Photo via Wiki Commons
Maybe you already know Besiktas, Jermaine Jones' club for 10 games in 2014, and 13-time Turkish Super Lig winners.If you don't, though, you should: less for what's currently happening to the Black Eagles on-the-pitch (captivating Senegalese striker Demba Ba, formerly of Chelsea, is deadly capable and often controversial), but more for what's happening to their supporters in-the-courts.
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One of the club's famed supporter-groups, Carsi, has found itself suddenly embroiled in a legal fight for their lives against Turkey's oppressive and suppressive President, who is currently cracking down on cartoonists.Which leads to an important riddle: if 35 peaceful Turkish fans are ultimately sentenced to life in prison, because, in part, of meatballs and pizza, does it make a noise in LA County?Because, stateside, it's most definitely news when two NBA fans celebrate Christmas the old-fashioned way: offering season's greetings via a Twitter-fueled disagreement over Turkish Airlines endorsee Kobe Bryant's legacy, before agreeing to meet, and fight each other, in Temecula (don't worry, one showed; the other didn't).Kobe's reaction when informed of the aggressive festivities, per Arash Markazi: "Mamba Army don't fuck around."Neither does Turkish President (and former Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A world away from Riverside, nine days earlier, Erdogan's government opened the Istanbul trial against nearly three-dozen Carsi members, charged with, among other transgressions, mass rebellion, attempting to engineer a coup, and yes, "payment arranged" for pizza and meatballs for protesters, in the 2013 Gezi Park "urban renewal" protests, which saw some eight deaths, 8,000+ injuries, and perhaps as many as 6,000 arrests in the aftermath.The same day, Human Rights Watch called the charges a "ludicrous travesty," adding "the indictment contains no evidence to support the coup attempt charges and should never have come to court."
Who are Carsi, exactly? By most accounts, they stand in solidarity as defenders of the oppressed, and advocates for representative democracy, even if they do borrow the occasional bulldozer (an incident which provides a detailed window into their justice-seeking history, and first-hand account of their apparently non-violent leadership role in the protests).Among other telling examples: the group unfailingly standing for black players, Armenian players, and with Ferguson, even humorously pointing to Michael Jackson as a beloved Besiktas son of the black-and-white clad club, colors which represent an open-to-everyone perspective. Carsi's leftists, nationalists and Islamists are grouped pleasantly together under a "populists" umbrella. The group even recites anthems laced with romantic poetry-to love Besiktas is to believe in the idea that "to love is more elegant than to be loved."And they certainly bring humor to most every arena, even the trial that threatens their livelihood:"If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have made Besiktas champions," one of the Carsi leaders, Cem Yakiskan, said to laughter and applause in the courtroom. Besiktas last won the Turkish league title in 2009. (No doubt plenty of Laker fans can identify with the sentiment, or will in the years ahead).What's at stake in Istanbul, ultimately? According to one legal rep of Carsi defendants, a whole helluva a lot:
"The Çarşı trial will be a litmus test to see if Turkey's justice system works fairly," said Sabit İnan Kaya, an independent lawyer who represents two leading members of İstanbul's Beşiktaş fan club, Çarşı."At the end, we will either say, 'Yes, we can trust our justice system, or no, this is it; there is no rule of law'," he said, adding that the ruling Justice and development Party (AK Party) has been making arbitrary changes to the justice system.In the end, no matter the typical American perception of European superfans as fascists, violent hooligans, or worse, what's happening in Istanbul offers a reminder of the positive power of expression by sports supporters.From Turkey to Temecula, fans represent a global citizenry afforded a great freedom to support beloved teams and favorite players, an important connective tissue; Americans may lack a quasi-tyrannical leader to stand up against (though sports fans can pick between Roger Goodell and Mark Emmert), or the long-standing ties of Europe's deeply passionate, community-centered fans, but the importance of seeing the similarities (and differences) between these two situations is paramount:What we do as sports fans, however, and how we spend our days (and yes, our holidays, too) is ultimately up to us. Well, until its not.