How ‘industrial football’ was used to silence protests

Football is a colossal business in Turkey. The billion-dollar industry constitutes Europe’s sixth largest football economy. No wonder the so-called “beautiful game” wields such enormous cultural and political influence on Turks, many of whom define themselves by their loyalty to football clubs Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş.

All based in Istanbul, they’re known as “the big three”, but since the nationalist-Islamist AK Party came to power in 2002, a flurry of other teams, from Trabzonspor to Başakşehir, have risen to prominence, winning national cups and increasingly defining what modern Turkish football is. Unsurprisingly, these teams are government-supported – a prerequisite for any successful business in autocrat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “New Turkey”.

Just a decade ago, though, anti-government sentiment defined Turkish football. During the opening ceremony of Galatasaray’s fancy new stadium in 2011, Erdoğan greeted fans, expecting gratitude for his role in building the new venue. Instead, boos rose from the terraces.

“It’s a key moment in modern AK Party-era Turkish football,” said Patrick Keddie, who chronicled the tale of Turkish football in his 2018 book The Passion: Football and the Story of Modern Turkey.

“He expected to be welcomed and thought he would bask in fame, but ended up getting booed… It was around this time that things began to turn. There was this shift from the liberal early-era AK Party to something much more authoritarian and repressive.” Turkish football in those years, Keddie noticed, was “utterly politicised on every level”, from activists using the game’s national prominence to voice their political anger, to Erdoğan talking up his semi-professional football background for political gain. “There was this mythology of him as a former player.”

That 2011 incident, so crushing for an ex-footballer, marked the culmination point of several changes that began in 2002. Acting
out of financial self-interest, the government started knocking down stadiums in city centres and replacing them with enormous new ones, subsequently building a dozen more, in the suburbs, in association with Toki, Turkey’s public housing body.

Despite such tactics, cronies of the AK Party noticed how impenetrable the “big three” culture remained. Defending the republic’s ideals, fans of those teams largely hated the party’s oppressive project of Islamist nationalism. So the government began criminalising, imprisoning and demonising dissident fans and managers through a flurry of court cases.

First came the “match-fixing scandal”. In the summer of 2011, Erdoğan’s prosecutors began investigating football matches they
accused of being fixed. On 10 July 2012, a state court ordered the arrest of 61 people. Among the managers and national team players held was Aziz Yıldırım, the strictly secularist president of Fenerbahçe – the club Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk supported and which symbolises his modernising legacy. (A retrial process that began in 2015 cleared Fenerbahçe from all the charges; Yıldırım’s case was dropped in 2020.) Week after week, Fenerbahçe fans rushed to courts and, after sentencing, to prisons to show solidarity.

But it was the Beşiktaş fans – particularly the Çarşı group, named after the marketplace where Beşiktaş fans used to gather before matches for a drink – who played a crucial role in 2013’s Gezi uprising.

These Istanbul protests started as a movement against the development of the area, but quickly became a focal point of wider anti-government sentiment. Alongside environmentalists, leftists, liberals and other progressive millennials, Beşiktaş fans filled public squares and fought with the police.

Haldun Açıksözlü, an actor and author, wrote two books on Çarşı. “While growing up as a leftist in my youth, my passion for Beşiktaş grew, too,” he told Index. “I was part of Çarşı right from its inception.”

Rooted in the Ottoman Empire, Turkish football’s story begins with English residents of Salonica introducing the sport to Turks. The first matches were played in 1875. A football league was established in Istanbul in 1904, which soon extended into regional leagues in Anatolian cities and eventually the formation of the nationwide professional league. While Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray were known as teams of the bourgeoise and aristocracy, Beşiktaş was the team of cab drivers and the working classes.

Çarşı fans, Açıksözlü says, are famed for their cosmopolitanism and because they have a vital element of dissent. He said: “The group’s founders, from the early 1980s, were all leftists. Çarşı was a fan group that tilted football spectators toward leftist politics in the aftermath of the coup trauma of 12 September 1980. This leftist, communitarian perspective influenced me.”

But things turned when Beşiktaş’s 70-year-old stadium, İnönü (named after Atatürk’s closest ally in founding the republic), was demolished in 2013. “They made a mess of İnönü Stadium in the name of rebuilding it,” said Açıksözlü.

Erdoğan, who hates İnönü’s secularist politics, ended up excising the name of Turkey’s second president from Istanbul with this gesture.

