Sunday, March 13, 2011

Would I have been a Black Eagle?

In the March 7, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, there was a Letter from Turkey entitled “The View from the Stands:  Life among Istanbul’s soccer fanatics.”  I read it with great fascination both because it gave a glimpse into soccer fanaticism and also because it was about Istanbul.  The article was written by Elif Batuman who the contributor page told me is “a writer in residence at Koç University, in Istanbul, and the author of ‘The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.”  

Ms. Batuman acknowledged the three premier and most popular teams in Turkish futbol as Galatasary, Fenerbahçe, and Beşiktaş.  She pretty quickly focused on the Beşiktaş team and their fan club called Çarşi.  The colors of the Black Eagles of Beşiktaş Jimnastik Kulubünü are black and white.  The are probably the most proletariat of the three major teams.  While I lived in New York, I thought that Galatasary was the only Turkish soccer team.  While I totally acknowledge my naivete, it does speak a bit to the socio-economic class of the Turks that I knew while I was in New York.

The Çarşis seem like a most interesting group.  I liked the picture Batuman painted of them.  I liked their irreverent attitude and the support they give to any underdogs as they perceive themselves as such.  The express their affiliation with the down trodden and disenfranchised with banners and slogans:

“We Are All Black.”  proclaimed one banner, after rival fans had made reference to the race of the French-Senegalese Beşiktaş star Pascal Nouma.  When Fenerbahçe disparaged a Beşiktaş manager whose father had been a janitor, there were banners saying “We Are All Janitors.”  And when an internal committee of astronomers removed Pluto from the list of planets Çarşi took up the cause:  “We Are All Pluto.”

As a so named Gavoor, how can I not appreciate this irreverent and fun attitude?  It made me wonder about when Hrant Dink was murdered and thousands of Turks took to the streets with banners stating “We Are All Hrant Dink” and “We Are All Armenian.”  Did the Çarşis influence this or did that event influence the Çarşis?  I am guessing the latter. 

Either way, “We Are All Pluto” is pretty funny... assuming this was not some backhanded swat at the murder of Hrant Dink.   

It is not all peaches and cream, however.  Soccer fanaticism and hooliganism comes with more than a fair share of idiotic and partisan violence and Çarşi is not above this.

One of the heads of Çarşi is an Armenian named Alen.

A headline in a political magazine once called the Beşiktaş stands “the only place where the Armenian problem has been solved.”  Popular cheers have included “Alen for Pope” and, on Easter, “Bless us, Alen.”

I suppose the fanaticism for a team can overcome national politics.

Either way, I am not a huge soccer fan apart from the World Cup.  I never even considered being a fan of a Turkish soccer team, but after reading this piece:  Go Beşiktaş!

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