Dinamo Mesken: Turkish Football as a Political … Football

New from "Around the World"

March 28, 2015

    IN “DINAMO MESKEN,” a multimedia exhibition at Ankara’s SALT Ulus gallery, Turkish artist Ege Berensel tells the story of an amateur football club dragged into Turkey’s political turmoil of the late 1970s. Armed groups of the left and right fought and killed one another. The escalating conflict brought military repression and a traumatic denouement.

    Berensel’s research, carried out over more than five years and displayed in the exhibition through documentaries, found footage, memorabilia, and photography, tells a tale of tribalism, violence, demise, and resurrection; a story with contemporary resonance as football continues to be an instrument of both political control and rebellion.

    Berensel was born in 1968 and grew up in Bursa, Turkey — a city in the northwest of Anatolia. “Areas in Bursa were divided by ideologies,” he told me when I met him in Ankara, Turkey. “Leftist and rightist neighbourhoods, with leftist and rightist football teams.”

    The Bursa neighborhood of Mesken was staunchly leftist during Berensel’s childhood. In 1975 many Mesken residents crowded into Bursa’s stadium to watch the city’s professional club Bursaspor take on the Soviet Union team Dynamo Kiev in the third round of the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Many of the Mesken spectators were thrilled by the speed and style of Kiev and openly supported the Soviet side, which beat Bursaspor and went on to win the competition.

    In the following weeks, supporters began chanting “Dinamo Mesken” at the matches of a Mesken-based amateur team Ertuğrulgazi. The club became widely known by their new nickname, which implied a political stance — a risky expression of affinity with the communist Soviet Union.

    01_Dinamo Mesken football team (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1976)

    Above: Dinamo Mesken football team (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1976)

    Below: Dinamo Mesken football season 1979–1980 (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1979)

    02_Dinamo Mesken football season 1979-1980 (Photo by Cemal Karadağ 1979)

    Many saw the club as leftists, but that was just a projection. In reality, most of the players and administrators were not. One of their best players supported the far-right Nationalist Movement Party.

    “I don’t like the idea that sports and politics mix,” said Tunçkanat Yeğin, 69, an administrator of the club in the 1970s, who was talking to me with several former players, officials, and supporters in a wood-paneled, male-dominated cafe in Mesken. Yeğin saw Dinamo Mesken as a way for people to come together — a social institution in a deprived area. Dinamo Mesken was the amateur club with the most supporters in the city — between 300 and 500 people used to go to the matches. In such a starkly polarized political climate, it was perhaps inevitable that the popular club would draw the attention of both right-wing groups and the authorities.

    Bülent Merey, 66, was the club’s coach in the late 1970s. He remembers the police approaching him one evening as he locked up the clubhouse, asking for information about the players. “I told them: ‘This is a sports club, it has nothing to do with politics.’” The next morning Merey removed leftist posters that had been pasted onto the clubhouse overnight. “So I also had to say to the leftists: ‘This is a football club! You shouldn’t involve it in politics.’”

    The club’s matches became increasingly tense as rival fans accused them of being communists. By 1978 the violence between opposing political groups had intensified, and Mesken was a hunkered-down neighborhood, practically at war. Local men, armed with guns, manned checkpoints to prevent right-wing groups coming into the area and killing people.

    Cemal Karadağ was the photographer of the club; Berensel’s exhibition features a slideshow of his images. One black and white photograph shows the team in the late 1970s. Those seated in the front row hold the black and white chequered footballs that seemed to fall out of fashion in the 1980s. The young men sport the Lego-haired hirsuteness of the time. It is a snapshot of a team on the cusp of demise.

    On July 29, 1980, a man linked to a right-wing group came to Karadağ’s shop, drew a gun from his belt, and killed the photographer. “Since Karadağ was close to the team and the neighborhood, they targeted him,” said Berensel. “His death caused a trauma in the neighborhood.”

    The political conflict was approaching fever pitch. On September 12, 1980, the military staged a coup d’état and vowed to end the violence across the country. Dinamo Mesken became subject to the military’s repression. In 1981 the authorities declared that the nickname was a “clear attack on national values” and the club was ordered to close. Several of the club’s players and administrators were arrested, tortured, tried, and convicted of extortion — charges which former members say were politically motivated.

    In a football-mad country, Berensel says that the authorities have often both feared and favored the sport. “The authorities have always wanted to control football in Turkey,” stated Berensel. “They fear football supporters coming together.”

