).

In order to become accepted as a part of “the West” it is necessary to speak the language of human rights and democracy. Doing so means that even if a country such as Turkey may not be accepted as part of “the West” in cultural terms, they will be accepted in economic and political terms. In a world where money is the bottom line this game works and that is why—particularly during the years of President Obama’s rule in the US—the AKP has flourished despite its less-than-democratic record.

But this does not mean that there have not been pockets of resistance to the hegemony of the AKP and neoliberalism. Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: “Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel” (Until victory always! Adios Fidel). The shout out to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are small-scale rejections of the ongoing commodification of Turkish society, one that has made Turkish society into a caricature of what it has been: Honest, Proud, and Respectful.

 

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“Walking down the streets of Beşiktaş, a stronghold of the liberal opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), a graffito is scrawled across the façade of an apartment building: ‘Zafere kadar daima! Adios Fidel’ (Until victory always! Adios Fidel)”. Image Property of the Author.

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Che Guevara’s Version of the Message. Image Courtesy Of: http://projectguerrilla.tumblr.com/post/37400443674/until-victory-forever#.WHVTRrGZPRi

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Cuban Newspapers Send Mr. Castro Off With the Same Message. Image Courtesy Of: https://correspondent.afp.com/death-legend

 

I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: “Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports”. I cringed at the audacity, the sheer classlessness, of such a claim. It smacked of the kind of nouveau riche sentiment that comes from someone who—upon striking it rich by ill-gotten means—suddenly moves into a McMansion and ditches the Toyota for a Mercedes overnight.

 

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“I saw that respectfulness thrown out the window at Ataturk International Airport when I read the words on a Turkish Airlines advertisement: ‘Our Lounge in Istanbul is Bigger Than Some Airports’. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the pride of Turkey be thrown out the window when I roamed the Grand Bazaar in search of presents for friends back in the US. Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers. Indeed, in the shop I stopped at, all three employees—including the owner—told me of their plans to move to the United States in order to work with a friend who owns a Turkish restaurant. With tourists scared away due to the violence, these once proud shopkeepers are left contemplating a different future.

 

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“Gone were the bustling alleys that I was used to, full of tourists speaking every language of the world. Instead it was almost abandoned, even the blatant display of the national flag could not raise the morale of shopkeepers”. Image Property of the Author.

 

I saw the honesty of Turkey thrown out the window in the Akmerkez mall—Turkey’s first, before one was built in every spot imaginable—where a Carhartt sweater was selling for almost 150 USD. The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear. As Arjun Appadurai notes in Modernity at Large, referencing Norbert Elias, “consumption has become the civilizing work of postindustrial society” (Appadurai 1996: 81). If, in the neo-liberal era of globalization, being “civilized” means gouging consumers for a sweater then honesty can be easily ignored.

 

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“The irony of a blue collar brand being sold as a luxury good was not lost on me, but it is not surprising in a world where consumption might be the last value that human beings hold dear”. Image Property of the Author.

 

It is important to note, however, that these processes did not happen in a vacuum. Turkey did not magically adopt the values of neo-liberal economics and globalization by itself. While hesitating to give credence to the conspiracy theories that the United States is to be blamed for all ills (it isn’t), it is undeniable that President Barack Obama’s record in the region—and track record with Turkey—has been less than stellar. I started to think about it when I took a short trip to Istanbul’s “Little Syria”(in Fatih district)—for an admittedly positive perspective, please see Vice News’ rosy portrayal. In short, the place is depressing. The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets. While Vice might want to underline how culturally “enriching” the Syrian presence is, the truth comes out that the vast majority of Syrians do not want to live in Turkey. Understandably, they want to live in their own country. That is the paradox of globalization and globalism; immigrants are to be accepted yet immigrants do not want to be immigrants in the first place. They would—as we all would—prefer to live in a place where their language is spoken and where they are not treated as second class citizens.

 

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“The signs are all in Arabic, and Turkish is barely spoken on the streets”. Images Property of the Author.

 

While wandering the back streets and contemplating what different notions of “home” might be for different people, I couldn’t help but begin to wonder why these Syrians were in Istanbul in the first place. The Obama administration in the U.S.—in a move that must go down in history as one of the most ill-conceived—pushed for President Bashar Al-Assad’s ouster. But for what reason? I personally can see no geopolitical benefit (from the U.S. perspective) coming from a destabilized Syria, and the meddling in a sovereign state’s foreign policy strikes me—as an American—to be fundamentally against the purported values of the United States of America. Uprooting millions of people from their homes could never have had a positive result, and sadly Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went along with Mr. Obama by aligning against Mr. Assad. Again, the motive was—most likely—economic from the Turkish perspective.

