From 1912 to 2023: The ongoing battle against discrimination in Turkish sports

Echoes of intolerance: How Turkey's athletes triumph amidst centuries of bias.

Melih Guner, the head of the youth department of the Yeniden Refah Party (Welfare Again Party), recently stated, "Ebrar Karakurt, an LGBT person wearing the national team jersey in a Muslim country, should be immediately expelled and removed from the jersey."

"We should be proud of our national athletes, not ashamed," he added.

Why are you ashamed of Ebrar Karakurt?

A talented volleyball player, Karakurt, recently posted a photograph of herself and her girlfriend on Instagram. This post was highlighted by the conservative newspaper, Takvim, which labeled her sexual orientation and relationship as “scandalous.” This resulted in a barrage of homophobic slurs directed at her on social media. Turkish Imam Ahmet Mahmut Unlu censured her, speculating on the potential "troubles she might bring upon [Turks]." Following these attacks, Karakurt received an outpouring of support online. The spokesperson for the Turkish National Volleyball Federation, Mumcu, stood by Karakurt, condemning the bigoted remarks made against her.

The talented player began playing volleyball at the age of 12 for VakifBank Sports Club. She won the Turkish championship two years consecutively in both the stars and junior categories while wearing a VakifBank jersey. She also became a World Champion with the U23 National Team. After winning the ‘Best Spiker’ award at the World Championship, where she competed with the U18 National Team, she was promoted to the VakifBank A Team in 2018. There, she secured 1 Club World Championship and 1 Turkish League Championship. In May 2021, she transferred to Igor Gorgonzola Novara, one of the Italian Women’s Volleyball League teams, and signed a two-year contract.

She clinched the 2023 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League championship with Turkey. Besides her impressive performance, Karakurt also exudes immense energy.

What more can she achieve to make you proud?

Why are we invested in her personal life? Why do you care about her lovers? Why be concerned about her actions post-retirement?

As I read Guner's nonsensical remarks, I oscillate between anger and recollection of an ancient “story of marginalization.”

The Ottoman Empire participated in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics after declining previous invitations.

Athletes for the Olympics were recruited through a newspaper advertisement: “Athletes are sought for the Swedish capital competitions. Those interested are kindly requested to apply to Selim Sirri Bey (President of the Ottoman Olympic Society).”

Upon seeing Selim Sirri's advertisement, two Armenian youths, Vahram Papazyan and Migirdic Migiryan, responded. Selim Sirri unexpectedly stated that the athletes needed to finance their own trips to Stockholm.

These two athletes, after overcoming numerous challenges and financing their trip with the help of the Ardavast Armenian Sports Club, realized the flag of the Ottoman Empire wasn't displayed at the venue. They promptly sought assistance from Ambassador Ahmet Bey.

After addressing the flag issue, the focus shifted to the jerseys. The problem was solved when the ambassador’s wife hand-embroidered a white crescent star onto the athletes' red singlets.

Selim Sirri, despite having the Armenian participants fund their own travel, remained unsatisfied. Upon returning to Istanbul from Stockholm, he emotionally declared, "Vahram Papazyan will serve as a telegrapher for the Ottoman Army on the Gallipoli Front. While all nations were represented at the Olympics, Turks were not."

Krisyan, the editor-in-chief of ‘Marmnamarz‘ (Athletics), the Ottoman Empire's first sports magazine published in Armenian in 1911, was dismayed by this treatment. In an article, he cited instances of Armenians defending their homeland in the Balkans to emphasize their allegiance to the Ottoman Empire.

“These athletes wore shirts with the Ottoman crescent and sought to represent the Ottoman Empire in sports. Those who cheered did so not because they were Armenians, but because they were Ottomans. Why don't you recognize the contributions of these two Ottomans?”

A century later, some attitudes remain steadfast. It's perplexing the lengths some go to, creating flimsy excuses instead of celebrating our athletes.

Note: The Marmnamarz magazine once occupied an office at Bahcekapi Yeni Volto Han 19. This office became a hub for youth discussions about sports. The annual subscription was priced at 25 kurus, and European subscribers received the magazine for 8 francs. However, this lasted only three years. The magazine's publication ceased when Krisyan Ayas, one of the first Armenians deported to Ayas by the Union and Progress Party's government in 1915, perished.

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