    Yet, although Dinamo Mesken was shut down, its story didn’t end there.

    05_Dinamo Mesken players (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1979)

    Dinamo Mesken players (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1979)


    “The authorities have captured all areas — but not football”

    In the decades following the founding of the Turkish Republic, the army directly intervened in Turkey’s politics on several occasions by invoking the need to protect Turkey’s secular state and national values.

    The 1980 military coup was a seminal moment in artist Ege Berensel’s life, an event to which he keeps returning in his work. His parents were leftists, hounded by the authorities. He says that his father died on the road evading the police. “This was the most important event in my life,” he says. “That’s why I make stories about it.”

    Berensel says that Dinamo Mesken’s closure was part of a wider attempt to subdue and control the neighborhood. The authorities tried to alter the neighborhood’s political demographics by arresting people or forcing them to move out of the area, and by building a police settlement in their midst.

    Berensel has also documented at least three other amateur football clubs in Bursa, and others in Ankara that were forced to close at this time. The authorities, he believes, have long feared football fans coming together en masse. Armenian football teams were disbanded in 1915 when the authorities feared the political implications: “It’s a long story and an old story and the same story. The Armenian case parallels the leftist amateur football clubs.”

    The first football matches during the Ottoman Empire were played in 1875, although Turkish players were banned from playing until the early 20th century. The sport steadily grew in popularity, turning professional in the early 1950s. In subsequent decades many people came to consider their allegiance to a team to be a core part of their identity. According to one estimate, 76 percent of Turkish people are active football fans.

    The popularity of the “beautiful game” in Turkey inevitably attracted the attention of the authorities — even as the political landscape changed and the power of Kemalism and the military began to be eclipsed by the rise of political Islam — who sought to both control football and capitalize on its mass appeal.  

    İbrahim Altınsay, head of Altınsay Filmworks and an ex-committee member of Beşiktaş, says that when a politician holds a rally somewhere they usually wear the scarf of that city’s team: “But when he goes to the next place — probably the biggest rival of that team — he wears their scarf! During general elections you can see a politician wearing several different scarfs each day because, in Turkey, football is the fastest way to affect people.”

    The politicization of football is systemic. “Sport is a huge weapon for all politicians — not only major politicians and the ruling party, but also for the opposition” says “Ahmet” — a prominent sports lawyer who did not want his real named to be quoted due to a fear of reprisals. “In Turkey the political parties govern the clubs and they feed each other.”

    The political parties aim to have members in the smaller provincial teams, as well as the big clubs. In many Turkish cities the municipality runs the local football club and members vote for the club’s chairman, who often ends up being a local politician. Their political fortune becomes tied to the success of the club. If they sign a new player, win promotion, or beat their local rivals, they are likely to be the most popular guy in town.

    Becoming a club president can be a golden ticket. “When you are a president of one of the big clubs, every door opens,” says Altınsay. “You can be friends with the politicians, the banks, and the big companies. It gives you political power.”

    Turkey’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sought to harness football to aid his popularity. Erdoğan likes to draw attention to his past career as a semi-professional footballer. He is from the Istanbul neighborhood of Kasımpaşa, who now play in the “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” stadium. Erdoğan frequently expresses his support for Istanbul club Fenerbahçe, Turkey’s most successful team in recent years.

    Yet, football fans are also agents of dissent; Berensel says that one of the aims of his work is to demonstrate contemporary political tensions within football. Berensel’s short film Biber gazı oley! [Pepper Gas Olé!] is part of his Dinamo Mesken exhibition. It shows football fans from the major Turkish clubs taking part in the 2013 protests that broke out in Gezi Park and spread across the country, including those from Çarşı; a several thousand-strong group of ultras — fanatical fans — that support Istanbul team Beşiktaş. Erdoğan responded with a string of measures designed to curtail the power of football fans.

    “There is a strong political potential in football,” believes Berensel. “The authorities have captured all areas — but not football.”

    09_Dinamo Mesken exhibition (SALT Ulus gallery Ankara)

    Dinamo Mesken exhibition (SALT Ulus gallery Ankara) 

    “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”

    Mehmet (not his real name), a longstanding member of Çarşı, said he was happy to meet. He suggested a pub in Beşiktaş and told me to look out for a heavyset guy with a big beard. We settled down to talk over a few pints of Guinness — an appropriate drink for a supporter of Beşiktaş, who play in black and white.