But when the allegiance to money becomes stronger than the allegiance to your country—your constituency—problems emerge. In Turkey these problems have manifested themselves in the form of ethno-nationalist Kurdish terrorism, and on 5 January 2017 a courthouse in Izmir was attacked in the latest heinous act of violence to hit Turkey. Unfortunately, one cause of this violence is the willingness of the Obama administration has to arm the Kurds in order to use them as a bulwark (re: pawn) in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. (For a comical video of US politicians trying to claim that they are not arming terrorists in Turkey, please see Breitbart’s story.Turkey has been stuck between a rock and a hard place as a result of Mr. Obama’s policies, and Mr. Erdogan has bet on the wrong horse. And for Mr. Obama, too, it seems that the lure of money—by way of the military industrial complex, which benefits from arming both Kurds as well as NATO allies (in response to a perceived Russian threat)—has trumped (pardon the pun) his own identity as an American since he seems to truly be “going out in a blaze of self-interest”, particularly judging by his response to claims of Russian hacking during the election. Mr. Obama’s narcissistic obsession with his own legacy has made him neglect the best interests of his country, a situation that is deeply disturbing to someone like myself who cares about the well-being of the United States.

This is not to say that Turkey’s precarious security situation is to be blamed solely on the United States; on the contrary Mr. Erdogan has made some very poor decisions motivated, no doubt, by money. But this also means that the crisis in Turkey is not wholly self-inflicted. Violence is not confined to Turkey, it can unfortunately find a person anywhere in the world. Just days after returning to my home in Florida an attack took place where five innocent people were killed by a gunman at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. This latest mass shooting will no doubt be used for gun control advocates in the USA, even though the shooter himself apparently “heard voices” and “allegedly told authorities at the time that an intelligence agency was telling him to watch ISIS videos, according to law enforcement officials”. His family members assert that he had been different since returning from serving in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011 and that he didn’t get the help he needed. Far from being a case for the gun control advocates, it seems that this tragic event was the result of blowback from imperialism and reflective of America’s failure to properly take care of the veterans who make huge sacrifices for their country—these men and women deserve much better treatment.

 

Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from. But this is just one of many parallels between the United States and Turkey in the 21st century. The latest parallel was revealed on 9 January 2017 in the form of Turkey’s debate over a new constitution as Mr. Erdogan looks to change the country’s political system to a presidential one (like the United States), allowing him the chance to stay in power until 2029 (he has already ruled the country as Prime Minister from 2003-2014). Of course—in his defense—Mr. Erdoğan “and the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government”. This argument is no different than the argument quoted above regarding the headscarf; it is a use of “Western” and “democratic” values to further authoritarian policies.

 

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“Unfortunately, it is all-too-often the poor who end up fighting their rich leaders’ wars and the case of the United States is eerily similar to that of Turkey, where we have become accustomed to seeing the dilapidated homes that martyred soldiers (fighting Mr. Obama’s—and by extension Mr. Erdogan’s—war in Syria) have come from”. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/gundem/suriye-adina-mi-sehit-olmalilar-1310098/

 

In light of the recent developments I cannot help but feel like the post-cold war era of neoliberalism may be coming to an end. When a country like Turkey can make such a mockery of democracy—and when even the American President Barack Obama mocks his own democracy by implicitly calling for a third term, saying “I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it” one must realize that that is how an Al-Jazeera writer can call the United States a despotic “stan”. It has become abundantly clear that democracy is becoming a shameful façade, used by any and all to get their way. I am hopeful that the world can learn from the dangers of succumbing to the influence of—and desire for—money (and power). This is why I hope people in Turkey do not give up on their country. In recent years many friends of mine have expressed a desire to emigrate abroad just like the shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar mentioned above. The problem is, the obsession with money is everywhere and emigration does not help. As Mohammed Arkoun explains in his essay Locating Civil Society in Muslim Contexts from Amin Sajoo’s Civil Society in the Muslim World, “emigration to foreign countries or to enclaves inside oppressive regimes […] delays the emergence of a civil society in more and more disabling societies, and it enhances the construction for the future of pluralist spaces for a wider citizenship in advanced, democratic regimes” (Arkoun in Sajoo, 2002: 38). Given that the “pluralist spaces” are rapidly collapsing in “advanced democratic regimes” due to processes like the refugee crisis, it seems—to me at least—prudent for us all to not give up on our countries just yet and develop strong civil societies. I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet.

