Çarşı group opposed to everything, almost

Members of the Çarşı fan club shout slogans as they march during a rally at Taksim Square in central İstanbul on May 1, 2011. (PHOTO REUTERS)

February 26, 2012, Sunday/ 10:51:00

Beşiktaş was founded in 1903, making it one of the oldest and most well-loved teams in the country, but beyond that it boasts what has been described as “the greatest fan group of all time,” Çarşı.

The club’s fans were always devoted, but the group was organized in 1982 and named for the famous çarşı, or “fish market,” in the bustling neighborhood of Beşiktaş. The first leader of the group was Mehmet Işıklar, a true fanatic who came to be known as “Optic” for his thick glasses. He led the fans in cheers in front of the “Kapalı Tribün” (covered grandstands) section of the stadium, which the group still favors today. Işıklar passed away in July 2007.

Another notable leader is Alen Markaryan, a Turkish-Armenian who still leads throngs of fans in cheers at the FİYAPI İnönü Stadium near Dolmabahçe Palace. Besides being a well-respected leader, Markaryan is a prolific writer, “football intellectual” and owner of a kabob restaurant in the neighborhood of Balmumcu.

Passion and politics

Çarşı has become a veritable army of supporters known for its passion, political commentary and decibel levels. Its most famous slogan is “Çarşı is against everything,” which it has modified to make specific political and social statements over the years.

It has campaigned against a variety of things, including war, nuclear plants and -- famously -- profanity, since it was founded. A trip to İnönü on game day reveals numerous signs condemning profanity posted throughout the stadium, while before an important derby match in 2008, the front page of the group’s website, www.forzabesiktas.com, saw the words “The official fan drink of the Beşiktaş-Galatasaray match” and “No to alcohol on match day” written over a glass of Turkish tea. Çarşı was also in Sinop for demonstrations against plans to build a nuclear power plant in the central Black Sea city.

In one of its most notable moves, Çarşı announced that it was also “against itself.” Headed by the charismatic Markaryan, the leaders, decided to dissolve the group due to a chain of events following the release of “Asi Ruh,” a documentary made about the group in celebration of its 25-year anniversary. Always eloquent, Markaryan wrote a letter to confirm and explain the decision. Noting that they were successful in supporting Beşiktaş, he wrote: “But in doing this I suspect, believe and feel that we have done harm. We feel that we started to disturb our great and honorable team. … If we have begun to live a life without Beşiktaş and have started to do harm, then we can leave at once. Is not everything for Beşiktaş? In fact, everything has begun to scream ‘Çarşı is a sellout’.” However, three months later Çarşı again spoke up, saying: “We are announcing this to friends and foe alike. We will again be in the stands as the Çarşı group this season.”

In the same way, Çarşı has a solid relationship with the Beşiktaş higher ups, who respect the group’s opinions, often taking them into consideration when making decisions.

Formidable fanatics

Of course, they are also against other football teams threatening to steal the glory from their beloved Beşiktaş. According to Markaryan, the group’s main aim is to support its team. In the end, it is a fan group, and a formidable one at that. İnönü Stadium is incredibly noisy on match day, so noisy in fact that the Beşiktaş fans previously broke the world decibel record during a derby with Fenerbahçe, one of the team’s greatest rivals. Çarşı does its best to make opposing players’ lives miserable during play, hissing and whistling whenever a rival team is in possession to make for a hostile atmosphere that intimidates all but the most stalwart of footballers.

The moment Beşiktaş gains possession, however, their tone softens and singing and cheering picks up right where it left off. Possession changes enough throughout a match to make it a truly jarring experience, an emotional roller coaster of a game that must be experienced to be understood. It is particularly prevalent in derbies, matches against rivals Bursaspor and politically charged games, such as Beşiktaş’s home match against Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv, which saw heavy security and anti-Israel protests in the district due to Turkey’s ongoing tension with Israel.

When football meets politics

Football and politics should not mix is a philosophy Çarşı does not always adhere to, but this year it has every excuse to comment because Turkish football is inherently political these days. Çarşı has been as vocal as ever since the match-fixing investigation started. The group made it clear last summer that they did not want any foul-play associated with them, calling on those implicated to keep their distance unless they were truly innocent.

Along with many other fans, Çarşı has been watching the investigation with the eyes of an eagle, demanding that Turkish football be cleaned up and that anyone guilty of abusing the beautiful game be dealt with properly. Like the rest of Turkey, they are fully prepared to point out any injustices.

1- Greenpeace activists unfurl a huge banner that reads: “Nuclear free Turkey.” at İnönü Stadium  in this March 3, 2007

file photo.

2- Çarşı group members hold banners in protest of the 646th Kırpınar Oil Wrestling

Championship.

3- Çarşı members protest during the 15th anniversaray of the death of journalist Uğur Mumcu, who was killed in a bomb attack.

4- The Çarşı group protests against rotten teeth on April 30, 2011, before the Beşiktaş-Galatasaray  match.

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