    The vast majority of Turks support one of the nation’s “big three” teams, who all hail from Istanbul: Galatasaray (typically associated with the Ottoman-era elite), Fenerbahçe (the richest club and the reigning champions), and Beşiktaş (the oldest club, typically regarded as the working-class team who like to see themselves as underdogs). Between them the “big three” tend to hog the prestige, money, and — with occasional exceptions — the glory in Turkish football.

    Çarşı, who formed in the early 1980s, take their name (which means “bazaar” in English) from the marketplace in Beşiktaş, a central district in the European side of Istanbul, next to the Bosphorus and the Ottoman-era Dolmabahçe palace.

    Mehmet says that becoming a member of Çarşı is not about filling in a form; beyond sharing an intensity of passion for the team, it’s also about making connections in the area, and behaving in a certain way. In their old stadium, currently being rebuilt, Çarşı would congregate under the Kapalı — the covered stands — where the acoustics would amplify their din.

    Çarşı’s logo features the anarchist “A” symbol and they are generally associated with left-wing politics. They are renowned for community activism: running animal shelters, supporting the victims of mining disasters, and delivering books, clothes, and school supplies to poor, remote villages. They have demonstrated against the Iraq war and nuclear power. They love to donate blood. “There is a saying — ‘Beşiktaş iç sesidir’: ‘Beşiktaş is your inner voice,’” says Mehmet. “You have to be willing to help other people, treat them the way you would want to be treated, help the less fortunate if you can — that’s just the way a lot of people here were brought up.”

    They resist reduction to a coherent, unified political or ideological framework. While they typically take a strong stance against racism, fascism, homophobia, sexism, animal cruelty, and environmental destruction, their members come from a range of backgrounds and ideological positions. They can also be fiercely antagonistic and irreverent. Some of their most famous chants include: “Çarşı is against everything,” and, collective tongue in cheek, “Çarşı is against itself.”

    Çarşı played a role in the Gezi uprising. Mehmet says that the protests took him by surprise. “I always wanted people to stand up for their rights, but I never thought the Turkish people would or could, because no one — apparently — seemed to give a shit. But one day it just happened, just like that.”

    A small sit-in began on May 28, 2013, protesting against the government’s proposed urban development of Gezi Park, on the edge of Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which would remove one of the few green spaces in the center of the European side of the city and replace it with the Ottoman-era Taksim Military Barracks. There was speculation that the barracks would include a shopping mall, luxury apartments, and a museum.

    Mehmet visited the sit-in when it was just “30–40 hippies in tents having beers, nothing out of the ordinary.” When the sit-in was violently dispersed by the police, Çarşı fans felt compelled to join the protests in solidarity. Thousands of people gathered in Beşiktaş and marched the short way up the hill to Taksim square. “The roads were blocked by the cops but when they saw us they moved,” laughed Mehmet.

    Thousands of fans from other football clubs also joined the protests. It was a decisive moment. Some Turkish football fans spent many of their weekends confronting the police and getting tear-gassed. There was lingering animosity between Çarşı and the police after an altercation outside Dolmabahçe before the last match of the season the previous month.

    At Taksim, football fans set about erecting barricades and counterattacked against the security forces, pelting the lines of police with debris, lobbing back streaming tear gas canisters, and dodging water cannons. Beşiktaş fans even commandeered a bulldozer to chase police vehicles. They drove the police out of the square, and the protests swelled. Similar demonstrations broke out across the country, many of which also featured football fans.

    The Taksim demonstration was the first time that significant numbers of fans from different Istanbul teams set aside their history of mutual antipathy and violence to unite in protest. “It was one of the best things I’ve seen in my life,” said Mehmet, “because I never expected to see a Fenerbahçe fan in arms with a Galatasaray fan walking down the street together. I saw a Fenerbahçe fan take off his jersey, rip it, and tear it round a bleeding Galatasaray fan’s leg.”

    Beyond the initial aim of saving Gezi Park, a range of other grievances came to the fore during several days of protest, mostly relating to the perceived growing authoritarianism of the ruling AKP.

    “When we went there, it really was just to defend the trees and not have that space cut down or ruined,” says Mehmet. “But then it turned into this big political thing.” Mehmet says that various political groups from the left and right came into the square with their own political agendas, eventually convincing most Çarşı members to leave. Riot police cleared the square in mid-June.

