Turkish Tension on the Soccer Field

soccer turkey

There was a noted contrast on a night of European soccer matches between national teams in London and Istanbul.  While the British and French fans at London’s Wembley Stadium sang the French National anthem in solidarity in the aftermath of the attacks, hundreds of Turkish fans in Istanbul booed the Greek national anthem and disrupted a moment of silence for those killed in Paris.  This reveals the highly ambivalent Turkish reaction to the recent attacks in France.

Soccer fans are hardly representative of society as a whole, although these scenes show that the Paris attacks didn’t draw the same sentiment of solidarity as elsewhere in Turkey, which is majority Muslim and where a recent study revealed that 8 percent of the country were sympathetic to Daesh.  Turkey has accused Europe of insensitivity towards attacks by Kurdish rebels and other groups.  During the outburst at Istanbul’s Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium on Tuesday night, team captain and Barcelona midfielder Arda tried in vain to silence the crowd.  Turkey’s national team manager was furious that the fans couldn’t show patience or respect the dead.

This incident unfolded as the prime ministers of Turkey and Greece watched together from the stands as part of efforts to overcome a relationship between the countries that has been historically difficult.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the incident “unacceptable”, although that was only in regards to the disruption of the national anthem, and he said nothing on the moment of silence being interrupted.  Due to the embarrassing incident, officials have scrambled to avoid such an incident at future games.

During the moment of silence, the loudest call came from a nationalist chant: “Martyrs don’t die.  The homeland will never be divided”.  This is a slogan chanted to denounce the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which waged a 30-year war for Kurdish independence that led to tens of thousands of deaths.  Considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish, fighting with the PKK flared up again this past July.  Many Turks believe that European countries, France included, have supported the PFF out of sympathy for Kurds.

Last month, another moment of silence for the 102 victims of a bomb attack in Ankara was disrupted by fans during an international game against Iceland.  The attack, which targeted Kurdish and leftist activists protesting the government, who are believed by some conservative Turks to have been PKK supporters.  If you’d like to learn more, feel free to click here!