The passage of Turkey's September 12th referendum with the EU's official blessings was hailed by many in the West as the democratization and Europeanization of Turkey. In reality, the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan was granted virtually unlimited powers over all three branches of the government, eradicating whatever little separation of powers had existed in the Turkish political system. Since, Turkey has "so shockingly" witnessed the imprisonment of approximately 10% of all Turkish Armed Forces generals/admirals along with numerous journalists who dared to criticize the AKP government. Nevertheless, the alarming developments did not touch the average Turk who went on to extend Erdogan and his party another four years in power.
Today, however, exactly three weeks after the June 12th elections, the Turkish people woke up to see their sacred cow, soccer, finally get harassed by Turkey's "new and improved" democracy, in which people's homes are raided at dawn and people are taken into custody for participation in "organized crime," i.e. in a game-fixing probe this time.
Soccer has always been the tranquilizer of the masses in all nations where the income gap between the rich and the poor is disproportionately large. Such has also been the case in Turkey. All types of corruption and injustice are tolerated by the Turkish society as most Turks focus on their favorite soccer team during the soccer season that spans over the whole year with only a 45-day break from late May to early July. The three top teams - Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray - enjoy the support of over half of Turkey's population, providing the nation with the type of passion and camaraderie which would be difficult to find in a place where due to unhindered corruption and the resulting injustice, no one finds it easy to trust anyone. As long as one's team does alright, corruption is only a way of life to be accepted.
The president of arguably the most popular soccer club in Turkey, Fenerbahçe (the contender being Galatasaray), was taken into custody on what would have been a beautiful Sunday morning this morning. Fenerbahçe edged out the Anatolian club, Trabzonspor, to win the 2010-2011 Turkish Superlig title for the first time in four years after tallying 16 wins and a single draw in the second half of the season - a record-setting performance since the national Turkish league started in 1959 - in the midst of cries of game-fixing by the Trabzonspor president. To be accurate, there have always been game-fixing allegations against the winners following every season. Since the issue is always in the spotlight, the reality is likely to fall in one of the two extreme scenarios : Either every team does it or tries to do it, or no team is able to do it as all the other teams know how it can be done and are watching carefully with much at stake on their end. This particular season Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor ended up in a fierce race which had many of the AKP ministers openly throwing their weight behind the Trabzon side - among them the speaker of the Turkish parliament - despite the fact that Erdogan himself is known to be a staunch Fenerbahce fan. The outcome was eventually decided on head-to-head play as the two sides ended up with the same exact number of points. The 4-3 margin in the two games the teams played against each other helped Fenerbahce snatch the title with the masses celebrating in the streets.
As someone whose father played for Fenerbahce and the Turkish national team in the 1960's - winning four league titles in eight years - and who grew up deeply embedded in the Fenerbahce community, the roots of which proudly involve heroic contributions to the Turkish War of Independence in the early 1920's, I should tell you that with today's raids on the soccer clubs and the detainment of over 40 executives and soccer players, Turkey enters an area never explored before and which the Turkish people, regardless of their club affiliation, perceive as their personal sphere where their emotional pursuit of happiness takes place. It is the opening of the Pandora's box out of which no one can tell what will emerge. Unless it turns out to be a short-lived pseudo-operation just to put on a show, it may the prove to be the greatest gamble by the Turkish government as the act may be perceived as the most serious infringement on Turkish liberties to date.
On the other hand, to think Erdogan has not calculated the risks involved and the benefits to be reaped would be unrealistic. If, of course, he is in control.