    Mehmet worries about Beşiktaş associating with specific political ideologies and groups. “[As a fan] you’re representing the football club, you kind of have to be careful,” he says. “If you’re an extreme leftist, and kind of psychotic about it, that’s how people are going to start seeing the team. And that’s not the truth. I think ‘equality’ is the most important word for us. Equality for gays, lesbians, dogs, cats, trees — whatever.”

    In the aftermath of the protests the government sought to dampen any ongoing resistance among football fans by outlawing “political” chants and banners in stadiums. Yet the measures seemed to only stoke defiance. Çarşı’s response was to chant: “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance.”

    “With Gezi park and with the government’s growing intervention stadiums became like political arenas. You could not have found a stadium without political chanting after 2013,” argues Emir Güney, director of the Sports Studies Research Centre at Kadir Has University. “[The Gezi protests] created a notion of togetherness against the system.”

    In April 2014 football fans protested together again against the introduction of the controversial e-ticketing system, which now requires all spectators at league matches to acquire a Passolig card. The Turkish Football Federation claims that the card will allow them to identify perpetrators of violence, reduce swearing, prevent gate-crashers, crackdown on black market ticket sales, and encourage more women and children to attend matches.

    The idea for an e-ticketing system was first mooted in 2011 when the government passed a law to combat hooliganism. Derbies between the big Istanbul teams have been played without away fans since 2011 due to crowd trouble. Matches between Beşiktaş and Bursaspor now take place behind closed doors because of the violent nature of their rivalry.

    For their part, many fans have a host of grievances, including police violence, crumbling and unsafe stadia, high ticket prices, corruption, oppressive rules and regulations, and the Passolig system that many feel breaches their consumer rights through sharing their personal data with private companies and forcing them to become a customer of Aktif Bank, a subsidiary of Çalık Holding company, which was headed by Erdoğan’s son-in-law. Many supporters also regard Passolig as being a device to monitor their political behavior in the stands and assert political control over the supporters. Süper Lig attendances have plummeted this season as fans from many teams have joined a mass boycott of the Passolig system.

    “The stadiums are the one place that the government cannot control totally because it is the one place where masses will come and chant. You can only prevent it by systems like Passolig,” says Güney. “Now — because of the system — nobody’s going to the stadiums, nobody’s chanting — or very few. Maybe they achieved what they wanted: by destroying football there’s no longer violence in the stadiums because no one is going!”

    Güney argues that football fans have begun to realize their accumulated strength. “They realized they have real, major power because if they do not exist, then football will not exist,” says Güney. The Passolig boycott arguably claimed a major scalp in January when Yıldız Holding — a major sponsor of Turkish football — pulled its funding from the sport, citing concerns about violence, dwindling crowds, and the e-ticketing system.

    Football fans also faced charges in the courts. A group of 35 fans — including several Çarşı members — have gone on trial, accused of attempting to stage a coup against the government during the Gezi Park protests.

    James M. Dorsey, author of a blog and forthcoming book about football in the Middle East, says that this is part of a trend in the region “in which protest and opposition to the government are increasingly being equated with terrorism.”

    During the first hearing in December 2014, prominent Çarşı member Cem Yakışkan said in court that Beşiktaş had not even been able to topple their unpopular club president for years, let alone the government — adding, “If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have made Beşiktaş champions,” to laughter inside the court. Outside the courtroom, fans from different clubs again protested together in support of the defendants. The trial is set to resume in April 2015.

    Although it has been a worrying development, Mehmet believes that the charges will be thrown out. “It’s just senseless. How can a group of football fans bring down the government? Come on, seriously. We don’t have assault rifles, tanks, or jets or anything — how are we going to do that?”

    Mehmet says it is an attempt by the government to bring the club’s fans to heel. “It’s all a matter of control — controlling masses of people,” he argues. “If they put a leash on Beşiktaş, that’s going to be a big positive for them.”


    Football will eat itself

    The extreme politicization of the professional game has contributed to the corruption, financial strife, poor attendances, and other problems that blight the sport. The upshot is that Turkish football is in a profound funk.

    “It’s the taking part that counts” is fine for school sports days but it doesn’t apply to a globalized, capital-charged behemoth with politicians clinging and sucking at it like engorged tics. Success is everything, but the very nature of competitive sport means that success is strictly limited — failure or mediocrity is the norm. When political fortunes are tied to sporting success, the incentive to win — at all costs — becomes even more powerful.

