Home

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Attempts to Re-Brand Himself as a Nationalist by Renaming Football Stadiums

Leave a comment

Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a savvy political leader to say the least. He is also very intelligent, and his latest move is another attempt to survive amidst the ongoing global turmoil. Mr. Erdogan sees the rising tide of populist nationalism (most prominently exemplified by June 2016’s “Brexit” and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2016) and is looking to exploit it by re-branding himself as a populist nationalist leader. His latest tactic focuses on football stadiums. On 29 May 2017 Mr. Erdogan announced that he was “going to remove the word ‘arena’ from stadiums”, deeming the word “un-Turkish”. According to The Telegraph, Mr. Erdogan asked a rhetorical question: “What does arena mean? We don’t have such a thing in our language,’ Mr Erdogan added, urging people to examine the ‘meaning and interpretation’ of arenas saying the word was ‘neither polite nor elegant’ “.

 

1436986263848.jpg

Ataturk’s Language Reform. Image Courtesy of: http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkey-83th-anniversary-of-turkish-language-reform-to-be-celebrated-14675/

 

Of course, such a move is not new or unprecedented in Turkish history. Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, pursued a language revolution which brought the Latin alphabet to Turkey by eliminating the Perso-Arabic script of Ottoman Turkish; it was one of the cornerstones of Ataturk’s revolution designed to “Westernize” Turkey. More recently, as scholar Banu Eligur points out in her illuminating book on Political Islam in Turkey, the military did the same after the 1980 intervention when “the state-owned television issued a long list of words that were banned from use over the network” (Eligur, 2010: 117). According to the author, “the state was not simply expected to promote a conservative understanding of national culture, but to discourage—or, as one document puts it—to ‘extinguish’ modernist movements in literature and the arts” (Eligur, 2010: 117). This is the same kind of consolidation that Mr. Erdogan is looking to achieve with his attempt to ban the word “arena” from use in Turkish stadiums; it is also an attempt for Mr. Erdogan to equate himself with Ataturk.

 

 

turk-telekom-arena.jpg

og-image.jpg

According to Mr. Erdogan’s Decree, the Names of Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena (Top) and Besiktas’ Vodafone Arena (Bottom) Will Have to Change. Images Courtesy of https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g293974-d2329797-i222044743-Turk_Telekom_Arena-Istanbul.html (Top) and http://www.vodafonearena.com.tr/_assets/images/layout/og-image.jpg (Bottom).

 

It would behoove observers to realize that Mr. Erdogan’s purported goal is a façade. After breaking with Fethullah Gulen—the reclusive Islamic cleric blamed for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt—Erdogan is looking to become more of a nationalist and less of a globalist (as Mr. Gulen is). Mr. Gulen, who is undoubtedly an Islamist, embraces a globalist vision without countries; it is a vision where an Islamic umma (believers) is united as Muslims and not Turks, Egyptians, Iranians, etc. State media in the United States decided to publish a statement by Mr. Gulen (himself a traitor to his country) on 15 May 2017, in which he states his position clearly. He argues that:

 

school curriculum that emphasizes democratic and pluralistic values and encourages critical thinking must be developed. Every student must learn the importance of balancing state powers with individual rights, the separation of powers, judicial independence and press freedom, and the dangers of extreme nationalism, politicization of religion and veneration of the state or any leader. [Emphasis added].

 

It is remarkable how closely Mr. Gulen’s emphasis on “pluralistic values” and “critical thinking” resembles the indoctrination strategies of many universities in the United States, where “critical thinking” is a code-word for anything but; in reality it means “think like your professors think”. Mr. Gulen’s decrying of nationalism and the “veneration of the state or any leader” fits in with the same anti-nationalist rhetoric of globalists around the world. That American state media should publish the words of a shady Islamic cleric is, also, sadly not surprising. The Washington Post turned against Mr. Erdogan since his split with Mr. Gulen; after Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards thuggishly attacked anti Erdogan protesters in May of 2017 the newspaper called Mr. Erdogan’s security detail “thugs” and “goons”. That the newspaper is finally outing Mr. Erdogan for his authoritarianism does not absolve them of their guilt for supporting Mr. Erdogan (while he still worked with Mr. Gulen) during the Gezi Park protests of 2013 when Max Fisher cited a poll which said Mr. Erdogan had “high approval ratings” despite the protests. The false nature of the claims—designed to discredit the anti-government protestors—is made clear by the newspaper’s own admission of misrepresenting the facts. A disclaimer in the story reads:

 

Correction: This post originally indicated that the Pew poll had been taken after protests began. In fact, it was taken in March, before protests started. 