 

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“I know I haven’t yet given up on either of my countries just yet”. Image Courtesy Of: http://turkicamerican.org/networking-for-success/

Cultural Hegemony, Free Speech, and Terrorism in Turkey: (Un)Happy New Year

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After at least 39 people were killed in a heinous New Year’s attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub there has been a lot of soul searching in Turkey. What does the attack mean for a country that is rejected by the West on most terms, yet is targeted by ISIS for being a member of the West? Understandably, this “identity crisis” has affected many Turks. The latest news claims that the attacker may have been a Uighur, a member of the Turkic Muslim ethnic group that lives mainly in Western China’s Xinjiang region. If this is the case, it would represent (sadly) yet another example of blowback in American foreign policy, since there have been reports of Uighurs being trained in Pakistan (and, by extension, their client the United States) in order to destabilize China. A 2009 piece in the Washington Post called for increased support of Uighurs in the face of Chinese repression, and such American support is not surprising given the Soviet Union’s support for Uighurs in the past; the policies of the USSR in the distant past—and the United States in the recent past—both aimed to destabilize China, a geopolitical rival to both powers. Now with the rise of the Turkistan Islamic Movement—yet another Jihadist group that has emerged from the Syrian civil war—these policies have been complicated and have begun to produce unexpected consequences.

Given the complicated mix of international intrigue and ethnic affinities that are swirling around the Middle East, it is understandable that there is a sense of bewilderment in Turkey. One disgusting response came from, of all people, a football referee.

 

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The Referee In Question. Image Courtesy of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

 

Regional referee from Kutahya province, Suleyman Belli, posted on his Facebook page in the wake of the Reina attack:

“What happened your Santa Claus isn’t always going to bring presents 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 Maybe the raki [Anise-flavored Turkish Brandy] and beers you drink will be your bliss on the other side just kidding you’ve been left empty handed 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)”

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Mr. Belli’s Distasteful Post (With an Even Worse Graphic). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/hakem-suleyman-belliden-reina-saldirisi-sonrasi-skandal-paylasim-40323917

The reference to Santa Claus refers to reports that the Reina gunman was wearing a Santa Claus outfit; it is also an example of the thinly veiled anti-Christian sentiment that has gradually emerged in Turkey during the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last 14 years, which also led to a gun being pulled on a Santa Claus character in western Turkey during the last week of 2016.

 

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Santa Claus Has Seen Better Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2017/gundem/noel-baba-protestosuna-10-gozalti-1598573/

 

While Mr. Belli was forced to delete the comment from his Facebook page after public outrage, it is notable that the response—especially from authorities—wasn’t more severe. Unfortunately, it is representative of a far bigger problem in Turkey: many people have accepted the hegemony of the ruling AKP and are all-too-willing to accept, at times, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic rhetoric in favor of the party’s pro-Sunni Muslim stance. Of course, this conflicts with the fact that ISIS/ISIL/DAESH—who claimed responsibility for the Reina attack—are also Sunni Muslims. The most disturbing issue is that the AKP’s hegemony means that free speech exists only insofar as it does not hit the government.

Mr. Belli faced no legal repercussions for his disgusting support of the cowardly killing of innocent party-goers. On the other hand, just days later on 3 January 2017, Turkish designer Barbaros Sansal was attacked on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport by Turkish Airlines employees. Mr. Sansal, an outspoken critic of the AKP government, was returning to Turkey after being deported from Northern Cyprus for ”insulting the Turkish nation”. While Mr. Sansal’s comments, in which he criticizes the government for all of the recent instability and closes by telling Turkey to “drown in [its own] s***”, were not the most couth, they were still just his opinion (just like Mr. Belli’s Facebook post). It was Mr. Sansal’s comments, however, which got a response from the AKP’s outspoken Ankara mayor (who football fans know well) Melih Gokcek and led to his arrest for “inciting hatred among the public”.

