Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) announced on Sunday that its leader Devlet Bahçeli had resigned from Beşiktaş football club, following the fans’ protests against the government over its post-earthquake failures in disaster relief.
Football matches in Turkey’s premier league resumed this weekend after a two-week break following the twin earthquakes that struck the country’s southern provinces at 4:17 local time on 6 February, affecting 13.5 million people and leaving almost 50,000 dead according to latest official figures.
The stadiums in İstanbul on Saturday and Sunday turned into arenas for the football fans to demonstrate the public’s mounting outrage. On Sunday, Beşiktaş fans emulated those of Fenerbahçe, who on Saturday had repeatedly called on the government to resign during a match with Konyaspor.
Beşiktaş fans were chanting “Government resign!” before kick-off in their club’s match against Antalyaspor. The police intervened and arrested a number of fans in the stadium for protesting against the government. The arrests only led to the volume of the chanting in the stadium increasing.
Yet, Beşiktaş fans also had a surprise for the earthquake victims. During the first four minutes of the match, the names and the licence plate codes of the 10 provinces in southern Turkey affected by the earthquake appeared one after another on the massive screen in the stadium.
Four minutes and seventeen seconds into the match, the game stopped and all at once, thousands of fans started throwing toys onto the pitch, creating a heart-warming scene. The toys piled up on the pitch are to be sent to children affected by the disaster. Their action created a moment of rejoicing on social media among the people, who had been shocked on Sunday by a scandal surrounding the Turkish Red Crescent in relation to the earthquake.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remained mostly silent during the weekend in the face of the protests in stadiums. However Bahçeli, who is Erdoğan’s ally though his party is not visibly represented in the government, decided to respond.
Just before the match, Bahçeli shared several posts on Twitter, condemning the protests of the football fans and accusing them of using sports as a tool for “dirty” politics.
“It is the inevitable duty of the presidents of all clubs to take urgent and necessary steps towards holding matches without audiences or only after imposing necessary measures,” he wrote on Twitter.
But Bahçeli’s comments had no affect on the Beşiktaş fans calling for the government to resign. While play was still going on, the MHP shared a statement, announcing Bahçeli’s resignation from Beşiktaş membership on its official Twitter account.
“Following the disaster, certain acts of provocation in the stands, under the pretext of watching football, have been hugely disrespectful to our martyrs and our nation. The systematic disrespect shown to our earthquake martyrs during the Beşiktaş JK-Fraport TAV Antalyaspor match is not worthy of Beşiktaş or of the national moral values held by Beşiktaş. Our chairman has resigned from Beşiktaş JK membership as of today,” read the statement penned by party’s deputy chair.
“Good riddance” many Beşiktaş fans cheered after Bahçeli’s resignation. Some on social media said that the fans had called on the government to resign, but that Bahçeli had “mistakenly” resigned from Beşiktaş, adding that it was welcoming news anyway. Others questioned why the far-right leader took the criticism against the government personally as he is not officially in the cabinet.
“It is really pleasing to see those who disappeared for the ten days after the earthquake resigning from Beşiktaş membership in ten minutes,” said football commentator Uğur Karakullukçu, referring to Bahçeli, who did not even visit his earthquake-stricken home town of Osmaniye for ten days, and went to the region only after that time, together with Erdoğan. “I hope those who fail in doing their jobs will take action so rapidly and hand their resignations,” Karakullukçu added.
“Those who do not go to the stands do not know, but the stands are life itself,” wrote Engin Aksoy, the CEO of Vodafone Turkey, which sponsors Beşiktaş. After he was targeted by government sponsors, Aksoy locked his Twitter account.
Following Bahçeli, several other MHP officials also announced their resignation from membership of Beşiktaş in condemnation of the protests. Their resignations received similar responses on social media.
Kayserispor, Konyaspor and Alanyaspor shared statements saying that they were backing their state and the nation against the protests in the stadiums. Some on social media criticised those statements, pointing out that government supporters have blurred the distinction between the state and the government. The Sözcü newspaper on Monday pointed out that the presidents of the three football clubs are closely affiliated with the AKP.