Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the boos and cries of “allahu akbar” from Turkish fans at a soccer game against Greece this week, chiding fans for booing the Greek national anthem but not mentioning that fans also appeared to boo a moment of silence for the victims of last week’s terror attacks in Paris.
“We are not a nation that is intolerant to the extent of not being able to display respect to the national anthem of a country,” Erdogan said in an interview on Turkish television on Thursday, calling the incident “incredible,” and asking, “How would we regard it if others had done the same to us?”
During a Turkish-Greek soccer game in Turkey this week, which Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been hoping to use to promote friendship between the two countries, inviting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to enjoy the event alongside his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish fans booed their opposition and, it appeared, the victims of an ISIS-coordinated terror attack in Paris on November 13. The fans chanted, “Allahu akbar” and booed through both the Greek national anthem and a moment of silence for victims. They also chanted nationalist slogans like, “Martyrs never die, the country will never be divided,” commonly heard in rallies against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Erdogan did not mention the moment of silence; he only condemned the boos against Greece. “We are having a friendly game and they [Greek people] are guests in our country. The Turkish nation would not do this to its guests, no matter who they are,” he concluded.
Erdogan’s remarks come as evidence surfaces that the hooligans shouting through the moment of silence may have been young members of the AKP. According to the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, the AKP had handed out thousands of free tickets to its youth wing in Başakşehir, Istanbul, with the message:
We must be present in large numbers in the game [stadium] to which our Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will come. You don’t need to have Passolig [a card usually required by supporters to buy match tickets]. Paper tickets will be distributed at the entrance to the stadium.
Cumhuriyet claims that people attending the game saw the “allahu akbar” chants begin in the side of the stadium from which AKP members were instructed to enter.
Cumhuriyet is known as an anti-Erdogan, secularist organization, and was raided by police earlier this year when it announced it would publish a Turkish-language insert of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in its pages.
AKP members have been previously blamed for violent attacks on anti-Erdogan publications. An AKP member of Parliament, Abdürrahim Boynukalın, was caught on video leading a violent mob to the headquarters of Hurriyet newspaper, chanting, “Allahu akbar” and attempting to storm its doors.
The Turkish Football Federation has announced that it will produce new guidelines for handling such a situation in the future in the face of such an international embarrassment. National team coach Fatih Terim announced he would “emphasise in his press conferences the importance of fan behaviour, in particular during the national anthems of opposing sides,” and a video and text ad campaign to teach decorum to fans will be written and distributed nationally.
Davutoglu and Tsipras, nonetheless, managed to issue a joint statement after meeting during Tsipras’ visit to Turkey. Both parties agreed to do more to protect the lives of migrants that have been risking their lives by the millions across the Aegean Sea to reach Europe, with Davutoglu emphasizing, “Neither Turkey nor Greece are responsible for the refugee crisis. They are both the victims of the Syrian crisis.”