Around this time, “the police and security forces began terrorising Beşiktaş fans”, said Açıksözlü. “Perhaps that was why Çarşı played such a prominent role in Gezi. The reaction creates reaction: the unnecessary use of tear gas by the police, their assault on Çarşı fans while they walked on streets with their families – these inevitably pushed Çarşı to the side of the sensitive people of Gezi.”

Açıksözlü describes Çarşı’s involvement in Gezi as an “incredible tale worthy of movies”. It began simply: 50 people walked from Beşiktaş to the nearby Akaretler neighbourhood. Their number grew to 100 at first and then grew to 1,000. When they walked up the hill and reached Gezi Park, the group numbered 2,500. “People heard their chants on the streets and joined in. Anyone who said they wouldn’t accept [living] under a one-man regime, wouldn’t accept state-intervention in their lives, sided with Çarşı,” he said.

Before Gezi, what Keddie – the British journalist – knew about Turkish football was clichéd: that it had crazy fans, that the big three Istanbul clubs hated each other. “I was surprised to see how prominent those fans were in the protests,” Keddie said. “They were on the forefront, fighting the police, manning the barricades.”

Still, the “big three” culture proved hard to penetrate for Keddie, who struggled with mingling with fans. “I think they’re insular and clannish and suspicious of outsiders – especially journalists.”

By the time Beşiktaş opened its new stadium on 10 April 2016, Keddie had noticed that Turkey’s political equation had changed dramatically. On the opening day, when Erdoğan sprinted and kicked a ball on the pitch, the stands were free of spectators. Even if they wanted to, nobody could boo him now.

When he visited the new stadium, Açıksözlü saw “airplane seats with special monitors attached to them”, and decided the old spirit of Çarşı was gone.

“There was this period, from 2011 to 2014, when the protest movement was quite intense,” Keddie said, “but by April 2016, most of the protests had died down or got more subtle for various reasons. Turkey didn’t have these major events, these major triggers, anymore. The biggest recent scandal of European football, the match-fixing case, 2013’s massive Gezi Park protests, and its aftermath – all of that had faded. With some exceptions, all forms of protest were essentially banned in Turkey.”

A significant factor behind the demise of Turkey’s protest culture was Passolig, an electronic ticket system the government introduced in 2014. “The electronic fan card Passolig was introduced as part of the country’s efforts to tackle hooliganism and violence in football,” announced the AK Party-run Anadolu Agency. “The new practice aims at a better identification of fans involved in violence in stadiums.”

In reality, Passolig was a cunningly conceived mechanism to detain dissident football fans. “Bringing in the Passolig card cowed many fans, and it made them think twice about protesting and even chanting because that system came with a whole load of security protocol and surveillance systems,” said Keddie.

It was much easier to identify anti-government protesters, ban them from stadiums and even charge and imprison them. “It was a response, the authorities said, to hooliganism and disorder, but most fans considered it a way to control them politically. It also gentrified the sport, making it more manageable, more middle class.”

Açıksözlü pointed to the formation of the 1453 group, a nationalist fans’ group, as another form of secret state intervention. “Specially assigned people were sent to Galatasaray’s Aslan Pençesi fan group and the Tek Yumruk group of Fenerbahçe. Their job was to stop fans looking at events from a leftist perspective.”

Anger soon melted into silence. Concern for security triumphed. Today, most fans wonder why they should risk their safety under an oppressive regime: Erdoğan sued more than 38,000 Turks for defamation between 2015 and 2021. Besides, for many devoted fans, it’s costly to go to matches at big clubs now. After Beşiktaş relocated, Çarşı had a much less prominent place in the new stadium. And outside the glossy new venues, Keddie observed, “the police are deployed in heavy numbers and they are happy to use violence whenever they need to”.

Açıksözlü said “industrial football” had destroyed the pleasures of the game. “Did you hear anything about Çarşı in the past five years? Did you read anything about other fan groups? Because of Passolig, the fan groups no longer influence Turkish football.” Still, the protest culture lives on, despite going underground. Fans can still be heard chanting about Atatürk, and when they sing the famed Izmir March, with lyrics including “Long live Atatürk! Your name will be written on a precious stone”, it’s a message directed at the Islamists.

Opposition politicians are playing ball, too. After a match between Galatasaray and the government-funded Başakşehir ended 2-0, the leader of the İYı Party, Meral Akşener, tweeted: “Galatasaray 2 -Erdoğan 0.” Many in Turkey call Başakşehir “Erdoğanspor”.

