We’re in Geneva for Euro 2008 with Orhan Pamuk

Here we are in Geneva. Some of us have our eyes glued to the television screen, others are watching with their souls and still others, including myself, are watching with our eyes, souls and bodies.

Euro 2008 is starting and at the match between Turkey and Portugal we will be with our National Team, breathing the same Genoan air.

Our National Team has various sponsors. I am here because of Ülker which has always been “lucky” for us. I say "Lucky" because months ago, to see a match that was critical for our advancement to Euro 2008, Ülker took us to Oslo. We won that match 2–0.

The Ülker name is synonymous with my beloved Fenerbahçe. The name of the team who took the Turkish Basketball Championship just the other day is Fenerbahçe Ülker!

After the team won the match that Ülker took us to in Norway, I joyfully wrote in this column that we had the key to Euro 2008.  The team’s European football success was an opportunity for the people of Turkey to create international cultural relationships, thanks to the world’s most beloved and widespread sport. Turkish citizens were pouring into European cities by the thousands.   Just as Turkey maintains its references for the EU, I am also violently opposed to all of this because it creates an antidote that is turned on itself.

Some of the events that made me happy this year were the National Team’s participation in Euro 2008, my Fenerbahçe’s advance to the final 8 of the 2008 European Championship League, its going on record as the only team that could beat finalist Chelsea and the semi-final game during which Chelsea feared for its life.

From my point of view, it’s an opportunity for the “internationalization” of football and the Turkish National Team.

Orhan Pamuk spoke to the German magazine Der Spiegel and complained about the National Team, which he sees as a “nationalistic, alien enemy force and a machine that fosters authoritarian thinking”.

While I see the Turkish National Team as an opportunity for “internationalization”, Orhan Pamuk sees it as an opening for "nationalization".  Which of us is right?

I have witnessed Orhan's passion for football. In the summer of 1986 we spent the better part of a week together in New York. It was during that time, if I remember correctly, that he sat down to write his Black Book that many see as his most important work. I remember that he invited us to his house and when we got bored with the anti-imperialist and left-wing comments of a well-known Turkish musician, we watched the World Cup on his television, which was actually the reason we went to his house in the first place.

Of course these events don’t prevent Orhan Pamuk from saying that he sees the Turkish National Team as a tool of "nationalism”.  However, when I saw that he was using the Der Spiegel conversation and the shallowness of the “neo-nationalist” mob that consequently attacked him as excuses, I had no idea that he would prove them right.

The Nobel prizewinner may have been many things but he was certainly not “shallow”.  I read the original Der Spiegel conversation.

I guessed wrong. Orhan Pamuk and I don’t see eye to eye on some points, but his translated words did not have the same meaning in the Turkish press.  The interview with the Nobel winner was entirely about football and it began with the question, “Mr. Pamuk is you planning to watch the Euro 2008 matches?”

Orhan Pamuk answered, "Of course. And if the Turkish team loses I will have a difficult time to overcome my disappointment. It would be very demoralizing to me. When Fenerbahçe was playing Chelsea in the quarter finals of the Champions League, I turned off the television because Chelsea was ahead in the first half."

Those words would never be spoken someone who didn’t have a close relationship with football or a person who was really down on the Turkish National Team.  Quite the opposite is true, for Orhan Pamuk the failure of our National Team and Fenerbahçe's defeat was “demoralizing” and “unbearable”.

The portion of the interview that dealt with the National Team and "nationalism" was on the last page of the 3-page article. Of course, in a certain “context”.  Pamuk explained that a game against England in the 1980’s which was lost by an 8 – 0 score is still fresh in his memory. At the time he was working on a rough copy of Black Book and gave his experience a place in the novel. “For me, these defeats are a metaphor for the situation of the country and our feelings of inferiority,” he said.

The question that followed was, “What do you have to say about the state of Turkish football in your country today?”

Pamuk answered, “Former Portuguese dictator Salazar used football as a tool to control the country.  He used the game to pour oil on troubled waters in the country and as an opiate for the masses. That might be enjoyable in our country. Her (in Turkey) could be used, not as an opiate, but as a way to promote nationalism and distrust of foreigners or a machine to encourage authoritarian thinking. I believe that it isn’t victory that develops nationalism, it is defeat.

To the magazine’s question, “How?” he responded, “Nationalism is kept alive by disasters, earthquakes, lost wars.  Tolstoy illustrates in his writing how the Russian identity was molded during its war against Napoleon. It is a disaster that is similar to our 8-0 defeat at the hands of England.”

The magazine, remembering that 6 years previously Turkey had advanced to third place in the World Cup, said this to Orhan Pamuk:

"That s true, but your National Team players attacked the Swiss team because Turkey didn’t make it to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. This was a particularly unethical and unforgivable behavior that was reflected in Üüdt newspaper articles. The Turkish team held the referees responsible for their loss and talked about a series of conspiracies. It was terrible. Turkish football serves the cause of nationalism, not the nation.”

We felt the shame of that match with Switzerland in Istanbul Kadiköy. What Orhan Pamuk said was true but only to a certain point. Turkish football does not serve “nationalism” to as great a degree as he thinks or says because, the Turkish National Team is not experiencing what Pamuk says are “the primary food source of nationalism” - namely, heavy defeats, losses and disasters.

Orhan Pamuk's judgment that Fatih Terim as a "super nationalist" is not correct either.  I was talking about most moderate state of Fatih Terim’s excessive nationalism which, even in small measure is a “sensitive” topic in this country.  Fatih Terim does not have the attitude of mind or the character of a person who can be "overboard" on one hand and also be trapped by a "nationalist" concept. We shouldn’t forget that he, without losing his identity, is one of Turkey’s most open-minded people.

The ugliness of that match against the Swiss that resulted in our “national shame”, more than excessive nationalism, was an indication of Fatih Terim's failure to rein in his footballers’ unrestrained desire to win. Orhan should know this.

Yet, you can see how different are the portions of the Der Spiegel conversation above from the way they were reflected in the Turkish press, right?   

I must relate this portion from the beginning of the conversation:

Spiegel: Did your father take you to matches?

Pamuk: Yes, quite often. But it’s not the goals that I remember. The times I most remember are when the Fenerbahçe players came on to the field before the matches.  They were called the yellow canaries. They were like that... I loved those moments very much. It was poetic.

Spiegel: Why Fenerbahçe?

Pamuk: It‘s like religion. There is no "Why". I can still recite all of the names of the 1959 Fenerbahçe team as if they were a poem I had memorized...

And so we come to the last portion of the conversation, except the part about Fatih Terim.  The question from Der Spiegel was "Have you grown away from football?" and this is the answer that Orhan Pamuk gave:

"I still support my club, but it’s like Pavlov’s dogs, a reflex reaction when I see Fenerbahçe’s colors.
Despite National Team Technical Director Fatih Terim being an excessive nationalist, in the European Championship, just as you will support the German team, I will support the Turkish National Team..."

We understand each other.  We will be in Geneva for Euro 2008. Our National Team has to succeed against Portugal to feed our “nationalism”.

Let’s go Turkey!

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