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The Forgotten Origins of the a Turkish Political Gesture: A Symbol’s Journey to Controversy

M. AHMET KARABAY

When people in Turkey are not provided a prosperous life, society searches for other areas where they can find joy and happiness. Achievements in sports competitions create a short-lived environment where people can forget their troubles. The success achieved in the round of 16 match of the European Football Championship was one such instance. However, a move by Merih Demiral, who scored the goals that led Turkey to victory, cast a shadow over the celebration.

The quarter-final match between Austria and Turkey on Tuesday, July 2, went down in the championship’s history for a few reasons. The goal scored by the Turkish National Team in the 57th second was recorded as the earliest goal in the tournament. The second notable incident was a player displaying a political party’s symbol while celebrating a goal.

After scoring the first goal, Merih Demiral raised both hands and made the ‘Bozkurt’ sign. In response to a question after the match, Merih stated that he made the gesture intentionally and that he was happy about it.

I am not much interested in football. I asked a few friends who are football enthusiasts if they knew Merih was an Ülkücü (a nationalist). Until he made that gesture, no one knew about his beliefs.

After Merih, who plays for the Saudi Professional League team Al-Ahli, made this gesture, social media buzzed. Some said that on the anniversary of the burning of Turkey’s intellectuals at the Madımak Hotel in Sivas on July 2, 1993, such a gesture was unforgivable. I don’t think Merih has the awareness to consider such details. However, I agree that the gesture was inappropriate. The ‘Bozkurt’ gesture is relatively new to these lands. Let me tell you the story of how this gesture was imported…

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When Alparslan Türkeş emerged as a party leader on the political scene, he had no knowledge of the ‘Bozkurt’ sign; not until he visited Azerbaijan after the Soviet Union collapsed and Azerbaijan declared independence. On May 3, 1992, Türkeş appeared before the crowd in Baku’s Freedom Square alongside Azerbaijani President Ebulfez Elçibey. Hundreds of thousands of people were enthusiastically shouting and making a hand gesture where they extended their index and little fingers while joining the thumb with the middle and ring fingers.

Türkeş asked Prof. Dr. Hanım Halilova, the female leader of the independence movement standing between him and Elçibey, what the hand gesture meant. Initially, he thought it resembled the hand gesture used by heavy metal fans, but Halilova explained that it was the ‘Bozkurt’ gesture, a Turkish tradition. She then showed Türkeş how to make the ‘Bozkurt’ sign with his hand.

After Türkeş returned to Turkey following his visit to Azerbaijan, this gesture became the symbol of the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). At that time, uniting two hands in the air was the gesture of ANAP (Motherland Party), and holding the thumb up while folding the other four fingers was the symbol of the Welfare Party. Similarly, the ‘Bozkurt’ sign became the symbol of the MHP.

MERİH DEMİRAL’S POLITICAL MOVE

I don’t think Merih Demiral even knows the history of how the ‘Bozkurt’ sign became the symbol of the MHP. He probably made the gesture because his elders did so and believed it was a symbol of Turkishness because they told him so.

Alparslan Türkeş did not represent Turkishness in this country, just as Necmettin Erbakan did not represent Islam. Both leaders claimed to represent Turks and Muslims, but the political landscape always showed otherwise. During Türkeş’s lifetime, the MHP never surpassed the 10% threshold. The Welfare Party never exceeded 25%. The Turkish population in this country was well above 8%, and the Muslim population was far above 25%.

THOSE WHO SEEK REFUGE IN ATATÜRK’S ERA

After leading the War of Independence and founding the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk wanted to create a history for the country. Therefore, in 1927, before the alphabet reform, the first 5 TL banknotes of the Republic of Turkey featured the ‘Bozkurt’ figure.

Moreover, during the same period, the six arrows of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) also featured ‘Bozkurt’. However, not every figure used during Atatürk’s era is a common value today. Just as the ‘six arrows’ are not a common value of this society, ‘Bozkurt’ is a symbol for a political party rather than a common value of this society.

Although it fundamentally belongs to the country, it is sad that a value or symbol is captured by a political party and its meanings are altered. Unfortunately, even the innocent peace sign has become one of the symbols whose meaning has shifted here.

BANNED IN AUSTRIA

The ‘Bozkurt’ sign has been officially banned in Austria since March 1, 2019. In Germany, the Ülkücü movement is defined as “the Turkish far-right in Germany” by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV). The Ülkücü movement is monitored by the BfV, but the ‘Bozkurt’ salute is not banned in Germany like it is in Austria.

Germany has opened an investigation into a group of Austrian fans who chanted “Germany belongs to the Germans, foreigners out” before the Turkey match.

UEFA has launched a disciplinary investigation into Merih Demiral for giving the ‘Bozkurt’ salute. The outcome of the investigation is unknown. UEFA’s reason for launching the investigation is stated to be “the display of a far-right gesture on the field.” It is mentioned that Merih might be expelled from the championship.

Merih’s affiliation with any political party is nobody’s business. The sad part is that he made this gesture in an event that should be a shared value for the entire nation.

FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT DISASTER

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a statement regarding UEFA’s investigation into Merih Demiral. Instead of condemning UEFA, Germany was condemned, and it was stated that “the ‘Bozkurt’ sign is not a banned symbol in Germany.”

We were happy and proud of the National Team’s result. However, a player whose mind is washed with ideology rather than human love cast a shadow over the happiness. Moreover, we managed to create a problem out of even happiness.

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