 

It seems “fake news”, or at least deliberate misrepresentation of the facts by state media in the U.S., was alive and well long before the Donald Trump era in a bid to prop up Mr. Erdogan. Now, having lost his globalist ally, state media is changing their tune just as Mr. Erdogan is. It is important to realize that Mr. Erdogan is merely adapting to a changing world without truly changing at all.

The fact that Galatasaray was the first team to change the name of their stadium in response to Mr. Erdogan’s comments is not surprising (the team has been close to Mr. Erdogan), but it is indicative of the falseness inherent in Mr. Erdogan’s comments. Sports Illustrated reported that Galatasaray changed their stadium’s name from “Turk Telekom Arena” to “Turk Telekom Stadium”. But…what is a “stadium”? Is “stadium” not a non-Turkish word? Of course it is, and it underlines the ridiculousness of the call to erase “Arena” from Turkish stadiums; it is more ridiculous when one realizes that most of the new stadiums built in Turkey under the AKP regime have been named…arenas. Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-brand himself by separating himself from the era of Gulenist influence but it will not be that easy since Mr. Erdogan is not a nationalist, and has never been one.

As Banu Eligur notes, Mr. Erdogan said in January 1995 that “the 21st century will be an era in which systems that are based on Islam will come to power in the world” (Eligur, 2010: 162). Islamism is, clearly, not compatible with nationalism, itself a secular ideology. Thus, it is unlikely that Mr. Erdogan’s about face is credible. It shouldn’t be surprising, since his own reformist wing within the Turkish Islamist movement founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP); it was a wing that, according to Eligur, “placed a greater value on electoral victory, which required a significant expansion of the party’s constituency base, than on the religious purity of the membership” (Eligur, 2010: 198). In other words, Mr. Erdogan was never really a Islamist (in terms of faithfulness to the religion of Islam), rather he was looking for votes (and by extension) power. Thus his new-found populist nationalism is similarly false.

To understand this, Banu Eligur’s work is again useful. Eligur ends her book by pointing out that

 

Islamism, unlike Turkish nationalism, does not accept the notion of a Turkish identity. Turkish nationalism, as a secular ideology, seeks to protect both the secular and the unitary character of the state. The Islamist movement is likely to have a hard time competing against the very foundations of the secular-democratic Turkish Republic: the Turkish nationalism of Ataturk. However, Islamist entrepreneurs may opt once again, as they have after each threat to the survival of their movement, to reframe their message to the Turkish people so as to neutralize the nationalist challenge and secure the power and appeal of the Islamist movement in Turkey. (Eligur, 2010: 283)

 

This is the essential point that observers of Turkey should keep in mind at this critical juncture in history. Mr. Erdogan’s move regarding stadium naming policy is—to borrow Eligur’s term—a “reframing” of the message. Mr. Erdogan, being the observant leader that he is, senses the rising tide of populist nationalism in the world and is looking to reframe himself in that context. None should be fooled, however, as to Mr. Erdogan’s intentions. He is still a politician who—in the context of extreme capitalism—is looking to keep his hold on power in Turkey using whatever methods necessary. Due to the global context, for the foreseeable future it seems as if Mr. Erdogan will look to exploit Turkish nationalism as a means to keep his hold on power and the Turkish state.

 

Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg.png

Banal Nationalism. Image Courtesy Of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flag-map_of_Turkey.svg

Why the Blast at Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena May Prove to be A Pivotal Moment For Turkey

10 Comments

I arrived in Istanbul today for what I thought would be a relaxing vacation with my girlfriend. I jokingly told my friends something could happen, since tragic “events” have a way of ocurring when I leave or arrive in Turkey. Unfortunately tonight, I was proved right. And it pains me that my simple joke was prescient. I don’t write this post from Istanbul just because the attack happened outside of a stadium and that it relates to sport, I write it because it may truly be a pivotal moment in Turkish history.

