Occupy Gezi, a peaceful sit-in to protest against the destruction of Istanbul's Gezi Park in favor of the construction of military barracks and a shopping mall, was met with excessive police violence and it quickly turned into a nationwide protest against what some people felt were non-democratic means by which the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government has been implementing social policies. There are multiple points to be made about this uprising, its course of development and its significance for the Turkish society and politics.
Government representatives' deceptive attitudes, media censorship and ongoing, excessive police violence have particularly received attention and have intensified the Resistance. Touching on these issues but belaboring another focus, this piece will concentrate on a specific group of people who took center stage in Occupy Gezi: football fans.
Since the first days of Occupy Gezi, Besiktas fan group . »cArsi« (»cArsi« employs a particular spelling to handwrite and type the letter »a« after the symbol for anarchy; I follow this spelling here) has been organizing in hundreds to advance to and defend Taksim and to carry out the Resistance in their central hub, around the Besiktas neighborhood. During this time, not only have they marched in increasing numbers and camped out inside Gezi Park, they have also confiscated police tanks that are used to attack people with pressurized water. »cArsi« has been extremely vocal about their stance against the destruction of Gezi and the ongoing violence with which the police has been attacking peaceful protestors with vast volumes of tear gas and pressurized water.
»cArsi« is known as one of the most vocal and active football fan groups in terms of involvement in various social causes. In fact, in 2011 the researcher Meri Kytö wrote in the academic journal »Soccer and Society«that »... [they have] been against fascism, war in Iraq, child pornography, global warming... By contrast, they have declared that [they are all] Armenians, retired, black, janitors...and other things in need of solidarity« (80). As such, some might find it understandable that »cArsi« organized to fight against police violence in Istanbul, vowing to represent the people, justice and fairness. However, it would be a limited interpretation of football fans' involvement in Occupy Gezi to claim that only »cArsi« was included.
Strolling around Gezi Park (before it was completely and violently cleared by the police on June 15th), one could easily see men and women in Galatasaray and Fenerbahce jerseys in the »cArsi« procession. Besides numerous graffiti around Istanbul that include calling out to Galatasaray's Didier Drogba for help and asking from Fenerbahce goalkeeper Volkan to reason with PM Erdogan, fan groups including but not limited to Galatasaray's Tek Yumruk and Fenerbahce's Vamos Bien organized marches and protests to support the Resistance. The collaboration between the fan groups was so conspicuous that visual representation of »Istanbul United« became abundant in the social media. What was it about Occupy Gezi that so readily mobilized football fans against police violence?
The key to understanding this is realizing how police violence in the form of tear gas, pressurized water from on top of tanks and beatings is nothing new in Turkey. Various forms of public gathering including university students' protests, May 1st demonstrations and football matches regularly witness these forms of intervention accompanied by inexplicable detainments and custodies. One of the ways in which the government justified police intervention in Occupy Gezi was by arguing that protestors were a bunch of »capulcu« (looters, vandals). In fact, football fans have regularly been characterized as such: an aimless lumpen crowd, lowlifes with nothing in life but a senseless obsession with football. These stereotypes have, for years, catalyzed police intervention in and around stadiums where especially Istanbul derbies have been characterized with war-like scenes of fog, tear gas and fans clashing with the police. It was only last month on May 11th when Besiktas played their final game at home and Besiktas neighborhoods resembled a warzone that seemed to preempt the chaotic scenes of Occupy Gezi that would take place on the same grounds only a month later. Occupy Gezi saw a crystallization of the opposition between the police and the public but that opposition had been in the works for a long time for some social groups. Football fans are rehearsed in their antagonism to police violence since just like the Gezi protestors they have been seen as troublemakers for years, even when they solely chanted in support of their team. My aim here is not to obstruct the real violence that unfolds within and through football or to romanticize football fandom as absolutely pure. It is to underline the fact that Occupy Gezi showed us the extent of police violence and how it could be directed at peaceful people. It is now time to direct our gaze at previous victims of tear gas and to interrogate their past experiences so we can evaluate their current involvement in Occupy Gezi.
The Turkish »Law to Prevent Violence and Disorder in Sport« of 2011 that was partly fashioned after the British Taylor Report of 1990 has gone a significant way to increase the power and authority of the police and other security forces in and around football in Turkey. Everything from prescribing electronic ID cards to various other surveillance technologies and requiring »problematic« or banned« fans to report to police stations at kick-off have alienated certain fans, making them feel like the state and the police were trying to find reasons to blacklist them altogether. I argue that even though this law's ostensible mission was to alleviate violence in football in Turkey, it has partly served to deepen the opposition between fans and police forces both theoretically and practically in the form of pre- and post-match clashes. Doubtless, not all fans or fan groups have joined Occupy Gezi and one cannot argue that being a football fan in Turkey determines one's disposition to fight police violence. However, I strongly believe that it is possible to find considerable overlap between clashing crowds in Turkish football and in Occupy Gezi. Some 22 members of »cArsi« were taken into custody over the weekend of June 15-16 and the odds are that these were the very people under tear gas, police batons and pressurized water on May 11th in Besiktas.
Foto: Haluk Cobanoglu