 

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Mr. Sansal’s Attack. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

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Mr. Gokcek’s Attack and A Few Opposing Views. Note the Ankaragucu Football Club’s Badge in the Post by “Ankara Jan”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkish-fashion-designer-attacked-istanbul-aiport-following-critical-video-1015234313

 

Mr. Sansal effectively paid the price for going against the AKP’s cultural hegemony (to borrow the term from Antonio Gramsci) when making his (admittedly uncouth) comments. This cultural hegemony which aims to (re)define the nation state is further dividing Turkey every day. Even a small scale industrial worker in Istanbul became an internet phenomenon overnight after his battle with AKP supporters on social media. After experiencing an unexplained power outage in Istanbul during the first week of 2017, Sehmus Seven Tweeted Energy Minister Berat Albayrak to ask for help since his business had been without electricity for five days. Government supporters attacked Mr. Seven on social media, accusing him of being an Israeli agent, a member of the opposition CHP, and a member of the Kurdish PKK, among other things. In response, an exasperated Mr. Seven said “some [people] called me a Marxist-Leninist! I don’t even know what a Marxist-Leninist is. One [person] says I’m an agent for [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad, another [person] asks if I’m an Israeli agent. I say there is no electricity and the person asks if I want to divide the country. I don’t get it! I just wanted electricity. I’m a nationalist. I have seven insured employees. I pay my taxes and insurance on time”.

 

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The Exchange between Mr. Seven and Government Supporters. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/esnaf-sehmus-marksis-leninist-nedir-bilmiyorum-ben-milliyetciyim

 

Here, Mr. Seven was shamed for going against the AKP’s narrative of developing the country by protesting the lack of electricity. Interestingly, just as the international trend of decolonization in the 1960s and 1970s saw its parallel in the United States with the civil rights movement, we have seen developments in the United States parallel to those in Turkey where a similar attempt to re-define the nation-state has led to further division.

Since Donald Trump’s victory in the election the United States has become divided to a dangerous degree. One of the most sickening manifestations of this division surfaced on 5 January 2017 when four people were held for an attack that was live-streamed on Facebook. In the attack four African-Americans assaulted a bound and gagged special needs man while making “derogatory statements against white people and President-elect Donald Trump” according to the BBC story (CNN later reported that they said “F*ck Donald Trump! F*ck white people!”). The assailants remove part of the victim’s scalp with a knife and make him drink from a toilet bowl while forcing him—at knife point—to say “I love black people”. While the four assailants have been arrested and are being charged with a “hate crime” it doesn’t solve the problem that there is a real division in American society. US President Barack Obama made a predictably weak statement in response to the attack, calling it “despicable” while opining “What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time. Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook. The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race.” I suppose Mr. Obama didn’t realize that the assailants were the next generation—three of the four were 18 years old!

 

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The Assailants in Question. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38525549

 

Instead of realizing that the recent emphasis on racial identity in the United States (please see college sports and the Confederate flag debate)—in order to re-define the country as a racist state—has actually perpetuated further division, Mr. Obama chose to pay lip service without actually addressing the real problems. Until people in the world—whether in Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else—realize that the answer to societal problems is not to be found by dividing people by creating new cultural norms (and hegemonies), however, it is unlikely that we will see any more global stability in 2017 than we saw in 2016, and that in itself should make people think. Many people would do well to make a New Year’s resolution to think more independently—and more critically—about the world around them so as to not fall into the trap of blindly succumbing to cultural hegemony.

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.

Globalism Vs Nationalism In Turkey

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Yet another bomb was detonated in Turkey over the weekend, this time in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri. A public bus was targeted by a car bomb, resulting in the death of 13 off-duty soldiers and 56 wounded. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group, for the bombings saying “The style and goals of the attacks clearly show the aim of the separatist terrorist organisation is to trip up Turkey, cut its strength and have it focus its energy and forces elsewhere. We know that these attacks we are being subjected to are not independent from the developments in our region, especially in Iraq and Syria”. Interestingly, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) condemned the bombing in a statement that read, in part, “our call is towards ending the politics, tone and language that creates tension, polarization, hostility, chaos and conflict both in terms of internal and foreign affairs”.  Although the party has talked a good game, the fact that they are still close to the PKK has roiled many in Turkey; that they were swift to condemn the attack however suggests that they might realize that the recent shift in the PKK’s tactics will not be good for anyone.

 

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The HDP Talk a Good Game, But Can They Follow It Up With Concrete Actions? Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/hdpdiplomacy/status/810059726667055104/photo/1

 

After the bus bombing protestors in Istanbul and Kayseri ransacked HDP offices in an alarming display of anger that—if left unchecked—could lead to the kind of violence motivated by ethnic difference that has been proven to lead to much worse.