3380.jpg

Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/10/bomb-outside-istanbul-football-stadium-causes-multiple-casualties

istanbull-3.jpg

nintchdbpict000288154570.jpg

nintchdbpict000288158565.jpg

Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2372661/fifteen-dead-istanbul-football-stadium-bombs/

On the night of 10 December 2016, after Beşiktaş’s Superleague victory over rivals Bursaspor, a vicious attack took place outside of Beşiktaş’s Vodafone arena. At the outset the BBC reported 15 dead and 69 wounded from an attack that consisted of a car bomb and suicide bomber. As of 3:00am CNN Turk (a branch of Turkish State Media), was only reporting 20 wounded and no dead. At 4:27am, the same CNN Turk reported 29 dead and 166 wounded. So…why the silence until after four in the morning, when most (sensible) people are asleep? Why the changing casualty figures, when foreign media was reporting higher numbers? I believe this reluctance to tell the truth stems from the fact that the government knows that they are facing a huge—and possibly pivotal—challenge.

20161211_022954.jpg

At 3:29am there was no mention of numbers. Image Courtesy of the Author.

20161211_032806.jpg

At 4:27am, when most (sensible) people are asleep, numbers are announced. Image Courtesy of the Author.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement that read: “A terrorist attack has been carried out against our security forces and our citizens. It has been understood that the explosions after the Besiktas-Bursaspor football game aimed to maximise casualties. As a result of these attacks unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded.”

Sadly—like so much in Turkish state media—this statement doesn’t tell the whole truth. The fact that Mr. Erdogan claimed that the attack “aimed to maximise casualties” is, in fact, false, and therein lies the danger. If the perpetrators—whoever they may be—wanted to maximise casualties the attack would have taken place during the game, when the 43,500 capacity stadium was full. The fact that the attack took place two hours after the match and didn’t target civilians, but appeared to target police, shows that there was some sort of twisted restraint in this attack.

Here, it seems that the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says “We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too”. Indeed, if the attack had taken place during the match, it would have been even worse (given that already 29 have been confirmed dead, the statement “even worse” is contextual). And that is the scariest thing about this attack. It is tragic that there were so many casualites in (yet another) senseless act of violence, but it is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey. And if that is indeed the case, we as human beings, need to be aware.

Beşiktaş’ New Stadium Opens As a Political Event: What’s In a Name?

6 Comments

On 11 April 2016 the 41,903 seater Vodafone Arena finally opened in Istanbul as Beşiktaş defeated their nemesis Bursaspor 3-2 on Monday night. It was a homecoming Beşiktaş fans could be pleased with, having been away from their stadium since May 2013. Incidentally, that was the same month the Gezi Park protests erupted in Istanbul, a fact not lost on diken.com that noted that “the stadium opened like [the old Inönü stadium] closed”. That is to say with confrontations between fans and police; tear gas and water cannons were deployed on 11 May 2013 before the final match in the old Inönü Stadium. So, why is it that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same?

1460304375295

BESIKTAS IN YENI STADYUMU VODAFONE ARENA YARIN ACILIYOR STADYUMDA SON DURUM(ALI AKSOYER/ISTANBUL(DHA))

The New Stadium in All its Grandeur. Image Courtesy of: http://www.dailysabah.com/football/2016/04/10/black-eagles-besiktas-back-in-their-nest

tarafatar_11052013_1831_480p_wmp4

The Old, 11 May 2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/besiktas-savas-alanina-dondu-23259349

vodafone-arena-gaz1

And the New 11 April 2016: http://www.diken.com.tr/kapandigi-gibi-acildi-vodafone-arena-onundeki-taraftara-biber-gazi-ve-tazyikli-su/

The official government opening of the stadium came a day earlier on Sunday, 10 April 2016 as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, former President Abdullah Gül, Beşiktaş President Fikret Orman, and national team coach Fatih Terim had an impromptu kick around at the center circle. Never mind that Prime Minister Davutoğlu missed the ball both times it was kicked to him; the out of form politician was duly mocked on social media and one sarcastic user noted that Mr. Davutoğlu’s ball control was far superior to Lionel Messi’s.

