Stadiums in Turkey chant: “Government, resign!”
The shock waves sent through society by the 7.7 and 7.6 magnitude earthquakes that hit Turkey’s southeast have not eased. Many are angry that the buildings in the region were not resilient to earthquakes and that the central and local authorities turned a blind eye to this for years. The reactions against the government have been exacerbated by the inadequate and delayed earthquake response which caused the death toll to increase.
During the league match between Fenerbahce and Konyaspor on February 25, the chants for “government, resign!” erupted from the stands. These slogans drew attention and were shouted again on the next day during the game between Besiktas and Antalyaspor. Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas are considered the top three multi-sport clubs with the most fans in Turkey. With millions of fans across the country, people in every city in Turkey support these three Istanbul teams alongside teams from their hometowns.
Why the stadiums?
After the earthquakes on February 6, while the country was overcome by sadness, the Erdogan administration’s propaganda machine began to work. The main theme of the campaigns propagated under the slogan of “Disaster of the Century” was that no state could have coped with such a disaster. On the other hand, the campaigns pushed the claim that Turkey’s response was quite successful in comparison. Erdogan is in the midst of attempts to convince his own base of these claims three months before the Presidential elections.
In contrast, news coming from the region shows that many survivors still have not received basic humanitarian supplies, and especially tents, even as the third week following the disaster has come to an end. Furthermore, the inadequacy of civil defense teams, like the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), tasked with responding to such disasters has triggered anger among the public. However, this anger has not been reflected by the media as Turkey’s mainstream media is under Erdogan's control. Due to the pressure elsewhere, stadiums have emerged as sites for people to express their anger.
Devlet Bahceli, the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which supports the government, reacted harshly to the protests in the stadiums. Making a call for sports clubs to take the necessary measures, Bahceli announced that he had resigned from the Besiktas club, of which he was a member. Alluding to the fact that no government official had yet resigned after the earthquakes, many social media users mocked Bahceli by reminding him that he was the first to resign, and that was from a sports club.
Though Bahceli was the first, the stadium slogans provoked furious reactions from other politicians. MHP Deputy Chairman Semih Yalcin, MHP Gaziantep Deputy Sermet Atay, MHP Secretary General and Bursa Deputy Ismet Buyukataman also cancelled their memberships to the Besiktas club. Yavuz Subasi, the Balikesir Deputy from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), also announced that he had resigned as a member of the Besiktas Congress.
Then, many football clubs began to publish statements against the call resounding in the stadiums for the government to resign. Alanyaspor, Konyaspor, Kayserispor, Caykur Rizespor, and Erzurumspor clubs reacted to the fan protests. The published statements emphasized that football should not be politicized. Most of these clubs have ties to the AKP government. The statement of Caykur Rizespor, the team from Rize which is known as Erdogan's hometown, is rife with insults. It reads, "Neither our state nor our nation will forgive those who attempt vile provocations in the stands while our state and nation stand mobilized with their strength to heal the wounds in the earthquake zone. The attempts at provocation made at a time when millions of football lovers shy away from celebrating a goal will be recorded in history as the shrieks of a cesspool of rats. We strongly condemn the human pieces of [so-called] fans who are disturbed by the great solidarity of our nation in salving the earthquake’s wounds.”
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu also reacted to those shouting slogans in the stadiums. Soylu said, “… those who think that we are buried by this earthquake issue should not assume that we will not raise our shields in the matter of security. The three or four men who saw themselves fit to coordinate and engineer such issues cannot be given the right to tarnish Turkey's future. Don't worry. Don’t let them interrupt our work. We will divide our time. If they interrupt our work, they will have been unjust towards this nation in such a trying time. If they want to interrupt our work, then here we are, bring it on! Nobody should arm wrestle on the matter of Turkey's security. This is my piece of advice. They should not try to poison this process that this nation is facing with what little mind and intelligence they possess.”
Minister of Youth and Sports, Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu, through a social media message, said, “Our country will need this spirit of unity and the healing power of sports much more throughout this process as we continue to heal the wounds of the earthquake. However, as in every difficult period, we see that some self-interested groups do not remain idle. While the sports communities and clubs have all united, some have engaged in targeted provocations. The sports field is not for politics. Sports competitions are not centers of policy making. Making sports an instrument of politics achieved nothing but hinder unity and solidarity.”
The Clubs Union, the top umbrella association established by the sports clubs that make up the Super League, also published a statement on the topic. The statement, which expresses the discomfort caused by the situation, says, “Sports clubs are not political institutions, nor are they part of political discussions. We do not want to be a part of the discussion in any field other than sports, as we have done so far.”
Kenan Nuhut, Chief Advisor to the Chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, said, "The voices of 'Government resign’ rising from the Fenerbahce and Besiktas tribunes are not actions organized by any political party. As a result of this oppressive mentality, which for various reasons and for many years has prevented citizens from protesting even for their most basic rights and does not allow more than three people to stand side by side, our people are trying to make their voices heard from whatever place they can be heard. They also tried to organize the tribunes against this for years, but they were unable to achieve this goal. Perceiving the issue as 'some circles bring politics into sports' is the biggest mistake.”
The statement coming from the Good Party said, “Demanding that the matches be played without an audience is an absurdity. Just as elections cannot occur without voters, tribunes cannot be without fans.”
Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who established the Future Party after parting ways with the AKP said, “The people in the stands said government resign, resign. Bahceli got confused again, and resigned from Besiktas membership instead.”
Ali Babacan, a former minister for many years during the Erdogan era who left the AKP to establish the Democracy and Progress Party, said, “The government’s little partner thinks everything it sees is a nail simply because it holds a hammer in its hand. The only thing it knows is how to ban or obstruct. @dbdevletbahceli @RTErdogan Learn how to bear criticism and do your job. Leave football be, and deal with the earthquake region: solve the crisis in shelter and heating.”
Co-Chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Pervin Buldan supported the fans chanting the slogans with a social media post saying, “I root for Besiktas…”
Alaattin Cakici, the mafia leader who also supports the government, issued a statement threatening those who shouted "government, resign!" Cakici said, "The opposition, which was the usual provocateur where it should have provided unity and solidarity, once again caused divisiveness to harm the government on the backs of our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the earthquake."
Many expect the fans to voice their anger in the stadiums again in the upcoming days. How the government will find a “solution” to this remains a mystery. However, one thing is for sure: The government does not want a social opposition to form shortly before the elections, and it does not want this to become widespread in a field such as football, which appeals to large masses.