The Turkish Football Supporters Accused of Terrorism
We spoke with the leader of a Beşiktas supporters group who was accused of terrorism by the Turkish government following demonstrations against President Erdoğan.
Foto: Murad Sezer/Reuters
This article first appeared on VICE Sports Spain
"Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!" came the shouts from hundreds of football fans. Supporters of Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, life-long rivals on the pitch, stood together in an attempt to stop development beginning on one of the last green spaces in Istanbul.
In May 2013 the Turkish government announced its intention to demolish Gezi Park so as to reproduce an Ottoman Fortress and build a new shopping centre. Police brutality against the protesters subsequently turned the demonstration to save the park into a revolt against the authoritarian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
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The Gezi Park protests against the Justice and Development Party (AKP), who hold a majority in the Turkish Parliament, continued for days throughout many cities across the country. The brutality used by the police left eight people dead and injured 8,000 more.
Çarşı, the supporters group of Beşiktaş JK, were one of the more influential movements involved in the protests. 35 members – including the group's founder, Cem Yakışkan – were taken to court where they were accused of attempting to stage a political coup, domestic terrorism, resisting authority, and participation in illegal demonstrations.
Prosecution attorney Adem Meral fought for life imprisonment for several Çarşı members, and three-year prison sentences for others in the group. On 29 December 2015, the accused were cleared of all charges, though Mr. Meral subsequently made an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Cem Yakışkan believes that, in spite of their recent pardon, the group will find themselves back in court: "We laughed at the situation, so as not to cry," he explained. "The judge said, 'You are here for attempting to stage a political coup'. If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have used it to make Beşiktaş champions!"
Yakışkan and other members of Çarşı expect to be charged eventually: "Let's not forget, we are in Turkey. We'll see what happens in the Supreme Court; the process isn't over yet."
Amnesty International has previously pointed out the brutal nature of the Turkish correctional system, as well as the invasive quality of their intelligence organisations. Based on the charity's previous studies, these branches of government act with total impunity.
The name Çarşı – which in Turkish means market – originates from the neighbourhood's local bazaar of Beşiktaş, where the supporters meet to watch their team. Yakışkan owns a bar in the heart of this market.
"To understand why we took part in the demonstrations, you first need to understand Çarşı," explains Yakışkan. "It would not have been normal to ignore the Gezi Park protests when everything is happening so close to our neighbourhood.
"In the past we have fought against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Hasankeyf," – the creation of which would have destroyed an ancient city – "and we also helped by donating blood after the Van earthquake in 2011. We will always stand against unjust actions and violence."
Çarşı's football fans are well known in the neighbourhood for their social conscience and anarchist ideology, both of which are symbolized on the organisation's logo. The group's famous motto – 'Çarşı, her şeye Karşı' – translates as, 'Çarşı, anti-everything.'
"Anarchy isn't even enough." says Yakışkan, "Normally, other logos feature the [anarchist] 'A' inside a circle. Our 'A', our struggle, goes beyond it. When there's injustice, we always stand alongside those that suffer. Armenians, Kurds, animal rights activists, the LGBQT community, feminists..." Yakışkan believes he and the Çarşı members were persecuted as a result of their social actions.
This isn't the first time that the Turkish government has interfered inside football grounds. In 2012, fans buying tickets were asked to sign a contract accepting the prohibition of particular mottos and slogans. The government commented on this, saying the measures were taken in order to avoid anti-government protests during football matches.
In the formal accusation brought against Çarşı, it was explained that the group attempted to occupy the office of the former Prime Minister, now President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan stated that these actions were taken, "In order to highlight the apparent weakness in Government. They attempted to display an image evoking the changes in government that occurred during the Arab Spring. They attempted to bring down the established government of the Turkish Republic, using illegal methods."
A formal document also states that the group stole an excavator in order to attack police cars near to where tear gas and water cannons were being used against the protesters. The prosecution accused them of possession of gas masks, torches and ammunition. It was also underlined that during a telephone conversation between protesters food was requested in order to sustain 'The people in the protest zone.'
Human Rights campaigner Emma Sinclair-Webb says the accusations condemning the football supporters as enemies of the state are "false and ridiculous" and believes that "they should never have gone to tribunal".
Murat Çekiç, director of Amnesty International Turkey, has also expressed concern over cases like Çarşı and Taksim Solidarity, the collective group who arranged the Gezi protests, who were also accused of being a terrorist organisation.
Yakışkan is very happy with the response of other football fans. "We've had a lot of support come from outside the group. Borussia Dortmund, St. Pauli; even English teams have contacted us.
"The supporters of Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe showed their support at first, but it wasn't honest", says Yakışkan. "They didn't come to court with us, and instead accepted these injustices. In Gezi we joined together for a brighter future, but as soon as the league starts... Well, everybody wants to be the champion".
A year after the revolt, the Turkish government implemented a new access system to football stadiums called Passolig – every fan is given a card with an ID number and assigned seat.
"We took it well, but when one person causes trouble they punish the collective. It's quite a strange method," the Çarşi leader explains. "But I don't think they could do it better. It's similar to Europe – our government always follows their lead. They implemented the smoking ban, the alcohol tax, and issued tighter controls in order to adopt standard European procedures."
President Erdoğan outlined his intention to "hunt the traitors" who were responsible for the Gezi protests, and also the corruption inside his own party. During these court cases, police officers, attorneys and judges – including two magistrates initially assigned to the Çarşı trial – have been arrested or made to appear in court accused of violating the Turkish Criminal Code and articles of the anti-terrorist law. The acquittal of the members of Çarşı occurred shortly after 26 members of Taksim Solidarity, the organisers of the Gezi protests, were also released.
Yakışkan continues to defend the value of those protests: "The government was defeated for the first time. We can attribute the victory to our society, attribute its success to the individuals that took part. We saw that our youth are intelligent and sympathetic. Although the political parties that oppose the current government didn't take advantage of the situation, Gezi meant a lot for Turkey."