513352_cover_mainslider_big

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/513352/Sosyal_medya_bu_videoyu_konusuyor__Davutoglu_nun_topla_imtihanini.html

Meanwhile, former footballer President Erdoğan (who displayed much better footwork) wished Beşiktaş well in its new stadium; never mind that his government pursued a court case against the team’s fan group, Carsşı for involvement in “terrorism” and planning a “coup”. On this day Mr. Erdoğan used the event to underline that, due to the construction of new stadiums across the country, the subject of the country hosting the Olympics was a mere “formality” (Interestingly, the English version of this speech did not include the words “formality”). Following Turkey’s failure to land the Olympics two summers ago this opportunity was seen as a way to further foment national pride amidst the chaos that seems to be descending slowly on the Turkish state. For the record Carşı were not invited to the official opening, in their place a 1,000 person delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) youth branch were invited; they were the only “fans” invited to the opening, highlighting the political tensions overshadowing the stadium’s opening day. Indeed President Erdoğan cut a lonely figure on the opening of the “people’s stadium” as it was devoid of people. Reportedly, fans were kept out due to a fear of possible protests.

Unknown

Image Courtesy of: http://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/42483/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-vodafone-arenanin-acilisini-yapti.html

11 April, game day, was more eventful. Beşiktaş fans faced tear gas and water cannons as they made their way to the stadium; the official comment from police was that they were clearing the way for visiting Bursaspor’s arrival to the stadium. Later, in the stadium anti government chants rose from the stands as fans sang a song born out of the Gezi Park protests “biber gazi sık bakalım/C’mon spray us with tear gas”, while some chanted “We are Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk] Soldiers”. CNN Turk reported that one police officer slapped a fan in what was supposed to be a festive event. Indeed, the scenes were eerily parallel to those from the last match at the old Inönü stadium in May 2013. Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that—as with many things lately in Turkey—even the opening of a stadium is political.

Opposition channel Halk TV posted a picture on their Facebook page of the façade of the new Vodafone Arena; it was decorated with a Turkish Flag and a Beşiktaş flag along with portraits of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President Erdoğan, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu. The second picture says that “parallel winds” blew the portraits of Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Davutoğlu over. I have written previously about the politicization of stadium construction in Turkey, and it is not surprising that the Turkish political establishment would stamp its mark on the opening of the Vodafone Arena.

VodafoneArenaPortraits

Image Courtesy of: Halk TV Facebook Page. NOTE: It is unclear if these two pictures were taken on the same day, the left most portrait looks different in the two images. However, it is not important if the two images are from the same period in time; the main point here is twofold: 1) That the Government should stamp their mark on the opening of a sports stadium and, 2) That an opposition TV channel should  voice their opinion about it. This interaction further underlines the politicization of stadia in Turkey.

Yılmaz Özdil, a columnist for the opposition newspaper Sözcü, reminded the public of the recent politicization of—among all things—stadium names. His entire commentary is available at the end of this post, it does not require knowledge of Turkish to understand the main point. In short, the newly constructed stadiums in Turkey are part of an ideological battle for Turkey’s history. While many old stadiums were named after Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the new stadiums are being labeled with the generic name “arena”, often with the addition of some commercial brand attached at the end of it.

Fans of sports in the United States, England, and Europe should not be unfamiliar with the neoliberal undertones inherent in this practice, part and parcel of the spread of Industrial football. Multitudes of U.S. Baseball stadiums now boast corporate names, as do NFL (American) football stadiums. London’s Highbury was demolished to make way for Emirates Stadium. Dortmund’s Westfalenstadiuon became Signal Iduna Park while Bayern Munich (and 1860) moved from the Olympiastadion to Allianz Arena. But these were mainly economically motivated name changes, rather than ideologically motivated.

Mr. Özdil notes that Bursa’s old Atatürk stadium has become the Timsah (Crocodile) Arena. Antalya Atatürk Stadium has become Antalya Arena. Provincial Afyon Atatürk Stadium has become the Afyon Arena. Konya Atatürk Stadium has become Torku Arena, named after a local foodstuffs company. Rize Atatürk Stadium has become Çaykur Didi Stadium, named after a new iced tea brand. And Beşiktaş’s Inönü stadium—named after Turkey’s second President Ismet Inönü—has become the Vodafone Arena, named after a multinational telecommunications company. Mr. Özdil regrets the erasure of Turkish history from stadium names across Turkey, seeing it as an assault on Turkish history, while noting that—on 8 April 2016—Izmir’s Karşıyaka Sports club reversed the name of their basketball team’s stadium from Karşıyaka Arena to . . . Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu.