    Many of Turkey’s biggest clubs buy players at high prices, and pay them exorbitant salaries. Some great players have graced the Turkish league, such as Hakan Şükür, Gheorghe Hagi, and, currently, Wesley Sneijder. But it has also become a preretirement home for many aging foreign stars hoping to eke out a few more years on lucrative wages. The clubs often struggle to recoup the money on these near-retirees or on overvalued younger players.

    As the clubs have struggled, the government has repeatedly intervened to help them, postponing the debts of some football clubs for up to 10 years and leveraging credit through private banks to the clubs. In as yet unproven allegations, Wikileaks cables suggested that the government had set up a secret fund to funnel millions of dollars to the Black Sea club Trabzonspor in order to buy better players in a bid to support Erdoğan’s preferred mayoral candidate for the city. Municipalities divert funds that could be spent on public services to their local football clubs. The debts keep accumulating.

    British football clubs are hardly a paragon of morality or austerity, but at least they are held to some kind of financial accountability and their directors are legally responsible for the club’s debts. In Turkey, professional clubs tend to be noncommercial, and their debts are not subject to the same liabilities.

    “In Turkey many football clubs should have gone bankrupt but the state doesn’t want them to,” says Ahmet. “If the president of a club was the president of a firm, they would go to jail. But if you are a president of a club you are a hero and if you leave the club in ashes, nobody asks: ‘what did you do?’”

    Ahmet also claims that the Turkish Football Federation is politicized. “We talk as if the Turkish federation is autonomous, but it’s not.” (The TFF did not respond to repeated requests to respond to issues raised in this article.) The government has a role in appointing members and allegedly uses their influence through the TFF to secure sponsors. The sponsors of the top two professional leagues and the company that broadcasts the matches are all linked to the state.

    Others say that the TFF has not dealt with other problems marring the sport, which are also partly linked to the political drive to succeed. Turkish football is also widely regarded as being thoroughly corrupt. Scores of players, officials, and referees were questioned in 2011 and charged with match fixing — including Fenerbahçe’s chairman Aziz Yıldırım. Yet the government forced through a law limiting the penalties for both officials and clubs, and many of the charges were dropped. The perceived lack of accountability and transparency has led to widespread disillusionment about the fairness of the game and whether the results can be trusted; Güney argues that fans actually became increasingly political following the 2011 match-fixing scandal.

    To some there may be a symbiotic relationship between political control and dissent in football as the Passolig card and the other rules and regulations may be encouraging some supporters to act against the government through a sense of oppression and frustration, even if they vote for them in elections. Furthermore, not all politicized fans are against the authorities. Some fan groups — such as an Islamist group of Beşiktaş fans 1453 Eagles — have openly supported the government.

    The crises exacerbate the diminishing quality of Turkish football and the waning of interest. It is likely that a significant number of football fans are alienated by the political machinations and conflicts taking place. After all, most people consider football to be primarily a sport and an entertainment, and most fans probably don’t want to express themselves politically at football matches.

    Altınsay — who also boycotts the Passolig system — wants to be going to the games, and talking about exciting new players and the coach’s miracles on small budgets. This should be an exciting season as Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray struggle in a closely-fought league title race that is going down to the wire. Instead, he bemoans crisis and alienation, violence and corruption. “Even talking about it makes me feel I am getting dirty.”

    At the moment football is too big to fail, and the authorities continue to prop it up. “It didn’t hit rock bottom yet because the system also digs the bottom deeper and deeper!” says Altınsay.

    Yet, while some believe that the creation of supporters groups could improve dialogue between fans and the authorities, allowing grievances to be addressed, a common refrain is that football needs to implode in order to start again with a new, fairer system.

    Although Turkish football may have fallen victim to its own popularity, its resurrection could come in the form of its growing unpopularity. If the interest dwindles and sponsors continue to flee, its diminishing value could undercut its political importance. Professional football could eat itself in a spiral of debt, corruption, and unpopularity, and then start again.

    The authorities can only dig for so long. “It’s close to the bottom, that’s the good news,” says Altınsay. “It’s close to bankruptcy.”

