A sports presenter’s comments exposes some uncomfortable truths about Turkish attitudes
This isn’t a football blog. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wrote about it. But the bizarre response to a recent game in the northwestern town of Bursa recently has some telling signs for the way some Turks think.
For the uninitiated, some quick background: Bursaspor are the current Turkish champions. They won the national league in May in a thrilling twist on the final day of the season, becoming only the second team outside of Istanbul to do so. But they were destined to become runners-up until a simultaneous game involving Trabzonspor went Bursa’s way: Trabzon, who was out of the running for the championship, defeated the only other contender, Fenerbahçe, to ensure a Bursa victory.
The new season is now well underway, and Bursa and Trabzon played each other – in Bursa – for the first time this season last Saturday. Trabzon won the game 2-0, thus taking the league leadership from a hitherto undefeated Bursa side. I must declare an interest at this stage – I am a Trabzonspor fan, and have been since childhood, and was delighted by the result. But what I found remarkable wasn’t the game so much as a televised incident that occurred the following morning on Bursaspor’s TV station.
While reviewing newspaper coverage of the game, Seda Çapçı, the presenter, launched into an astonishing rant about Bursa’s Black Sea community, ostensibly in response to anti-Bursa chants by Trabzon fans at the game.
“We always saw them as one of us, we never discriminated,” she said, before adding: “They opened businesses here, earned their bread here, lived here, sent their children to school here, found work here, and we were happy.” She went on to identify specific neighbourhood of Bursa where people from Turkey’s Black Sea region tend to live, and taunted them for not showing their faces in the town centre after the game.
Two things are striking about Ms Çapçı’s comments: firstly, that they appear to invoke a sense of racial difference where many Turks would not have dreamed of thinking one existed, and secondly, that they had such resonance around the country.
The Laz, as people from the Black Sea are known, have their own language and a distinct language and culture based around the mountainous, fertile region where they have lived for centuries. It’s fair to say they are more closely integrated with the rest of Turkey too: they tend to be bilingual, and separatist aspirations have seldom been seen. They are also the butt of several jokes, largely because of their unusual accents and mannerisms, not unlike the Irish or Welsh would be in some English circles.
I spoke to a long-time Bursa resident who told me members of the city’s Black Sea community had long been conspicuous in the city. Sometimes their actions would be comical: “I knew this one family who must have moved from a village straight into the city, because – hand on heart – they tended a cow in their fourth floor flat.” But never, she told me, were there racist tensions. They were Turks moving from one part of Turkey to another.
However, in the week of Eid al-Adha, when news is slow, Ms Çapçı’s comments found nationwide coverage. The day after the broadcast, a group of Trabzon fans gathered outside the main Ataturk memorial in Bursa’s central square to read a statement condemning the broadcast, but police had to be called when a fight broke out with fans of the home side. Four Bursa fans were arrested.
Bursaspor TV has since disassociated itself for the comments and issued an apology. Ms Çapçı has been fired, and might be facing charges for inciting hatred.
So, the question remains: is Bursa a racist town? No. As with most football-related incidents, this appears to be the opinion of the few. But it does provoke thought on the mindset of some people in Turkey. This isn’t the first time I’ve highlighted signs of antipathy towards a minority; what is encouraging is that, this time, Ms Çapçı’s views did not go unchallenged.