Light a Torch for Match-fixing – There’s a conspiracy under your bed

We live near a street in Istanbul called Baghdad Avenue. Probably if you headed down it in a southeasterly direction, and didn’t take a wrong turning along the way, you might actually end up in that legendary city on the Tigris River. In our part of the world, however, it is a boulevard of brand-name stores, up-market bars, restaurants and cafes – a hangout for well-heeled matrons, reincarnated middle-aged bikies on Harley Davidson hogs and YUMTUMs (young upwardly mobile Turkish urban middle classes). Despite its location on the Asian side of the city, you would be hard pressed to find a more European-looking district in this megalopolitan bridge between East and West.
Kicking a football
for justice and democracy
Our stretch of Baghdad Avenue is situated in the administrative precinct of Kadıköy, home also to the Fenerbahçe Football Club, one of Turkey’s Big Three Istanbul clubs. Support for “Fener” is strong around here, and I would be wary of making known my preference for Beşiktaş, a second member of that sporting triumvirate. Locals are also proud to have it understood that their mayor belongs to the CHP (Republican People’s Party), staunch upholders of Kemalist secularism and bitter foes of the AK Party that has governed Turkey for the past twelve years.
Last weekend there was a gathering in Baghdad Avenue. Residents were called upon to show their support for justice, democracy and the FenerbahçeFootball Club. Banners were waved, the club’s yellow and blue and the nation’s red and white; placards brandished emblazoned with the catchy but untranslatable pun: “Adalete Fener Yak”(“Light a torch for justice” – with a play on the double meaning of Fener, named after a lighthouse formerly located on the coast nearby). Our neighbours expressed in one breath undying loyalty to their beloved football team and deep-seated hatred of the Prime Minister and his government.
I received notification the other day of a workshop to be held at Brookes University, Oxford, UK. The theme apparently is “Bridging Divides: Rethinking Ideology in the Age of Protests.” Organisers observed that anti-government protests in Turkey last year seemed to unite an eclectic community of agitators: attractive (and educated) young women in red dresses, anarchist youth, respectable aunties wielding slingshots, Kurdish and Turkish nationalists, secular Kemalists, headscarved anti-capitalist Muslims and chanting football fanatics. This evidently encouraged them to ask “(1) whether similar trends have been observed in other countries and (2) to what extent political ideologies have become obsolete in today’s politics and society. In brief, we are interested in learning how and to what extent ideological divides have been transcended during the recent anti-government demonstrations in different parts of the world such as Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Brazil, Europe, and the USA.
Turkey’s next prime minister? President?
Well, I wish those people at “Changing Turkey” good luck in seeking a common factor in such a disparate group of countries. Greece, Spain, Ireland and the other PIIGS nations, yes – reacting against demands by Germany and the IMF that the common people tighten their belts so that bankers and financiers of the world can continue to live beyond our means. The UK and the USA, sure – where 99% of the population are getting increasingly cynical about the 1%’s excuses for refusing to spread their wealth around. Egypt’s probably out on its own in that group – they had a brief fling with democracy before their military (with who knows what outside support?) stepped in and reinstated the US/Israel-friendly status quo. Turkey and Brazil probably do have quite a lot in common – maybe we’ll take a look at that another day.
I just hope the artisans at that Oxford workshop manage to direct a little cynicism of their own towards the anti-government demonstrations in Turkey. Every year, two or three Turkish football teams take part in competitions organised by UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) for the top clubs from all nations on the continent – but this year, both Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş are absent, having been banned by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), who had determined that the clubs were guilty of match-fixing in the 2010-11 season. Fenerbahçe also missed the 2011-12 UEFA Champions’ League tournament as a result of being withdrawn by the Turkish Football Federation for the same reason. Both clubs unsuccessfully appealed the CAS decision and the ban stood.
The chairman of the Fenerbahçe club, Aziz Yıldırım, was tried in a Turkish civil court on charges of fixing six matches and sentenced to six years imprisonment. He is currently at liberty while his lawyers appeal against the conviction. Interestingly the Turkish Football Federation has taken no action of its own against the banned clubs on the grounds that they could find no evidence that the match-fixing activities had actually affected any results! Wow! Mr Yıldırım, on vacation recently in Cannes, was quoted as saying that the court’s decision to jail him was part of a political conspiracy currently said to be playing out in Turkey.
Well, who can know? There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in political studies workshops. Certainly the Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe clubs have done a great job of motivating supporters to turn out in the streets chanting confusing double entendre slogans mixing anti-government sentiment with football enthusiasm. I heard recently that the Fenerbahçeclub is planning to diversify its interests and open a private university in Istanbul in the next academic year. Maybe they’ll start a political party too in time for the next general election.

PS – As I was about to publish this post an article appeared in our Sunday newspaper under the headline: “Yeni Muhalefet Fenerbahçe Mi?” (Is Fenerbahçe the new political opposition?) Among other remarkable claims, the writers draw a parallel between the years when Turkey’s economy was strong and the years Fenerbahçe won the Turkish Premier League Championship! Apparently the correlation is high. Perhaps my last sentence was more prescient than I thought on writing it.


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