When another member of the opposition, Ekrem İmamoğlu, won Istanbul’s mayoral elections in 2019 but was refused the mandate after Erdoğan accused him of being a “terrorist”, a “liar” and a “thief”, the young politician, an ex-goalkeeper, visited football stadiums for support.

“Football is a big part of İmamoğlu’s brand,” Keddie said. “He was a goalie in his youth. So after the election was cancelled, he went to stadiums of the big three, pointedly avoiding smaller clubs, especially Başakşehir. Fans at those stadiums were chanting, ‘Give him the mandate’.” Once he was re-elected as mayor, İmamoğlu pledged to defend the interests of the big three.

Meanwhile, the “artificial success” of Başakşehir, Keddie said, may prove temporary. “I don’t see Başakşehir as really having power because they’re not an authentic, grassroots project. They don’t have many fans… It’s like a top-down project team; after all those years of investment and success in winning the league, they still get terrible attendances. It’s a cultural thing. Every other team sneers at them. Even people who support the government and support Beşiktaş or Galatasaray sneer at them.”

The AK Party may play dirty again, reject the results of next year’s presidential elections and invite their hardline supporters to
the streets to terrorise people. But then Turkey’s oppressed football fans can make a return, too, and protect Atatürk’s legacy.

“I spoke to a lot of people from Çarşı,” Keddie recalled, “and they said: ‘Yes, we’re against the government, and if something like Gezi happened again, we’d be there in a heartbeat.’”

Kaya Genç is Index’s contributing editor for Turkey. He is based in Istanbul.

This article appears in the autumn 2022 issue of Index on Censorship. To subscribe click here

Interview with Özlem Dalkıran of the Istanbul 10: “It was a clear message to civil society in Turkey: Stop”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On 5 July 2017, human rights defenders from a number of different organisations gathered on the island of Büyükada for a workshop on the protection of digital information.

On the third day of the workshop, ten of the attendees were arrested at gunpoint and later charged with aiding the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization, which President Erdoğan blames for 2016’s failed military coup.

The Istanbul 10, as they became known, were released on bail on October 25th 2017, after 113 days in detention but then faced three years of court hearings.

On 3 July 2020, former Amnesty Turkey chair Taner Kılıç was convicted of membership of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization and sentenced to 6 years 3 months in prison.

Meanwhile, Özlem Dalkıran, İdil Eser and Günal Kurşun were convicted of assisting the organization and sentenced to 25 months, pending an appeals process which could last years.

As the sentences were announced, Index’s editor-in-chief Rachael Jolley spoke with Özlem Dalkıran.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row]

150 attacks on media freedom reported in 50 days


As we mark 50 days since we first started collating attacks on media freedom related to the coronavirus crisis, we’re horrified by the number of attacks we have mapped – over 150 in what is ultimately a short period of time.

We know that in times of crisis media attacks often increase – just look at what happened to journalists after the military coup in Egypt in 2013 and the failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey in 2016. The extent of the current attacks, in democratic as well as authoritarian countries, has been a shock.

Our network of readers, correspondents, Index staff and our partners at the Justice for Journalists Foundation have helped collect the more than 150 reports media attacks.

But these incidents are likely to be the very tip of the iceberg. When the world is in lockdown, finding out about abuses of power is harder than ever. Journalists are struggling to do their job even before harassment. How many more attacks are happening that we don’t yet know about? It’s a scary thought.

Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship, said: “We are alarmed at the ferocity of some of the attacks on media freedom we are seeing being unveiled. In some states journalists are threatened with prison sentences for reporting on shortages of vital hospital equipment. The public need to know this kind of life-saving information, not have it kept from them. Our reporting is highlighting that governments around the world are tempted to use different tactics to stop the public knowing what they need to know.”

Index is alarmed that the attacks are not coming from the usual suspects. Yes, there have been plenty of incidents reported in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Turkey, Hungary and Brazil. At the same time there have been many incidents in countries you would not expect to see – Spain, New Zealand, Germany and the UK.

The most common incident we have recorded on the map are attacks on journalists – whether physical or verbal – and cases where reporters have been detained or arrested. There have been more than 30 attacks on journalists, with the source of many of these being the US President Donald Trump. He has a history of being combative with the press and decrying fake news even where the opposite is the case and the crisis has seen a ramped up attempt at excluding the media. During the crisis, he has refused to answer journalists’ questions, attacked the credentials of reporters and walked out from press conferences when he doesn’t like the direction they are taking.