    03_Mesken neighborhood, Bursa (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1974)

    Mesken neighborhood, Bursa (Photo by Cemal Karadağ - 1974)



    Berensel says his project is primarily one of visual, artistic research, and is not meant as nostalgia. Yet, whether it is in the blurry found-footage of young men playing football on a sloped pitch in Mesken, or in Hikmet Ildiz’s photographs from Dolmabahçe stadium in the late 1950s or 1960s in which crowds pack the stands until they are almost spilling over the upper tier, or in the smiling, youthful faces and dated haircuts and kits of 1970s amateur football teams, many of the exhibits have a haunting presence, evoking football in a world that has long been lost.

    Dinamo Mesken’s former members still feel a sense of grief from the time the club was shut down. Many people left Mesken in the wake of the coup as the police sought to regain control of the area through arrests and harassment. “We were tortured by the police and we are still angry about this,” said Demir Tekin Gökçe, who played as a defender for Dinamo Mesken in the 1970s.

    The repressive political climate that followed the coup made it impossible to re-form the club. “After the club was shut down I lost my licence to play — we all did,” said Ahmet Çelittollu, a promising 16-year-old goalkeeper at the time of the coup. “We were banned from playing for three years — for any team. I believe that I lost my chance at a professional career because I couldn’t play.”

    Yet, while Berensel’s research unearthed a lot of painful memories, it also inspired surviving members to restart the club. Vedat Vermez was Dinamo Mesken’s goalkeeper in the late 1970s. He became heavily involved in Berensel’s project, helping him trawl through archives, and interviewing people involved in the club. Vermez was instrumental in relaunching the club — now known as Meskenspor — in 2008.

    Meskenspor plays in a national amateur league and has attracted considerable support in the area. It also has a strong community orientation, encouraging kids in deprived areas to play sports and taking them to do horse riding and water sports, and on trips to the theater and the cinema. Vermez sees the club as a social force that can promote community spirit, and takes immense pride in its resurrection. He worked day and night with others for three years to establish it. “It was really meaningful,” said Vermez, before adding that he would like to change the club’s name officially to Dinamo Mesken “to recreate the spirit of the football club.”

    At the clubhouse the senior team were lying on the training pitch, hands on haunches, cycling their legs in the air. Inside the clubhouse people sat at tables covered with soft pink tablecloths, smoking, drinking tea and playing rummy with domino-like tiles. Roars and the stamping of feet came from upstairs, signaling that some club members were watching a televised match between Bursapor and Beşiktaş.

    “When the club reformed in 2008 we showed that we weren’t guilty. We didn’t deserve that treatment,” said Ömer Severgün, 53, a former Dinamo Mesken player. “We care about friendship, respect, fair play — we grew up like this. This club is a very good example for the country.”

    “Don’t ask me about how passionate I am about the club,” said Tunçkanat Yeğin, his eyes shining, before adding that he is suffering from poor health. “I feel an obligation to live because of this club, it’s my family.”


    Looming battles

    Some Turkish clubs can still find themselves in controversy over a name. In January 2015 the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) fined a Kurdish football club in Diyarbakır for adopting a Kurdish name. The TFF claimed that the third tier professional club — long known by its Turkish name of Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyespor — had adopted both the Kurdish name of Amedspor and the green, yellow, and red Kurdish colors without official approval. The club intends to contest the decision.

    There are other impending football-related battles. In April the court case against Çarşı fans accused to trying to mount a coup will resume. In June Turkey’s Constitutional Court will rule whether the Passolig e-ticketing system breaches consumer and data protection rights.

    Football and politics probably can’t be completely pried apart, but that doesn’t mean they should be entangled to such an extent.

    Two books represent the intersection of football and politics in Berensel’s exhibition which are not what they seem. The covers — ostensibly football books — are disguises for contraband political texts that were smuggled into prisons in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Inside the cover of Modern Football by Altan Santepe, is The Complete Works of Mahir Cayan (the leader of THKP, the People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey). The cover of Ziya Taner’s How to Prepare the Team disguises Lenin’s On the Paris Commune.

    What has Turkish football become? A Trojan horse; a means of control; an outlet for resistance; an entertainment tainted by its own popularity and political importance; a vital sport on the wane; an exciting realm of political expression; a terminal illness; a bankrupt money spinner; a site of resurrection. Turkish politics and football may remain bound until the sport can die and be reborn.


    Ege Berensel’s “Dinamo Mesken” ran from January 27 to March 14, 2015, at SALT Ulus, Ankara, and is expected to be held at SALT Galata, Istanbul, later this year.


    Patrick Keddie is a British freelance writer based in Cairo.


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