 

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Ultra Nationalists Attack HDP Building in Kayseri. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.insanhaber.com/guncel/son-dakika-kayseri-de-hdp-binasina-saldiri-h81889.html

State media—which, as always, is suspect—reported a more refreshing story about nationwide anti-PKK protests, including many in mainly Kurdish areas such as Hakkari province and Diyarbakir province. The Anadolu Agency story reports that “Mehmet Akdeniz, the provincial head of Confederation of Public Servants Trade Unions (Memur-Sen) in Sirnak, said people from all walks of life including Turks, Kurds, and Arabs united for Turkey. ‘The PKK terrorist organization that wanted to smash this brotherhood attacked our people who were going to work and school, and the soldiers who were going on weekend leave’.” The Twitter feed for Kurds News posted pictures and videos of Kurds protesting the PKK, corroborating the Anadolu Agency story. If this is indeed true—that Turks, Kurds, and Arabs united for Turkey—then that is notable.

 

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Kurds Protest the PKK All Over Turkey. Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/newskurds

 

As Mr. Erdogan pointed out, these attacks are not independent from what is happening in Syria, and one of the perpetrators of the 10 December 2016 Vodafone Arena bombing was revealed to have come from Syria.

The relationship between the violence in Syria and Turkey represents the tensions between nationalism and globalism that have ben revealed by both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory in the United States. The YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, have no ties to Turkey or Syria while the concurrent rise of ISIS/ISIL/DAESH in Syria and Iraq has shown the abject failure of Syrian and Iraqi nationalism, revealing the “imagined community” aspects of both countries’ nationalisms (which where only formed out of the remnants of French and British colonialism). Because the YPG similarly have no respect for national identity, they think nothing of committing brutal attacks on Turkish soil, attacks which only serve to alienate what little sympathy they may have at this point. The vast majority of Kurds and Turks have no qualms with one another on an interpersonal basis. However, if the PKK—perhaps in collusion with the YPG—continue their campaign of cowardly attacks on Turkish security forces and civilians alike, they will be further marginalized. The widespread support for security forces in the wake of the stadium bombing shows that the majority of Turks—regardless of ethnic background—are preferring unity to division. This is why the United States’—particularly during the Obama regime—continued support for the YPG in Syria has been such a bone of contention for Turkey. For all the talk of human rights that emanates from Washington, the bureaucrats and politicians seem blind to the fact that normal citizens—like myself—feel unsafe in the Istanbul subway because another bomb could go off at any moment. In Ankara, the climate is so tense that a “State of Emergency” has been declared at sporting events and fans will no longer be able to park their cars near stadiums or bring bags to games. Supporting groups who engage in this kind of violent terrorism that effects daily life should never be tolerated.

But the contradictions of “human rights” are evident for all to see, and the re-settlement of Syrian refugees is just one example of this. Current US President-elect Donald Trump has voiced his opposition to the further settlement of Syrian refugees in the past, saying  “We’ve admitted tens of thousands with no effective screening plan. We have no idea who we are letting in. You’ve seen what happened.” Many on the left in the United States dismiss Mr. Trump’s rhetoric as “Islamophobic” or “xenophobic”, but the problematic results of resettlement have been seen. After a 22-year-old Syrian refugee was arrested for groping a 13-year-old girl in Lowell, Massachusetts, “The city manager of Lowell told his local newspaper Tuesday [07/12/2016] that he was not even notified by the U.S. State Department or its resettlement contractor that Syrians were being delivered to his community.” This follows some of the secrecy surrounding Mr. Obama’s resettlement plan reported by WND:

 

The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees are demanding the Obama administration provide details of a secret resettlement deal in which the U.S. has agreed to take up to 1,800 mostly Muslim asylum seekers who have been rejected by Australia as illegal aliens.

Congress only learned of the deal through media reports two weeks ago and, according to a letter sent to administration officials by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the deal is not only a matter of grave national security concern, but it could be illegal.

Notably, the only sites reporting on these kinds of things are Christian outlets like WND or Breitbart, which claims that the 110,000 migrants President Obama plans to bring to the United States will cost Americans 70.4 Billion USD over the next 75 years. State media—which is viewed as “legitimate” by many Americans—has remained conspicuously silent on these issues.