We have also seen reporters and broadcasters detained and charged just for trying to tell the story of the crisis, including Dhaval Patel, editor of the online news portal Face of Nation in Gujarat, Mushtaq Ahmed in Bangladesh and award-winning investigative journalist Wan Noor Hayati Wan Alias in Malaysia.

Since we started the mapping project, we have highlighted other specific trends. Orna Herr has written about how coronavirus is providing pretext for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to increase attacks on the press and Muslims. Jemimah Steinfeld wrote about how certain leaders are dodging questions while we have also looked at how freedom of information laws are being suspended or deadlines for information extended.

Although the map does not tell the whole story it does act as a record of these attacks. When this crisis is finally all over, it will allow us to ask questions about why these attacks happened and to make sure that any restrictions that have been introduced are reversed, giving us back our freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_btn title=”Report an incident” shape=”round” color=”danger” link=”|||” css=”.vc_custom_1589455005016{border-radius: 5px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Mapping Media Freedom: Russian newspaper editor shot and killed


Mapping Media Freedom

Each week, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project verifies threats, violations and limitations faced by the media throughout the European Union and neighbouring countries. Here are five recent reports that give us cause for concern.

Russia: Founder and editor-in-chief of local newspaper shot and killed

24 May, 2017 – The body of the well-known editor-in-chief and founder of local newspaper Ton-M was found in the sauna in his backyard on 24 May in the town of Minusinsk in the Krasnodarski province, Regional Investigative Committee reported.

Dmitri Popkov was shot five times by an unidentified perpetrator according to the Regional Investigative Committee.

Popkov funds Ton-M which includes commentary on police corruption, garnering significant public attention for the publication. In an interview with RFE/RL, Popkov claims his newspaper became “an obstacle” for local officials who are now “threatening and intimidating journalists”.

Popkov founded the publication after a court found him guilty of beating a child and he was stripped of his position on Minusinsk City Council in 2012, according to The Moscow Times. Popkov claimed the case was an excuse to fire him.

Outside of the newspaper business, Popkov is recognisable in his region as a regional parliament deputy for the Communist Party.

Azerbaijan: Independent reporter in administrative detention

22 May, 2017 – An independent reporter was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in administrative detention for allegedly resisting police.

Nijat Amiraslanov is from the Gazakh region and his lawyer and friends say the charges are fictitious. They say he was arrested for his reporting and online posts.

Spain: Reporters and a cameraperson assaulted by dock workers at protest

19 May, 2017 – During a workers’ protest against market liberalisation, dock workers assaulted and intimidated reporters covering the event.

A cameraperson for Canal Sur Television and Antena 3 programme was injured requiring medical assistance at a local hospital after being punched and kicked.

Turkey: Four newspaper employees receive arrest warrants

19 May, 2017 – Four Sözcü employees received arrest warrants after being accused of “committing crimes on behalf of the Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ),” as well as assisting attempts to “assassinate and physically attack the president and armed rebellion against the Government of the Republic of Turkey”.

The issued warrants include the newspaper’s owner Burak Akbay, manager of the newspaper’s website Mediha Olgun, Financial Affairs Manager Yonca Kaleli and the İzmir correspondent Gökmen Ulu. Kaleli was included in the investigation for “suspicious money transfers” for the secular opposition publication.

The charges against the four stemmed from their 15 July 2016, publication of the address and photos of a hotel where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was vacationing.

Yonca Kaleli, Gökmen Ulu and Mediha Olgun have since been detained. Akbay is currently abroad.

France: Head of communication insulted journalist repeatedly

18 May, 2017 – Macron’s head of communication insulted journalist Yann Barthès of Quotidien on channel TMC during the presidential campaign and now at the Elysee by calling him a “dickhead” and a “mentally-retarded person”, according to Le Monde M magazine.

Macron’s Sylvain Fort commented in reaction to show host Barthè’s coverage of the first round of the presidential election. Fort denies he used the latter phrase.

Quotidien showed Macron celebrating his victory at La Rotonde. Quotidien journalist Paul Larouturou asked Macron whether this episode was the equivalent of Nicolas Sarkozy’s celebration of his presidential victory at Fouquet’s. Macron told the journalist “you don’t understand anything about life”, adding he had “no lesson to receive from a small Parisian milieu”.

The magazine reported that access was restricted to Quotidien team and that Fort contacted Barthès directly to insult him.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]