News / Europe

    Soccer Fans Increasingly on Front Line of Turkey's Protests

    Besiktas fans throw plastic chairs onto the pitch during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Besiktas and Galatasaray at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul September 22, 2013.
    Besiktas fans throw plastic chairs onto the pitch during the Turkish Super League derby soccer match between Besiktas and Galatasaray at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul September 22, 2013.
    Dorian Jones
    Since the mass anti-government demonstrations in Turkey earlier this year, soccer fans have been playing an increasingly prominent role in the country's political protests.  But the government has warned it will stamp out political dissent in the stadiums.

    It might sound like a soccer game, but its the new sound of political protest in Turkey. Soccer supporters chant club slogans, followed by anti-government chants.
     
    The latest anti-government protests earlier this month were centered in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district on the city’s Asian side, home to Fenerbahce football club. Many of the protestors are avid supporters of the country's soccer teams, wearing their clubs' shirts to the protests.

    Protesting supporters see no contradiction between football and protest.

    When the subject is our homeland, the rest is not important; we are conscious of this, one protester said.  Winning football cups is temporary, but our country cannot fall into this situation: we are fighting for the future of our country. If we don't get together now, when else can we come together?
     
    From the start, fans of Istanbul’s three main soccer teams have been at the forefront of the protests. But a special group of fans -- supporters Istanbul’s Besiktas club, called the Carsi -- became the face of the unrest.
     
    At the peak of anti-government protests in June, the Carsi laid siege to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Istanbul office, which is housed in a former Ottoman Palace on the Bosphorus waterway and just a stone’s throw away from the heartland of the Besiktas supporters. Such activities quickly drew the attention of the police. In an unprecedented move, 20 leading members of the Carsi group were charged under the country’s anti-organized crime law.

    That means the case is being tried in a special court with special rules, according to lawyer Nazif Koray, who represents some of the fans and is also a Besiktas supporter.

    "They are talking about 20 years of penalties, this is a really serious. And these courts have very special authorities. We still could not see, for example, the evidences, because this is banned, but you cannot do this in normal courts. Because of this, we still don't know the whole case. This was a warning to all Besiktas supporters," said Koray.

    Government in damage control mode

    Ahead of the new soccer season, the government tried to take steps to purge the stadiums of political ferment.
     
    The sports ministry blitzed TV with advertisements warning parents of the dangers of political activism.  The ads, which carried the message that such activism is a slippery slope leading to terrorism, closed with the image of a suicide bomber. Meanwhile, a ban on racist slogans in sports stadiums has been extended to political chants.
     
    But observers warn that the crackdown appears, if anything, only to be hardening attitudes. Supporters of the football clubs across the country routinely shout protest chants at the 34th minute of games -- 34 being the car registration number of Istanbul. TV channels quickly mute the sound of the protests, in compliance with state regulations.
     
    The unrest appears to be achieving something that most sports commentators had thought impossible, says journalist Yasmin Congar, who writes on Turkish affairs: it is breaking down, albeit temporally, the fierce rivalry, bordering on hatred, between Istanbul’s rival fans.

    "There is no love lost between these Istanbul teams and supporters. But these Gezi park protests brought them together. You could see Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Galastasray fans marching arm in arm, helping each other against police. There is new energy, solidarity, along the lines of soccer clubs. Watching that, the government has become very wary of what the fans could do," stated Congar.

    Analysts said the role of soccer fans in the protests has become quite personal for Prime Minister Erdogan, himself a former semi-professional footballer who always wears the local team’s scarf at political rallies and, until now, considered the game his political domain.

    The country’s stadiums now seem destined to become venues for a battle of wills between fans and the government.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora