The Gezi Protests and Narratives of Distance

In late spring 2013, the Gezi protests were sparked in Turkey and consequently the concepts of loyalty were in frequent discussion among some of the Galatasaray and Fenerbahqe fans in Vienna.

People in Istanbul started protesting when plans were adopted to build a shopping mall in Gezi Park. Gezi Park, one of the few remaining parks in Istanbul’s European centre, is located right next to Taksim Square, probably the most important public space in Istanbul. Thousands of people gathered to protest against the neoliberal policy of commodification of urban space by the government. Soon the protests became part of a broader movement against President Erdogan’s conservative, repressive, authoritarian and neoliberal politics (Yildirim 2013; Navaro- Yashin 2013). A crucial aspect of the protests was that members of all different parts of society, such as ‘feminists and football fans, secularists and anti-capitalist Muslims, members of Istanbul’s bourgeoisie and the working classes, LGBT activists and professional lawyers, Kurds and Jews’ (Navaro-Yashin 2013) were now fighting for a mutual cause. The protests were soon met with extraordinary police violence such as beating, tear gas and water guns. Some football fans and ultra groups played an important role during the Gezi protests. Some fan groups of Fenerbahqe, Galatasaray and Be§ikta§ gathered and formed ‘Istanbul United’,[1] a unification that was perceived as symbolically powerful among the protesters. Erhart puts it in a nutshell:

Eternal rivals seemed to have united against the riot police and the

government. (2014, p. 1725)

It was perceived as powerful because the fans were usually understood as ‘arch enemies’, famous for fighting each other rather than for a mutual cause. It was additionally perceived as important because many football fans had been involved in clashes with the police before and were considered somewhat ‘experts’ in fighting the police.[2] In the quote, Erhart, nevertheless, keeps a sceptic tone, because not all fans or fan groups were participating in the protests and this unification, as symbolically powerful as it was, should not be mythicised and overemphasised. This became very clear when I attended two Super Lig matches in Istanbul in August 2013.[3] In one part of the stadium, people were yelling ‘Her Yer Taksim, Her Yer Direnig (Everywhere Taksim, Everywhere Resistance) while in another part, they were booing.

Football fans were as divided as the whole of Turkish society was. Yagmur Nuhrat explains in an interview conducted by Nicole Selmer in the Austrian football magazine Ballesterer (2013) that it is not surprising that among fans, also among Befiktaf fans although the club is often idealised of predominantly having anarchistic and left-wing fans, there are people that are against the protests. After all, about 50 per cent of the votes in the Turkish elections were for the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party), Nuhrat explains. Whereas I agree with Nuhrat, I would nevertheless emphasise that the symbolic meaning of Befiktaf, the third party of the Istanbul big three (ug buyukler), is still important. Befiktaf ultra group Qargi is famous for being leftist and anarchistic (McManus 2013) and the majority of Befiktaf fans, especially seen through the dominant readings of the club, have been associated with a working class culture (Erhart 2011, p. 93). Therefore, Befiktaf and particularly Qargi are read in this nexus of attributions and became powerful political images in the discourses about the Gezi protests.

For some of my interviewees, the changing situation in Turkey had an immense impact on how they perceived their everyday lives in Vienna and also on how they performed their football fandom. It strongly depended on how much they identified with the protestors as well as on their interest in Turkish politics. Everybody at least had an opinion about the events in Turkey but not everybody took action. The group of students from Istanbul was strongly politicised and some of them started to coordinate solidarity events in Vienna. Also, some fans that grew up in Vienna participated in the protests in Vienna to show their solidarity.

For some fans in Vienna the Gezi protests even had an impact on their football loyalties as we will see exemplified in Selin’s case. Selin is in her late twenties, grew up in Vienna and travels quite often to Istanbul where friends and close relatives live. She is a Fenerbah^e fan, politically active, leftist, and an artist. I met her in Istanbul in summer 2013 at a protest art event against the recent political developments in Turkey. In the following interview section, we were first talking about Fenerbah^e and Bejiktaj being excluded from the European championships on the grounds of match fixing accusations[4] that summer which Selin then linked to a more general discussion about football loyalties and club images and finally to the Gezi protests.

Nina: What do you think about Fenerbahpe getting disqualified from

the European matches?

Selin: Well, I guess there are lots of teams that did §ike [match fixing] it’s

called, but they weren’t punished so hard. I think that’s pretty mean (laughs). I am sad, yes, it was a moment when I said to myself that Fenerbahpe is less existent for me now in some ways.