Because the name of another figure from Turkish history disappears from a stadium—and violence accompanies the new stadium’s opening as it did the old one’s closing—we can be forgiven for thinking that, indeed, the more things change the more they stay the same. But it has its good side as well. Football legend Pele once called the old Inönü Stadium “a great place to watch football” because it was the world’s only stadium with a view of two contintents. Indeed, we can take peace in the fact that the new Vodafone Arena is—at least—located in the same place as the old Inönü Stadium and the Dolmabahçe Stadium before it. Perhaps, in this round, industrial football has not achieved a complete victory. A stadium still stands at the center of a historic city like Istanbul while Beşiktaş’s fans remembered–despite the political sideshow–those who played an important part in Turkish history.

110520130205254587419_2

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.aksam.com.tr/sporbesiktas/besiktastan-inonu-stadina-veda/haber-204681

 

Appendix: Yılmaz Özdil’s Full column, detailing all stadium name changes.

Courtesy of: http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2016/yazarlar/yilmaz-ozdil/al-sana-arena-1176695/

Bursa Atatürk stadıydı.
Timsah Arena yapıldı.

Antalya Atatürk stadıydı.
Antalya Arena yapıldı.

Afyon Atatürk stadıydı.
Afyon Arena yapıldı.

Eskişehir Atatürk stadıydı.
Es Es Arena yapıldı.

Antakya Atatürk stadıydı.
Hatay Arena yapıldı.

Konya Atatürk stadıydı.
Torku Arena yapıldı.

Sakarya Atatürk stadıydı.
Sakarya Arena yapıldı.

Beşiktaş İnönü stadıydı.
Vodafone Arena yapıldı.

İzmit İsmetpaşa stadıydı.
Kocaeli Arena yapıldı.

Malatya İnönü stadıydı.
Malatya Arena yapıldı.

Ali Sami Yen stadıydı.
Telekom Arena yapıldı.

Samsun 19 Mayıs stadıydı.
Samsun Arena yapıldı.

Sivas 4 Eylül stadıydı.
Sivas Arena yapıldı.

Şanlıurfa 11 Nisan stadıydı.
GAP Arena yapıldı.

Gaziantep Kamil Ocak stadıydı.
Gaziantep Arena yapılıyor.

Adana 5 Ocak stadıydı.
Adana Koza Arena yapılıyor.

Batman 16 Mayıs stadıydı.
Batman Arena yapılıyor.

Kayseri Atatürk stadıydı.
Kadir Has stadı yapıldı.

Rize Atatürk stadıydı.
Çaykur Didi stadı yapıldı.

Diyarbakır Atatürk stadıydı.
Diyarbakır Arena yapılıyor.

Giresun Atatürk stadıydı.
Çotanak Arena yapılıyor.

Elazığ Atatürk stadıydı.
Elazığ Arena yapılıyor.

*  *  *

İzmir’de de arena vardı.
Karşıyaka arena spor salonu.
Dün resmen silindi.
“Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Spor Salonu” yapıldı!

*

Göğsümüzü gere gere “ben İzmirliyim” dememize bir kez daha vesile olan… Karşıyaka belediye başkanı Hüseyin Mutlu Akpınar ve Karşıyaka belediye meclisinin değerli üyelerine yurttaş olarak teşekkür ederim.

*

Memleketteki arena işgaline karşı Hasan Tahsin direnişidir bu.

*

Ve, çağrım tüm Türkiye’ye…
Şehrinizdeki Atatürk izlerinin silinmesine geçit vermeyin.
Fair play çerçevesinde protesto edin, maçlarda pankart açın, sosyal medya grupları kurun, itiraz edin, alay edin, pişman edin.

*

Tüm arena tabelalarını tek tek yeniden Atatürk’le değiştirene kadar “sportif kuvayi milliye”ye katılın kardeşim.