Perhaps that is because President Obama’s tenure has been—to put it nicely—characterized by many less than effective policies in the Middle East. Famous media personality Colonel Oliver North went so far as to call it “genocide”:

 

In the Middle East, the legacy of the Obama admin is genocide, a horrific refugee diaspora and a complete destabilization of the Middle East.

When Obama made his grand apology tour, utopian Arab spring speech in Cairo in June 2009, Syria had 23m people.

Today 12m people have been displaced; 400k+ Killed in Action; and 1.6m wounded.

Syrian civil war, Obama bug-out from Iraq, rise of ISIS, the IS invasion of Iraq, Al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate,” the overthrow of Gadhafi, global spread of radical Islam to 38 countries – all because of the Obama administrations weakness & failure to lead.

Even state media (The Washington Post) ran an editorial on 15 December 2016 critical of President Obama’s failures in the region:

The administration creatively pioneered a third option, which it pursued not only in Syria but also in Ukraine and elsewhere: Between action and inaction, it chose inconsequential action. There is the Obama doctrine! We backed moderate Syrian rebels, but not as seriously or as generously as the immoderate Syrian rebels were backed.

 

That state media in the United States should voice these kinds of opinions is notable, even if the editorial does not underline the fact that some of the Obama administrations actions did have consequences; opposition to President Assad would never have gotten this strong without American “action”. Now millions more have died in Syria than ever would have under a (relatively) stable Assad regime. But human rights told us that President Assad was a “bad man”, right? On the surface, yes. But beneath the surface there are real geopolitical ambitions that could only be achieved through a destabilization of the region and the regime.

The reason I bring this up is because, after being back in Istanbul for a week, I can feel a tension that didn’t exist in the past. A past before the Syrian war, a past before weekly bombings. And the fact that President Obama had a hand in creating this environment is something that—as both an American and a Turk—I find deeply disturbing. One way that the Syrian conflict has seeped into Turkish daily life is the presence of three million refugees. Mr. Trump thinks they would have a problem settling into American society; given that they have problems in Turkey—itself a Muslim country—adds some credence to his argument. Take this story from the Washington Post, about how Arabic signs are being taken down in Istanbul’s Fatih district which has become “Little Syria”.

 

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What Happened to Turkey’s Language Revolution? Arabic Dominates Storefronts in Istanbul. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/arabic-signs-face-removal-threat-in-istanbuls-little-syria/2016/11/25/ddc2cd10-b322-11e6-bc2d-19b3d759cfe7_story.html?utm_term=.5be3679a9154

 

While Turkey has opened its borders to Syrian refugees, allowing them access to education and even giving them business opportunities (much of the Arabic language signage mentioned in the story above is for restaurants), the hospitality seems to have been lost on some of the Syrian business owners. The Post reports that “Some Syrian residents are vowing to ignore the order, seeing it as an assault on their culture,” and a dual national Turkish-Syrian restauranteur predicts that attempts to remove the signage will be resisted by violence; Mehmet Basil Souccar said “You can be sure that if they enforce this order, there will be a very ugly picture in Aksaray”.

Mr. Souccar’s comments are—to me—disgustingly disrespectful. Turkey is not Syria. Refugees are guests, and as such they should do their best to adjust to their new surroundings. To threaten violence against the country that is hosting you is extremely disrespectful, to put it in as kind of terms as possible. If we want refugees to be tolerated in the era of globalism, we cannot afford to focus on ethnic difference to the extent that it renders assimilation impossible and creates an “us vs. them” mentality. But it is part of the struggle between globalism and nationalism that was unleashed in the post Cold War era and that is now coming to a head following the disastrous policies of the West in Syria.

The responses to this struggle are varied, but ignoring the enduring power of nationalism would be a mistake. The decision of the PKK to target the state in public settings—like a soccer stadium and public transportation—could prove to be a mistake. If Turks and Kurds can come together, recognizing their common destiny as citizens of one country and work together for a more equal society, then there may be a way out of the current vortex of violence that is hovering over the country. In order to do this, however, a less fascistic and more inclusive brand of civic—and not ethnic—conception of Turkish nationalism must be cultivated. The failures of globalism have shown that no government can force people to think in a certain way, that is up to the individual.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://mulpix.com/post/953431286256553315.html

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:

1-year

2 Year:

2-year

10 Year:

10-year

 

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.

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