It’s not that present anymore, it’s a bit phoney in this sense. But then I started thinking, shouldn’t I change to Bejiktaj? Because I like their philosophy much better and Fenerbahpe is totally elitist and totally out now. But then I get the feeling again, no, I have always been there for them, so to speak, I cannot give up just like that now. And then I get the feeling again and I am still Fenerbahpe, unfortunately. [...] Well, it did not surprise me that Bejiktaj were there [at the protests] and participated because Bejiktaj always had this image: we are the ones, we are working class in quotation marks, we are anarchists, we are always opposing. That’s always the slogan, we are not only a football team but also political, right? It’s less the case at Fenerbahqe. Fenerbahqe is more, well I am simplifying this now, Fenerbahqe is capitalism. Bejiktaj rather communist, socialist, also very much simplified.34

In the first part of the interview section, Selin refers mainly to the dichotomy: elite culture vs. working class culture. In the second part she starts discussing the political situation in Turkey. She argues that she sometimes questions her loyalty to Fenerbah^e because she does not feel represented by this club and its image anymore. She claims that she can identify more with the working class culture of Bejiktaj. The representations of Fenerbah^e became too (a)political in terms of the Gezi park protests. Fenerbah^e, for her, started to represent the exact opposite of what the Gezi protests were about: Fenerbah^e’s allegedly capitalist and corrupt structure.

For many football fans it is a common discourse and practice to distance oneself from the club and to criticise one’s fan object in certain contexts. This particularly applies when representations change (Sandvoss 2003, pp. 163-5). In the interview, it appears as if Selin’s loyalty to Fenerbah^e is part of difficult internal negotiations. She feels the need to explain her loyalty and even to justify that she is ‘still’ a Fenerbah^e fan.

In qualitative interviews, the need to justify parts of one’s life often comes up to explain actions or decisions that in this specific moment are understood as inconsistencies (Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann 2004b, p. 87). In Selin’s case, it is the identification with Fenerbah^e and the identification with the motives of the Gezi protests that generate a conflict. Selin discusses why she still is a Fenerbah^e fan when Bejiktaj would fit her much better or rather: to the way she wants to present herself in this interview situation. This ‘social positioning’ (Lucius-Hoene and Deppermann 2004b, pp. 59-60) is part of qualitative interviews and a fluid process between the interviewer and the interviewee, because Selin does not really attempt to change clubs, which she considers an illegitimate way to act for a fan.

Selin perceives and constructs Be§ikta§ in general, and not only its ultra group (^ar§i, as the ones who fight for justice and equality. In comparison to Fenerbahqe, she describes Be§ikta§ fans as much more committed to the protests. In this context, it is not possible anymore to create her fan object, Fenerbahqe, as an ‘extension of oneself’. Gezi becomes part of a hegemonic discourse which for Selin is more important than football and that is at the same time positioned right in the middle of football. In Selin’s case the limits of the ‘narcissistic self-reflection’ (Sandvoss 2012, p. 82) are visible. Other dominant readings question the performances of loyalties and rivalries. To solve this conflict in the interview situation, she chooses to express her political views via her identification with Be§ikta§ and via emphasising her struggle towards her loyalty to Fenerbahqe. Applying this narration strategy of ‘social positioning’, she does not even have to give up her loyalty to Fenerbahqe.

  • [1] The mystification of this collaboration is also pushed by the film ‘Istanbul United’ (Eslam F. andO. Waldhauer (2014) Istanbul United. Film/Documentary, 87 min (Germany; Czech Republic;Turkey; Switzerland: Port au Prince Pictures)).
  • [2] The football researcher Yagmur Nuhrat (2013b) emphasises that football fans are not the onlyvictims of police violence in Turkey as the police is using violent repressions on many other occasions, like the May 1st demonstrations.
  • [3] Fieldnote from 19 August 2013, Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul, with fans from Vienna,Galatasaray vs. Gaziantepspor (Super Lig), afternoon and evening; fieldnote from 24 August 2013,$ukru Saracoglu Stadyumu, Istanbul, in collaboration with fans from Vienna, Fenerbah^e vs.Eskifehirspor (Super Lig), evening.
  • [4] For more information: (2013): Fenerbahce given two-year European ban afterlosing match fixing case., (published 28 August 2013, accessed 31 October 2013).
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